Air Force Band Flash Mob Playing Christmas Music

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Who’s Mike Riley? Great Man, Great Coach, Great Hire! By Randy York

Two years ago, when Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez was in search of a new Badger head football coach, the former Nebraska All-Big Eight Conference linebacker had Mike Riley on his short list. “I wanted Mike to talk with me about our job, but he wasn’t interested in leaving Oregon State,” Alvarez told me in a telephone conversation Thursday afternoon. Alvarez didn’t take the rejection personally “because I knew how many great jobs Mike’s turned down in the past,” he said. “Mike is really well thought of in our business. He’s one of the good guys in college athletics. He comes from a great background, has a really good offensive mind, and runs a very good program. I think he’ll be a great fit at Nebraska.”

The quiet, cerebral Riley was a defensive back on three SEC Championship teams and one national championship squad under the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama from 1971 to 1974. Riley’s dad was an assistant coach at Oregon State when Mike was leading his high school football team to back-to-back state championships in Corvallis, Ore. He’s a champion of walk-ons and in a motivational video describes two of “the greatest walk-on stories you’ve ever heard.” You can feel Riley’s passion when he talks about two Beaver walk-ons who once received college football’s highest national awards for receivers (Mike Hass won the Fred Belitnikoff Award) and kickers (Alexis Serna won the Lou Groza Award) on the same December 2005 ESPN night in Orlando. This 3-minute video captures the essence of Riley’s basic beliefs about motivating, teaching and coaching. He believes it’s important for the 99th man on a 105-player roster to know that “it’s going to be fair and he’s going to have a chance and a real opportunity to play.” It’s woven into the very fabric of Riley, who has coached the Beavers for 14 seasons (1997-98 and 2003-2014) with a three-year stint as the San Diego Chargers’ head coach (1999-2001) and a one-year stop as the New Orleans Saints’ assistant head coach sandwiched in between.

USA Today Columnist: Huskers Will Love Riley

“Mike Riley is the most optimistic, pleasant, gracious, accommodating head coach in college football. They’ll absolutely love him in Nebraska,” tweeted former New York Times writer Paul Myerberg, now the lead college football columnist for USA Today. To give an impression of Riley’s perception among peers, Myerberg tweeted that an FBS head coach sent him this text: “I just became a Nebraska fan today.” Myerberg tweeted six concise messages about Riley on Thursday, including one that envisions him “taking all of his many positives and multiplying them because of the assets now at his disposal.” columnist Travis Haney tweeted: “Big winners this week: Nebraska media.” Like everyone else, including Alvarez, Big Ten Network columnist Tom Dienhart didn’t see the Riley announcement coming or its quickness. “Nebraska is the early leader for ‘kill my coffee on the keyboard’ hire. This will be hard to top, America,” Dienhhart tweeted.

Aaron Taylor Gut Feeling: “Football’s Tim Miles”

Aaron Taylor, Nebraska’s Outland Trophy winner on Tom Osborne’s 1997 national championship team, had good vibes. “Gut feeling that Mike Riley will be the Tim Miles for our football program,” said Taylor, who’s not the only one who feels that way. CBS basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb congratulated Nebraska on Riley’s hiring with this positive point to reinforce what Taylor believes, describing Riley and Miles as “two of the most liked/respected coaches in their sports.”

Another warm welcome for Riley comes from former Husker All-America and NFL defensive back Ralph D. Brown, now a college football analyst for Fox Sports West and TWC SportsNet. “I like the hire,” Brown said. “Mike Riley is a tremendous coach and I believe he will take the Nebraska program where it needs to be.” New York Giant cornerback Prince Amukamara may be sidelined for the season after tearing a biceps muscle last month, but the popular Husker All-American welcomed Riley to the Husker family with a “Go Big Red!”

Joe Schad, ESPN’s national college football reporter who frequently appears on the network’s College Football Live show, was equally enthusiastic. “Nebraska has hired not only an excellent coach in Mike Riley, but one of the most approachable, level-headed, likeable coaches on the planet,” said Schad, who added: “People who know Mike Riley talk about the chance for a ‘fresh start’ and Nebraska is a place where you can win a championship.” ESPN broadcaster Sam Ponder has nearly a quarter-million followers on Twitter, and she was equally effusive in her praise. “LOVE that hire for Nebraska,” she tweeted. “Handful of coaches I’d want my kids to play for/learn from…Mike Riley’s top 5 for sure.”

CBS Columnist: Media Will Love Mike Riley

Dennis Dodd, senior columnist for, said: “Props to Shawn Eichorst for going strong and swift after Mike Riley. The media will love him…Mike Riley was always squeezing blood out of a tomato in Corvallis. More infrastructure at Nebraska. Love the hire.”

ESPN announcer Sean McDonough describes Riley as an excellent coach. “He’s the nicest guy in coaching,” McDonough said. “He did an amazing job at Oregon State, where he built one of college football’s worst programs into a winner. I’m excited to see what he can do at Nebraska with its resources and tradition. I am certain the great Nebraska fans will embrace this man of enormous character and integrity. This is a great hire!!”

Huskers in NFL Polk, Parrella Respect Riley

Two former Husker players – Carlos Polk and John Parrella – have a unique inside view of Riley because they played for him with the San Diego Chargers. Polk, a first-team All-America middle linebacker from Rockford, Ill., played eight years in the NFL, including his first seven as a Charger. His first year in the NFL was Riley’s last year at San Diego. Polk, now an assistant special teams coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, calls Riley an “excellent hire” because “he’s a man of great integrity. I think he’ll be a great fit at Nebraska. He’s a man who really respects tradition and a coach who knows how to get the most out of his players. He’s also a great recruiter. I’m truly excited to see what he does with my alma mater.”

A 2001 inductee into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame, Parrella spent 13 years in the NFL as a defensive tackle. The Grand Island (Neb.) Central Catholic graduate played eight years with the Chargers, including three under Riley. A former Super Bowl starter with the Raiders, Parrella covered the playing field and the welcome mat in eight words when asked to describe Mike Riley. “Great man!” he said. “Great coach! Great hire for Nebraska!”

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Voices from Across the Nation

Thank you for the great read on Mike Riley, a wonderful man. I am a 79-year-old lady back here in Eugene of all places. My husband, Wink, is a Beaver. We both couldn’t be happier for Coach Riley and all the joy that he will experience at Nebraska because of the resources he will now have. You have captured the Mike Riley that most of us know in your article. He IS one of the “nice guys” in football and in life, actually. It seems at times in athletics it’s all about winning, money, and a dog-eat-dog attitude. How sad! My husband feels privileged to have known Mike. Please pass on to him our best!!! Wink and Rita Guthrie, Eugene, Oregon

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Review of Killing Patton

Killing Patton

In their book, Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War Two’s Most Audacious General, Authors Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard write a riveting account of the waning days of the Second World War and the last months of the life of one of the greatest Generals in U.S. History. The book begins with the history of the major German offensive in Hitler’s quest to dominate Europe, a quest that no one thinks is possible in the brutal winter of 1944 except for one man—General George S. Patton Jr. The battle action and colorful personality of every major player in the conflict comes alive in page-turning fashion. They show the classic struggle between good and evil as well as the complicated relationships between unlikely allies and murderous villains. Killing Patton is a well-written and well-researched description of a larger-than-life figure who was much more than a military genius. Patton understood the cost and the consequences of war better than any man of his time which posed a threat to people in high places. O’Reilly and Dugard give Patton’s life and death a fair and necessary treatment which rightly shows this American hero in his context.

Killing Patton appears to be a reliable narrative and is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding World War II and its ramifications for a post-war world. O’Reilly uses first-hand accounts, including Patton’s own diary and raises valid questions about the curious circumstances around the General’s death which can not be dismissed. Readers should be cautioned that there is strong language and graphic violence, butis a necessary read and well worth the time.

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Review of The Brickmaker’s Bride

The Brickmaker's Bride

In Judith Miller’s The Brickmaker’s Bride, Laura Woodfield and her mother must sell the foundry that her father worked so hard to build before he perished in the Civil War. Ewan, Scotch-Irish immigrant, must work in the brickyard to pay off debts to his uncle in hopes of purchasing passage for his three sisters to the States. But when Ewan’s uncle signs a questionable agreement with the bank and can’t keep away from the gaming tables, he puts everyone’s future in jeopardy. Will Ewan be able to keep the brickyard afloat? Or will his uncle’s manipulative ways undermine his efforts? And will Laura find true love in spite of the devastating secret she holds?

Having read a story that Judith Miller coauthored in the past, I had high hopes for The Brickmaker’s Bride. The story had potential. Most of the characters are appealing; the technical information about the brick-making process is enlightening, and the dialogue is authentic. However, the book seems long. The plot is uninteresting with few surprises, and it is rushed at the end. Laura lacks depth, and some of the characters are annoying. As a result, The Brickmaker’s Bride isn’t as good as it could have been. I give it two out of five stars.

I was given a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Holy Is Thy Name By Legacy Five

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Don’t expect
 Husker A.D. Eichorst 
to flounder in finding Pelini’s replacement Nov. 30, 2014

History will show that Nebraska called a press conference Nov. 30 to discuss the firing of its football coach.

His record: 9-3.

The coach: Frank Solich.

Eleven years later, there was another press conference to discuss the firing of Bo Pelini, who was also 9-3.

Nebraska football history majors can tell you what happens next. Does Shawn Eichorst know anybody in the NFL?

I don’t know what Eichorst will do. I have no idea whom he knows. I don’t have a clue if he’ll hit a home run or a broken-bat single.

But one thing I know: This isn’t 2003 all over again.

Not even close.

You’re worried about another fishing expedition that goes into January, a line of coaches who won’t answer their phone because NU fired a good man who went 9-3? Don’t.

It’s not the same.

Unless you get an autograph from Nick Saban or Urban Meyer on a contract, hiring a football coach is a roll of the dice. But there is a better chance this will work out than there was in 2003.

When Solich was fired by Steve Pederson, the climate and expectations around NU football were exponentially different.

The program was only six years removed from winning the national championship. One coach removed from Tom Osborne.

Solich fed the monster with a Big 12 championship in his second year, 1999. The Huskers were ranked No. 1 during the 2000 season, and No. 2 heading into the last game of 2001. They played for the national championship after that season, in the Rose Bowl, Solich’s second major bowl game.

People were still in championship mode. When Solich lost, it was still a shock to the system. That mentality, combined with the firing at 9-3, was seen in the coaching fraternity as radioactive. The demands around the program were still at the highest of levels.

Meanwhile, the coaching frat knew that Solich was part of the Husker family, as was most of his staff, and whoever came in would be scrutinized heavily for replacing not just a coach, but a way of life for decades.

Facilities in 2003 were simply a promise on paper. Other programs had passed NU by.

Then there was the Pederson Factor. There were stories back then about an NFL assistant who agreed to come but changed his mind. Also, former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt told me last summer he was turned off by Pederson when they spoke during that time.

Then Pederson tiptoed through the day-after press conference like a bull in a china shop. He came off like a bumbling superhero trying to save the day. He dropped the M-word (mediocrity).

It made the situation even more radioactive.

Eleven years later, the situation should be more attractive.

A generation of fans has forgotten what it’s like to chase a national title, and another generation has never experienced it. There hasn’t been a conference title in 15 years.

This program has come to expect nine wins and four losses each and every year. That’s not what Nebraska was in 2003.

Coaching candidates looking at Nebraska will now find a different animal than 11 Decembers ago.

They will find a fan base whose expectations have been beaten down from years of Holiday, Gator and Capital One Bowl appearances, national irrelevance and an assortment of embarrassments on the field.

The fans talk a good game when it comes to expectations, but the truth is, they would love a program with an identity and a team that played smart and was well-coached and didn’t fall apart in big games.

A guy who did that, made Nebraska look like it belonged in championship games, and also smiled and played to the crowd, would be hailed as an immediate hero.

And get paid handsomely, I might add.

Doesn’t sound so unreasonable, does it?

The new coach will be following a good man — and a good football man — who ran a clean program and kept his players in line. But there was so much drama with Pelini, the us-against-the-world mentality, the sideline outbursts, telling off the fans, daring the boss to fire him.

It’s hard not to believe that some of that is why Pelini is out today, but that’s another thing: I think Husker Nation would welcome a change of climate, a little less rough, a little more uplifting, a little more uniting.

For a coaching candidate, this is not exactly heavy lifting.

Those candidates will also find up-to-date facilities and salary. Eichorst should make sure the salary pool for the assistants is more than competitive. That’s the way to lure a good coach.

And there is Eichorst himself. Nobody was sure how he would come off at his Sunday press conference, but he was stellar. He was succinct and direct when explaining the reasons for making the move and his vision for Nebraska football. He didn’t box himself in a corner by talking about the candidates or the process.

The vibe was totally different from that Sunday press conference back in 2003. Eichorst exuded an air of confidence and control.

In fact, he sounded a lot like someone who knows whom he wants — and might already have him.

He sounded like an athletic director who knows you don’t fire a 9-3 coach if you have no idea that you’ll be able to get someone better.

But let’s make a deal: Let’s stop talking about 9-3. Numbers have never defined this program. And the members of the coaching fraternity all know Nebraska football today is known more for the Wisconsin losses and the breakdowns than for the nine wins a year.

Did we mention Pelini’s successor will be coaching in the Big Ten West? Good coaches, solid programs, but not exactly scary for candidates with championship plans.

Nebraska should be able to attract a coach who is confident in his ability to build a championship program. There are many more reasons now why they should than shouldn’t.

Who? The preference would be an established head coach, someone with a system, philosophy and staff in place. Scott Frost is on a lot of fans’ minds now, but for the former Husker quarterback and current Oregon offensive coordinator to be considered, he’d have to bring some veterans on his staff. This program needs experience, not another learning curve.

These things aren’t easy. They’re emotional. They’re draining. They’re scary. But there’s no reason to turn history on its head and fear the worst. Sunday was a familiar day, but it’s a different day. This time, Nebraska should have a coach before the NFL playoffs.

Written on November 30, 2014

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Fifty Things I Am Thankful For–Part III

1. My dad’s work ethic.
2. My mom’s giving heart.
3. Surprise visits from my sister whom I miss.
4. My brother, one of the good guys in the medical field.
5. Early Thanksgivings.
6. God, who only expects me to live one day at a time.
7. When God closes one door in my life, He is already leading me to an open one.
8. My healthy dogs.
9. Jerry B. Jenkins and The Christian Writers’ Guild for investing in me.
10. Hardworking Americans who make this country great in spite of obstacles.
11. Susan Sanchez. I feel safe with you.
12. Janice Mason Mitchell who has gone the extra mile for me.
13. My expanding blog audience for taking the time to read my musings.
14. A new car.
15. My DVR. I hate commercials.
16. A community of fellow writers who knows the struggle of getting published.
17. Pandora.
18. My appetite. Did I mention I love food?
19. The fact that my church starts at 9:00 AM.
20. Classical Music.
21. The smell of popcorn.
22. Fresh air.
23. Airplanes.
24. Landscaping. Think about it. I live in Arizona.
25. Heaven because I deserve Hell.
26. Writing Conferences.
27. My writing mentors DiAnn Mills and Julie Allyson Ieron who’ve become friends.
28. Color.
29. Variety. Even though I like my routine, it keeps life from getting boring.
30. The water heater.
31. New projects.
32. A clean room.
33. The way my sister makes me laugh.
34. Simple instructions.
35. My gourmet coffee maker.
37. Online Reference tools.
38. Trips.
39. Bible reading plans.
40. The chance to succeed.
41. The opportunity to review books.
42. The dishwasher.
43. Family time.
44. That God knows what He’s doing when it’s too dark for me to see.
45. My alarm clock. It keeps me on schedule.
46. Storage space.
47. Pictures.
48. People who know the value of time.
49. Good manners.
50. Good writing.

Note: Part I and Part II can be found in the Archives.

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