Commentary

Mike Riley's extension could clear way for Jack Del Rio

Updated: January 11, 2010, 10:50 PM ET
By Steve Mason | ESPNLosAngeles.com

The Oregonian reported Sunday night that Oregon State Beavers head coach Mike Riley has agreed to a three-year extension to stay in Corvallis. Riley would have been a very good fit to replace Pete Carroll, who announced his resignation from USC over the weekend.

Riley was considered to be a top target for USC athletic director Mike Garrett, and the Oregon State coach was very close to becoming the head football coach of the Trojans back in 2000. He is a former USC assistant, but Ryan Abraham from USCFootball.com told me that "Riley has told a couple of people the biggest mistake he ever made was leaving Corvallis the first time in 1999 to take over the San Diego Chargers." There is no question that Garrett likes Riley, but the people that Abraham has spoken to have indicated that Riley is very happy at Oregon State. So it is not a big surprise that he is staying put, and, to the best of my knowledge, the Trojans never asked permission to speak to him.

Oregon State has a very tough nonconference schedule in the fall, opening at Cowboys Stadium against Texas Christian, then traveling to the blue turf of Boise State three weeks later. Clearly, Oregon State is willing to play anyone, anywhere. It will be very difficult for Riley to replace quarterback Sean Canfield, who threw for 21 touchdowns and ran for two more, posting a 142 quarterback rating. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Katz from Santa Monica, a highly recruited prospect, may be the front-runner for the starting quarterback job, and he will have the help of playmakers Jaquizz and James Rodgers, who combined for 1,700 rushing yards, 1,500 receiving yards and 32 touchdowns in 2009. If junior defensive tackle Stephen Paea declares for the NFL (and odds are that he will), it will be a major blow to the Beavers' defense, and they will need to replace four of their front seven.

Given that the Oregon State program is likely to take a step back in 2010, committing to stay in Corvallis is clearly a "quality of life decision" for Riley. Great coach. Charming guy. Remarkably media-friendly. A real asset to the Pac-10. But this extension means that he will probably spend the rest of his career as the head coach of the Beavers.

Riley specializes in finding "diamonds in the rough" and honing them into gems. I have always wondered what he would do with actual diamonds. We may never know.

With Riley signed, sealed, delivered and unavailable, Abraham believes that Trojans great Jack Del Rio may move to the top of the list. He was an All-American in baseball at USC, playing catcher on a team that included Mark McGwire and Randy Johnson. But he was best known as a fierce linebacker, who was runner-up for the Lombardi Award. He played in the NFL for 11 years and has coached in the league for 13 more, winning a Super Bowl as a coach with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001.

A defensive-minded coach, Abraham said of Del Rio, "I like him a lot. If I had to bet on a favorite, it would be Del Rio." Former Trojans fullback Kennedy Pola is on Del Rio's staff in Jacksonville and could conceivably fill the same role at USC. Abraham added, "Someone like Del Rio with Norm Chow as his offensive coordinator would be a dynamic combination. His personality would translate well to the college game."

Del Rio has three years and $15 million left on his deal with cash-strapped Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, whose team, ironically, is a leading contender to pull up stakes and come to Southern California as the NFL's first Los Angeles franchise since the Rams and Raiders left. Not sure what contractual outs may exist, but Del Rio's head is clearly on the so-called chopping block.

The former Trojans linebacker has been on the job for seven years with a 57-55 record and the Jags have qualified for the playoffs twice. The last USC head coach with a career NFL record of two games over .500 and two trips to the playoffs?

Pete Carroll.

Steve Mason is a co-host of the "Mason & Ireland" show on 710 ESPN in Los Angeles.

Steve Mason

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Steve Mason is a co-host of the "Mason & Ireland" show on 710 ESPN Radio in Los Angeles.

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