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Riley wins by being himself

On Sports

CORVALLIS -

It's pretty obvious by now that Mike Riley's biggest weakness also is his greatest strength. The man's so darned nice you can't help but like him. Even pull for him.

While whispering boosters, screaming fans and impatient sports columnists (me among them) were screaming for the Oregon State football coach to do something - anything - a few weeks ago to turn his season around, he slapped on his most charming smile and soldiered onward.

Riley doesn't panic. He doesn't stray from his plotted course. Most of all, he stands by his players, for better or worse.

It's a difficult path to walk. The last time I had seen the Beavers, they chalked up just two field goals in an anemic offensive display that resulted in a loss to Washington State.

My goodness, switch quarterbacks. Throw the ball downfield. Establish a running game. Try a trick play. Do something!

Riley shrugged his shoulders and kept doing it his way, though. And it's almost as if he's turned a trip to the gallows into a vacation on Maui. Road wins at Washington and Arizona set up Saturday's impressive upset of the Trojans, and suddenly OSU is on a roll.

The Beavers weren't awed or intimidated. Quarterback Matt Moore made so many great throws I lost count of them. Sammie Stroughter caught eight balls, came up with another monster of a punt return, and the defense hung tough against some explosive offensive talent.

Riley had every reason to be proud and even to gloat a little when it was over. But gloating isn't part of his package. He channels all the praise to his coaching staff and players, humbly edging out of the spotlight whenever possible.

He acted as if he didn't even notice the lynch mob on his trail a few weeks ago, even though I'm certain he heard the footsteps.

There have been times during his coaching career - and I'm sure we'll see those times again - when I've worried that he's too nice for his own good. His teams always seem a little undisciplined, and you sometimes wonder if he has it in him to make the tough decision when it comes to personnel.

Even during the big win Saturday you pondered whether there's enough control of the players - such as when his team twice bolted onto the field to celebrate the victory when there was clearly time left on the clock.

But at the same time, Riley's seemingly endless patience and obvious compassion serve him so well in an era when things so often can be out of perspective.

Seriously - since when did Oregon State have a right to consider itself a perennial football powerhouse? How important, really, is football in Corvallis?

On an afternoon when even the undefeated, No. 3-ranked team in the country, the glamorous Southern California Trojans, couldn't sell out Reser Stadium - club level seats, row after row of them, yawned empty - you have every reason to wonder.

But it was a gorgeous day and a beautiful win for the Beavers. And yes, a nice day for the very nice man who coaches football at Oregon State.

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