At Oregon State, it's time for patience amid the growing pains
It's not surprising that, with an 0-3 start, Oregon State football is under siege.
Fire Mike Riley. Off with his head! Or at least get rid of the coordinators, Danny Langsdorf and Mark Banker.
It's the world we live in. Instant gratification. Forget yesterday, or even the future. The 'now' is all that matters.
Bear with me as I provide a little perspective.
At Oregon State, the journey to respectability - after 28 straight losing seasons - was a difficult, painstaking procedure.
There was no Phil Knight, no sugar daddy with deep pockets to expedite the process.
Pretty miraculous, even with improving facilities, what Riley and Dennis Erickson were able to accomplish in Corvallis with a program that was a laughingstock for so long.
From 1999 - Erickson's first season - to 2009, Oregon State was 87-50 overall and 55-37 in the Pac-10. OSU went to bowl games in nine of those 11 years and finished in the upper half of the Pac-10 eight times.
In 2008 and '09, Oregon State entered the Civil War game needing a victory to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl. After the '09 season, Riley turned down overtures from Southern Cal to remain at Oregon State.
Nobody in his right mind does that.
Riley left OSU once, though, for a job with the San Diego Chargers. He found that home is where his heart is. That's Corvallis. He is dedicated to providing stability to a program he and Erickson built from the ground up.
Which brings us to today. After a disappointing 5-7 season in 2010, Oregon State is off to a lousy start. The season-opening loss to Sacramento State was beyond anyone's comprehension - absolutely inexcusable. Then losses to a top-10 team, Wisconsin, in Madison and to a mediocre UCLA team in Corvallis.
Think about it, though. On Saturday, the Beavers lost by a touchdown to an opponent stocked with four- and five-star recruits, a school with glitz and glamour located in a city in which nearly every college athlete would love to spend a few years as an undergrad.
Somehow, Riley and his coaching staff have convinced enough recruits - and their parents - that Corvallis is the right place for them to earn an education and a chance at the NFL. And he has proved they can win, and win bowl games, there.
So what has happened to turn the recent fortunes downward?
The Beavers are paying for a couple of poor recruiting years in 2007 and '08. It's a thin senior class this fall, with only six recruited scholarship athletes - James Rodgers, Joe Halahuni, Kevin Frahm, Cameron Collins, Lance Mitchell and long snapper Marcus Perry - playing key roles.
Senior offensive linemen Grant Johnson, Mike Remmers and Burke Ellis all arrived as walk-ons.
As a result, there isn't enough leadership - or experience - from the upperclassmen.
Over the past two years, Oregon State has gotten unlucky, too, losing tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, middle linebacker David Pa'aluhi, defensive linemen Matt LaGrone, Fred Thompson and Dominic Glover, cornerback Brandon Hardin and offensive lineman Michael Philipp for a variety of reasons.
All were counted upon to play key roles. Glover and suspended D-tackle Castro Masaniai might have made the difference in the loss to the Bruins, who ran the ball for 211 yards against OSU's small, outmanned front.
That may sound like an excuse, but depth - even as Riley has built it over the years - is an issue at Oregon State, and probably always will be. This is not a football factory located in a suburban mecca. It's small-town America with a limited budget going up against heavyweights in one of the nation's premier conferences.
Doesn't mean the Beavers can't win. Riley has, and he will again.
Mistakes have been made this season, for sure. There was the mishandling of the Ryan Katz/Sean Mannion quarterback shift at Wisconsin. Masaniai should have sat out against Sacramento State, or at least Wisconsin, not UCLA. Coaches are human, though - most of them, anyway. Perfection is a pursuit, not an art.
Riley's last two recruiting classes have arguably been his best, and some of the good, young talent has been thrown into the line of fire quickly.
Seventeen players have made their first career starts already this season. Ten true freshmen have played - a record under Riley, and not necessarily a good thing - and a number of redshirt freshmen are serving key roles, including Mannion, Scott Crichton and Ryan Murphy. Others are maturing and progressing and will make their mark next season, or the season after.
Regrettably, there's a little catch-up involved here. The foundation of Oregon State football, though, has never been more sound. Pac-12 television dollars will help ensure that money will be available for recruiting, facilities and other necessary business items.
The coaching staff is solid. Some tweaks and adjustments are needed, but that's always the case in coaching. Riley, Langsdorf, Banker, et al., haven't forgotten how to coach. The game hasn't passed them by. There is continuity there, and it counts a lot toward winning in the future.
The Beavers are going through a second straight down season. Regaining the winning edge may take some time.
'That's part of the cycle of life sometimes,' Riley says. 'That's why we need continued growth.
'We have good players, but it's the youngest group we've had. The majority of this team will be back next year. We just have to help this team by coaching them and getting them better, week by week.'
Riley isn't going anywhere. Even if Athletic Director Bob De Carolis wanted the coach gone - trust me, he doesn't - he can't afford to fire him. Riley's contract extension signed in 2009 gives him an extra year for every bowl game the Beavers reach. It has nine years left.
The coach isn't resting on laurels. He is working harder than ever at getting things turned around. The schedule doesn't make it easy. Which remaining opponents should the Beavers beat?
One of Riley's strengths is his patience and even demeanor. His coaches and players believe in him. Despite his countenance, the guy is an incredible competitor. He doesn't take losing easily.
Neither does Beaver Nation. That's understandable. Things have been good for a while now, and it's natural to point fingers and call for change.
Expectations are higher, and that's good. Remember the journey, though, that has taken the Beavers to a good place. Have a little faith in the man most integral in leading them there.