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Pirate Notebook No. 428
Monday, May 3, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Leach protégé Riley now the mastermind

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Offensive savant. Quarterback scholar. Jedi of the Air Raid offense. Each description seems to fit Lincoln Riley, both in age and level of expertise.

Consider that, at 26, Riley has already achieved a coaching rank that many offensive assistants can spend an entire career chasing. As the first year offensive coordinator at East Carolina, he is the textbook definition of a coaching prodigy, one who is on the fast path to becoming a head coach.

And he is barely four years removed from college.

To classify it with corporate terminology, Riley is the football equivalent of a VP within the most visible division of a Fortune 500 company. His primary responsibility? Make sure the new state-of-the-art scoreboard at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium displays significant point increases, the type he grew accustomed to seeing while at Texas Tech.

That’s a major undertaking for any coach, let alone a young gun who is serving his first full-time stint as a coordinator. It’s partially why there is a fascination within the media and the fans over Riley’s youth, yet that semi-obsession isn’t a source of frustration for the Pirates’ offensive coordinator.

“It really doesn’t bother me at all,” Riley said. “Sometimes guys say that it doesn’t bother them, but they are just saying that to look tough, or they are not really telling the truth. But it really doesn’t bother me.

“I’ve said it before, if you can get it done, you can get it done. It doesn’t matter how old you are. You can either get the job done or you can’t get the job done. I’m glad that I’m still this young because it means I have a lot of years and a lot of chances to continue to coach. I’d rather be at this point at my age than maybe at 50-years old.”

There is no denying that the ceiling is high for Riley. Very high. And after serving a long apprenticeship as the top offensive lieutenant under former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach — one that began while he was still in college — now seems the appropriate time for him to oversee his own offensive operation.

To help with that transition, Riley wisely sought an offensive staff that was familiar with the system he brought with him from west Texas. Aside from inside receivers coach Donnie Kirkpatrick, the entire offensive staff has either played or coached in the Air Raid system, if not both.

“I’ve got guys on the offensive staff who I totally trust,” Riley said. “That makes it a lot easier. It’s been a pretty easy transition because of the coaches around me.

“I don’t know that I can put into words how important that has been. It’s been the key to the entire spring. We got in a lot more things (this) spring than I anticipated, than I ever thought we would. That had a lot to do with these guys around me. I didn’t have to spend a lot of my time, like a lot of new coordinators do, coaching the coaches and then coaching the players. We could just jump in and start coaching these players.”

That was paramount to the Pirates’ offensive transition this spring, as they shifted from a multiple offense that emphasized ball control to a spread attack that keeps the ball airborne. It’s a philosophy that includes many short, safe passes but also is packaged with its share of risks.

So don’t assume that 3rd and short will automatically be met by a zone dive, screen, or a quick slant to a slot receiver.

“I think there is a little risk in anything you do,” Riley said. “We try to get to the point in this offense where we aren’t worried about the risk as much. We have enough confidence and belief in what we are doing that we aren’t scared to take chances.

“We’re not scared to throw it deep on 3rd and 1 or to run it on 3rd and 15. You get to a point I think in this offense, and we aren’t there yet but we are well on our way, where you have the mentality that you are going to go out and play well every day. The expectations get so high that even if you didn’t have a good day, you put up 30 points and 500 yards of offense.“

Those expectations won’t be much different for East Carolina. Riley didn’t go so far as to say that 30 and 500 are the new offensive Mendoza lines for the Pirates, but he did mention that the standards have changed significantly. The 400 and 450 yard outbursts that ECU recently celebrated won’t be greeted with the same enthusiasm anymore.

If you spend much time with Riley, it becomes fairly clear that he demands excellence from himself and his staff, as well as his players. Perhaps that explains the 20-minute pow-wow he held with his quarterbacks following the spring game, an afternoon on which the trio of Pirates passers completed 40 of 71 attempts for 354 yards and three scores.

You might say there is a new offensive sheriff in town for ECU, one who is smart, young and confident. And though it’s too early to predict how successful Riley will be, there is certainly a buzz about him and the offensive system he is implementing.


O'Brien: Leach protégé Riley now the mastermind
BVL Box Score: Marshall 10, East Carolina 3
BVL Box Score: East Carolina 12, Marshall 3
BVL Box Score: East Carolina 11, Marshall 4
BVL Audio: Heather Macy Press Conference
Myatt: McNeill taps into Pirate generations
Bradsher: Moore plots course for "next level"
BVL Box Score: East Carolina 9, UNCW 7
Bailey: Holland hits home run with Moore hiring
BVL: Weekly college baseball polls
O'Brien: Outlook murky for reinvented Pirates
Myatt: Nelson seeks to make ECU units special
Bailey: "Exceptional" Baseball League Photos
Bailey: Exceptional day in more ways than one

Yet you wouldn’t know it from talking to Riley. Like any good Jedi, his focus is firmly on the task ahead.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

05/03/2010 02:32 AM

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