Remember, three years ago at about this time, when Mike Riley left Oregon State University's head football coaching position for Nebraska and Gary Andersen, at the time the coach at Wisconsin, landed the OSU job?
At the time, we thought it seemed like a win all around: Riley had to some extent worn out his long-running welcome in Corvallis, but his style of coaching seemed like a good fit for Nebraska. And Andersen, a Big Ten coach who had achieved success in previous jobs, seemed like someone who could bring new electricity to Beavers football.
That seems like a long time ago now, doesn't it?
Suffice it to say that neither man found much success at his new job. Andersen, of course, walked away from the job halfway through the Beavers' hapless 1-11 season, electing not to take the $12 million or so he was entitled to in his contract. One of the team's assistant coaches, Cory Hall, was named the interim coach, and although Hall made fans with his energy and optimism, he was unable to get a win in the season's second half, which ended with a definitive thud on Saturday with a 69-10 drubbing at the hands of the rival Oregon Ducks.
Riley went 4-8 at Nebraska this season and in a move that was so widely expected that it almost didn't qualify as news, was fired on Saturday after the Cornhuskers closed out their lackluster season with another loss.
Now OSU's director of athletics, Scott Barnes, faces his biggest challenge to date, finding the school's new football coach. It could be the decision that will determine the fate of his tenure at the university.
No pressure there.
Here's the thing that people sometimes don't understand about most college athletics: Football pays the bills.
OSU offers a total of 17 sports. The vast majority of them lose money. Football does not. But if your football team starts playing in front of thousands of empty seats at its home games, that's going to have a big impact on your bottom line — and, in the long run, your ability to support those other sports.
So when you're hiring a football coach for your team, you're also hiring the person who is responsible for generating a good chunk of your revenue. And, although having a hefty budget doesn't always guarantee winning teams, it's no surprise to see teams from conferences like the SEC and the Big Ten jamming the top of the list when it comes to revenue.
USA Today, which tracks athletic department budgets at public universities, reports that Texas A&M topped the list in 2015-16, with $194.4 million in revenue. Only two schools in the Pac-12 even cracked the top 25 on the newspaper's list: Oregon was No. 23, with $111.7 million. Washington was No. 25, with $107.2 million. (The list did not include USC or Stanford, both private schools.)
OSU came in 52nd, with $72.3 million. Only Washington State ($58.8 million, good enough for 55th), collected less revenue among Pac-12 public schools.
Our sense with major college football is that the landscape going forward will consist of "haves" and "have-nots." A school that ends up on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak, will occasionally be able to field a competitive team that can make a run into the top echelons of the sport, but it won't be able to do that year in and year out, the way that schools like Alabama and Clemson are able to do.
Maybe we don't want that in Corvallis, but we're guessing Barnes and other OSU administrators feel otherwise. So the challenge facing Barnes is to find the right people, the right approach and sufficient revenue to keep Beavers football relevant. That's what could be at stake here. Like we said, no pressure. (mm)