LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos, after firing coach Mike Riley on Saturday, continued to offer praise for UCF’s Scott Frost, believed to rank as the Cornhuskers’ top coaching target.
Frost, the 42-year-old ex-national champion Nebraska quarterback and native son, is 11-0 in his second season at UCF after a 49-42 win over USF on Friday. The Knights will play Memphis next week in the American Athletic Conference championship game.
“He’s obviously a Nebraskan,” Moos said of Frost. “And he’s getting a lot of attention from several other schools. Scott is someone that I am considering, but I’m being very sensitive to the fact that he’s still coaching a team, and he’s having a heck of a run.”
Moos refused to refute a suggestion that he watched Frost in person on Nov. 18 as UCF played Temple in Philadelphia. The athletic director said he had enlisted the help of “third-party people” to make contact with six coaches whom he initially identified as potential candidates.
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He also shared complimentary words Saturday when asked specifically about Texas AM’s Kevin Sumlin and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen.
“I’ve never said I was going after Scott Frost. A lot of other people have,” Moos said. “You know what, that’s a tribute to Nebraskans. He’s one of ours, played for us and has gone on and paid his dues, and he’s got a good job that I believe he really likes. But he’s got a lot of interest in him right now.”
Frost is also regarded as a leading candidate at Florida.
Riley was told of his termination by Moos on Saturday morning, some 15 hours after Iowa throttled the Cornhuskers 56-14 to close a 4-8 season in Lincoln, the worst at the school since 1961. Nebraska assistants and players also met with the athletic director to learn of the decision.
Linebackers coach Trent Bray, the only assistant still employed, will serve as interim coach.
Riley held a news conference Saturday after Moos did to thank his players and Nebraska fans, and said the athletic director “was great to us.”
“The opportunity to be here, it’s like that old song: I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to miss the dance,” Riley said. “I loved it. I loved the opportunity to coach here.”
Riley’s stint at the school ends with a 19-19 record and one winning season amid six defeats the past two years by 21 points or more in Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes on Friday were the third consecutive Nebraska opponent to score more than 50 points, which had never happened prior to that in school history, according to ESPN Stats Information.
The 64-year-old coach lobbied for another season Friday in the aftermath of his team’s fourth consecutive loss. It was to no avail, as Moos said he began to lean strongly in favor of a change two weeks earlier after Minnesota beat Nebraska 54-21 in Minneapolis.
Riley’s contract runs through the 2020 season. He is owed more than $6 million by the university, which is also still paying the buyout owed to Bo Pelini, Riley’s predecessor.
Nebraska will not participate in a bowl game for the third time in 48 seasons and has lost four consecutive home games for the first time since 1968 and 1969.
“I told the players today, ‘Nobody wants to go 4-8,'” Moos said. “I want to get this program to where we’re disappointed if we go 8-4. That can happen. Everything is set here, and I have observed and assessed that. This table is set as well as any place in the United States in regard to resources, facilities, infrastructure and fan support. It’s all right here.”
The next Huskers coach will be their fifth in 15 years. Riley’s stint was the shortest for a Nebraska coach in more than five decades and extended a period of suffering for the fifth-most-winning program in college football history that dates to shortly after Tom Osborne’s retirement in 1997.
Nebraska won or shared three national titles in Osborne’s final four seasons but earned the most recent of its 46 conference titles in 1999. Since its move from the Big 12 to the Big Ten in 2011, Nebraska has played for just one league title while cutting ties with Riley and Pelini.
Riley’s demise accelerated in September when Shawn Eichorst — the athletic director who brought Riley to Nebraska from Oregon State — was fired after the Huskers lost 21-17 to Northern Illinois.
University leaders said at the time that Eichorst’s efforts had not produced adequate results in football and that they were not pleased with Nebraska’s competitiveness. Soon after, Riley’s team nosedived, losing 38-17 to Wisconsin and 56-14 to Ohio State in consecutive weeks at Memorial Stadium.
Purdue in Week 9 but closed with the four-game skid. Clearly, Moos decided an overall upgrade was needed.
“I’m going to find a real good fit for our next football coach,” he said. “Nebraska needs to get back to being Nebraska. What’s wrong with that?”
Riley’s team finished 9-4 in 2016 but lost four of its final six games after climbing to seventh in the Associated Press Top 25 ahead of an overtime loss at Wisconsin. The Huskers finished 6-7 in Riley’s first year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.