The Big Ten's East Division has hogged attention this spring with a certain new coach in khakis up in Ann Arbor and a quarterback debate hovering over defending national champion Ohio State. A quieter tone has emanated from the league's West Division, even though two of its flagship programs - Wisconsin and Nebraska - are being led by new coaches.
The Big Ten's East Division has hogged attention this spring with a certain new coach in khakis up in Ann Arbor and a quarterback debate hovering over defending national champion Ohio State.
A quieter tone has emanated from the league's West Division, even though two of its flagship programs - Wisconsin and Nebraska - are being led by new coaches. Nebraska coach Mike Riley and Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst are busy installing new on-field systems, but already those longtime friends have established some off-field peace at their respective programs.
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"We've set the tone where we want to go into fall camp," Riley said about the Cornhuskers yesterday on a Big Ten media teleconference.
The lack of noise has been welcomed at Nebraska and Wisconsin after both proud programs endured an 18-day stretch rife with surprise and raw emotion near the end of last season.
It began on Nov. 30, when Bo Pelini was fired after seven seasons at Nebraska despite winning at least nine games every season and going 66-27 overall. Many of his players expressed outrage on social media.
Speculation flew that Nebraska might be interested in hiring Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who left Wisconsin in 2012.
Instead, the Cornhuskers surprisingly hired the low-key Riley on Dec. 4, even though he was 61 years old and had spent 14 seasons, including the past 12, in two stops at Oregon State.
Two days later, Wisconsin earned its spot in the national sports news cycle by suffering a humiliating 59-0 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. Gary Andersen shocked Wisconsin four days after that defeat when he quit as Badgers coach after only two seasons to take over Riley's old job at Oregon State.
Wisconsin was hit with more big news that same day, Dec. 10, when running back Melvin Gordon, a Heisman Trophy finalist, announced he was skipping his senior season to enter the NFL draft. A week later, Chryst was hired by Wisconsin after going 19-19 in three seasons at Pittsburgh.
Headline volume pertaining to the Badgers and Cornhuskers has since been lowered by new coaches doing the daily work to establish new foundations.
"Spring has been about the coaches and me getting to know the players, and it has been a good spring," Chryst said on yesterday's teleconference.
Chryst, 49, grew up in Madison and was a reserve player for the Badgers in the late 1980s. He spent two shifts totaling eight seasons on Wisconsin's coaching staff, including serving as offensive coordinator from 2005 to '11.
"It helps, certainly in a lot of areas, to know the school," Chryst said.
Like Chryst, Riley has been described as having a "folksy" manner, which is a new approach at Nebraska, where Pelini's emotional bombast fostered either loyalty or alienation.
"(Pelini) was fiery type of a guy, a yeller, and that's great," junior receiver Jordan Westerkamp said. "Coach Riley is a different side of the spectrum, more calm and relaxed. It's obviously different. We've had to adapt to that, but it's been a good transition. We're excited to work with coach Riley."
Riley said he "kind of surprised myself in leaving" Oregon State, but he's pleased with how the Nebraska players have accepted him and his staff.
"In general it's a happy group, and fun to work with," Riley said. "It's been a productive spring."
And in Lincoln and Madison, it has been much quieter than December.