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COLLEGE FOOTBALL ’97: Riley comes home to turn losses into wins

August 22, 1997

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) _ Remember 1970? The Vietnam War was raging. The Beatles were breaking up. Oregon State was winning. And Mike Riley was the star quarterback for the state champion Corvallis High School football team.

Twenty-six years and 225 Oregon State losses later, Riley has come home to a job that one of his predecessors called ``a coach’s graveyard.″ His monumental task: bring an end to the longest string of losing football seasons in major-college history.

``That can be termed very scary,″ Riley said. ``There have been a lot of good people go through this program. There’s been a lot of things happen. But this is a great opportunity.″

Say what?

Since that 6-5 season in 1970, the Beavers have had 26 losing campaigns. Five coaches have tried to end the skid: Dee Andros, Craig Fertig, Joe Avezzano, Dave Kraghtorpe and Jerry Pettibone.

Combined, they had 57 victories, 225 losses and 7 ties. In the Pac-10 (it was the Pac-8 when the streak began) the record is 31-160-5.

But Riley wanted this job, even lobbied for it. After all, Corvallis was home. His father was an assistant to Andros that 1970 season. He remembered the big, enthusiastic crowds at Parker Stadium in the late 1960s.

``I’ve been around here and actually got to see teams play and sat in the stands and watched people succeed in a program that people were really proud of,″ Riley said. ``It’s an opportunity to help a school, help a program and players.″

Riley makes no promises about how long it might take to turn things around.

When Pettibone was hired in 1991, he made the mistake of saying that he wanted to be judged in his fifth season, not his first. Five years later, the Beavers went 1-10.

There seems to be no single reason the Beavers fell so far. But one big factor was financial commitment. While other schools in the conference were beefing up their stadiums and training facilities, Oregon State was lagging behind.

As the situation deteriorated, many wondered why the Beavers even tried. Why not move to the Big Sky Conference and compete in Division I-AA or give up the sport altogether? Highly successful programs such as Southern California and UCLA weren’t exactly thrilled to make the trip to little Corvallis to play in front of small crowds, often in miserable weather.

But the Beavers, who had success in basketball until the last half-decade and have had strong teams in minor sports, clung to their Pac-10 affiliation.

``These are the kinds of institutions we want to be associated with academically so these are the kinds of institutions we’re going to be associated with athletically,″ said Lee Schroeder, interim athletic director and vice president of finance and administration.

Schroeder is the temporary replacement for Dutch Baughman, who cited the pressure of the losing football program as one reason he resigned this summer.

The dwindling band of Oregon State boosters remembers the good times at the school. Tommy Prothro had seven winning seasons in his 10 years at Oregon State and took the Beavers to the Rose Bowl in 1956 and 1964. Quarterback Terry Baker won the Heisman Trophy after leading the Beavers to a 9-2 record and a Liberty Bowl win over Villanova in 1962.

Andros, ``The Great Pumpkin″ who succeeded Prothro in 1965, went 7-3 in 1966. His 1967 ``Giant Killers″ were 7-2-1 and pulled off the biggest win in the school’s history, 3-0 over O.J. Simpson and No. 1-ranked USC in the Corvallis mud. Those Andros teams, though, were ineligible for postseason play because, in those days, only the Pac-8 champion could go to a bowl.

Since he left Corvallis after high school, Riley has known success at almost every stop.

He was a defensive back for Bear Bryant at Alabama from 1971-74, playing on four Southeastern Conference championship teams. He was an assistant at Linfield College from 1977-82 and his last team won the NAIA Division II national championship.

As head coach at Winnipeg of the Canadian Football League, Riley led the Blue Bombers to the Grey Cup championship in 1988 and 1990 and was named CFL coach of the year both seasons. In 1991 and 1992, he coached San Antonio in the World League of American Football.

The past four seasons, he was offensive coordinator at Southern California, where the Trojans won the Pac-10 title in 1995 and beat Northwestern in the Rose Bowl.

The team was easily won over by Riley, whose toughest task is transforming players recruited for Pettibone’s option, run-dominated attack into a balanced, pro-style offense.

``It’s just a boost in morale. There’s a lot of excitement around the team,″ defensive back Andre Holland said. ``The things we were doing in the past weren’t working so it was time for a change.″

Starting over is nothing new in Corvallis.

But Riley has some things going for him that his predecessors didn’t. The new $6.2 million expanded Valley Football Center is touted as the best football training center in the Pac-10. The Beavers begin this season with five consecutive home games and play a record seven games at Parker Stadium. One of the four away games is just 42 miles down the road at Oregon.

All of which does not translate into a quick fix. Still, the players have their dreams of that breakthrough season.

``I think about it every day, every day,″ Holland said. ``That’s what I’m looking forward to and that’s what’s kept me here, because I really do believe we’re going to turn this program around.″

Tight end Joe Kuykendall wants to be there.

``It would be pandemonium,″ he said.

End Adv for weekend editions, Aug. 23-24

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