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Chargers Interview OSU’s Riley

January 6, 1999

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ San Diego Chargers president Dean Spanos spoke glowingly about coaching candidate Mike Riley on Tuesday, even saying that he might be the guy to bring along troubled quarterback Ryan Leaf.

The buzz around the NFL is that Riley, the coach at Oregon State, will become the Chargers’ next coach. But Spanos said Riley might not necessarily have an offer in hand when he heads back to Corvallis on Wednesday.

``We haven’t made a deal,″ Spanos said late Tuesday afternoon.

Then again, the second meeting between Riley and the Chargers was expected to go late into the night, and things could change. A team spokesman said no news conference had been scheduled for Wednesday.

``He’s a serious candidate, there’s no doubt about it,″ Spanos said. ``He’s a great guy and everything. We’re talking to him. That’s where we’re at right now.″

Spanos said Riley is one of two leading candidates to replace June Jones, who became coach at Hawaii. Neither Spanos nor general manager Bobby Beathard will identify the other candidate, except to say he’s a college coach. Beathard didn’t make himself available for comment Tuesday.

``I’ve know Bobby Beathard for a while, and obviously follow the league and the people within this organization, and I’m very interested,″ Riley said after arriving at the San Diego airport.

Riley compared the situation to when he left Southern Cal, where he was offensive coordinator, to take the Oregon State job in December 1996.

``It passed in front of my plate, and I took the opportunity,″ said Riley, who played high school football in Corvallis before playing defensive back for Bear Bryant at Alabama. ``If indeed this one does, I’ll have to make a decision about it. That’s all pretty good stuff, but it’s a little bit agonizing, too.″

One NFL assistant said the rumors of Riley going to the Chargers ``are real strong in our league. Bobby Beathard is hand-picking him.″

Spanos also met with Riley last weekend and is clearly impressed with the 45-year-old coach, who is 8-14 in two seasons at perennially downtrodden Oregon State. The Beavers were 5-6 this year, narrowly missing their first winning season since 1970.

``I really like the things that he had to say. He’s very personable, very smart,″ Spanos said. ``That’s subjective, obviously. I think he’s the type of guy that could step into this type of situation.″

The situation, of course, is that the Chargers (5-11) need an offensive-minded coach who can guide them out of a three-year slide, which was made worse when Leaf, the second pick in the draft, was a bust on the field and a problem off it.

``I think Bobby and I both felt that we’re much better than our record would indicate,″ Spanos said. ``The thing that’s really lagging with us right now is obviously our quarterback. I think he (Riley) brings a lot to that situation, in terms of development. Again, it’s subjective, but I think that Bobby and I think he’d be a real great fit for Ryan.″

The Chargers want their new coach to keep the defensive staff intact, as well as retain offensive line coach Joe Bugel. The Chargers’ defense ranked No. 1 overall and against the run.

Spanos didn’t think Riley, who met with several assistants on Tuesday, would have a problem with that request.

The Chargers would like to have a coach hired within a week, Spanos said.

If the college candidates don’t pan out, Beathard has two or three candidates in mind from the NFL ranks. He’s believed to be interested in San Francisco offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but can’t contact him until the 49ers’ playoff run ends.

If Riley remains at Oregon State, he’ll get a contract extension, athletic director Mitch Barnhart said Tuesday.

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