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Riley Gets First Look From UCLA

Saint assistant will meet with chancellor today but says other prospects for Bruin coaching job to be interviewed.

December 16, 2002|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Mike Riley will meet today with Chancellor Albert Carnesale to talk about the UCLA football coaching job, but the New Orleans Saint assistant does not expect an imminent decision.

Considered the top candidate to replace the fired Bob Toledo, Riley said that he expects to return to New Orleans later today with the job still open.

"Nothing will happen," he said moments after his flight arrived in Los Angeles Sunday night. Of interviewing with Carnesale, Riley said: "I'm not the only guy coming in. I'm just the first guy."

Many people close to the coaching search believe that, ultimately, Riley will be the guy. UCLA began courting him last Monday, just hours after Athletic Director Dan Guerrero fired Toledo, the Bruin coach of seven years. Guerrero and assistant athletic director Bob Field flew to New Orleans last Monday evening and conducted a four-hour interview with Riley.

"I'm obviously interested in it," Riley said. "They are taking their time, and that's the smart way to handle it. [The time frame] could be short, and it could be long."

Karl Dorrell, a Denver Bronco assistant who has the backing of many former Bruin players, and Kansas City Chief assistant Greg Robinson were interviewed Saturday by Guerrero and Field.

At the conclusion of those talks, Guerrero asked Dorrell and Robinson about their availability today. They are the only candidates besides Riley believed to have been interviewed.

Washington State Coach Mike Price belatedly joined the picture for a short time. UCLA requested -- and received -- permission to interview him Friday, but by Saturday afternoon Price told his team he was not interested.

That is not the case with Riley, 49, regardless of how long it takes UCLA to make a decision.

"I'm obviously interested in it," he said.

Riley turned down a lucrative long-term offer Thursday from Alabama, his alma mater.

"That decision was made independent of this one," he said. "It had nothing to do with UCLA and what they wanted to do."

Riley's wife and two children have lived in Southern California since he was an assistant at USC from 1993-96 and currently live in Solana Beach near San Diego.

Sources said UCLA is prepared to make a contract offer to Riley worth $700,000 to $800,000, plus incentives. The deal is thought to be for six or seven years and would include a rollover clause, meaning that another year is added to the deal every year the coach is retained.

A potential sticking point is the $750,000 owed him by the San Diego Chargers for the last year of a five-year guaranteed deal he signed in 1999.

He was fired after going 14-34 in three seasons and the Chargers do not have to pay him if he takes another head coaching job. However, UCLA is unlikely to add even a portion of that amount to his deal.

At first blush, Riley would seem an unattractive candidate. He had only a 22-48 record as a head coach with the Chargers and for two seasons at Oregon State, although he did win two Canadian Football League Grey Cup titles as coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

But he is regarded as a strong tactician on offense and has a reputation for connecting with young players.

It also doesn't hurt that Riley has had a long relationship with Field, who has emerged as Guerrero's most trusted football advisor. Field was a young assistant at Alabama when Riley played there in the early 1970s and the two men have remained in contact.

Field, a longtime former UCLA assistant nudged from his defensive coordinator position by Toledo after the 2000 season, is familiar with all the top candidates. He was a UCLA assistant along with Robinson under Terry Donahue in the 1980s -- a period when Dorrell was a standout receiver.

Riley, sources said, also has the strong backing of Bobby Beathard, a respected former NFL general manager who hired Riley with the Chargers.

Beathard's son, Jeff, played under Riley in Winnipeg. Guerrero, in his first year as athletic director, considers it a plus that Riley does not have strong ties to UCLA, sources said. Dorrell has the backing of many players from the Bruin glory days in the 1980s, but such strong support from one segment of alumni might make Guerrero wary.

This is the third time in two years that Riley has been close to a Pacific 10 Conference coaching position. Two years ago USC tried to hire him to replace Paul Hackett, but the Chargers would not release him from his contract. Last year he was a finalist for the Stanford opening that went to Buddy Teevens.

He is a serious candidate again, and he'll discover more in his meeting with Carnesale. While he waited for his wife, Dee, to pick him up outside the airline terminal Sunday, Riley shrugged off the uncertainty. "I don't even know where we are staying tonight," he said. "She'll pick me up and take me there."


Tight end Mike Seidman and linebacker Marcus Reese were named co-most valuable players at the UCLA football team banquet Sunday at the Beverly Hills Hilton.

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