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Jeff Kolpack, Published April 18 2013

Bison assistant football coach on firm footing after Omaha stint

FARGO – There are not many people as well qualified to be a spokesperson for Omaha, Neb., as Conor Riley. The city is his old stomping grounds.

He grew up in Nebraska’s largest city. He was a standout football player for Creighton Prep High School and later played at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He was an assistant coach for the Mavericks.

His parents and seven brothers and sisters live in the vicinity.

Mr. Omaha.

Then came the big crash.

One day, the Mavericks were going about their pre-spring football business to get ready for the 2011 season. The next day, out of nowhere to everybody but administrators, the school dropped its program.

“Extremely difficult time,” Riley said.

The hardest part, he said, was dealing with the players, several of whom he recruited to UNO.

“You ask a lot of young men to trust you, and you ask the parents to have trust in you,” he said. “To have it end in that manner and so abruptly was, again, extremely difficult.”

There are no worries about his current school dropping football. Riley is the new assistant coach at North Dakota State, where he’s working with the fullbacks and tight ends.

How he got here is the old coaching fraternity story of being connected to the right people.

At NDSU, that starts with offensive line coach Scott Fuchs, also a former assistant at UNO. Riley, who was a groomsman in Fuchs’ wedding, helped coach at Bison summer football camps and saw other NDSU coaches on the recruiting trail, specifically in the Twin Cities.

And after Omaha dropped football, he got to know NDSU head coach Craig Bohl and defensive coordinator Chris Klieman when both went to Omaha to recruit former Mavericks defensive back Bryan Shepherd. It was a fruitful visit – Shepherd is the Bison starting strong safety.

Riley latched on at Sacramento State, where he was the offensive line coach the last two years.

In another North Dakota connection twist, it was Southern Illinois head coach Dale Lennon who recommended Riley to Sac State. Riley was a finalist for a position at SIU, but when he didn’t get that, Lennon called Sac State athletic director Terry Wanless. Wanless was Lennon’s former boss at the University of North Dakota.

“It’s funny how things work out,” Riley said.

It hasn’t been all fun and games in Fargo. His grandmother died last week and the weather hasn’t been great. But he’s also coaching at a Division I school that has won back-to-back national championships.

“That’s one nice thing about football,” Riley said. “Even though you’re going through some tough times like that, it’s a great solace to work out on that football field for two and a half hours, escape and work toward that common goal. The transition has been great because the people have been great.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia