I'm left to wonder who will replace him. A few interesting names come to mind, bearing in mind that OSU isn't exactly an A-list destination, though it may be the best opening this year behind Michigan and Florida (who already have their man). Riley was about as good as Beaver Nation could probably get, and get to stay. Here are a few of the names which come to my mind as reasonable possibilities, though I am kind of passing over the mid-major coaches and coordinators--I just don't know enough about them:
- Ed Orgeron: This seems like probably the best choice on the list. He has experience as a head coach, and was actually pretty successful at USC as interim head. He's also a great recruiter, and would probably be a good choice here.
- Jim Harbaugh: This is probably the longest shot on this list. He seems like he wants to stay in the NFL; in the event that he does go back to coaching college, what reason would he have to go to OSU? Especially since his alma mater, Michigan, is also looking to hire somebody. Still, it would be pretty impressive if they could snag him, and it does seem like he'll be leaving San Francisco in the near future. He also knows a thing or two about building up a program.
- Mark Banker: He's been a decent enough defensive coordinator,and I suspect that he would likely stick around at OSU if he turned out to be a good coach. There would be continuity, which is not a bad thing.
- Brady Hoke: Yes, he was just fired at Michigan. Then again, his predecessor was Rich Rodiguez. How's that going tor Arizona?
- Bo Pelini: this would be just weird (effectively: OSU and Nebraska would be swapping head coaches), but Pelini hasn't exactly been a complete failure. He's won about 9-10 games every year, which fall short of the standards at Nebraska, but which would be fine at OSU.
- Steve Spurrier: This is a stretch, since he would probably have to be fired from South Carolina first. If that actually happens, he would almost certainly be the best choice possible. He's an excellent coach who built South Carolina up from the ground into a perennial contender in the SEC east (this year excepted). He's also been pretty loyal to South Carolina. On the other hand, he's also pretty old (he'll be 70 next year), so he may be more likely to retire, and I can't see his leaving South Carolina unless they fire him (and certainly no for OSU), which seems unlikely.
- Beau Baldwin: This would be an interesting move, since FBS is a bit of a step up from FCS, but Eastern Washington has been a very good team for quite a long time. One wonders how their coach would fair in the "big leagues" of college sports--especially if they were moved to a program which is already somewhat established (as opposed to, say, Appalachian State).
- Craig Bohl: Ditto to Baldwin, but with a season in the FBS (albeit, a 4-8 season at Wyoming). North Dakota Sate, his previous job, was every bit as good as (in fact, better than) Eastern Washington.
- Chris Klieman: Same comments as the previous two; he's been defensive coordinator and is now head coach at North Dakota State
- Scott Frost: It may seem a little awkward to poach a name from a rival school, then Oregon's offense has been pretty good under coordinator Frost.
- Pat Narduzzi: Has Overseen some excellent defenses at Michigan State, but then I'm not sure he would leave there for OSU.
- Justin Fuente: He's done a decent enough job at Memphis.
- Will Muschamp: Yes, he was recently fired from Florida. He would also be a bit of a personality change after Mike Riley, and I'm not so sure he'd have much success at OSU. Plus, he seems more likely to go become a defensive coordinator for somebody else first (apparently both Auburn and Texas A&M have made some very big offers to him).
This list is already pretty long, and there are a number of names not on it (again, many mid-majors like Utah State, Fresno State, and a few good coordinators from programs like Arizona State, Mizzou, UCLA...). And a lot of these are long-shots, either in that they probably wouldn't work out too well, or they'd leave if they did, or are unlikely to leave their current jobs for OSU.
If I had to rank these options factoring for likeness of being hired and likeliness of being successful, probably the top five would be Orgeron, Hoke, Banker, Fuente, and Baldwin. If Spurrier becomes available for some reason--a very outside chance--he would probably be the best choice of all, if OSU could convince him to move across the country and if nobody else swooped in with a better offer. But of actual names on the table, I think Orgeron would be the best choice, if he could be the coach he was at USC last year. The second trick would be getting him to stay at OSU, which has one of the worst heading coaching salaries--and possibly among the least resources in general--of power-5 schools.