LINCOLN — Nebraska interim coach Trent Bray remembers having “all the emotions” when he played at Oregon State and experienced a coaching transition. He sought counsel from his dad, Craig, who was also a college coach.
Dad’s advice: Take a deep breath. Let the coaching change play out. And once it did, Bray’s new head coach, Mike Riley, became “the best thing ever to happen to me.”
So when Bray faced a room of Husker players Saturday morning — minutes after Riley had been fired — he told his own story and passed on his dad’s advice.
“I let them know it was going to be all right, that Nebraska was going to hire a great coach and a great person that’ll treat you guys right,” said Bray, the only assistant not immediately fired by Athletic Director Bill Moos. “It seems like a dark time in the world, but it’s not. Bright days are ahead.”
NU players received a far different message in 2014, just before Bray arrived as part of Riley’s staff. At that time, fired coach Bo Pelini gathered his team for a secret, off-campus meeting and ripped the administration and then-A.D. Shawn Eichorst.
“There was a lot of negativity and a lot of the players felt like they had to choose sides,” Bray said of the culture in 2014. “Which is never a good thing for young people to have to do. And that plagued us our first year. There were a lot of hard times because of that. And I don’t want to do that. I don’t think it’s right.”
So Bray said he’s taking the opposite tack with players. He’s telling them to sit tight, finish strong in their classes and be wise with what they say on social media, which wasn’t around when Bray played in the early 2000s.
“They’ve got to be careful to not put anything out there that can be interpreted in any way other than how you truly meant it,” Bray said. “You have to be careful with social media. I understand you’re upset and there’s a knee-jerk reaction to unpleasant news. But let this thing shake out. Give the new coach a chance. There’s no reason to panic.”
Bray said players should trust Moos, who picked him in part because Moos’ son Bo played at Arizona State when Bray was an assistant there.
“Bill Moos is going to hire a great coach and a great person,” Bray said. “That’s going to happen. That’s his track record.”
Bray said he’s offering the same message to Nebraska’s nine commits for the 2018 recruiting class. All nine could sign in late December or wait until February. NU’s recruiting staff — whose contracts aren’t tied to Riley’s — are continuing to work, as is Billy Devaney, NU’s executive director of player personnel. Bray said he plans on touching base with recruits and having recruiting lists and boards fully updated to hand over to a new coaching staff.
Pelini’s staff, Bray said, left “nothing in-depth” for Riley’s staff, which isn’t uncommon, he said, for coaching transitions.
“We’re just trying to be a little bit different,” Bray said. “We want to make sure it’s a smooth turnover for this place and these kids. There are no ill feelings from me or any of us about this place.”
Moos told reporters Saturday that any new coach has total flexibility in hiring assistants. Bray, who coached linebackers, said he’d like to stay at Nebraska if he can.
“Who wouldn’t? It’s a great place,” he said. “I turned down some opportunities last year because I love the kids here and I love the place. That’ll happen if it happens, but it’s not a focus for me right now.”
Serving the players is.
“We care about these kids and we want them to be successful whether we’re here or not,” Bray said. “And to do anything that would take away from them growing and moving forward would not be a good thing.”