Skip to main content

As much as Mickey Joseph was a no-brainer addition to the Nebraska football staff, the decision to hire Donovan Raiola comes with a bit of an eyebrow raise. 

Head coach Scott Frost is taking a chance on his offensive line hire. Raiola has a big challenge in front of him. He is taking over a position group that was arguably the least productive on the team. It was a position group that Frost specifically pointed out in the summer as one he was excited about because of its potential. Unfortunately, that potential never came to fruition. The unit never did gel and was among the worst at the Power Five level.

Third in a series examining Scott Frost's new assistants.

•  Introduction   • Mickey Joseph

The O-line's immediate turnaround will be vital to the success of the offense next season, which will tie directly into Frost's future at Nebraska. That job was made even more difficult when its best player, center Cam Jurgens, decided to leave early for the NFL.

Frost saw something in Raiola. The two of them first got acquainted when they spent time together at a high school playoff game. With Nebraska on a bye week, Frost traveled to Texas on Nov. 12 to watch priority 2024 quarterback target Dylan Raiola lead his Burleson squad against Poteet High School. As it happened, the Chicago Bears, with whom Donovan Raiola was the assistant offensive line coach, were also on a bye. Raiola was in town to watch his nephew. Along with Dylan's father, former Husker great Dominic Raiola, the three watched as Dylan went 15 of 20 for 454 yards and 7 touchdowns while trouncing Poteet 70-48.

During the game, Scott and Donovan got to know each other and talked a lot of football. The meeting put Raiola squarely on Frost's radar. "We started talking about what he believed in on the offensive line and the technique that he coached, and I got pretty interested pretty fast," Frost would later say about that initial meeting.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Fast-forward a few weeks and Frost was in Chicago on Dec. 3, conducting a formal interview with Raiola. "When I sat down and watched film with Donovan and watched what he was teaching and what was being done, I felt like it would make a big difference on our offensive line," Frost said. "To me, what he coaches is really modern and it is what I believe in. He is going to get the guys ripping off the ball and running and trying to get people moved. It is a little different from what some other people coach. It is what I believe in and based on our personnel and the type of offense we run, I think it is the best thing for us. I think he is as good a guy as there is to teach those things and what we want to get done."

"There were again some unbelievable candidates and a couple that it really came down to that I think both would have done a great job," Frost revealed. It's believed the other top candidate was Notre Dame offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, who Frost also interviewed in Chicago on Dec. 3.

Raiola's hire was announced Dec. 8. He signed a two-year deal and will make $325,000 per season. With so much on the line for Frost, it's a bit of a surprise he didn't go with a known quantity like Quinn. He's banking on the potential Raiola has shown in his short time coaching.

Raiola got started as an assistant at his alma mater, Kamehameha Schools-Kapalama in Honolulu. He then spent the 2014 season as an intern with the University of Hawai’i before moving to Notre Dame and spending the next two years as a graduate assistant under Harry Hiestand, one of the more well respected O-line coaches around. In 2017, Raiola got hired for his first full-time position as the offensive line coach at Aurora (Ill.) University, a Division III school.

In 2018, he decided to join the Chicago Bears staff as assistant offensive line coach, reuniting with Hiestand, who suggested Raiola to Matt Nagy. He has been in Chicago ever since. After Hiestand was let go following the 2019 season, Raiola stuck around to learn from Juan Castillo, another extremely respected O-line coach. His apprenticeship under those two helped him earn a reputation as a good teacher and tactician. Raiola was very well respected by the people in Halas Hall and considered a strong up-and-coming coach in the profession. Raiola was a finalist for the Stanford O-line job last offseason.

But his hire comes with some concerns. He's never had to recruit before, and he's taking over a position group that was very attached to their previous coach. How will he unify that room? Will he be able to go out on the recruiting trail and sell Nebraska? Frost is rolling the dice here a bit, we'll see if he rolls a seven or snake eyes.