Donovan Raiola

Donovan Raiola is set to become Nebraska's next offensive line coach. 

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Those who know the Raiola brothers, Dominic and Donovan, say it's difficult to tell them apart if you're talking to one of them on the phone.

Dominic Raiola is 42 years old, four years older than Donovan.

More importantly, they speak the same offensive line language. 

That seems like promising news for the Nebraska football program.

NU head coach Scott Frost soon, perhaps on Wednesday, will formally announce Donovan Raiola as his new offensive line coach. This is absolutely a critical move by Frost. Granted, the impending hire of Pittsburgh's Mark Whipple as offensive coordinator trumps the O-line hire in terms of overall importance, but not by much. 

Getting the Nebraska offensive line on track could be the impetus to getting the entire program on track. 

Nebraska fans long for the days of dominance up front, of controlled nastiness, of consistent excellence, with few penalty flags. 

Donovan Raiola, in his fourth season as the Chicago Bears' assistant offensive line coach, understands the gravity of the role he's accepted. He acutely understands what strong offensive line play means to the Nebraska fan base. 

He knows because Dominic Raiola is one of the three best centers in school history. You have to go with Dave Rimington atop the list. He is the only player to twice win the Outland Trophy, awarded annually to the nation’s top interior lineman. After Rimington, it's basically a dead heat for second between Raiola and Aaron Taylor, who started at left guard in 1995, center in 1996 and left guard in 1997.

Raiola in 1999 led a one-loss Nebraska team with a then-school-record 140 pancake blocks, averaging 11.67 per game. In 2000, Raiola took his game to another level, recording 145 pancakes (13.2 per game). 

Yeah, that was dominance. It can happen again for Nebraska's line. Why can't it? 

I pose the question in the names of the late, great coaching duo of Milt Tenopir and Dan Young. They accepted nothing but O-line excellence. The "Pipeline" tradition at Nebraska didn't come to be by settling for average. 

Make no mistake, Frost needs to get this hire right. He certainly can't settle for average, especially with his job on the line next season.

Yes, that's heavy conversation for Donovan Raiola, who is a little light on collegiate coaching experience. Before landing with the Bears, he spent two seasons as an offensive graduate assistant at Notre Dame (2015, 2016), assisting longtime and widely respected offensive line coach Harry Hiestand with the development of current NFL players Ronnie Stanley (Ravens), Nick Martin (Raiders), Quenton Nelson (Colts) and Mike McGlinchey (49ers), and current Bears Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars.

Raiola spent the 2014 season as an intern with the University of Hawaii. 

Bottom line, I like the look of the Whipple-Raiola pairing. A wily vet who operates a pro-style system with a hungry up-and-comer who grinds in the NFL.  

Mickey Joseph, hired by Frost last week, is a recruiting wizard. I like the idea of Frost turning to current Husker analyst Bill Busch to coach special teams. We'll see on that. Joseph and Busch, two more wily vets, leading the recruiting charge makes all the sense in the world. 

Yes, Frost's hires make plenty of sense. Whipple specializes in the passing game, and you know intuitively Donovan Raiola understands what it takes to "run the damned ball," as many Nebraska fans like to say in growling tones. Donovan started 39 of 43 career games at center for Wisconsin from 2003 to 2005, including 38 of his final 39 contests. He was team captain as a senior. A former Badger line standout? Say no more.

You know he will teach nastiness and attention to detail because, well, he's a Raiola.

You definitely know Donovan understands the magnitude of his role. In past interviews, Dominic Raiola told me that Donovan's first favorite collegiate team was Nebraska. That's because Dominic was starring for the Huskers while Donovan was in high school. 

Donovan will come to Lincoln to create a legacy. 

He'll come to Nebraska breathing fire. He's a Raiola. Say no more, again.  

It should be noted Notre Dame offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, 59, also interviewed for the job. His interview occurred Friday night in South Bend, Indiana, not long after Frost met with Raiola in Chicago. Quinn obviously owns an advantage over Raiola in terms of experience, and Quinn's résumé is impressive. 

Three Irish offensive linemen were drafted by NFL teams in 2021, with Aaron Banks and Liam Eichenberg going in the second round and Robert Hainsey in the third. Banks and Eichenberg were consensus All-Americans in 2020. 

Nebraska needs to get back to producing All-Americans. Sometimes it feels like the fan base has slowly taken on a casual acceptance that those types of players exist only elsewhere. The last Husker first-team All-American was linebacker Lavonte David in 2011. 

The last Nebraska offensive lineman to be so honored? Toniu Fonoti in 2001. 

Fonoti was a gentle giant off the field, but a terror on it. 

My heavens, Dominic Raiola was a terror on Saturdays. 

I'm told Donovan Raiola breathes the same kind of fire, but with an attention to detail and discipline that an NFL job demands. 

Did Frost get this right? Based on what I'm hearing, and based on bloodlines, I like his chances. 

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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