Few saw Donovan Raiola as an option early in the process of Nebraska hiring its new offensive line coach. He wasn’t even on the radar when Nebraska announced the firing of four offensive coaches in early November, including o-line coach Greg Austin. One month later, the Huskers announced Raiola as a member of Frost’s re-tooled offensive staff.
Raiola was in the running for the Stanford job in 2020 and has been looked at by a couple other programs. His brother is legendary Husker offensive lineman Dominic Raiola. Dominic was thrilled when he found out that his brother will coach at his alma mater.
“I was really excited (for) my brother to just have that opportunity,” Dominic said. “There’s a reason for everything. I was like, ‘Man what if one day, he could kick coach Nebraska?’ Shoot, it came to fruition. This whole thing is coming full circle. I think it’s just exciting for our family. I’m excited for him and his career because he’s a heck of a coach. I can’t wait for Nebraska to see that.”
Dominic—who is a former All-American and Rimington Trophy winner—knows good offensive line play. The coaches he’s been around are selfless, so he knows it’s important for a coach to want to give more than they get when shaping young men. Dominic has seen significant growth in his brother over the time that he’s been coaching. Donovan has also had the opportunity to learn from Harry Hiestand, one of the most respected offensive line coaches in the industry.
The Huskers’ newest offensive line coach worked with Hiestand at Notre Dame. The two had several successful linemen in South Bend. Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson, Mike McGlinchey and several others found NFL success. They also coached Sam Mustipher, who is a center for the Chicago Bears right now as an undrafted free agent. Donovan also worked under Hiestand with the Bears.
“I really respect the way (Donovan) coaches,” Dominic said. “I really respect the fundamentals he believes in. That’s what offensive line play is, man. It’s what he’s going to preach. He has patience but he also has a high standard.”
The standards were high in the Raiola household. Donovan has taken those standards and raised them to another level according to his brother. That’s needed because both understand what is at stake in Nebraska right now. Dominic said that Donovan has a deep respect for offensive line tradition at Nebraska. He’s now in charge of helping to restore the line back to where many fans believe it should be.
Coaching the details and fundamentals will be important for Donovan at Nebraska, too. The offensive line seemed poised to take a step forward during the 2021 season, but did not. Recruiting is vital to the success of a program in the college game. Donovan doesn’t have experience recruiting high school prospects but Dominic believes he will adapt.
“I think every football player’s dream now is to play in the NFL,” Dominic said. “It’s going to help that he has NFL ties. He’s played it. He’s coached it. He has great relationship. He knows what college offensive linemen look like. He knows what NFL offensive linemen look like and he knows the standard that needs to be played at to play in the NFL. I think that’s a huge selling point.”
Recruits are focused on how a program can help them chase NFL dreams, so it’s not enough to sell them on just coming to Nebraska to restore the glory days. It helps that Donovan understands how big of a deal Nebraska football is in the state. If he can get kids to buy into being part of the program and show his coaching skills, Dominic thinks he’ll land players. Donovan is described as a grinder who loves to work behind the scenes.
He coveted this opportunity at Nebraska and the soon to be 39-year-old coach earned this moment.
“He has a passion for coaching and I can go on and on about the little things that he does,” Dominic said. “He sends me books. You’d think that I’d be the guy that did that. He’s the guy that I look up to in coaching and teaching offensive line, just because he’s so selfless and he wants to learn. He always wants to continue to learn and he’s going to want to learn about his players. He’s going to want to bring out the best in them and there’s going to be a standard there.”
Donovan—who played college football at Wisconsin and started 39 of 43 games and was a captain his senior year—already has plans to pick the brains of former Husker greats like Aaron Taylor. He wants the input of the players who built the Nebraska offensive line tradition. Donovan also wants to find a way to blend the legacy of the program with the young players coming up now.
Donovan has a deep understanding of what it takes at Nebraska from his own playing experience in the Big Ten and his coaching career so far. Now he has to go out and execute his vision for rebuilding the pipeline.
“I am humbled to lead the offensive line at the University of Nebraska,” Donovan said in a statement. “I understand the responsibility of coaching the Pipeline and the history of offensive line excellence at Nebraska. We will work tirelessly to add to that tradition.”
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.