The life path that led Ed Riley, an obstetric anesthesiologist and faculty member at the Stanford University hospital in California, begins long before his time as a Gonzaga Prep and Whitworth athlete three decades ago.
It began well before he was born 51 years ago.
The wheels started in motion when his dad, Bud, left high school in Alabama and joined the Navy when he was 17.
After World War II, Bud enrolled at East Mississippi CC in Scooba, where his football prowess led him to Idaho because Vandals coach Dixie Howell, who was from Alabama, was tipped off by a friend.
The family story goes that in responding to an inquiry from Howell, Riley said he was 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, which earned him an invitation to Moscow. The truth was revealed when the 5-10, 155-pound Riley arrived.
Howell hoped to run Riley off by having him square off with a much larger player in a postpractice tackling drill.
In reporting to Howell, an assistant coach said, “Go ahead and run the big guy off but you better keep the little guy, he knocked the big guy out.”
Next Bud Riley, now 84 and living with his wife in Penticton, British Columbia, hopped on the coaching carrousel: Wallace, Lewiston, UI, Oregon State and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Ed, who was born during the Wallace years, made his way to Spokane from Winnipeg, where he started high school, for his senior year.
“I had lot of fun playing Canadian-style football, but the way the school system was, I was pretty much done with classes going into my senior year,” he said. “I wanted to go to a U.S. high school and I wanted a bigger challenge. That’s how we found Gonzaga Prep.”
He boarded with the Frank Johnson family and they, especially son Steve, remain as close as family now.
It turned out pretty good for Prep as well. Riley quarterbacked the Bullpups to a share of the 1975 league title – that was the year they beat Ferris but lost to Lewis and Clark in a Kansas Tiebreaker for Spokane’s first-ever berth in the new state playoffs. He was a reserve on a basketball team that finished third at state.
And he got a chance to go to Whitworth, an opportunity enhanced when his older brother Mike, who had gone from his dad’s Oregon State stop in Corvallis to play football at Alabama, joined Hugh Campbell’s staff.
“I wanted to throw the ball for Hugh,” Ed Riley said. “I went to four high schools and all four ran the triple option. I was definitely not suited to do that; I was slow and skinny.”
Riley saw a little action as a freshman but then Campbell left and new coach Darryl Squires installed the triple option. Riley played, and like the Pirates, had moderate success for the next three seasons. And again he was a reserve on the basketball team.
More important than the wins and losses were the relationships. Two of Riley’s best friends are two well-known Spokane coaches, Dave Pomante from football and Glenn Williams from basketball.
Those two, along with the Johnson family, were anchors when Riley’s wife Renee passed away a couple years ago from a brain tumor.
While Mike Riley followed his dad’s footsteps and is now the football coach at Oregon State, which plays at Washington State on Saturday, Ed was always interested in science. Campbell encouraged him to take premed classes.
Riley’s first choice was research. After graduating from Whitworth in 1980 he earned a Masters in environmental science at the University of Alberta. Then his wife, whom he met at Whitworth, went to Princeton to get her Masters in divinity so he started his PhD at Penn. He finished that at Washington and then came an opportunity to do his residency at Stanford.
“I went to interview in the middle of winter and (the weather) was very appealing,” he said. “I fully intended to move back to the Northwest, but once I finished and was offered a job I decided to stay. I went into academic medicine because I could still have a research career and be involved in active medicine.”
He also found many parallels between work and his interest in sports.
“As an anesthesiologist your job is to facilitate the work of the surgeons, so you’re working as a team,” Riley said. “The lessons learned (in athletics) translate to working as a team in a very tense, emotional situation in an operating room. You also learn to keep your head in sports, another valuable lesson to use in the operating room. And being prepared for a game and being prepared for surgery is the same. You have a game plan and execute it.”
Athletics even play a role when screening applicants for medical school.
“One of the best preparations for a medical career is for somebody to be a member of a team sport,” he said. “When we accept people in medical school we make sure they have good enough grades to handle the load, but … if they played sports, it’s a positive that helps get them in.”
The Riley children have kept him involved in sports, and even connected to Spokane. Oldest son David, a 6-foot-5 forward, was Whitworth’s leading scorer and first-team all-league player as a sophomore last season.
At home are basketball players Heather, 15, who also plays lacrosse, and Noah, 12, a soccer player.
Another local connection are Justin and Maj StormoGipso of Coeur d’Alene, an ophthalmologist and pediatrician, respectively. The three of them have gone to Central America 10 times to do pediatric eye care.
It’s a very fulfilling life.
“My parents provided me with every opportunity in life to be successful,” Riley said. “Even with all the moving around, they made sure the schools provided the best opportunities possible. They were thinking it was the best for me when they sent me to Gonzaga Prep. That turned out to be a life-changing experience.
“Given what my dad accomplished in life from where he came from, you can’t do anything but your best when you have a dad like that.”