Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nebraska's Glory Days, A Relic of the Past?

It appears that Nebraska has narrowed its coaching search to two candidates. Bo Pelini, defensive coordinator of LSU, and Buffalo head coach Turner Gill. What do these two men have in common? They are both former members of the Nebraska family. Gill as a former quarterback and Pelini a former assistant coach under Osborne and Frank Solich. Tom Osborne and the Cornhuskers nation are demanding a return to prominence from the days of old, and while both of these men could do it, Nebraska is going about the coaching search the wrong way.

Osborne has stressed the importance of his new coach understanding and embracing the tradition and culture of Nebraska football and knowing the expectations that come with the job. Many believed Callahan was the wrong man for the job because he didn’t embrace Husker nation and wasn’t familiar with the winning tradition and history of the school. Well, let me tell you, if Bill Callahan had opened up his arms to Husker nation and embraced all that Nebraska football is, and had still gone 5-7, he would have been fired. And if Callahan had been successful in turning Nebraska into a perennial National Championship contender, no one would have cared that he wasn’t in tune with Husker Nation. The fact of the matter is that Callahan probably isn’t a very good head coach. His offensive mind was evident in flashes throughout his stay in Lincoln, but the collapse of a once renowned defense showed where his weaknesses were.

Pelini, who has overseen a top notch defense at LSU (though they have severely underachieved this season with the amount of talent they have), and Turner who has helped turn around a laughable Buffalo program (5-7 this season, but they also moved to the MAC. Temple won 4 games in the MAC this year) could be the right men for the job. But, Osborne seems convinced that it will take a Nebraska man to right the ship and return the program to the glory days of, well, Osborne. This logic is flawed and is the kind of nepotism that has been problematic in several programs around the country (Penn State, Florida State).

Any coach that is hired understands that he is there to win. He understands there are expectations from the fan base and the school to win and conduct himself in a manner that they can be proud of. I don’t think it takes a Nebraska man to understand how to win at Nebraska. It takes a winning football coach to understand how to recruit and coach in today’s college landscape.

Osborne says he wants to return to the success of Nebraska football, return to developing Nebraska talent. This sounds very much like Osborne wants to be heavily involved in the football program and have input on how the system is run. He says otherwise, but his opinions on running quarterbacks and recruiting should be worrisome. The key to recruiting is getting talent from talent rich areas, Nebraska and the Midwest is no longer one of those areas. Callahan had the right idea in trying to recruit in California, Texas, and Arizona, though his reliance on junior college transfers caused to be problematic. Missouri and Kansas have shown that this is how you have to build your program to succeed. Nebraska would be foolish to get away from that strategy.

One of the most difficult things to do in this world is adapt and change with the times. To take what you know and what has been successful for you, and to be able to adapt it to continue to succeed in a changing world. I don’t know if Tom Osborne has displayed that ability. I think Nebraska will hire Pellini or Gill, and I think they will be unable to restore the glory of Nebraska football. An undesirable location in a changed football landscape at a program that hasn’t been relevant in years, I don’t know if Nebraska football will ever regain the glory it once had.

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