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Finally, a Bill Callahan Story

Yesterday, Bill Callahan pops up in a national story, likely against his wishes. Since getting fired by Tom Osborne in 2007, Callahan took the buyout Steve Pederson prepared for him and retreated to NFL filmrooms. He did quite well as the Jets offensive line coach, turning D’Brickashaw Ferguson from a bust into a three-time Pro Bowler and resurrecting the Jets’ running game. He even helped Matt Slauson, a former Nebraska protege, become a good NFL player. But in five years, he offered only a small congratulatory comment to Osborne upon the latter’s retirement and made no other statements about his time at Nebraska.

I don’t think that most Nebraskan want to hear from Callahan. Callahan hasn’t hurt Nebraska football long-term; instead of winning just enough to keep his job (ALA Tommy Bowden or even worse Ralph Fridgen), Callahan graciously failed quickly and got out of town. In fact, he left Bo Pelini better players than he got from Frank Solich.

But now, there is an intruing story involving Bill Callahan magically changing a game plan on the Raiders the Friday before the Super Bowl in a “sabotage” attempt, according to Tim Brown. My Husker reaction: who cares. We here in Nebraska already knew that Bill Callahan wasn’t a great coach. The two people who hired him to be a head coach were Al Davis and Pederson, both of whom are known to hire yes-man coaches who they can feel free to meddle with. (It won’t be a surprise if, at this time next year, Jerry Jones taps Callahan to replace Jason Garrett.) If anything, Callahan changing his game plan two days before a game is inconsistent with his stick-to-the-playcalling-sheet-at-all-costs nature.

But one thing in the story that does seem to be consistent with Callahan’s nature was that Barrett Robbins snapped under the weight of information that Bill Callahan was giving him. Whether it was because Callahan changed the game plan or not, Nebraska fans can always remember the Huskers’ offensive players looking like they were stuck in concrete with all the routes and checks they had to run. Given how much information a center has to handle anyway, one could see how Robbins could easily become overloaded with the over-prepared Callahan as his head coach.

“Sabotage” was thrown around Nebraska numerous times during 2007, and certainly Callahan didn’t fight as hard as he could have to keep his job, if it’s true that he refused Kevin Cosgrove’s resignation. There’s the image of him without his headset on after the loss to Missouri, showing up to press conferences in business shirts as opposed to Husker gear after Pederson’s firing. I don’t think he quit so much as he didn’t mind going back to being an NFL assistant as much as coaches who are willing to adapt and change.

So, here it is, the lowly Bill Callahan sighting. I don’t bring up to mock him, just because he so rarely pops up on the radar. It may another five years until another good story about him comes out.

Exactly William

Huskers Loose, but Get Some Capital

A lot was at stake in the Capital One Bowl for Bo Pelini. Two nationally televised blowout losses going into the off-season make the workouts and film study longer, not to mention a discontent fan base. But, for the fifth time in six tries, Pelini’s Huskers came out of the tunnel and made plays, and even got a little chippy with it, a welcome sight after several despondent post-game pressers. For the first time perhaps since Colorado 2005, the Huskers played to raise their reputation. All that SEC-is-king material made for great bulletin board material.

But ultimately, the Huskers fell short, and while there was more buy-in on the field then there has been in years past (maybe more than at any other time under Pelini). They lost respectably to a better SEC, but Pelini still made one really questionable decision.

Tim Beck changed he offense significantly since the Big 10 Title game, adding new formation (dual-protectors lined up directly behind the tackles in a three wide set) and tweaking old plays. The Burkhead-touchdown reception wrinkled Nebraska’s play action game, having running back go to the inside instead of the out. For the first time in a lot of years, the Husker offense seemed like it was more than a collection of random plays that were supposed to work, and the players looked they were executed a plan that made sense to them.

End of the matter?

Burkhead himself made sure that he wouldn’t be forgotten as a Husker. He ran with his trademark passion, but had the advantage of looking the healthiest he had perhaps been since the beginning of his junior year. The offense at times maximized its tempo, and made some lazy Dawgs run a little.

On defense, the passing yards given up weren’t great, but remember that Nebraska’s numbers in the secondary was helped a lot by the Big 10 conference oblivion to the forward pass. (Minnesota, similarly, was ranked in the top 25 nationally in pass defense.) The Blackshirts had good coverage on three of Aaron Murray’s touchdown passes; Murray’s TD at the start of the fourth quarter, a running throw that had to be laid over Will Compton, was a throw some NFL quarterbacks can’t make. Yes, there were mistakes, but there were several big plays that Georgia earned when Nebraska did everything right. Even the defensive line was active behind the line of scrimmage.

Which makes Pelini’s call to blitz Georgia on a third-and-twelve down by a touchdown baffling. A blitz on third-and-long in that situation basically said, if we go down, we go down swinging, not consistent with Pelini’s conservative, make-them-earn-their-chunks defense. While it looks bold, such a call demonstrates insecurity more than bravado. Yes, maybe even get a sack or an interception; backing Georgia up another eight yards would have meant a punt for the endline. But Pelini had already made his point when he blitzed on the first down of that drive; the smart call would have been to blitz one wisely, or drop everyone in coverage.

I’ve seen such insecurity a number of times in Big 10 teams in bowl games. The first time was when Ohio State kept blitzing Colt McCoy at the end of the 2009 Fiesta Bowl. On the play the Longhorns took the lead back, it was obvious that McCoy would find a hot read. Minnesota allowed a touchdown in a similar situation in their bowl game against Texas Tech this year. While it looks like you’re trying hard to stop the opponent, you’re not playing smart.

Thus, let’s count this as our official ingratiation into the Big 10, Husker fans: we’re aggressive on defense out of the fear of being embarrassed.

Nebraska had a real shot to win this game, more so than last year against South Carolina. The Gamecocks played with more intensity in the second half that day than Georgia did today. The Husker maximized more, but they still weren’t able to do enough. Like the rest of the Big 10, Nebraska watches an SEC team give half-effort versus their full-effort and still celebrate a double touchdown win.

So, how should this bowl game be remembered, Husker fans? Another loss, but one with not as many negatives as Nebraska’s bowl losses the last two years. Pelini showed that, with time to prepare, he could deliver a solid effort. But was this win just a product of time to prepare and desperation? Will Pelini, Beck, and the other coaches be changing every week in the Big 10 next season as much as they changed for this bowl game? Or will this just be shades of a B-coach rising for half-a-game when he had to turn down the heat? (Why Pelini isn’t a perfect fit at Nebraska)

Tom Osborne Exits but Remains and Why 73-7 Will Help Fans in the Long Run

I had the TV on last night when the 10 o’clock news came on and was surprised when they jumped head-first into the interviews with Tom Osborne’s former players about how they would run through a wall for him. I wasn’t quite sure a recap of Osborne’s fifty-some years serving the University of Nebraska was needed in the opening news segment after he ended his five-year run as athletic director. This is only the official end of his tenure at Nebraska, and his accomplishments as athletic director are outstanding on their own merits.

In a world where former coaches aren’t equipped to lead entire athletic departments (ask Mike Bellotti), Osborne took over an athletic department that was fraying and a football program that was loosing its way. He mended fences and found the right football coach, but those were the easy parts. In addition to restoring people’s confidence in the Husker athletics, Osborne took up a list of building projects that had started to grow under Bill Byrne and Steve Pederson couldn’t raise money for due to the animosity he’d incurred over Frank Solich’s firing and the lavish football facility he’d built. In a frugal state and during a economic downturn, Osborne got first-rate basketball and volleyball practice facilities, and soon will have basketball arena, a newly remodeled palace for one of the nation’s best volleyball programs, and an expanded Memorial Stadium.

But his greatest accomplishment was securing Nebraska’s future in the Big 10, a feat that rivals his National Titles for his greatest career feat. As John Elway recruited Peyton Manning to Denver with his start quarterback gravitas, Osborne’s status as an old-school icon trumped other school’s glitz-and-glamor presentations. Being able to overcome Nebraska’s lack of a major market for TV and recruiting shows just how valuable Dr. Tom’s quite leadership is.

One does wonder how Joe Paterno’s scandal breaking, followed by his untimely death, affected Osborne’s thinking. Relationships with coaches may be overstated, but Osborne was himself the anti-Paterno, leaving while he still had coaching years left and finding a second act as mentor, congressman, and athletic director. It’s not fair to speculate, but someone as thoughtful as Osborne likely has considered Paterno’s inability to walk away.

Past and Future

Much like when he was when he was a coach, Osborne seems to be leaving at the right time. His building projects are all close to fruition. He’s got his guys leading the basketball and baseball programs, and if Tim Miles and Darin Erstad work out, it will only add to Osborne’s AD legacy. In the next five years, the odds are a new football coach will need to be hired (whether Bo Pelini leaves under his only volition or not remains to be seen), and who could really blame Osborne for not wanting to do the whole coaching search thing all over again.

This isn’t as a huge an event as everyone’s making it out to be. Osborne may be cleaning out his office, but he’s going to keep his influence at Nebraska.

Second note: Believe it not, you won last Saturday, Husker fan. Yes, Idaho State and Nebraska played like it was the Pro Bowl, players quitting as soon as a runner got to the second level. But against Arkansas State the week prior, Nebraska (and the rest of college football) made no progress in getting body bag games off their schedule. They struggled for a stretch of third against the Red Wolves, but beat them soundly, justifying giving such a team a check

There’s a reason last week Jeff Jamrog and crew told the Lincoln Journal-Star that Idaho State was scheduled because another team reneged on a verbal agreement that had been in place for months. Coaches knew this would be 70-0 affair and wanted to say “Hey, we tried to get a better team in here.” Let’s be honest: while good FCS teams can compete against average FBS teams (witness the Dakota schools and UNI at times), the bottom of the FCS is embarrassing

If an opponent is so bad that players wouldn’t even try, then there’s a real reason to look for change. Arkansas State and Southern Miss got Nebraska ready to play Big 10 teams, Idaho State did nothing. With what happened Saturday, Jamrong and company will have to look for way to change their scheduling, and I’ll go back to the idea I floated a the end of last week: 16 team super-conference, four games, play everyone but one team. You get your seven home games, and don’t have to bother with non-conference scheduling.

Final point: I thought that Nebraska would be fighting a team at the end of the season who was looking for that sixth win to get bowl eligible. I just didn’t think that team would be Iowa. Don’t laugh, Husker fans, the Hawkeyes have two month to get better. Do you remember Colorado in 2008? The last thing you want is to go play a 5-6 Iowa team, who’s going to get a bounce when they get to play Penn State, at Northwestern, Purdue, and at Indiana all in a row.

Huskers vs. Southern Miss: So It Begins

All in all, Nebraska’s opening game against Southern Miss was about what I thought it would be last December: a young, upstart mid-major, fresh off a huge upset that lead to a conference championship, would come into Memorial Stadium week one and would hang tough with the Huskers for an extended period. Ultimately, they would make mistakes, Nebraska would capitalize, and, best of all, the game would land in a prime ABC/ESPN slot.

But Martinez’s maturity and leadership still surprised me.

I don’t know if Nebraska’s going to be able to win the Big 10, but I do know with this offense, they’re going to have a great chance. No one in the Big 10 runs an offense with this many skill people and tempo, and teams in the league are going to have a tough time defending it. Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin all had to lean on their star running backs in their first games; Nebraska lost theirs, and was fine.

This is really the first offense since 1999, or maybe even 1997, that is going to be the aggressor. Defensively, Nebraska may not have the depth just yet, but if they can score at will, they’ll be gunning for the Big 10 Title. Whatever the case, if this is going to be the best Nebraska team in over ten years, it will be as much because of leadership as it is talent.

My Husker Game Day: Part 3

(This is the the third post in a piece I wrote a few years ago about my experience going to Husker games: Part 1 and Part 2)

Washington 2011-Big Picture

Tunnel Walk is where the game starts for me. Highlights from the previous years, mingled in with a few highlights from this year, or last years game against a common opponent. It has been a bit sad in recent years; looking at the glory from the 1990’s which seems a million miles away. But times in college football have changed, and Nebraska’s had a rough patch. At least now, we’re a program that the state can be proud of.

As I watch the memories, some of which I can recall as I kid and many I can’t, my blood starts to rush as I begin to think about the five year stretch between 1993 and 1997 when Nebraska won sixty of sixty-three games and three national championships. And I wonder if, in spite of the tougher conferences and the nemesis that is the state of Texas, that kind of dominance could still be possible. It is usually about this team that I see the team exit the locker room and start toward the field. And as I see the players pup themselves up with high fives from the fans, I feel the rush again, the ownership that whole state has in this team. And then they hit the field, and I know inside that anything is possible.

All games are different, depending on the opponent and the stakes. I don’t go to insignificant non-conference games anymore . The only two notable non-conference game for me were Bo Pelini’s first game against competent mid-major Western Michigan, and the 2007 season opener against Nevada, where I was lucky enough to find a $50 ticket four rows up on the forty yard line.

Then there are the average conference games, against the Baylors, Iowa States, Kansases, and, since the conference switch, Minnesota. These games are nice wins, and occasionally, a very embarrassing loss. (See Iowa State 2009). These are the majority of games that I go to. Occasionally, bigger stakes make the games more important (the K-State game in 2009 for the conference title), but most of the time there’s little tangible drama. These teams may have good enough players or a good enough coach to hang with the Huskers for a while, but ultimately, the crowd takes over.

Since 2010, I only go to the significant games. That year, I only home games I went to were Texas (ugh) and Missouri, and this past year, Washington (family in town) and Ohio State (my soggy story of the night) . I trimmed back how many games because, in my memory, the tougher games are the ones that stand out: the 2006 games against Texas was the most memorable game I attended at Memorial Stadium, win or loose (read the experience here). It’s so much work to go to a game, it’s almost not worth it to go in the stadium and watch anyone but Oklahoma, Texas, or Ohio State and Michigan now.

The game, I get lost in. After the kickoff, I rarely take photos of the action, shameful I know. But for the three-and-a-half hours in the stands, it’s just me and my team, as I’ve been abandoned in uniformity. Game day is really the only time that Lincoln becomes a crowd like a crowd you would find in a major city like San Francisco or Chicago, where you can just be anonymous and no one looks at you. It’s strangely freeing.

Attending a live games pull me in ways that are almost inexplicable. Unlike when I’m at home, I have to fight the urge to curse, and I can’t just go get up and walk into another room when it gets frustrating. Everything’s out there in front of me. The turmoil within always comes from the fact that this game will stay fixed in my mind for the better part of the next couple of years, and even though I’ll watch the highlights on YouTube, the nuances from the stadium will stick with me. The views of the players on the sidelines, the demeanor of the people around me. My brain will process everything.

During halftime, I usually get up and walk. When I was younger, I liked to walk around the stadium as much as I could, but not as much now that I’m familiar with all the nooks and crannies. Often times now, I’ll just find an empty space and sit against the wall with my legs stretched out and periodically check my radio for updates on other games. But I like to take the earbuds out and sit there distant from all the senses that I’m taken in, almost as if I’m napping.

But then I go back to my seat and watch the game. If Nebraska ends up winning, I’m on a high whose high by is determined how big the win is. It’s just a buoyancy that propels the rest of my day. If it’s a loss, I feel as if I’m trapped in a painting that I can’t get out of. Losses feel more like subtractions to me, little non-events and omissions where something I can’t define has left me.

Washington 2011-Little Moment

When I leave the game, and usually I stay to the end or near end (longer than I have to), I’ll take a round-about way to get to the one of the west gates, if I’m not sitting in the south stadium, which is closed off. Leaving is always a rush for me, and I like picking my way through crowds. I feel unnoticed even though I’m with people, and once, when I was going back down through a crowd of people who were trying to head up to their seats, someone tapped me on the shoulder from behind and noted how good I was at doing so.

I have a bad habit of cutting across streets when I’m not supposed to. I’ll do it a lot at the end of the I-180 bridge at 9th street, where occasionally there will be enough breaks in traffic (no one heads into downtown at the end of a Husker game), and dart back into the Haymarket, reversing my way back through the tailgaters who are still grilling and watching games as I go back to my car. On the way, I often stop at Jack’s for a drink (they’re less crowded) or grab a tea from Scooter’s or The Mill.

When I get to my car, I’m exhilarated. I hit the streets, and try to calculate the best way to get Highway 6. Usually, it involves going down to A via minor streets, then cutting back on Coddington to get on Highway 77 North to go back to Highway 6. This helps me bypass most of the heavier traffic, and once I pass the entrances from Highway 6 to the Interstate, I’m home free.

When I get home, I usually try to go to bed if it’s a night game, but I’ll check the scores quick on my computer. If not, I crash on the couch, grab on easy dinner if I don’t get something on the way, and watch other college football games, waiting for the perspective from the game highlights. By now, I’m very content, and while working on Monday has usually started to loom, I couldn’t be happier for the experience. Except if it was a loss, of course.

Florida State-Big 12: A Match Made in Wonderland

Pointing West?

I’m sure if Tom Osborne had known that Florida State, the school of his old coaching pal, would eventually come to the Big 12, he never would have moved Husker nation to the Big 10. Seriously though: there is no good reason for Florida State to go to the Big 12, even if DeLoss Dodds shares the profits from the Longhorn Network. Even if the money is better, conference sustainability trumps dollar signs. What’s most remarkable about this potential realignment is that the ACC, the basketball league that established $25 million exit fees (which have kept Virginia Tech from seriously considering the SEC) and looked like it would swallow the Big East, looks like it could be headed for turmoil itself.

 

Old war foes almost conference foes?

Alas, if only Larry Scott had allowed Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech to come into the Pac 12 last fall, and the rest of the Big 12 could have gone to the Big East, and this mess would be mostly over.

To Tomahawk Nation: even if the money in the Big 12 is better, that conference’s future can never be certain because of the Longhorn Network. In that conference, everyone else will be looking to leave, and Texas can always got to the Pac 12 because of the way the Pac 12 Network will be set up. Yes, there were thirteen years of hearing “Why do we need Florida State in this conference?” at the basketball coach’s meetings, but the ACC is not what the Big 12 was pre-2010 blow-up, Nebraska and Colorado, boom, outta here. You’ve got a good commissioner, now you just have to get him to work toward a conference network.

There is one scenario that Florida State moving to the Big 12 would make some sense: if there were five other institutions on board coming to the Big 12 with the Seminoles, thus forming the Big 16 and its own conference network. Imagine it: Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Rutgers, and UConn expand the Big 12’s reach into the east. Who cares if Iowa State’s closest division game is now in Morgantown, West Virginia? They always did their best when they recruited Florida. (Sorry, this is where the conference realignment post get as fanciful as Lord of the Rings.)

Future annual rivals?

This is just what happens in the long college football offseason: we get pointless stories like this. Let’s thank Chip Brown, and don’t forget Florida State: you have it good in the ACC. If you hire an elite coach (and eventually, you will), you’ll have an easy path to the national title game through Wake, North Carolina State, and eventually Syracuse, much easier than in the Big 12. Don’t get greedy like Texas A&M did.

Not About Pleasing 70 Year-Old Fans: Nebraksa’s Alternate Uniforms and Helmets

The Future of Nebraska Uniforms?

Last week, Tom Osborne announced that the program of his life, the Nebraska Cornhusker would wear a “futuristic” alternate uniform for a home game next year, which made this fan very happy. While I like traditional uniforms, I do think that alternate uniforms (even throwbacks) are necessary to appeal to young people (i.e., recruits), and that uniforms are in need of regular updating. But since many Husker fans do cling to the traditional uniforms, this is a debate that has to happen with care and respect.

To the fans who with to maintain the glorious tradition of the classic, unchanging red uniforms…this is not about you. Nebraska could go all Oregon and have different uniform combinations every week, and you wouldn’t suddenly throw on Michigan Wolverine gear or an Iowa Hawkeye jersey. Every Nebraska fan over forty, Osborne and Bo Pelini already have you, and don’t need to impress you. They need to impress four-star and five-star recruits who can help a team win National Titles. I still assume that is your goal, Husker Nation, winning the Big 10 and the National Title? Because great players win the National Title, not having the same uniforms.

To politely disagree with another blog, I doubt this is like the Yankees dropping the pinstripes, i.e., a fundamental uniform change. To be clear, a good alternate uniform at least keeps a team’s primary color, even if it is emphasized less or changed to a different color. Oklahoma State’s combat uniforms from last year all used the traditional Cowboy Orange in some form, and even most Oregon uniforms still use some green (except, of course, those horrid carbon grays from 2010, which even I didn’t like). As long as the alternate uniforms use traditional scarlet in some way, they’ll be consist with what Nebraska has always worn.

Can we get over the all-white uniforms from 2002, and the Colorado game in 2007? While I wasn’t in love with those unis (at the time, I had a college roommate from Wisconsin who claimed Nebraska had stolen the Badgers’ design), stop holding to the foolhardy belief that Nebraska has lost all but once since wearing the whites-with-red-gullet attire? They lost those games because they didn’t have good players those year; find a better argument against alternate uniforms.

As someone who has consistently wanted to see Nebraska have alternate uniforms, I would be okay if Nebraska had one or two throwback games a year. I’m surprised that throwback didn’t become an annual staple after the 300th sellout, where the Huskers wore uniforms were acclaimed by most fans. Young people do love throwbacks, and both tradition-rich programs Michigan and Notre Dame have worn throwbacks. Wearing throwback uniforms once or twice a year for a couple of years would be a great way to satisfy the fans who like tradition and fans who want different uniforms, and could serve as a test case for the alternate uniforms.

Which of these uniforms do you want to see Nebraska wear?

But when Nebraska comes out with their alternate uniforms, I ask these fans: give it a chance, and I don’t just mean one game. Let’s use the alternates for a couple of years before we decide if we want to keep them. And let’s have throwback day too.

There is an element of this uniform debate that I have begun to feel strongly about, and it is one that I feel now should be discussed. On their permanent helmets, Nebraska should switch to a larger, stylized “N” with that is common on most of their fan apparel and at the center of Memorial Stadium. Dave Kolowski wrote in his book Diary of a Husker that Bill Byrne (who just came from Oregon) had proposed this change to Tom Osborne in the mid-90’s but Osborne refused.

To those who disagree, go into your closet and pull out all of your Husker gear. Just count how many shirt and sweatshirts have the large “N” on it; I’m betting the majority do. Repeat the same exercise at Nebraska Bookstore or some other Husker outfitter and you get my point: while the small “N” may be have always been on the helmet, you could argue that the large “N” is more traditional now.

I know how many of you may be up in arms about this, but this change is a lot less radical than an alternate uniforms. I’m just suggesting taking a symbol that is much more recognizable, uses the same colors, and using it where it deserves to be. And for all of you who think the all-white uniforms look week, hold the small “N” next to the large, bordered “N” and ask yourself which one looks more intimidating?

In closing, I’d like to share a point that Colin Cowherd said on ESPN Radio about Oregon football. Cowherd (who worked sports in Portland as Oregon’s program rose in the late 1990’s and the early part of the last decade) has said the thing that got the Ducks out of the Pac 10 abyss wasn’t clinging to tradition, but instead focusing on what made the program better in the future, uniforms included. Husker fans, tradition is a wonderful thing, and young people do like it. But if you loose sight of the future and put tradition ahead of where you’re going, you ignoring what your players want and making the program about you. Need I remind you when Steve Pedersen did that?

(Want More Nebraska Cornhuskers?)

(Update: The uniforms are unveiled…)

Tim Miles: At Least He Looks the Part

Saturday I awoke to see one of my Facebook friends had already bemoaned another stint of Nebrasketball irrelevance because of the hiring of Tim Miles as Nebraska’s men’s basketball coach. While he’s not a wow-hire, Miles has  two qualities that give a chance to succeed at Nebraska: one, he has a recruiter/spokesman’s personality, and two, he’ll recruit and sign Nebraska high school players.

To the first point, Doc Sadler didn’t work as an AQ-conference coach was because he was from the Bobby Knight-John Thompson red-faced -yelling sschool. Great players didn’t want to play for him, and the players who did come to Nebraska didn’t stay here very long. Miles is a young, bright media face who tweets during halftime. While he might not be able to sign a bunch of McDonald’s All-Americans, Miles should give Nebraska a positive voice that isn’t hoarse from screaming and wears on players like John Gruden’s did.

Osborne with his new protege.

To the second point, the fact that Miles had four Nebraska natives on his current CSU team  must have been impressive to Osborne, maybe more so than it should have been. Miles is a South Dakota native who spent most of his career coaching in the Dakotas and Minnesota. While Nebraska doesn’t produce a lot of D-I players, keeping the few will do go a long in endearing Miles to the Nebraska fans. Look at this way: if you sign the T.J. Pughs and Wes Eikmeier of rural Nebraska instead of letting them go to Iowa State or Kansas, then at least Nebraska fans will come and support them. Barry Collier had worse record at Nebraska than Doc Sadler did, but was kept after his sixth year while Sadler was fired. The reason: Collier recruited a bunch of local players his first year at Nebraska, endearing him to the locals. If you’re going to serve a bad basketball product, at least buy it locally.

But Nebraska’s inability to hire a great basketball coach stems from the fact that there’s no urgency to win in college basketball, even at major programs. Look at Maryland and Missouri, the two best jobs that opened last year. Missouri hired a coach had been to the NCAA Tournament once and hadn’t won sixty percent of his games at Miami (Frank Haith). Maryland, in a basketball-first league, hired a coach who had been to the Sweet Sixteen once at a mid-major (Mark Turgeon). Given Nebraska’s lack of interest in basketball for the last twelve years, Miles may be the best hire they can get. Even coaching at the school where a long-time Osborne aid is the football coach, Ohio coach John Groce may have his sights set on a bigger job, like Illinois.

In the video below, Miles talks a lot about something that many Nebraska beat writers have been pointing out about Nebraska basketball: raising the standards of a program. Colorado State had finished no better than sixth in the Mountain West the previous seven year before Miles arrived at CSU. Miles had just two scholarship players on his first team but improved every year. At North Dakota State, Miles upset both Wisconsin and Marquette after the school jumped to Division I, and Miles’ players continued to win after their coach left. Maybe Nebraska has found a coach who’s peaking; either way, it’s a better resume than Sadler had when he came to Nebraska (two years, one NCAA bid, one NIT bid, with Billy Gillispie’s players), and everyone supposedly loved him.

I’m not going to say that I’m uber-thrilled with Miles’ hiring at Nebraska, but I am going to watch his introduction today with some optimism. As long as he can recruit local players and there aren’t too many empty seats at Pinnacle Bank areana(or worse, Creighton fans), it will justify a six year tenure, which is what Osborne is going to give a coach if he makes the postseason by year three. When Sadler was named the Nebraska men’s basketball coach, he brought a combative bravado that wore thin over time. Miles looks like a long-term, positive builder, which is exactly what Nebraska needs.

(More Husker Posts)

Update: In his introductory presser, I thought Miles came across very well as the fresh-faced CEO that Nebraska basketball needs. He talked very postively about creating buzz within the fanbase, exactly what Nebrasketball needs to succeed (and fill the new arena.) I had forgotten the North Dakota State connection with Craig Bohl that undoubtedly helped him land the job.

Unfortunately, he didn’t seem very eager to talk about recruiting Nebraska when he was asked about recruiting, instead speaking of the Big 10 and old Big 12 north footprint. Hopefully, he will maintain his old connections and sign local prospects, but I wish someone would have asked him about the Nebraskans he had at CSU.

One last carp: why in the world did we have to hear so much about Doc Sadler? Clearly, everyone cares about him more now that he is gone than when his teams took the court.

Doc Sadler’s Sad Goodbye Reflects the Sad Face of Nebrasketball

When I saw that Tom Osborne allowed Doc Sadler speak to the media after the former had fired the latter, I couldn’t believe it. I understand Illinois letting Bruce Weber speak after he was fired, but Weber delivered a national title game appearance to the Illini. The terminated Sadler, whose never got a team to the NCAA tournament, spoke for a teary four minutes, claimed he didn’t see his firing coming (like most people who get fired), and no one had any questions for him, likely because Nebraska could have shuttled him out the back door. They had, after all, not allowed Mike Anderson to speak to the media, after he was broken off after nine seasons, five postseason appearances, and a CWS appearance in 2005, a much better record than Sadler. Guess we know which sport Osborne thinks is more important.

I realized a year or two ago, Sadler looked like the exact kind of mistake that a football school would make on a basketball head coach. His rah-rah personality, reminiscent of the late great Bob Devaney and current Husker football coach Bo Pelini, isn’t a great sell to premium recruits. Yes, it’s reminiscent of Bob Knight, but over time (and ESPN exposure) he didn’t get the best recruits. (Ironically, Texas Tech, the last school Knight coached at, was interested in hiring Sadler last year.) Sadler always had a player or two transfer after every year, and it makes you wonder if his hot-head style wore players out the way Jon Gruden’s did. Sadler’s defensive-style was another reason that he fooled Nebraska for six years. A defense-first approach appeals to a football mecca like Nebraska, but at some point, a coach has to recruit scorers, and Sadler didn’t do that.

Then there’s Osborne’s role in keeping Sadler on. Osborne said he was embarrassed by Sadler’s low guaranteed money, but why did wait until three and a half years after becoming athletic director to address it? While I understand Osborne’s motivation, if he felt he had to give Sadler the extra money to succeed, he should have fired him last March, after Wichita State had run Sadler’s team out of the gym in the NIT. He should have asked himself, can I still keep this coach if we have a terrible year next year? And with the conference change, there was no guarantee that Nebraska could keep pace in the stacked Big 10. In the end, one wonders if Osborne, with the midset of a former coach, gave one chance too many to Sadler.

Think Nebraska looks bad for keeping Sadler? Kansas State kept Jim Woolridge for six years, and he finished with a record of 83-90 in 2006. There’s no urgency to win in college basketball, because football is what carries the athletic department The reason Osborne gave Sadler a bigger buyout than Bo Pelini (really) rather than break him off last spring was that he could. He’s not the football coach. At least right now, Osborne and Mark Boehm are saying the right things, that they will now spend $1.6 to $1.7 million a year on a basketball coach (Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and Michigan’s John Beilein both make $1.6), so at least there’s a chance Nebraska can land a good coach, although Shaka Smart turned an alleged $2 million a year from N.C. State last year, so don’t hold your breath on him.

But back to Sadler, who spoke to the media in tears on Friday. I felt somewhat sorry for him, although not because he lost his job. In spite of Nebraska’s poor basketball facilities, Sadler couldn’t get out of his own way. And of course his buyout automatically suspends sympathy. I feel sorry for him because someone who has failed so publicly shouldn’t be trotted out there to wheeze to the media like that. That might be what’s really wrong with Nebrasketball.

Thoughts on Paterno’s firing: the Divide between Paterno and Penn State, and the Firing

To really understand the firing of Joe Paterno, we have to see it as a story of a man and a small town. As I noted before, there were a lot of similarities with Brett Farve’s coming out of retirement and leaving Green Bay. In both situations, it is the story of an iconic figure, and in Paterno’s case, the figure who was multi-generational pillar of the community, who got his community and himself engulfed in something that was much bigger than either party knew how to deal with.

The grand jury report indicting Jerry Sandusky came out on November 5, but remained a back burner issue for at least couple of days as college football played its yearly “game of the century” between LSU and Alabama. Then the news cycle began, and as people began to dig into the report, they found it startingly. Former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky abused under aged boys, witnessed twice. One witness was Mike McQueary, a former grad assistant and currently a full-time Penn State assistant, was one of the witnesses of a 2002 incident. And McQueary then went and told Joe Paterno.

The shock was palpable: sex scandal at a major college football program, which Joe Paterno knew about and only passed up to a superior? The national media was not quick to call for Paterno’s job, and instead began to make a trek to Penn State to question Paterno about the incident at his Tuesday press conference. Upon seeing the number of national media that would be there, Penn State got defensive, at first telling the media that question would have to be restricted to the week’s game against Nebraska, and then canceled Paterno’s press conference altogether when the national reporters weren’t going to play by their rules. This already speaks to a divide between Penn State and Paterno; when the university knew that Paterno would go out and get grilled by the big dogs, they choose to keep him in hiding. It was after all, the keep-in-the-family culture Paterno had built at Penn State. And of course they were also keeping Paterno from hanging them out to dry.

Paterno, however, took a different line. He came out to talk to the reporters on his front lawn that evening, telling them that he did indeed want to address the charges, but he would have to do it at a later time. Paterno’s modest, accessible house also allowed a group of protesting students to rally on his front lawn, and he of course did what the university must have been dreading: he went out on his lawn, told the students they should say a prayer for the victims, and then lead the students into cries of “We Are Penn State!” But Paterno’s arrogance over the school was heightened the next morning, when, now realizing there was no way he could leave on his own terms, he told the Penn State Board of trustees in a statement (not released by the university) he would retire at the end of the season and that they “should not spend a single minute discussing my status.” Once again, he was the old man in charge, not letting anyone tell him what to do.

In all the coverage of Paterno’s eventually firing, a clip that sticks out in my mind is one of a 2002 interview with Paterno, who at the time was in the middle of four loosing seasons in five years. In it, Paterno said, “I’m not going to retire when everyone wants me to retire, I’m going to retire when I think it’s best for Penn State.” In that moment, I saw a wicked twinkle in Paterno’s eyes; so many times since Paterno turned seventy, the media kept portraying him as a jolly, quirky old grandfather, but in this moment, I saw something different: self-reverence. I am greater than Penn State. I am Penn State, and no one else tells me what to do.

This is the moment where the adults had to step in. No man can say what universally best for other men. The board finally had to stop hiding behind the excuse that Paterno had the right to retire on his own terms because he’d forsaken his right to protect the university.

 

One of the great things I’ve found about twitter is that it gives you slivers of insight into how the public reacts to major events as they happened. I love to follow my twitter feed during Husker games on a typical Saturday, and again on a NFL Sunday. Searching for a team on twitter really gives you insight into how a people think. Ohio State’s fans, for example, can be foolishly preoccupied with a Michigan loss than with their own team’s poor performance. And one of the more revealing parts where twitter gave me some context was at the press conference where Joe Paterno’s dismissal was announced, as the reporters in the room were instantly mocked in the digital realm for their fan-like reaction to Paterno’s firing.

To be fair, there were some Penn State students in that room, and we can’t expect rational reactions from them. They’re students. But the shock from the news media in the room is inexcusable. First of all, it had already been tweeted out that Paterno was fired roughly fifteen minutes before the announcement. Maybe a tweet isn’t an official report, but it should give you a heads up. People have already been talking about this, and now the Board of Trustees has called a meeting at 10:00 at night, meaning this news can’t wait until morning. There’s a good chance Paterno’s getting canned here.

Secondly, you are the media. I understand that you are human and emotional, but still, fans are going to look to you and in some sense, you influence their reaction. You have to be journalist and ask responsible questions, not be accusatory and ask the Board if they just fired Paterno because they’ve had it in for him since 2004.

But as for the Board, they did what they had to do. They were paying the price for allowing Paterno to dominate them way past his retirement age, and now that the university was in crisis. Penn State simply couldn’t let Joe Paterno, the clear enabler of child molester Jerry Sandusky to walk onto their field, into what would undoubtedly turn into a pep rally for his final home game, further humiliating the university and hurting the victims of Sandusky.

Granted, the Board of Trustees probably owed Paterno more than sending a messenger to his house with a number for him to call so they could tell him he was fired. Personally, I believed that all long term relationships need to be ended in person and not over the phone (or text message or e-mail for that matter). Although in the case of Paterno, the university president had come to Paterno’s house to try to talk him politely into retirement and was unceremoniously kicked out. For someone who hung on as long as Paterno, he really doesn’t have any right to complain about being fired over the phone.

The rallying and rioting around Penn State that night could have been expected, but in this instance, there was an added layer of insensitive. These people were out in force because a man who used his position to allow child sexual abuse to happen. Yes, Paterno is only face of Penn State football many of these kids’ parents have know, but what must the victims of abuse be thinking when they are watching this?

 

So that was the end for Joe Paterno. In an insightful saying, Todd Blackledge, quarterback for Paterno’s 1982 National Title team, said in an interview that he often felt that the longer Paterno continued to coach, the worse the end of his coaching career would be, although I doubt that even Blackledge thought that Paterno was guilty of enabling a child molester. The ultimately irony of the situation was that, in the first game after Paterno was gone as Penn State’s head coach, the Nittany Lions played an old rival, Nebraska, a school whose legendary head coach followed a course to retirement that was completely the opposite of Paterno’s.

Tom Osborne retired from coaching twenty-five season at age sixty; Paterno coached twenty-four seasons after he turned sixty. Osborne left at the top of his profession, winning sixty games in his final five season, while Paterno hadn’t had an undefeated season in seventeen years; 1994, the first of Osborne’s three national titles. And Osborne went out and did what Paterno possibly feared doing: find meaning and significance outside of football. In fact, Osborne has now held two jobs as high profile as his coaching job: he spent three years as a member of the House of Representatives, and then returned to Nebraska as Athletic Director, now overseeing the many building projects for football, basketball, and the prominent volleyball. I remember a quote from Paterno when Osborne retired in 1997, where Paterno speculated that between himself, Bobby Bowden, and Tom Osborne, Osborne would be the last to retire. In a sense, he was right.

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