Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year....

Or at least that's what ESPN's Capital One Bowl Week ads would have us believe. However, due to several circumstances (like getting our ass kicked more often than not), we find our Huskers home for the holidays. It's a sad realization that the only thing I can really root the next couple of weeks is LSU's defensive unit. Of course, I'll support every Big 12 team, but the reality is that until spring ball, the only things we have to talk about are defecting recruits and Bo Pelini's background and upbringing (He's from Ohio! Did you know he scored 1000 points in high school basketball?! He's fiery!!). While there may be a shortage of interesting Husker story lines, the same can't be said for the rest of college football. A brief look around the national landscape the past couple of weeks:

The first thing I want to look at is the academic fraud scandal at Florida State. For whatever reason, this is not the national story many thought it would be. The reason for that? Nobody cares about teams hovering just above .500. Ten years ago, this would have been huge. Look at the uproar programs face when they are prominent (Nebraska with LP, USC with Reggie Bush even though he's never been reprimanded), then look at schools with legal troubles that suck. Terrible teams tend to totally be ignored (how's that for alliteration?) when it comes to academic or legal issues, and that's the way it's always going to be. If you have a team in the top 10, you're going to hear about the smallest of transgressions, even if it's stuff like merely being in a picture with a keg of beer, as Georgia's Matt Stafford can attest to. Anyways, apparently a tutor gave a large number of players the answers to an online exam for a MUSIC APPRECIATION COURSE, which has resulted in roughly two dozen players being ruled ineligible for the illustrious Music City bowl (although I guess I can't disparage them for being in it, at least they made it to a bowl game...). If they were playing in the Orange Bowl, this might be getting more publicity. My concern is that these players even needed the answers for a music appreciation course. I mean, obviously the advisers steered a great deal of the football players into this class to um, facilitate their eligibility. So why do they need the answers? The name of this class alone screams "easy A or B", so the fact they needed answers (to an online exam no less) is pathetic yet somehow borderline amusing. Music Appreciation......I can't wait till we hear that as some FSU alum's major in a Monday Night Football broadcast sometime soon.

Michigan's hiring of Rich Rodriguez is in my opinion better for the Wolverines than Les Miles would have been. Now that he can recruit essentially anyone he wants, Rodriguez will be able to run roughshod over the rest of the Big 2, er, 10. He'll be able to mold Ryan Mallet into an effective spread (think Purdue) QB, then recruit the type of athletes needed to run the spread-option like he did at West Virginia. If I'm the rest of that dilapidated conference, I'm legitimately terrified of what is going to be coming out of Ann Arbor the next couple of years.

Is there anything more irritating than the USC-deserves-a-shot talk? They lost to Oregon and Stanford, the latter being a deal-breaker in my opinion. Any time you lose to what is considered one of the worst teams in the country, I think you can pretty much resign yourself to something else than the national title game. I don't care if your entire roster is made up of high school all americans, I don't care if you receive roughly 6,000 pre-season blowjobs from the media, and I don't give a damn about what you did two or three years ago. When it comes to national championship aspirations, Jim Tressel said it best in an interview after the BCS selection show: if you want to be in the national title game, you better win all your games, because that's really the only way to guarantee a spot. I'm still holding out hope that USC will suffer an FSU-type meltdown and return to where they were in the 90's, winning 7 games a year. Oh, and one more thing: REGGIE F'IN CHEATED!!

While I understand this is a college football blog, I had to say something about the New England Patriots. I might be in the minority, but I find myself rooting for these guys. Sure, the whole spying thing definitely hurts their rep, but from what I understand, the videotaping of signals is a fairly common practice throughout the league, and even if you are caught by the opposing team, it's usually dealt with inbetween the coaching staffs. You aren't supposed to run off and snitch like a 7 year-old like Mangini did. That aside, what's wrong with rooting for greatness? Don't get me wrong, parity is an incredible thing. Look at what it's done for college football this season. But as great as the any-given-Saturday/Sunday thing is, isn't it even more special when you can sit back and merely appreciate the fact that you are witnessing the game being played to it's highest level? When I watch old game film of the '95 Huskers, I find myself not rooting for them as much as I am merely enjoying watching the game being played at such a high level. And that's what I find myself doing watching Tom Brady & Co. What they are doing is simply incredible. My only dislike about them? Use a damn tight end at the goal line, not a linebacker. If you're their tight end, aren't you more than a little pissed off right now? I can just see Kyle Brady dumping some Ex-Lax into Mike Vrabel's Gatorade and laughing ominously.

Anyways, the Holiday Bowl is on ESPN tonight, Longhorns vs. Arizona State. If you're not up to anything, you should tune in, this is usually one of the better games of the bowl season. Hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Characteristics of an Attractive Coaching Job: Does NU fit the Bill?

Came across this article by Bruce Feldman over on, and thought it was worth mentioning on here. People have been wondering this season, what exactly makes a head coaching job an "elite" one. In the changing world of major college football, simply being Michigan or Nebraska doesn't make a job a great one. The following are Feldman's 10 characteristics of a good coaching job. I'm gonna look at each one, then give the NU head coaching gig a rating in that category on the classic 1 to 10 scale.

1. Financial commitment: The old adage 'You get what you pay for,' isn't always true, but it's close. Having the resources to pay a head coach is key. However, it's also vital to ensure the opportunity to bring in a talented staff as well as having a recruiting budget to travel, evaluate and chase talent. On top of that, it is a must to keep up with your competition.

Obviously we aren't Alabama, who is willing to give Nick Saban 4 million a year to lose to UL-Monroe and earn a bid to the PetroSun Independence bowl, but Nebraska has spared no expense in making sure that their staff is rewarded handsomely in addition to having spectacular facilities (which will be touched on later in this post). NU is one of the big boys of college football, and their boosters are more than willing to open the pocketbooks if they have an AD who they support.

Financial Commitment Rating: 8.5

2. Tradition: Two of the coaches I consulted actually had this near the bottom of their lists, but I disagree. There's a reason why many of today's elite programs were also the powerhouses from the '70s and '80s. It's why it didn't take Bob Stoops or Pete Carroll very long to take middling programs back to the mountain top in the last decade. It's also why Notre Dame and Miami can go through disastrous seasons and still be putting together top 10 recruiting classes. It's also why Michigan doesn't need to be in such a rush to name a head coach while other programs frantically try and line up a guy to close ground on the recruiting trail.

My take on this is that Nebraska, despite what ESPN and all the other d-bags might say, is still Nebraska. We have 5 national titles, 43 conference championships, are one of four programs with 800+ victories, and still have the longest bowl streak in history. I could keep going, but it would be overkill. But the real question here is, do 18 year old kids really care about Johnny Rodgers or Mike Rozier? Do they even have the respect for the tradition that kids even 10 years ago had? It's tough to say, maybe tradition isn't as important as it used to be. But I still think that having that history is what enables great programs to bounce back, as Feldman pointed out. This is why I think with the right coach, we can once again become a juggernaut. Prove me right Bo.

Tradition Rating: 10

3. Conference appeal: The difference between being in a BCS conference and a non-BCS conference is eye-popping. Bowl money, bowl tie-ins and TV exposure are the start, followed by the appeal to sell recruits on the lure of playing in the SEC or Big Ten as opposed to Conference-USA or the MAC. In essence, even if you're at a second-tier BCS conference school, you can tout playing against your leagues superpowers as a draw.

A couple of years ago, when the North was playing Stephen Baldwin to the South's Alex, we might not have been very high in this category. But the rise of Kansas and Mizzou, coupled with NU's sleeping giant and Colorado's return to respectability, has turned the Big 12 into the 2nd toughest conference behind the SEC (some may argue this point, but the ACC is terrible, the Big East still hasn't sold me, and the Big 10 has one good team). If you're in the Big 12, you have a great chance of at least having regional network coverage every week if you keep your team above respectable.

Conference Appeal rating: 9

4. Recruiting base: Everything starts with recruiting, and if you have players in your backyard, you have a chance to build something. Miami had virtually none of the other factors on this list, but because the program sat right in the heart of fertile recruiting soil, the Canes built a powerhouse after Howard Schnellenberger coined his "State of Miami" by drawing a line across the lower portion of the state of Florida. Of course, you can still thrive far from a big population base (Boise State is a great example), but it is very hard.

This is obviously a bit harder. The Dakotas and Nebraska/Iowa isn't exactly fertile territory, unless your definition of stud recruits are hard-nosed white guys with an abundance of heart and a lack of speed. Sure, there are gems out there that can be unearthed, and sometimes we'll get a bumper crop of lineman, but this isn't Florida or California we're talking about here. And despite the proximity to Minneapolis, Nebraska rarely gets anybody from there, despite there being 4 or 5 stud recruits from that area per year (Murtha and Swift are the only exceptions I can think of).

Recruiting base ranking: 4

5. Stability of the administration: You can usually trace success back to the top. Smart, confident leadership lends itself to sound decisions. And the inverse is also true. Sketchy ADs make bad, short-sighted decisions. The schools that are quick to hit the reset button tend to be mired in a constant state of mediocrity. Virginia Tech became a powerhouse only after the Hokie brass was patient and gave Frank Beamer some time. Rutgers is no longer a laughingstock because the Scarlet Knights didn't pull the plug in Greg Schiano in his first five years.

Only a couple of months ago, I would have given this a negative rating. The Pedersen/Callahan debacle really didn't do much to bolster confidence in the administration, but with the hiring of Osborne as AD, you have to think this is headed in the right direction, which is probably what Bo Pelini thought when he accepted the job. The question is, how long does T.O. stick around for? And who does he appoint as the AD once he's gone? Because of this, the rating takes a hit, but it's still better than having a dumbass like Pud in office.

Stability of admin rating: 6

6. Facilities: You can win without fancy indoor practice facilities or a sprawling new weight room or posh players lounge or expansive, glitz stadium, but it ain't easy. Miami and USC are probably the best examples of doing without, although both of them sit in the heart of prime recruiting soil. Everyone else is trying to lure kids by outdoing their neighbor. Often the first question before any coach takes over a program is about what the school is planning on doing to upgrade the facilities.

The crown jewel of Nebraska's athletic program, the facilities were fantastic before they built the Osborne complex. After it's completion, I don't think there is any argument that NU's facilities are the best in the country.

Facilities rating: 10

7. Admissions Flexibility: Private schools often get hit harder by this than state schools although don't say that to UCLA coaches. Admissions flexibility varies greatly not just from school to school but really from year to year at a given school. For instance, the academic environment Pete Carroll lives in is different now than what it was five years ago. Such "presidential" exemptions can explain why some schools are doing well with a blue-chipper while your school might not be able to talk to him.

NU was one of the biggest fans of the Prop 48 student athlete, and even though that is no longer an option, we still will let just about anybody in who qualifies with NCAA requirements. Let's just say we aren't Notre Dame when it comes to this category. But when it comes to the job being an attractive coaching stop, this is a GOOD thing.

Admissions Flexibility rating: 9

8. Campus feel: It might be sad to say but very few people I spoke with listed this one high on their list. The reality is most top recruits, even the ones who are strong students, realize they are picking a school first based off the athletic program. If they don't like the direction of the program, the coaching staff, etc., they don't care how nice the quad is. It can help on an official recruiting visit, but probably not as much as a fancy indoor practice facility.

We have a fancy indoor practice facility. Boo-yah! In all seriousness, I don't have that good of a feel for NU's campus, but I have to agree that the beauty if the campus is far down the list of potential recruits, whose main goal is their development into players who can play on Sundays. As such, this really doesn't matter. But the atmosphere on campus is great for football games, so I'm going to bump up our rating a bit.

Campus feel rating: 7

9. Fan sanity: One assistant I spoke with Sunday night said this factor probably has jumped on the board in just the last few years, pointing to a school like Southern Miss dumping perennial winner Jeff Bower after 17 seasons. Thanks to talk radio, 24-hour sports channels and above all, message boards, fans and boosters feel more powerful than ever before. How realistic a fan base is something many coaches should be thinking about, argued the assistant.

I've always thought we were the most polite fans in the country, and I still do. But this year, we saw the real teeth of Husker nation, a focus and intensity and an anger that we have rarely been exposed to. We are indeed a rabid fan base, perhaps even more than most other schools due to the fact we have absolutely nothing else to do. If the football team sucks, as it did this year, our entire fall and winter is ruined. Loyalty like that is hard to match. While I think it is one of our best traits, an incoming coach might not want National Title expectations every year when a more realistic goal would be competing for conference championships and then making a NC run every 3 or so years. So it's tough to give us a rating on this. Our fan insanity rating? Easily a 10. But in terms of attracting a coach? Might not be the best thing all the time.

Fan Insanity rating: 8.5

10. Climate: Two different former head coaches I consulted raised this point, saying that people forget "that families have to adjust too." On top of that, a favorable climate makes it easier to recruit junior college kids and also can help you recruit assistant coaches -- and their families -- easier.

I love the midwest. I do legitimately enjoy having all 4 seasons. That said, going to my car every morning when it's 10 below zero makes me contemplate suicide, so I understand the appeal of heading to Coral Gables or Southern Cal. But that said, Lincoln isn't as bad as it was 10 or 15 years ago. Sure, they'll have a couple of bad weeks (like they are right now with the ice storms and all that), but aside from that, it gets warmer every year (thanks global warming!) and spring and fall are absolutely gorgeous. The south can have their balmy September nights in the swamps. I don't think you can beat the smell of crisp autumn air and the feeling of a hooded sweatshirt on a nice October Saturday.

Climate rating: 9 (If kids can go to f*cking Ann Arbor or Columbus, they can go to Lincoln)

The total overall score: 81

The most attractive coaching job right now, in my opinion, would be Florida, due to the climate, the bevy of talent in the state, and other factors like playing in the SEC and the commitment to athletics. But still, Nebraska, no matter what anybody says, is still one of the most attractive jobs out there. And if you win, you'll be revered in the region for all time. Not a bad deal, in my opinion.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Big Red Roundtable, Bo's Back Edition

1. The 2007 season finished with a disappointing 5-7
record. Very few people expected this. What went

In a season that many expected to be a return to the halcyon days of Nebraska football, it is quicker to talk about what went right than what went wrong. When looking at the season, it's easy to shrug it off as a defensive collapse or a laundry list of other woes. But when one looks harder, the turning point came when Southern Cal came to town with a #1 ranking and made us look like the Poles fighting Germany in WWII. The Trojans completely demoralized the Husker defense, opening holes so wide, I can't think of a comparison without being completely inappropriate. While the coaches denied it, it was evident that the psyche of the "Blackshirt" defense was completely destroyed, and in the following weeks, it snowballed until it was apparent that there was no turnaround coming.

In addition to the collapse of the defense, there were other problems:

-An inconsistent running game that apparently had all of four plays. The inability to run the ball between the tackles haunted the Husker offense all season and put Sam Keller in an unfair position of having to do all of it himself.

-Drops by receivers in key situations cost us in some key drives early in the season, although this improved by the end of the year.

-Poor pass protection, coupled with Keller's habit of holding on to the ball waaaaay too long, made for a harrowing situation that was repeated far too often: Keller pumping the ball repeatedly before dumping it to a 3-yard out route while being pile-drived into the turf.

-The coaching staff's continued refusal to make halftime adjustments. Nebraska was, by far, the worst 3rd-quarter team in football. I don't care what statistics you might come up with to say it was someone else, you watch every Nebraska 3rd quarter and try to convince me otherwise. Even when we were kicking ass at halftime (Colorado comes to mind), somehow the Huskers managed to come out and play to the other extreme, as if the staff had made changes to make sure that we sucked in the 3rd stanza. I always pictured this exchange:

Callahan: "Well Kev, we're playing great. What can we do to make sure we live up to our reputation and nose dive in the 2nd half?"

Cosgrove: "Yea, did you see us actually tackling people? We were holding them to 6 yard gains instead of 16! I'll go make some adjustments to make sure our linebackers are completely out of position. Wait, better yet, I'll just move our linebackers out of the box completely and put them over some slot receivers. That oughta do it."

Callahan: "Sounds good buddy. Once the game is safely out of hand, I'll get the O to tack on a couple meaningless deficit-cutting touchdowns to make the final look more respectable and to promote my image as an offensive genius. Let's get 'er done!"

-It became apparent during the Okie State game and those following it, that despite their comments to the contrary, that this Husker team had completely quit on it's coaching staff. How else do you explain the seemingly complete lack of effort? Obviously, these guys were still trying hard, but even if the effort may have been there, the passion was not. Guy busts 20 yard carry after 20 yard carry? Who cares, we knew when we showed up we were going to get our ass kicked. That may not have been what they were thinking, but it's the body language the fans were seeing.

2. Bo Pelini takes over as head coach. Good move or

If you have read my blog at all, you know my opinion on this one. I am a huge Bo Pelini fan, and have been since his first stint here back in 2003. His temperament and passion is something that college kids easily identify with. He's a coach that gets in your face and demands you're best, and when your challenged like that, you want to do everything in your power not to let him down and to earn his praise. Callahan, who I do believe has a great football mind, is better suited for a coordinator's position in the pro game.

Pelini, on the other hand, is suited perfectly for college football, and his Midwestern roots and respect for the Husker tradition is something that Husker fans have been longing for the past 4 years. Thus far, he has said all the right things and made all the right moves in mending the wounds that have taken place since Solich's ouster after the 2003 season. This is someone who I could see (if he wins obviously), being here for the duration of his career. In an era where coaches seemingly are content to spend 5 to 10 years at a school and move to greener pastures, Pelini might be our guy for the next 25, and that is the kind of stability that Husker Nation craves.

And the last thing that is causing me to love this hire is Pelini's credentials. He's coached under some of the brightest minds in football, and his defensive emphasis is obviously exactly what this Husker team needs right now.

3. Nebraska fans were divided after the last coaching
change. Do you see fans finally uniting?

Yes, I really do. While some wanted Gill, I think everyone was in favor of Anybody But Callahan, and getting a guy who embraces the past and has the approval of Tom Osborne goes a long ways. Said Osborne of Pelini:

“We need a head coach with strong defensive credentials and great leadership,” Osborne said. “We were also looking for someone who can inspire confidence and get players to play with great effort. And, of course, we also wanted our new head coach to understand our traditions, including the importance of our walk-on program and the importance of football in this state.”

In addition to this, Pelini made sure to properly credit Solich for his contribution to Husker football, something Pedersen & Callahan never properly did. This might not seem like a huge issue, but when a native son and Osborne's hand-picked successor was forced out, it caused a much bigger divide than Pedersen expected, and he never properly addressed the situation nor thanked Solich for the good years he did have. And it didn't help that the tradition of Husker football was seemingly swept under the rug (taking down the All-American pictures, the cold shoulder that former Huskers apparently got, etc;).

Pelini, in his introductory press conference, said exactly what we wanted to hear:

"I look forward to going out and recruiting the best in the state of Nebraska and getting this program back on track," Pelini said on Sunday. "It's like one big family, and that's the way I want it to be. I look back at all the great players and programs -- I want to bring all those people back into the fold. I might be the head coach now, but they're all part of the family. We want to draw on the tradition to move forward."

'Nuff said.

4. How would you like to see Bo Pelini fill out his
coaching staff? Anybody or anything in particular you
are looking to see?

As of right now, (and I'm publishing this one kind of late compared to my peers), Pelini had either hired or was expected to hire the following coaches for his new staff:

Ron Brown
Barney Cotton
Marvin Sanders
Carl Pelini
John Papuchis

OC Shawn Watson and Receivers coach Ted Gilmore were expected to be retained by Pelini.

Looking at the staff, I love the defensive staff that Pelini is bringing in. Obviously, after watching an overmatched and inept staff the past four years, I'd be excited about any change at all, but even with factoring that it, these guys are legitimate coaches who have good backgrounds.

Carl Pelini has done an excellent job coaching the defensive line at Ohio, which you can read about here at the Bobcat's home page. This would be a great hire for the Huskers in light of the struggles the defensive line had this year. Yes, obviously we lost some great players to the NFL last year, but that doesn't excuse the complete lack of a pass rush and continued problems with basic containment responsibilities.

We all know about Sanders, who was an assistant here during Pelini's first stint in Lincoln. He had overseen a steady improvement of North Carolina's defense during his 3 seasons in Chapel Hill, and him being a former Husker certainly doesn't hurt his status around here. His defensive backs were known for their ball-hawking nature and penchant for turnovers, which would be refreshing after watching our atrocious secondary play the past couple years.

We all know about Ron Brown and Barney Cotton, both of them former Husker assistants. The deal only got sweeter when Cotton's stud prep son switched his commitment to Nebraska after his old man's hiring.

Papuchis is an up-and-coming assistant who worked under both Nick Saban and Pelini at LSU. While he isn't officially on staff yet, he has been seen in the North Stadium complex and is expected to be added at some point. A former KU grad assistant before his tenure in Baton Rouge, he too is a defensive specialist.

Two or three more hires are expected (if all the aforementioned people do indeed sign contracts at UNL), so it'll be interesting to see how Pelini fills out the rest of the staff.

5. What do you think the expectations are for Bo
Pelini? Do you think he needs to win x amount or do x
by a certain date?

I think expectations will be moderately high in his first year, just because people believe that there is talent in place and he simply has to mold it. Is this fair? Probably not. But that's Nebraska. Obviously, people don't expect a Big XII title right away, but I do think that people are hoping for 7 wins and a bowl berth, and for our losses to be by much smaller margins than those we experienced this year. He'll have a lot of leeway after all we've been through this year, and I think the honeymoon period will be a good one. The mere fact that he is embracing the past and is Osborne's pick will go a long ways by itself, if he gets 7 or 8 wins, that's really all we can ask for.

Be sure to check out all the other Husker Bloggers' responses to the Roundtable:

Husker Faithful

Midwest Coast Bias

Corn Nation

Double Extra Point

Husker Mike

Big Red Analysis

Big Red Network

Hi-Plains Drifter