Originally posted on Shown The Red Card  |  Last updated 10/9/12
Husker fans, welcome. What is crazy about this post, is that I made it once before, about the same exact day 5 years ago. The circumstances were a little different, though. I wrote my last State of the Program blog after the 2007 loss to Missouri in Columbia. Nebraska had just been torched by Mizzou on national TV, leaving many Nebraska fans wondering if the leadership of Bill Callahan & Co. would be able to ‘do the job’ and lead Nebraska back to national prominence. What came after that blog was blowout after blowout, the firing of ‘he who must not be named’, the return of Dr. Tom Osborne as Athletic Director, the firing of Bill Callahan and the eventual hiring of Bo Pelini. These were dark days. As a student, I remember just how tumultuous things were around the program and how it affected the student body in particular. There was a sense of urgency to return the football program to glory, and hiring Bo was to be the first step in that process. He was going to restore the pride in this program. He was going to get the players to play the tough, fundamental football that we had all been accustomed to pre-Callahan. He was going to restore the Blackshirts, turning Nebraska’s defense from a laughing stock to a feared defensive unit. He was going to restore tradition, calling on former players and gathering support from the fans to help this process. These were all things that Nebraska fans expected of their new head coach in late 2007. Fast forward 5 years, and that sense of urgency might be the same after the 63-38 loss to Ohio St on Saturday. To be frank, something within the football program is not right, and hasn’t been right for some time. Saturday might have been the game that started the next wave of actions in motion. The Bo Pelini I saw in the press conference after Saturday’s game looked lost, and for the most part, dumbfounded. He could tell you what went wrong against the Buckeyes, but not much about why it went wrong. He wasn’t his typical defiant, post-loss fiery self. This Bo looks worn down, partly by results and partly by the weight of expectations of him and the football program as a whole. Nebraska fans expect a lot of our football program, and we shouldn’t apologize for that. The relationship between Bo and Husker supporters has been interesting in the last few years, and depending on who you talk to, he is the answer at Nebraska or he isn’t. Using those views, statistics and metrics, let’s evaluate how Bo has done going into his 66th game at Nebraska. (Full disclosure: I wanted Bo to be hired in 2004, when ‘he who must not be named’ hired Bill Callahan instead, just to put this post into perspective.) Bo’s Pro’s Building quality men. From all accounts, Bo helps players become better men from the time they step foot on campus until the time they leave. This is a quality that coaches at Nebraska must have. The defensive improvement from 2008-2010. This was a remarkable turn around from the horrid 2007 season. Bo’s defenses in the first 3 years were exciting to watch and featured All-American players Ndamukong Suh and Prince Amukamara, among many other talented players now in the NFL. Restoring tradition. Bo helped to rebuild the bridges that ‘he who must not be named’ and Bill Callahan tore down. He helped restore the walk-on program, as well as reestablish the lines of communication between former players and coaches, and the program. Passion. Bo’s passion exuded through his players the first 3 years of his reign. The phrase “Nebraska players would run through a wall for Bo” was repeated often, and believed by all. Good wins. Bo has led Nebraska to a few really good wins in his time: Michigan St. (2011), Penn St. (2011), Missouri (2010), Oklahoma St. (2010), Arizona (2009), Missouri (2009), Oklahoma (2009). Record. Bo is 43-18 since taking over in 2008, with a 23-11 record in conference play. Bo had at least 9 wins in his first 4 seasons, the first coach to do that since Urban Meyer when he took over at Florida. Bo’s Con’s Record. While that 43-18 record looks good, it is a bit deceiving as of late. From Hail Varsity: “Bo Pelini was 28-9 in his 1st 38 games. The Huskers are 14-9 since, dating back to what you likely refer to as “The A&M Game,” with an 8-9 record against BCS opponents in that time period.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is not good. Performance in big games. This has been Callahan-esque since Bo came to Nebraska. Of course, the first 2-3 years any rational person would give him a pass while was rebuilding the program, but I cannot continue to look the other way on this topic. Big losses in big games cant continue to happen. For reference, see: Ohio St. (2012), UCLA (2012), Michigan (2011), Wisconsin (2011), South Carolina (2011), Texas (2010), Oklahoma (2010), Texas A&M (2010)…..and so on, and so forth. BIG losses. From Hail Varsity: “Of those 9 losses since “the A&M game”, 5 have been by double digits and the defense has allowed 33.4 points per game.” What this tells me is that we are getting out-coached, out-prepared, out-talented and out-efforted. Unacceptable from a coach who demands his players give him everything they have. Discipline. The irony here is that Bo has preached discipline, hard work and fundamentals since he got here in 2008. It is tough to watch his teams not play with these characteristics in 2012. He alluded that his squad, more or less, ‘gave up’ in the second half against Ohio St. The also did not play disciplined football, turning the ball over and missing basic fundamental plays on defense, like tackling. Plain and simple, Bo’s current system cannot defend against a mobile QB. Look at the recent results and the weaknesses we have against that offensive system are GLARING. There doesn’t seem to be a willingness to adjust on his part either, which is either stubbornness or insanity (doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result). Recent regression. I know I am not alone when I say this: Nebraska Football has regressed since 2010. It is obvious to see. The team doesn’t play with the same tenacity that they did from 2008-2010. The last 2 years have seemed disjointed, with Bo lashing out at anyone who dares to question him or his methods. One would think after making the conference championship in 2009 and 2010 that this team would be ready to make the jump into the big time. Instead, Bo’s teams are getting consistently beaten (soundly) by teams that have better coaching and talent. The Huskers arent even winning all the games that they ‘should’ win anymore. All of this lines up with contradicting coaching theories. Bo wants mistake free football, yet he runs the most mistake-prone offense in the country and cannot make the defense negate those errors by tackling, stopping the run and forcing turnovers. It just doesn’t make sense. Face of the franchise. Bo is the face of Nebraska Football, whether you like it or not. He has to get better at being a CEO, though, not just a coach. The absurd sideline rants, a-la Texas A&M 2010, cannot happen anymore. Having fire and passion is one of the reasons he got the Nebraska job in the first place (see: Passion), but controlling that fire so that your players can feed off of it is the key to his success. Looking like you are going to have a stroke every time a call goes against the team isn’t healthy, and it apparently isnt effective anymore. The players clearly are not reacting to it, so it might be time to find a new motivational tactic. Also, Bo has to give better press conferences. The “well, you watched the game, what do you think?” rhetorical answers are tired, lame and flat out dont cut it anymore. In all fairness, he has improved in this aspect over the past season, but it isn’t enough, yet. Relationship with Tom Osborne, Harvey Perlman and major boosters. Flat out, these relationships have been rocky for awhile. There are numerous reports of Bo butting heads with all of these important people, and that cannot be a good thing. Harvey, Tom, Bo and the boosters need to be on the same page to make Nebraska Football great again, and it is clear that they are not even close at this point in time. More on this later. Recruiting. This might be the most glaring con of all. Bo and recruiting clearly dont mix. He has been marginal at best since coming to Nebraska. He hasn’t been willing to play the game and recruit the best talent. He apparently isn’t willing to give many young players playing time to ensure they remain with the program. He apparently isn’t willing to share his entire vision for their future at Nebraska, only saying that if they work hard then they will have a chance to play. Look no further than the Ohio St. game to see why recruiting matters. The Huskers were out-talented at all but one position (running back). Bo cannot expect to challenge for B1G and National Championships with the current talent level. He has to go play the game. He has to shake hands and kiss babies. That is what he is paid an absurd salary to do. Instead, he comes off as ‘too good’ for recruiting. It simply cannot work this way. We are seeing what his coaching style with his players has given us: not enough. Callahan recruited his tail off, and it is time for Bo to pay the piper. Assistant coaching hires. Bo is a loyal guy, most times to his detriment. He has hired assistant coaches that might not have been all that qualified to coach at Nebraska and it has come back to haunt him. Quality assistant coaches help the head coach be the CEO of the team. Assistant coaches shouldnt be learning how to be a coach at Nebraska. This should be a place where near-finished products come and show off their skills so that they might get a head coaching gig elsewhere. Hiring friends cost Bill Callahan his job, just sayin’. Doesn’t pass the eye test. All of these con’s combined means that, for me, Bo doesn’t pass the ‘eye test’. The eye test being whether I look on the field and see a B1G Championship-caliber team performing. At this point, nobody can see that. Even if by some miracle Nebraska ‘wins’ the B1G this year, it will be tainted knowing Ohio St. is clearly the best team in the conference. Other factors to take into consideration: Tom Osborne. Dr. Tom’s role as AD has largely been that of a savior. He came in, restored order and is now riding off into the sunset in January. He leadership has been crucial over the past 5 years, but I think everyone got the feeling that maybe he was doing too much. He has overshadowed Bo since day 1, and who knows what kind of impact this had on him, but I doubt it was a good one. The time is right for T.O. to move on, gracefully. As a Nebraska Alum, and student when he took over in 2007, I cannot thank him enough. Again, those were dark days and he was the only man that could have righted the ship in such a hurry. I hope he enjoys retirement, for real this time. Shawn Eichorst. What do we make of our new A.D.? Knowing his background and very little else, the jury is out. I hope he is the kind of progressive leader that will help Nebraska move forward for the next decade or two. His relationship with Bo could make the current situation interesting come January. Harvey Perlman. Plain and simple, Harvey will not be chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln if Eichorst doesnt work out. He hired ‘he who must not be named’, and got lucky that Dr. Tom came and bailed him out. Another bad hire, and it wont take long for him to be removed. A rocky relationship with Bo could impact the current situation as well. New facilities. The new football facility will make Nebraska a premier destination for any potential recruit. After the East Stadium renovation is done, playing in Memorial Stadium will be even more of a privilege than it is right now. East Stadium will be immaculate, and this will help with recruiting, assuming Bo decides to care about recruiting. Stadium atmosphere. This is an area that needs to be improved about 100x. Memorial Stadium has its moments of brilliance in relation to crowd noise, but the overwhelming atmosphere of the stadium for most games is pretty pathetic. That place should be rocking every down on defense, and it feels as if the willingness of the West, North and East stadium crowds to stand up and cheer isnt there any more. To help this problem, I propose that the first 10 rows of East stadium, all the way across, are for students. We need the noise close to the field, and the Athletic Department needs to show our current students that they care about them more than to shove them in a corner and hope they make noise. Get the students even more fired up than they usually are, and Memorial Stadium could once again be a feared place to play. Raises. New contracts and raises should be given on merit. I believe, personally, that Bo hasn’t earned the last two raises he’s received. It is time that performance bonuses are given for performance, not because the national average of coaches pay went up. I have to earn bonuses at work and I think the coaches should too. So ultimately, the future of our football program wont be decided today or tomorrow. It will take a lot careful consideration of many options, including keeping Bo on as head coach. My personal feelings at the present time indicate that we should move in a different direction (step on up Dan Mullen), but there is procedure in place to deal with that as it comes. Nebraska football fans ultimately care about winning, especially winning big games, which hasnt happened much since 2001. There is a stigma around this program that the Huskers can’t win the big game. It is time to change that. It is time to make Memorial Stadium a feared place to play again. It is time to make opposing teams and fans fear the week that Nebraska comes to their house. It is time to put Nebraska Football back on the list of ‘elite’ schools and back to competing for B1G Championships, Rose Bowl titles and ultimately, National Championships. It is time to put up, or shut up. As alumni, fans, boosters etc, we dont plan on shutting up anytime soon. We all care too much. As negative as my outlook is on the current state of Nebraska Football, I care deeply about the direction that the program is headed, which I hope is obvious at this point. “There is no place like Nebraska, dear old Nebraska U., we’ll all stick together, through all kinds of weather for dear old Nebraska U.” What changes, if any, do you think need to be made? Comment below!
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