The national eyes of college football are focused on Lincoln, Nebraska this week. This has happened before, only it was the result of attendance records or Heisman candidates. This week, however, the focus is on an embattled coach who is already a topic in the state that rivals politics and religion.
An f-bomb laced conversation from two years ago where Bo Pelini ripped the Nebraska media and fans was leaked on Deadspin.com this week. This fed an already raging fire in the Husker fanbase, as many, including some former players, had already started calling for a change in the coaching staff — not excluding the head coach.
One way or another, I know how this ends. Bo Pelini, even though he has said otherwise, has been looking to get out of Nebraska for a couple of years. The combination of the recent events and his track record of losing perceived big games by large margins is going to mark the end of the Bo Pelini era in Nebraska. Whether that comes at the end of the season or by the time I finish this article/rant/blogpost is the only thing we don’t know.
When that day does come, where does Nebraska go from there? The fact of the matter is that the University of Nebraska has had only five head coaches over the last 50 years. This is a program that is very much a reflection of the state it calls home: Conservative, consistent, and often shying away from change. Now Nebraska must again face change straight on. The University and the Husker faithful will do so with much anxiety, as the last coaching change before Pelini’s arrival kick started the darkest era in the modern history of Nebraska football. There is a sect of Husker fans who can’t wait for Pelini to be gone, but at the same time, they know that they need to be careful what they wish for.
When the search for a new leader at Nebraska gets underway, there will be new blood leading the charge. Shawn Eichorst is in his first year as athletic director, replacing the legendary Tom Osborne. Osborne had a tendency to tow the conservative line at Nebraska, playing a certain version of Moneyball when it came to hiring coaches. Eichorst, whether he says so or not, will do things differently. He just came from Miami (Fla.), a school that is never afraid to show flash or make a splash when it comes to getting what they want. Before then he worked alongside Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin. Eichorst watched with the rest of us as Bret Bielema shocked the state of Wisconsin and bolted for Arkansas. We now know some of what led to that was Bielema’s displeasure over how much money Wisconsin paid him and his assistants.
I think Eichorst learned a valuable lesson from the Bielema ordeal. He must understand that the football coach is the face of most universities. A school with the history and tradition of Nebraska needs a quality coach in every sense of the word. Nebraska needs a guy who can recruit, win games AND say all the right things — even when he doesn’t think anyone is listening. But you gotta pay him. And to get the kind of coach that Husker Nation wants, the kind of coach who is willing to come to a place like Nebraska and be given a very small window of time to make a once proud program relevant again, you gotta pay him as well as any coach in the nation.
In my opinion, there are only three coaches in the nation with the ability to come to Nebraska and make the program relevant on a national stage immediately. Two of them are not going anywhere, as they are already at destination jobs at two of the most high profile places in college football: Ohio State and Alabama. We’ll get to that third guy in a second.
I had a conversation with Know It All Football’s lead college football blogger, Ryan Osbahr, about where Nebraska looks after Bo Pelini. Who would they target? Who could they target that would prevent an otherwise painful transition and rebuilding period at a proud institution. After some brainstorming, he spit out four names. I have a wild card in the back of my mind as a fifth. Here are the names Ryan came up with:
Craig Bohl, Head Coach, North Dakota State – Bohl was fired by Frank Solich as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator in 2002. A year later, Solich was fired. All Bohl did was go to North Dakota State and coach them to three conference titles and two national titles in ten years. He seems to have found his niche as a head coach, culminating this year in a win over Bill Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats. If Bohl can forgive Husker Nation for what happened to him in 2003, there does not appear to be an easier fit.
Kirby Smart, Defensive Coordinator, Alabama – Smart is going to be a coach at a big time program. Where better to start than at a place like Nebraska where the last guy to promise to fix the defense regressed as time went on? Smart is young, energetic, tutored by the best coach in the game and the architect of a defense that has been the backbone of a team that has won three national titles in four years. He also has deep recruiting ties to the south, which can’t hurt. He’ll come with a price, as he currently rakes in $1.28 million annually as Alabama’s DC.
Jim Tressel, VP of Strategic Engagement, Akron – Yes, THAT Jim Tressel. Given what we now know about how the NCAA conducts business, Tressel’s attempt to cover up NCAA violations doesn’t look so bad. Tressel is well-liked in the coaching community, recruits well, coaches as well as anyone in the country and has won everywhere he’s been. It would be a splash hire and a gamble, but given his history, he could be a bargain buy, as he is in no position to demand elite money.
Paul Rhodes, Head Coach, Iowa State – Rhodes has proven to be a solid in-game coach, however, his fiery demeanor on the sideline is a lot like Pelini. Fans and players do love him and at the end of the day, he has a head-to-head win in Lincoln over Bo. He’s squeezed about as much juice out of Iowa State as you can with the resources they have in Ames. Maybe it’s time to give him a shot at a big time program with unlimited resources.
Now, having dropped those names, four names that I don’t think are that unrealistic, let me toss you a wild card. As I said, if you want a guy to come to Nebraska, put them back on the map immediately with class, great recruiting and wins, there really are only three people who I can see doing that. You aren’t getting Saban or Meyer to come to Nebraska. But the Huskers, in my opinion, for the right price, have a shot at getting a guy with experience building and sustaining a winning team in a part of the country where you would think doing so would be impossible. Nebraska can land a guy with an outstanding record in big games – someone who almost thrives on playing in them. They can land a guy who recruits the Midwest and West Coast as well as any coach in the country and whose efforts put more players into the NFL over the last few years than any program not named Alabama.
Nick Saban and Urban Meyer make $5.62 and $4.3 million respectively. They make that money because the places they coach at expect a certain level of play and they have both delivered. If Nebraska wants any shot at returning to the level that Ohio State and Alabama are on, Shawn Eichorst and Harvey Perlman must open the checkbook that is tied to one of the nation’s 25 wealthiest athletic departments, hit up their wealthiest boosters and make a competitive offer to Boise State head coach Chris Petersen that will be enough to get him to leave the kingdom he has created in Idaho to come to Lincoln, Nebraska. He makes $2 million now. Anything over $4 million should do it.
BY J.P. SCOTT with contributions from RYAN OSBAHR on SEPTEMBER 18, 2013