T A D S T R Y K E R
March 7, 2011
Will Pelini find his voice in 2011?
Is the long silence from Bo Pelini about to end?
Except for a few sightings at basketball games, Nebraska's head football coach has been almost invisible since the Cornhuskers' lackluster 19-7 loss to Washington in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl. He phoned in his report Feb. 2 on national letter of intent signing day (at least, we're pretty sure it was really Bo on the line).
Has he been hibernating? Will he emerge in the spring dramatically transformed, like a butterfly coming out of chrysalis stage?
I hesitate to link Bo Pelini and the word "butterfly" in the same sentence. But there's no denying the Nebraska coaching staff, after staying intact through the first three seasons of the Pelini era, will look dramatically different this spring. Shawn Watson, Ted Gilmore, Mike Ekeler and Marvin Sanders are gone. Rich Fisher, John Garrison, Ross Els and Corey Raymond have replaced them, with Tim Beck taking over as offensive coordinator.
Will it be a rebirth for a program that showed no real improvement over the past year? Time will tell.
The coaching turnover is significant, and it is worth exploring. Pelini appears to be dedicated to protecting the interests of his assistants. That's an admirable thing. He went out of his way to send Watson and Gilmore away from Lincoln as respectfully as possible – to fire them without acrimony. That's a concept most Nebraskans believe in. In fact, he may have been doing his best to find other jobs for them. And the way he handled Sanders' departure was high-class all the way.
If you believe that Steve Pederson probably was right in firing Frank Solich back in 2003, but you detested how he did it, then you should love the way Pelini has handled his coaching staff over the last two months.
A change in philosophy will become evident; Beck already has gone on record as saying the offense needs to simplify, to find something it can do well and stick with it. Watson was endlessly tweaking, and tried to get college kids to master an offense that combined elements of the West Coast, spread and power-I philosophies.
A year ago, the Huskers were coming off a very different Holiday Bowl – in fact, one of Nebraska's best bowl performances ever. Less than a week after that game, I wrote that "the dynamic tension that exists between Nebraska as a power running team and Nebraska as a spread-the-field offense" was a topic to keep our eye on in 2010. Under Watson, that issue was never resolved. Pelini, Watson and offensive line coach Barney Cotton seemed to be pulling three different ways at times. The offense, which had depth and experience at every position, piled up a lot of points and yards in the first half of the season, but went dormant in November. As the season came down its homestretch, it showed no consistency.
Somehow, a defense and kicking game that were good enough to win one – and possibly two – Big 12 titles were wasted.
It's hard to say exactly how the blame should be parceled out. In fact, it's probably better to drop that subject altogether. Suffice it to say that the offense went flat as Nebraska lost three of its last four games, scoring just three touchdowns in those losses – and none in the second half. It was time for a clean break with Watson, Gilmore and the Bill Callahan era.
My theory is that the coaching changes were just part of a long evaluation that Pelini has been doing of himself and his program. Hence, the long silence.
There's a Pelini sighting scheduled for March 8 at a press conference to open spring practice. The long winter will be over. Coaching up the players can commence. I get the feeling Pelini loves that part of it. But so will the questions from the media. That's the part that Pelini hates.
On the rare occasions when he allows himself to shoot from the hip, he can be highly effective. Here's hoping Bo learns to relax in front of the microphone. He has a chance to set a new tone.
Pelini has an opportunity to redefine himself and his program. Too often in the past, he has allowed others – most notably his former offensive coordinator – to speak for him. Bo Pelini is a man of action over words, and pretty much everyone who roots for the home state of Tom Osborne buys into that concept.
Enough about Pelini and his skills (or lack thereof) with the media. Let's talk about action. When you judge his offense by its production the last two seasons, Pelini looks wishy-washy.
In 2009 and 2010, Pelini's offense did way too much mumbling. It's time for the Husker attack to become more plain-spoken, just like its coach.
Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker has covered University of Nebraska and state high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at email@example.com. | Archive