The End of the Bill Callahan Era
Commentary by David Max
The Bill Callahan era is officially over. Tom Osborne laid out the guidelines that it would take to keep his job when he was hired after the OSU game and they were not met. The Colorado game was a microcosm of Coach Callahan's tenure at Nebraska. Flashes of brilliance and flashes of despair. I interviewed Dave Humm shortly after he was hired and he was excited about the style of offense that was coming to Nebraska and looked forward to people breaking his long standing passing records.
Unfortunately, that is only part of the game. Defense, special teams and that intangible referred to as "it" are also needed in the formula of a championship program. Bob Devaney had "it". Tom Osborne had "it". Frank Solich had "it". What is "it?" It is the ability to motivate players and relate to the Nebraska fan base at the same time. Nebraska fans are spoiled by the fact that they had "it" for over 40 years from three completely different personalities. Devaney was the ultimate rubber chicken circuit banquet speaker coach who could go into a recruit's living room and convince the athlete and their parents that Nebraska was the place for them to play their college football. He was known to enjoy a drink or two and like Will Rogers he never met a stranger. All Nebraskans considered him a friend and knew he would do what was best for the players and the University. That is a recurring theme from all the players that I have interviewed from his era. It was unthinkable to them not to give their best effort seven days a week and not disappoint the coaches and the fans. I listened to the KFAB broadcast after the announcement this morning and they recalled the story of the assistant coaches enjoying some "adult beverages" after the 1973 Orange Bowl game and saying "It ain't going to be like this after a game with Coach Osborne."
Coach Osborne was the Felix Ungar to Devaney's Oscar Madison. They have totally different personalities. He is the ultimate professional and although he is more reserved than Devaney was, he is also a "people person" who looks at the whole person and not just his 40 time. Unlike Devaney, cuss words are not part of his vocabulary. His values are based upon his religious beliefs and he treats everyone like he would like to be treated. That was no more evident than it was in the press conference today. He really never had to threaten his players to play well. He just led by example. If you didn't show up in class you showed up at 6 AM to run around Memorial Stadium with him at his regular work out.
Frank Solich was the ultimate "Nebraskan". Like Devaney, he was not a Nebraska native but gave most of his adult life to Nebraska as an overachieving player, high school coach, assistant coach, and head coach until he was let go by Steve Pederson. He did the best he could during his tenure as head coach. Whether he would have brought championship level play back if he would have been given more time will never be known. Did he have as much "it" factor as Devaney and Osborne? Probably not but who would. It is almost impossible to have back to back successful head coaches and to have three in a row is unheard of. The cards were stacked against him from the beginning. That doesn't mean he didn't have "it".
Now Coach Osborne has what some are calling the most important decision of his career, selecting a new head coach at Nebraska. Whoever it is, I can guarantee you he will have "it" and he will surround himself with assistant coaches that also have "it". They will embrace the history and former players and the Nebraska fan base. They will focus on the walk-on program and recruits that are from Nebraska. Their players will play as a team and not for their individual shot at the NFL. The team will reflect the values of the people from Nebraska and Nebraska will be Nebraska again. I am confident of that. If they don't convey "it" in the interview process they won't be selected as the next head coach at Nebraska.
I would like to thank Coach Callahan and his staff for their relentless effort during the last four years. When you were hired I told anyone that would listen that you could be "the second coming of Devaney." Things didn't work out the way any of us expected when you were first hired but it wasn't from lack of effort on your part. We all know that and appreciate that you gave it your best shot.
Somewhat lost in the shuffle are the contributions made by Valerie Callahan. I never had the opportunity to meet her in person but we have traded a few emails over the years. I can tell she is a first class person and did a lot of behind the scenes work for Coach Callahan charities. Thank you Valerie for everything you have done. I know that this is a difficult time for you and your family but I sincerely hope that you are able to look back at the good times you have had at Nebraska and smile. There are better days ahead for all of us.
Just my 2 cents. What about yours?
GO BIG RED!!!