H U S K E R D A N
Readers: The following Question and Opinion forum is an attempt by Husker Dan to respond to some of you who have written him asking what he thinks about all the turmoil that has been going on in Lincoln.
Q: WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, HUSKER DAN? I THOUGHT YOU WOULD HAVE COMMENTED ON THIS MESS IN LINCOLN LONG BEFORE NOW.
O: I composed a brilliant (!!!) column just last week, but by the time it was read by my publisher, my column had become obsolete and wasn't posted. I started to write another article Monday only to have that one suffer the same fate. There were other delays-the Holidays, house guests. I installed a new computer. There was year end business I had to tend to and there was a death in the family. All that, plus a general feeling of uncertainty over the events of the past few weeks has left me in a mood not conducive to writing. For the first time in 6 years, I failed to do write a prediction for a Husker bowl game and have yet to write a recap of that game. It's been a difficult time in Huskerland.
Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE WAY STEVE PEDERSON HAS HANDLED THE HEAD COACHING ISSUE?
O: Steve Pederson is not likely to win any popularity contests with Husker fans. His press conference gaffes, his Clinton-esque answers to media questions, his keeping coaches, players, recruits and the rest of Husker Pride Worldwide at bay for almost 6 weeks make it easy to understand why so many have a dislike and distrust of Steve Pederson.
Pederson's biggest mistake may have been in failing to level with Husker fans. At times, Steve sounded like a snake oil salesman. He shouldn't have hidden behind semantics. He should have just told the truth. Of course, we understand there are some things concerning a new coaching hire that must remain private, but when asked, "Did you make an offer to Houston Nutt?" he was less than forthcoming.
Steve didn't send a private jet to Arkansas for nothing. Nutt and Arkansas AD Frank Broyles didn't call a press conference for nothing. Nutt didn't receive a boost in pay for nothing. Husker fans are not stupid. Maybe if Steve would have said, "We didn't make a formal written offer to Coach Nutt, but a compensation package was discussed and because of confidentiality, I am not at liberty to discuss the details with you at this time", his response would have been accurate, understandable and acceptable. But many felt Pederson got a little slick.
And, raise your hands if you understood that the search for a new coach wasn't going to begin until after the bowl game. According to Steve Pederson, this season was supposed to be the "Year of the Fan". Maybe Steve was referring to the fan he would need to cool the heat from all the angry Huskers.
Having said all that, Steve Pederson, in my opinion, is dedicated to restoring the Husker football program to its once proud status.
Q: SO YOU'RE ENDORSING STEVE PEDERSON?
O: I think one can object to his methods, but Steve Pederson, in my opinion, is doing what's best in the long run, for the Husker football program.
Q: BUT HE'S DISMANTLED THE ENTIRE PROGRAM! WE WERE 10-3, THIS YEAR, NOT 3-10.
O: Good point. It's true, the coaching change would have been understandable had the team gone 3-10 this past year. Part of me thinks Frank Solich should have been given another year to see what he and the new assistant coaches could have accomplished. Maybe with 2 or 3 good recruiting classes, the program could have turned around. We'll never know.
Frank Solich may have been, in a sense, handcuffed when he took over for Osborne in '98. Tom wanted Frank to retain all the assistant coaches and, not wanting to show disloyalty to Osborne, Frank may have kept some of his assistants too long. Frank may have felt going 9-3, 12-1, 10-2, and 11-2 in his first 4 seasons, that it would have been difficult to justify firing any of his assistants. But by the time 2002's dismal 7-7 season happened, the damage may have already been done and the changes to Solich's staff may have come too late.
As a side note, it's no secret that Bill Byrne did not want Solich to be Osborne's successor. But TO won the battle. Bill Byrne was hired in '93 over the objections of Tom Osborne who lobbied to retain Bob Devaney.
I'm sure the biggest concern Steve Pederson had when he fired Frank Solich was with recruiting. Pederson, being a former recruiting coordinator himself, likely sought the opinions of other recruiting coordinators and recruiting "experts" about the kind of talent NU had been going after the past few years. Pederson probably discovered how far the talent level had fallen.
In Eric Olson's (Associated Press) column of 1/10/04, Tom Lemming, recruiting "expert" and close friend of Bill Callahan, is quoted as saying, "They've (the Huskers) been getting guys who are just good enough to get beat by Oklahoma and Texas," and asks, "When is the last time they (the Huskers) got a great player form a super power?"
Because of our recruiting problems, Pederson may have thought the Husker football program was in danger of getting even worse. So he fired Solich. His decision to replace Solich was not an easy one.
Q: SO WHO WOULD YOU HAVE LIKED TO REPLACE SOLICH?
O: My vote would have been for Bo. He earned the job by what he did for the defense this year and for the superb way he got the players and coaches to ready for the Alamo Bowl against Michigan State. I loved his fire, his guts, his spirit, his leadership, his passion, his football knowledge and his love for the game. I'm still sick he didn't get the job.
Q: SO HOW DO YOU THINK BILL CALLAHAN WILL DO?
O: I think he'll do a superb job. He comes with impeccable credentials. He's been endorsed by Charlie McBride, Adam Treu, Aaron Graham, UNO'S Chris Cooper, John Parrella, Mike White, Barry Alvarez and Oakland great Rich Gannon. Callahan brings an incredible knowledge of the game and has most of, if not all, the qualities I love about Bo Pelini. My hope was that had Pelini been named head coach, he would have kept more of the NU assistants.
Q: WHAT ABOUT THE HUSKERS VAUNTED OPTION ATTACK? THAT'S ALSO BEEN THROWN OUT.
O: That's a great question. Over the past few years, we haven't run much option football. Under Solich's watch, the offense became one dominated by the quarterback. In order to make the option work, you have to have a great I-back and a quarterback who can run and throw. The last great I-back we had was Ahman Green in '97.
Had Barney Cotton remained as Offensive Coordinator for NU, he likely would have scrapped the option as well. We are also living in an age in which young football players dream of playing in the NFL. Recruits want to go to the schools that give them the best chance of reaching that dream. Of course, there are only a small percentage of college players who are good enough to make it to the NFL, but they all have that dream. The West Coast Offense is likely to attract kids who otherwise wouldn't have considered Nebraska.
Callahan is also known for as a great recruiter. He's added John Blake (ex-Sooner head coach-ouch!) who is also a fierce recruiter.
To be sure, this will not be your father's Husker team or even your grandfathers' Husker team. It's going to be incredibly exciting to see the Huskers' new look. Having said that, it pains me a great deal to see coaches like Ron Brown, Marv Sanders, Jimmy Williams, and Bo Pelini gone from the program. It's like seeing a landmark being torn down. All that's left are the memories. I would hope there would be some sort of ceremony honoring these Husker greats. That would be a great gesture on the part of the University.
Q: WHAT EFFECTS WILL THE COACHING CHANGES HAVE ON RECRUITING THIS YEAR?
O: We've already lost some players and we may lose more, but Callahan may be able to sign some great players yet this year, even with less than three weeks to go. The Huskers won't fully take on a new look until Coach Callahan has a couple of years to recruit the players who are best suited to run his style of offense.
Q: I'M JUST SICK ABOUT WHAT STEVE PEDERSON HAS DONE TO THE ONCE GREAT HUSKER FOOTBALL PROGRAM. I DON'T THINK I CAN ROOT FOR THEM ANY MORE.
O: I'm sure you're not alone, but hang in there, the best is yet to come from the Huskers. I repeat, the best is yet to come. And remember, the Husker program is bigger than Steve Pederson or any one else. GO HUSKERS!!!!!
You can write Husker Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may access all of Husker Dan's columns by going to Huskerpedia's home page, scrolling down to "Extras" and scrolling to the right to "Husker Dan".