H U S K E R D A N
YES, HE'S BACK!! THE ONE, THE ONLY!! LOOK!! UP IN THE SKY, IT'S A BIRD, IT'S A PLANE...IT'S...IT'S... HUSKER DAN!!!! YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!
MISS HUSKER DAN
Okay, I'm back. Big deal. But, be honest, you missed me a little, didn't you? Just a little? A tiny, little bit? Okay, maybe this much? Huh? Huh? Anyone? Anyone? (sigh...)
Nevertheless, your humble Husker servant is back for a look at the Husker Spring Game and will let you know what he expects from the Huskers this fall.
Make no mistake about it, a new Husker era has begun. You needn't look any farther than Joe Dailey's passing stats in that game to know there is something BIG going on in Lincoln: 29 completions in 49 attempts.
I don't know which is more startling, the 49 attempts or the 29 completions.
How about both?
As everyone knows, Bill Callahan is the new sheriff in town and from the looks of the record crowd of 61,214 who "braved" the sun-drenched 70 degree day for the Spring Game, fans were given a glimpse of what the Cornhuskers are going to like this fall. It's with good reason that some fans may have left Memorial Stadium with visions of national championships dancing in their wee little heads. Surely, (stop calling me Shirley) the Huskers' new West Coast Offense is going to be the ticket back to the Valhalla of the college football world, right?
It's just a matter of time, many loyal Husker fans swear. Just give Coach Bill and his staff time, and, well, the rest will be history.
And those fans may be right-but not right, as in not right now.
MY SON, THE SALESMAN
As everyone knows, Bill Callahan is the new Husker head coach. But perhaps an even more important role he's had to play this year, has been that of Salesman. He has had to convince high schoolers and JV players that by coming to Nebraska, they can achieve their college (and pro?) football dreams. Undoubtedly, Callahan has been talking championships to them-divisional, conference, bowl and national championships. He may have even talked with them about his (omigosh) NFL experience! I understand he's been telling them (as he should) that the winning process is going to begin immediately-not 2 or 3 years down the road. Coach Bill is the unofficial leader of the NOW Gang-the National Organization for Winning.
Callahan also has had to sell his offensive philosophy to the players already in the system, most of whom were recruited to play option football. He and his coaches have had to get those players to buy in to the WCO. And the task is daunting, to be sure.
Callahan inherited an inexperienced fleet of quarterbacks and receivers, a thin offensive line that has had little training in pass-pro blocking and a running back crew that has had little experience catching the football.
In addition to selling his concepts to the players, he's had to convince the fans and donors that his plan is going to work. Everyone knows the life blood of any major college football program is its financial strength. There is nothing like winning-or the belief in winning-that will open the hearts and checkbooks of the fans.
Coach Bill must be doing something right. The crowd who watched his debut as head coach, broke the all-time attendance record for a Spring Game.
I listened to the game on radio and when the team came out during the Tunnel Walk, the fans made so much noise, it sounded as though Nebraska was playing Oklahoma for the Big 12 Championship.
In his pregame interview with Husker play-by-play announcer Jim Rose, Callahan talked about his goal of winning a national championship. Not even Tom Osborne dared to discuss such things publicly.
Look, I realize talk is cheap, but I like what I'm hearing and seeing from Callahan and his new staff.
What Bill Callahan has done in the few short months he's been at the helm is nothing short of miraculous. He was hired January 9th. He didn't have a staff (he had one, but as you know, most were not retained), no offensive coordinator and no defensive coordinator. He was thrown into the middle of the recruiting cauldron but managed to land some key recruits, at least one of whom had decommitted to the Husker football program.
He's reduced the size of the walk-on program, discontinued the Unity Council (!!!!) and has run his practices in an NFL fashion. He and new NU offensive line coach Dennis Wagner convinced several players to switch positions, moving Richie Incognito from guard to center; Mike Andersen to play both guard and tackle. Seppo Evwaraye, a projected defensive line starter, was moved to right tackle on the offensive line. Darren DeLone moved from right tackle to left and Jared Helming moved from defense to the offensive line. Meanwhile, center Kurt Mann is being called upon to learn to play several positions on the offensive line.
Adding to the changes, Willie Amos moved from defense back to wide receiver. And to top it off, Callahan managed to find time to hire a new strength and conditioning coach. Whew!!!!
Let me say that IMHO, Bill Callahan approached the Spring Game exactly the way it should have been. He had the first team offense go against the second and third stringers while the Blackshirts, who were limited to several basic defenses, faced the second and third string offense.
Callahan needed to let Dailey and the offense develop some confidence in the WCO. There would have been no point in seeing Dailey get sacked, harassed and intercepted by the Blackshirts. The players, recruits, fans and donors got what they wanted to see. Who cares if it was a little window dressing.
Last week, I was reading one of the small town Nebraska newspapers (the Verdigre Eagle) and was pleasantly surprised to read a letter written by Bill Callahan. His letter began by saying: "What a thrill it was on Saturday to see the stadium packed with red-clad Husker fans...to have that kind of a welcome as we begin the 2004 season is tremendous. Coming out of the tunnel and seeing 61,214 Husker football fans left a definite impression on the team and staff...What a message that sends across the country! There truly is no place like Nebraska..." He went on to talk about the expansion project and how much he is looking forward to seeing all the fans at the Husker opener, September 4th.
What a classy thing to do.
Look, I've never met Bill Callahan and he has yet to win one game, but I think we're in for a heck of a ride. That ride begins this fall. For those of you who think Nebraska won't have enough offensive horsepower to be competitive over the next couple of years, think again. As everyone knows, defense wins championships.
DEFENSE IS KEY
Look for the Huskers to have an even better defense this fall than the one we had last year. If the offense doesn't beat itself and can maintain a modicum of ball control, the Huskers may go farther than anyone expects. In last year's Sugar Bowl national championship game neither LSU nor Oklahoma in had great offenses. And in 2000, Oklahoma, with a good, but not great offense, beat Florida State. What the Sooners did have, was an exceptional defense. So who knows, this year is going to be filled with surprises. Stay tuned.
I was going through some pretty old letters sent to me over the course of the past football season. Here are some of them.
Dear Husker Dan:
In your column about "100 Reasons Why I'm a Husker Fan", you listed Tommie Frazier's run in the '96 Fiesta Bowl in the 92nd spot. Come on, that was a great run and should have been listed in at least the top twenty. You really blew it.
Tommie's 75 yard run, as great as it was, came late in the third quarter (actually with one second left), when the Gators were beat up and knew they had no chance of winning the game. The result, was poor tackling by a defense that had been thoroughly dominated. It was a nice run, but nowhere close to one of the all-time Husker great runs. Thanks for writing.
Dear Husker Dan:
You said in an earlier column, that the Huskers in 1968 beat a weak Minnesota team and a poor Wyoming team. Fact: Minnesota won the Big 10 that year and Wyoming was 8-2 that year. And to top it off, you said the Huskers went 6-4 in '67 and '69. They went 6-4 in '67 and '68. Next time, get your facts straight.
Farmington, New Mexico
We both messed up. Minnesota won the Big 10 championship in '67, not '68. Their '68 team went 6-4 (same as Nebraska's). Wyoming won the WAC conference in '68, going 7-3 with wins over Arizona State, BYU and Utah. As far as the Huskers' two 6-4 records, I KNOW the years were '67 and '68. I went to most of the games those two years. It was a typo. So shoot me. Thanks for writing.
Dear Husker Dan:
Perhaps you could ask your readers to pick a name for the West Coast Offense, the Huskers will be running under Bill Callahan. Thanks.
Dear Frank: Great idea!!! Readers, send me your ideas for the new Husker offense to email@example.com. I'll post some of the best ones. Be sure to include your name and the town in which you live. Thanks.
You may write Husker Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org