Pernell: Moos has a decision to make regarding Husker football
On Sunday afternoon, the University of Nebraska introduced Bill Moos as its new athletic director. The Huskers hired him away from his alma mater, Washington State, where he’d overseen the Cougars’ athletic department since 2010. Before that he was Oregon’s athletic director for 13 years and Montana’s for five. The move came as a surprise, with nobody at Washington State aware it was coming.
The process began about three weeks ago after former athletic director Shawn Eichorst was fired Sept. 21, four days following Nebraska’s shocking home loss to Northern Illinois – the Huskers’ first defeat to a non-Power 5 team in 13 years. Soon after making that move, the school paid $125,000 to hire Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, a reputable New Jersey-based search firm.
Among the first tasks was putting together a 20-member advisory committee that included Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne, interim athletic director Dave Rimington, Heisman trophy winner Eric Crouch, former wrestling great Jordan Burrows, women’s volleyball coach John Cook, Regents Tim Clare and Jim Pillen, and more. The group met and provided input early in the process, creating a checklist of things they deemed important to the Nebraska athletic director position. University President Hank Bounds, Chancellor Ronnie Green and Turnkey Search then vetted through candidates who matched the criteria.
The search was narrowed down to a handful of finalists who were interviewed in person. Bounds would not confirm the exact number, but did reveal that Moos was initially interviewed in the middle of last week. Mississippi’s Ross Bjork and TCU’s Chris Del Conte were also rumored to be candidates during the search process. Both publicly denied interest, though, and it’s unclear if either were actually interviewed or under consideration. Chancellor Green said Moos, who will officially start on Oct. 23, was Nebraska’s top pick.
On the surface, the 66-year-old Moos appears to be a very good cultural fit. He grew up on a wheat and cattle ranch in eastern Washington, and was a three-year football letter winner in the early 1970s. He was an All-Pac-8 offensive tackle and a co-captain for Washington State in 1972. He fits the profile that Bounds and Green wanted, which was a Power Five conference AD with extensive experience. It also should be noted that all three institutions were left in much better shape than when Moos took over. On-field results, facilities upgrades and overall revenue improved under his watch.
In his three previous stops, Moos presided over athletic departments that won a lot football games. While at Montana, the Grizzlies won a 1-AA national championship. In Eugene, he orchestrated the rise of Oregon football, and laid the groundwork for what would become one of college football’s most prominent programs. It was Moos who engaged Nike founder Phil Knight and primed a flow of cash to the University that turned Knight into the nation’s most prominent benefactor to college athletics. A former miler at Oregon, Knight had never really been heavily engaged in athletics at his alma mater – until Bill Moos arrived. Three days into taking the job at Oregon, Moos was in Knight’s office, having been promised 15 minutes. They ended up talking for 90 minutes. Soon after, Knight was writing checks.
Nebraska signed Moos – who was making a base figure of $457,000 at Washington State – to a five-year contract that will pay him a $1 million base salary per year, which ranks second among Big Ten athletic directors, behind Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez. Bounds confirmed that Moos can make up to $500,000 more per year in incentives. Some of those incentives include a $150,000 bonus for a football national title, $100,000 for a Big Ten title, and up to $125,000 in bonuses for achievement in overall athlete APR and Directors Cup all-sports standings. Such incentives were not in Eichorst’s contract.
I really like the timing of the hire. The football team has a bye, so the announcement won’t be a distraction during a game week. While at the same time, it does help take some of the heat off the embarrassing loss to Ohio State the day before. It’s not like fans aren’t steaming over another blowout, mind you. After all, no Cornhusker team since World War II had given up 56 points at home in a conference game. The 42-point defeat at Memorial Stadium was also the biggest margin in a league contest since 1949. Despite that, the vast majority of attention is now on Moos, who plans to dive right in to evaluating Riley and the football program. Moos realizes that his tenure will only be considered a success if the football program becomes one as well.
Moos said he doesn’t fire coaches in the middle of the season because it ruins the focus of student-athletes. The Huskers are 3-4 heading into their bye and Riley essentially has a six week, five game audition to save his job. Moos, who has known Riley from their Pac-12 days, plans to sit down with Nebraska’s coach to get a feel for both his long-range and short-range plans. “What are the injuries? What is your recruiting philosophy? Are you thinking of changing your scheme, defense or your whole plan (on) offense,” Moos said. “I am a football guy. I came into the industry that way and I think still know quite a bit about it. So I want to get a feel from Mike on a lot of those things, and personnel, and really the strength of the confidence. I’m going to look forward to that.”
This will be Riley’s chance to sell Moos on his vision moving forward. If Riley truly wants to keep his job, the discussions will likely center around his intentions of replacing offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf (for starters) and his impressive 2018 recruiting class. I think most people would agree that all of Riley’s staff changes have been big improvements. Bob Diaco is an upgrade over Mark Banker. John Parrella (Hank Hughes), Donté Williams (Brian Stewart) and Scott Booker (Bruce Read) are also big upgrades. It doesn’t take much hindsight to realize just how much better off Riley and Nebraska would be right now if these guys were a part of his original staff. The lack of depth in the secondary and along the defensive line would be a lot less glaring had Williams and Parrella had multiple classes under their belts. Would Moos trust Riley to bring in an offensive coordinator who would be able to implement an offense conducive to winning in the Big Ten? Would plans to overhaul his offensive staff be enough to keep him around?
What if you included his recruiting? There’s no doubt Riley has put together a strong recruiting department and his efforts have begun to bolster the roster with some talented youngsters. Riley has tapped in to Nebraska’s full potential on the recruiting trail and has the Huskers more relevant nationally than they have been in 20-years. You are seeing the Huskers beat out teams like Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, USC, Florida State, LSU – and other national powers – for top prospects. Would Moos look at the sort of traction Riley is gaining and consider giving him a fourth year regardless of how the win-loss record looks following the season? Would improved recruiting and a fresh offensive staff be enough?
These are the sorts of things Bill Moos will need to take into account as he studies the program and tries to predict its trajectory. The most talented players on this roster are generally underclassmen. You can argue that it’s not quite fair to judge the program when Riley’s guys aren’t yet the ones leading it. Keep in mind Moos has just watched Mike Leach go 12-25 in his first three years, only to follow that up with seasons of 9-4, 8-5 and currently has Wazzu 6-1 and ranked #15. Of course Leach had a much more difficult rebuilding job and was a guy Moos hired. Regardless, will Moos see the potential for such a rebound at Nebraska under Riley’s direction?
If he decides to take Nebraska in another direction, he’ll be ready. “I will tell you this, and you probably should know it. In my desk at Montana, Oregon and Washington State I have a shortlist in both football and men’s and women’s basketball of who I would be interested in if I had to make a change,” Moos said Sunday. “There’s lots of reasons I would make changes. Some are not getting the job done and the other is maybe moving on to the NFL or the NBA – so there’s lots of different reasons.” A place like Nebraska should certainly bring out his ‘A’ list guys, at least in football.
I’m pretty sure when Moos was meeting with prominent Regents and Boosters, he was given a couple handshakes with the number to Scott Frost’s agent tucked away in them. I’m only half-joking. Let’s address the elephant in the room. A large majority of the fan base wants a coaching change and of that subsect, many of them are yearning for Frost. No doubt Bill Moos already knows this and will need to at least take it into consideration if he decides to make a change. Not that his hand will be forced in any way, of course, but taking a look at Frost has to be done. It makes too much sense not to.
For a guy who was just hired – in part – because he was a great fit culturally and philosophically, Moos knows how important that trait is with his coaches as well. Frost is a Husker legend and a rising star in the profession. He has firsthand knowledge of Nebraska’s history, its culture, and just as importantly, the expectations. He is in just his second year at Central Florida, but he has the 5-0 Knights ranked 20th nationally. There is a Tom Herman-esque feel to Frost and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this years UCF squad mirror the same sort of success that Herman’s 2015 Houston team enjoyed. That team ended the year playing in the Peach Bowl and Herman quickly became the hottest coach on the market for a Power 5 opening. Frost seems a smart bet to follow suit.
Ideally, you would like to see Frost get four or five years under his belt as a first-time head coach, but you can bet he won’t be in Orlando much longer. The 42-year-old Frost will be a hot commodity this offseason, you can count on that. If Nebraska doesn’t jump on him now, there is a realistic chance they don’t get that opportunity for the foreseeable future. His time at Oregon will garner him attention from any Pac-12 school with an opening, and his time in Florida with the Knights will intrigue schools in the SEC. With potential openings at Tennessee, UCLA, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Arizona, Arizona State and Missouri, Frost will likely be vetted by all of those schools. We know Moos is connected to people who know Frost. He’ll be under consideration, I’m pretty sure of that fact.
Should there be a change – and I think that’s a foregone conclusion at this point – is it as simple as offering the job to Frost? I would hope Moos at least checks that list of his, and through intermediaries gauges the interest of some heavy hitters as well. This is a hire the team needs to get right. Nobody knows that more than Bill Moos.
Prior to contributing to HuskerMax, Jeremy Pernell co-founded the all football website N2FL.com. He served as the editor in chief of the college football portion of the website which focused heavily on recruitment and talent analysis, including the NFL Draft. You can email him at N2FL@hotmail.com.