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December 19, 2008


When there's stability at the top of an organization, good things happen.

That being the case, look for times to get better for the University of Nebraska's four high-profile sports in the coming years.

The head coaching positions of Cornhusker football, volleyball, men's basketball and baseball are in good hands right now, and they're supervised by Tom Osborne, a paragon of stability and good judgment.

There's a lot of positive energy in the athletic offices these days. That's a big difference from just 18 months ago, when an increasingly distrustful Steve Pederson brought in an East Coast consultant to evaluate the athletic department, putting everyone on edge, and some of its best people were jumping ship like it was on fire and loaded with dynamite.

Pederson gets his share of criticism from Nebraska and national media – much of it deserved – but at least he did his part to shore up the facilities, most notably the North Stadium addition that boosted the seating capacity and improved the concourses and restrooms.

Pederson may well be better appreciated in coming years for hiring Doc Sadler as basketball coach. More about that later.

Pederson's predecessor, Bill Byrne, left a legacy that includes his underrated rescue of Memorial Stadium's superstructure, including replacing some crumbling sections and waterproofing the entire concrete ballyard. Byrne also got the skyboxes project underway and upgraded the press box. And he did make some good hiring decisions.

John Cook was hired by Byrne. Of course, it was a foregone conclusion in 1999 that Cook would ascend to the head coaching position when Terry Pettit retired. Yet if Byrne gets the blame for allowing Osborne to choose Frank Solich as his coaching successor in 1997, he should get the credit for allowing Pettit to select Cook, who is the best head coach of any sport on the Lincoln campus.

Cook is the top collegiate volleyball coach in the nation, and should get a shot at coaching the U.S. women's Olympic volleyball team. He could have done for U.S. volleyball what Mike Krzyzewski did for U.S. men's basketball this year, but he'll have to wait. This week, the U.S. Olympic volleyball committee decided to move Hugh McCutcheon from coaching the men's gold medal volleyball team to the women's team for the 2012 London Games. Maybe Cook will get his shot in 2016.

Byrne also made a good hire in Mike Anderson as baseball coach. This assertion will draw a good share of debate, even though Anderson coached the Huskers to their only victory in a College World Series game in 2005. Since then, however, they have not been back to the CWS. In fact, Anderson's teams have not done well in the NCAA Regionals the last three seasons. That being said, Anderson has the Huskers playing solid baseball overall. It's unusual for a northern team to win 40 games as often (four times in six years) as Nebraska has done it under Anderson. He has gotten a handle on the off-field problems that plagued NU in 2007, and he maintains high academic standards.

Some will also disagree with my support of Sadler, who has been taking some heat from bloggers after the Husker basketball team lost two consecutive road games. But they should remember that Sadler inherited a program that had done very little over the previous five years.

This year's team lacks height, but has a tough defense and plays with intensity. His recruiting will have to improve (someone who can rebound, please), but he should be cut a little slack for doing everything he could to land the multitalented 6-foot-5 guard, Roburt Sallie. You can't fault Sadler too much for the incredible mixup involving NU's academic services department that made Sallie ineligible, and sent him down the road to join the defending national runnerup Memphis Tigers.

Despite that setback, and a series of injuries that have prompted 6-9 Alex Chapman (the only big man on the current Husker roster) to transfer, Sadler is not shaken. His down-home, "aw, shucks" style plays well in the Cornhusker State, and his work ethic is evident. If Nebraska fans show some patience, Sadler's hiring will turn out to be the best decision Pederson made while at NU.

It's too early to make a definitive judgment about Bo Pelini, but the signs are very good. Pelini went 8-4 in his first season while building for the future by redshirting most of his freshmen. He is reviving the walk-on program and other Husker traditions, and has established excellent public relations with state. Recruiting seems to be going well, and optimism surrounds the program. Nebraska is better positioned than anyone else to gain pre-eminence in the Big 12 North over the next five years.

Things will be improving on the field of play for NU's high-profile teams. They can at least hold steady financially as well. That overall sense of optimism may well protect the Husker athletic department from the effects of the current economic downturn. The football stadium will be sold out for the 300th consecutive game next fall. Football attendance alone will keep the bottom line acceptable in Big Red country. But the bottom line could improve, if people in the right places decide it's an important enough issue.

Imagine the cash flow boost the athletic department would receive if the Huskers played more of their volleyball matches in the 13,595-seat Bob Devaney Sports Center than in the NU Coliseum (capacity 4,030). Increasing the number of Devaney Center matches would give more Husker fans the opportunity to see their perennial powerhouse team, and could help volleyball become NU's third sport to do better than break even financially. However, that would require convincing Cook and the volleyball team that improving the big picture financially would be worth giving up their well-documented homecourt advantage in the Coliseum.

Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at [email protected]. | Archive