Thursday, February 26, 2015

Maverick Hockey Heads North to Face #6 Minnesota-Duluth

Last weekend's series against St. Cloud State didn't go very well for UNO as the Mavs got swept for the first time this season. Dean Blais didn't feel UNO played all that badly afterwards, and I'm not so sure from a national perspective, the losses weren't that bad.  UNO "only" fell to 8th place in both the polls and the PairWise rankings that seed the NCAA tournament.

How the heck did that happen? Simple, the strength of the conference. Even though St. Cloud State is in sixth place in the conference, they rank 14th in the Pairwise.  Imagine that... if the season were over, the NCHC might have six of eight teams in the 16 team NCAA tournament.  That's kind of like all of the talk of placing four SEC west teams in the College Football Playoff last season...except rather that instead of this coming from a moron on ESPN, it's coming from a tested and accepted statistical formula.  (Well, some hockey-heads would prefer KRACH, but that's another discussion entirely...)
Having lost three of of their last four (and four out of their last five games), UNO needs a big bounceback weekend just for momentum sake.  It would certainly help UNO's case for home ice in the playoffs and NCAA seeding, but it's more to reestablish the team and get them focused heading into the last month of the season.

That'll be tough this weekend against #6 Minnesota-Duluth.  Dean Blais thought they were the "best team in the country" in November. The Bulldogs are one point behind UNO in the standings, so with six points up for grabs, UNO needs a split just to stay in position for home ice.

No stars really on the Bulldogs roster; sophomore center Dominic Toninato is the leading scorer ranking 30th in the nation.  Just a solid roster from top to bottom, and that's going to put pressure on UNO's third and fourth lines this weekend.  UNO looks to be without senior captain Dominic Zombo once again; I suspect that we might not see him again until the playoffs at the soonest.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Nebrasketball Is Painful to Watch

I've been a Nebraska basketball fan since the Joe Cipriano era. Carl McPipe, Andre Smith, Brian Banks, the late Jack Moore. Those were the guys I grew up with, though never watching much, except when the Huskers got a TVS game on TV.  More often than not, it was listening to Kent Pavelka on my Soundesign radio.

But this century has really put a damper on my interest. Part of it is my interest in UNO hockey.  But it's also the woeful state of Nebraska basketball for much of the last twenty years. Barry Collier wasn't the answer, and Doc Sadler wasn't either. And frankly, I'm not convinced Tim Miles is the answer either.

In Tuesday's Omaha World-Herald, Lee Barfknecht pointed out some damning statistics about the current state of Nebraska basketball:
Miles has coached 92 games at Nebraska. The rate of his teams scoring less than 50 points in regulation: 15.2 percent. ["Slow" Moe] Iba coached 177 games at NU. His rate: 6.8 percent. And Iba worked just one year with a shot clock and none with the 3-point shot. Two other clod-hopper offenses — those under Doc Sadler and Barry Collier — produced 8.4 percent and 2.8 percent of games with less than 50 points.
Yes, I know that Miles pulled off a six-week miracle last season and got the Huskers into the NCAA tournament. And that was unbelievably awesome.  That's the upside that Miles gave us.  The downside is what we've seen the rest of the time.  How many times has Nebraska embarrassed themselves in the first half under Miles? This year, we've seen a couple of halftime scores of 13...and Sunday's scoring explosion of 16 points.

This isn't to call for Miles' head, or putting him on any sort of hot seat. But by that same reasoning, people simply have to stop saying things like "Nebraska basketball is on an upswing."

Because it's not.

I'm going to be patient with Miles.  It's only year three, and Miles has some interesting players in the wings for next season, starting with Kansas transfer Andrew White.  There's no point in hitting the panic button at this point, just like it was silly to prematurely canonize Miles last season either.

On Sunday, my Twitter feed filled up with lots of references to Bo Pelini, as if that somehow makes the situation better. It doesn't.  Barfknect had a nice quote about the notion, though his pot shot at users of Twitter and Facebook was ill-informed:
Second, the Twitter and Facebook chatter about Miles being on the hot seat supports Charles Barkley’s argument that social media is the best place for people to prove their stupidity. That goes double for those who reference Nebraska football when discussing basketball.
It's rather ironic that Barfknecht would double-down on references to football in basketball discussions proving "stupidity" when he did that very thing last April.
What those officials won't say publicly but is heard behind the scenes is they want the football program to learn something from Miles, and fast.
(Calling Barfknecht out on that one last April earned me a Twitter block from the World-Herald's beat-writer...I guess he showed me that he wasn't as Twitter-inept as I claimed he was.)

I started out skeptical of the Tim Miles hire, and he has set off my "Bill Callahan-BS" detector more than once. I thought last season had proven me wrong, but this season has me walking back to my original concerns.

Is Miles the right coach for Nebraska? I don't know, but frankly, it doesn't really matter at this point. He is the coach, and he deserves much more time to figure out how to turn this thing around.  But let's do us all a favor and turn off the "savior" talk for now...if only to hold off the backlash if Nebraska doesn't return to 2013-14 levels in the next couple of years.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

UNO Hockey Begins Four Week Dash Against Western Michigan

First-place UNO hockey begins the final four weeks of the regular season at #4 nationally in the rankings...and with a relatively favorable schedule down the stretch. I say "relatively" because the NCHC is the toughest conference in college hockey this season.  Of the eight teams, five are ranked in the top nine nationally. (For comparison, #12 Michigan is the highest ranked Big Ten team in college hockey.)

But in these final four weeks, UNO only plays one of those top five teams: #6 Minnesota Duluth on the road in two weeks.  The other three weekends, UNO plays the bottom three teams in the conference: Western Michigan, St. Cloud State, and Colorado College. Normally that would be a good thing, but UNO has found the ability this season to play up - and down - to their competition, as those series against Alabama Huntsville and New Hampshire showed.

The general thought is that UNO is playing more for seeding than to qualify for the NCAA tournament in March; there's probably some truth to that, but it's secondary at this point. The first point of emphasis is to make it to Minneapolis for the conference tournament semi-finals and finals.  I'm not sure which fact is more surprising:  that UNO played for the CCHA championship in 2000 in the first year of membership (and the third season for the program overall)...or that UNO has never made it back to the title game ever again. In recent years, the team has squandered home ice in the playoffs and never made it to the next weekend.

But this year seems to be different, as UNO has found a way to compete with everybody in the nation.  The next two months are shaping up to be the biggest in program history.

The primary concern for this weekend is the status of senior captain Dominic Zombo, who had been centering UNO's top line between super sophomores Jake Guentzel and Austin Ortega. Zombo left the North Dakota series with a groin injury and will sit out this weekend.

The question is how long he might be out; hopefully this is more of a preventative measure than anything else.

Speaking of Ortega, the World-Herald's Tom Shatel profiled the San Diego area native (aka "Carolina Hot Sauce") in his Thursday column. If you think Omaha is an unlikely place for hockey to flourish, think Escondido, CA...

After this weekend, UNO hits the road for the next two weeks, so this will be the last chance to catch the Mavs in town this month.  Looking at Ticketmaster seat availability, it looks crowds greater than 8,000 should be on hand each night.  (Preferably more with a good walk-up crowd!)  With all three college basketball programs in the area struggling this year, UNO hockey is the area's hope for March Madness.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

North Dakota Edges UNO 4-3 in Overtime To Earn a Weekend Split

Game two of the weekend hockey series between #1 North Dakota and #5 UNO was every bit the equal of Friday night's 3-2 overtime game that UNO won...except tonight, it was North Dakota who led most of the night. Starting just 37 seconds into the game, to be exact.  Each time North Dakota scored, UNO found an answer at some point, with Brian Cooper getting the final game-tying goal with just 3:44 left in the third period.

As was the case much of the night, North Dakota controlled the play in overtime and buried the game-winner 2:04 into the overtime to give North Dakota the victory and the series split. For the season, UNO won one game, North Dakota won two, and a fourth game was officially a tie, with UNO winning the shootout.  Very much an even series...so much so, that folks can't wait for these two teams to meet up again:

Certainly a rematch is possible in Minneapolis at the NCHC Frozen Final.  But that's for down the line... Tonight, my takeaway from this weekend is that UNO hockey is fully capable of playing with anybody and everybody. When the polls come out next week, UNO shouldn't drop. Not when #6 Bowling Green lost and tied Bemidji State and #7 Minnesota-Duluth split with #11 Denver.  UNO currently sits in a tie for third in the Pairwise rankings with Boston University, trailing Mankato and North Dakota.

And that's an amazing thing when you realize that this is a team mostly comprised of freshmen and sophomores.  Tonight's UNO hero was sophomore Jake Guentzel; last night's was sophomore Austin Ortega. Freshmen scored two goals last night.  The only seniors making major contributions are Dominic Zombo and goalie Ryan Massa.  Massa has been magical all season long, and he was outstanding tonight.  Zombo left tonight's game after a very chippy first period.

Simply put...this is only just the beginning. Something very special is happening around UNO hockey.  The snowstorm kept tonight's crowd down, but it still drew 10,674...and only about 1,000 of those were North Dakota fans. A lot of people reintroduced themselves to UNO hockey this weekend, and they have to be impressed with what they saw.

They're probably disappointed by what happened tonight. They should be disappointed by the final score.

They should be excited about what the future holds.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Ortega Overtime Goal Gives UNO Hockey a 3-2 Victory Over #1 North Dakota

What. A. Game.

In front of over 11,000 fans, #5 UNO defeated #1 North Dakota 3-2 in overtime.  The game lived up to all of the hype this week.  UNO broke out to a 2-0 lead early in the second period with goals from freshmen Tyler Vesel and Avery Peterson.  But UNO took a series of bad penalties to let North Dakota tie the game. Freshman Joel Messner was ejected from the game late in the second period for boarding, giving North Dakota a five minute major power play.  UNO killed it off, but as it expired, Grant Gallo was penalized for interference and North Dakota scored on the delayed penalty early in the third period.

That one goal lead held until the final minute. After Brian Cooper was called for tripping with 2:30 left in regulation, North Dakota pulled their goalie to give them a 6-on-4 power play.  UNO's Jake Guentzel nearly scored an empty net goal with just over a minute left, but a North Dakota defensemen knocked the shot down at center ice.  But with 47 seconds left, North Dakota's Drake Caggiula buried a rebound to tie the game.  UNO coach Dean Blais' reaction says it all:

The demoralized Mavericks then had to scramble to get the game to overtime as North Dakota put on quite a rush to finish the game in the third period.

The brief intermission before overtime allowed UNO to regain their edge, and when North Dakota took two stupid penalties of their own, UNO had a 5-on-3 advantage.  UNO played the two man advantage extremely conservatively, not attempting a shot until just as the first penalty expired.  And what a shot:  Austin Ortega redirected Ian Brady's shot for the wing into the net for his NCAA-leading ninth game winning goal

The victory moves UNO to 2nd place in the Pairwise rankings that seed the NCAA tournament, and also ensures that no matter what happens Saturday night, UNO will remain in first place in the conference standings.

That Saturday night game should be epic, if tonight's game is any indication.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Nobody Likes Robocalls. So Why Did Mike Riley Robocall Me?

You know the routine. You are eating dinner and the phone rings...or you go to check your phone messages, and you are greeted by yet another annoying robocall:
  • Hello. This is the Disabled Veterans and we will have a truck in your area...
  • This is your final notice. We have been trying to contact you to help refinance your credit card debt...
  • Hey Husker fans, this Nebraska football coach Mike Riley...
  • Hello, this is Congressman Hal Daub inviting you...
Wait...what was that third one again?

Yep, somebody in the Nebraska athletic department thought it would be a good idea to have Mike Riley record a message and then call every football season ticket holder to interrupt dinner time.  (OK, mine arrived a little earlier than my meal time:  5:37 pm Wednesday evening.  But I know many people are eating dinner at that time.)

It started with a noble idea: send a message from the new coaching staff to the fans to introduce themselves. The problem wasn't the message, it was selecting the most annoying way to deliver the message.  There's no way that Mike Riley could make 30,000 phone calls - especially during recruiting season. But they could have sent a mass e-mail or post a YouTube video to Facebook and Twitter.

Instead, they chose the delivery method most despised by people: the robocall, joining the ranks of illegitimate charities, credit card scammers, and politicians desperately seeking reelection. Sometimes robocalls are simply a necessary evil; it's the most efficient way to deliver urgent messages to a large audience. (Think school closings.)  But this wasn't quite the same situation; it wasn't an urgent message.

So hey, Mike Riley is so appreciative of Husker fans that he spent a whole minute recording a message to ask us to renew our season tickets.

I don't think that was the message that the athletic department really intended to send.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

#5 UNO vs. #1 North Dakota: The Biggest Regular Season Weekend in UNO Hockey History?

UNO has played teams ranked #1 before...but never, ever when UNO has also been ranked anywhere near this high.  UNO sits in first place in the NCHC standings, just one point ahead of second place North Dakota.  The difference?  A shootout win by the Mavs when the teams played in Grand Forks on Thanksgiving weekend.

Now the scene shifts to Omaha, and it's not only the biggest regular season series in UNO hockey history, it's also the biggest series in the nation this weekend. CBS Sports Network is televising the Friday night game, and NET is televising the Saturday night game.  (Fox College Sports will be simulcasting the NET coverage nationwide on Saturday night, meaning that's two nationally televised games for the Mavs this weekend.)

Last weekend, North Dakota swept Colorado College at home, but both games were a lot closer than the teams' respective records would indicate.  The Tigers have been playing a lot better as of late, as indicated the week prior, when UNO and CC split the weekend series. At that time, it looked like UNO might have been playing down to their competition, but in hindsight, it's probably more to Colorado College turning their season around.

Looks like there will be big crowds this weekend as well; a quick check of Ticketmaster shows that the lower bowl is just about sold out both nights.  I wouldn't be surprised if both night's crowds approach 9,000 or more fans.  (And hopefully it's not all green Sioux fans, as the local beer distributors hope.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

DaiShon Neal Says Something About Husker Fans They Won't Admit

I don't follow recruiting, but an early morning meeting found me in the car at the moment Omaha Central's DaiShon Neal reaffirmed his commitment to play football for Nebraska.  And, of course, I was listening to KOZN-1620 AM radio's "Sharp and Benning in the Morning" as I do pretty much every morning (except probably next week during the Worst Week of the Year. But that's another topic - for next week.)

Most Husker fans hit on the following quote from Abe Hoskins, Neal's father:
“Michigan was a powerhouse, they came in and they stormed us. … They made one bad statement and ruined it,” Hoskins said during the “Sharp and Benning Show” in-studio visit. “They said without football DaiShon wouldn’t be able to go to Michigan, like we couldn’t afford to send him there or we couldn’t get him (in) academically.”
Neal interjected: “They basically tried to call me stupid in front of my face.”
Hoskins continued: “Once he said that, we pretty much escorted him out of the house.”
Make fun of Michigan?  Hey, that's always lots of fun for Husker fans.  It's easy to hate on the Weasels in Maize and Blue.

What I found much more interesting is the following quote, which fans are ignoring.
“The reason everything started is because I had a good relationship with the old coaching staff,” he said. “I really committed to Coach Kaczenski. He was a great coach and I loved what he said to me. Then the fan base got rid of the entire coaching staff. So, I mean, you can’t be mad at me just for looking around.”
Neal said the same thing later in the interview, so it's not like it was a misquote.  I highlighted the entire quote to give you context. And I understand why Husker fans would ignore those statements; it's uncomfortable to admit their own role in the end of the previous coaching regime.  Point the thumb?  That was supposed to be for Bo Pelini, not us.  You heard Bo's blasphemy.  How can he say that the fans were against him, when we have sold out Memorial Stadium for 51 years?

It's not all fans, of course.  But a large group of fans, former players, and media played a definite role in creating the toxic environment that resulted in Bo Pelini's dismissal. That's not to say that Bo Pelini didn't have anything to do with it either.  He did.

Just don't deny the reality that many Husker fans turned on Pelini. Pelini wasn't wrong when he said that in that team meeting.  DaiShon Neal saw it firsthand.

It's too late to do anything about that now. But it's something to think about how we respond when Mike Riley loses a big game.  It doesn't mean we can't be critical.  It just means that we have to be a little more fair and make sure our criticism isn't just venomous anger.

We saw where that got us.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Your HOTTAKE on Ron Brown's Move to Youngstown State Likely Depends on your HOTTAKE on Bo Pelini

Today's news that former Nebraska running backs assistant coach Ron Brown is following Bo Pelini to Youngstown State is eliciting strong reactions from folks at both extremes of the opinions regarding Pelini.

Folks who still believe in Bo bemoan that Brown not only wasn't retained, he wasn't really even considered.

Folks who want Bo buried in the past bemoan that the topic even came up.

Both are wrong.

Ron Brown's legacy with Nebraska football makes this newsworthy. We had stories about Urban Meyer hiring Tim Beck, so why not stories about Ron Brown, who was hired in 1987 by Tom Osborne?

So should Brown have been retained by Mike Riley?

My answer is: not unless Mike Riley really wanted to.

Coaches should build their staffs with the people they want to work with. There shouldn't be any restrictions from outsiders (fans, former players, or administrators) as to who they hire. If Mike Riley wants his first hire to be a guy he promoted from being a graduate assistant barely one year earlier, that's his call. (It did make it fun to watch the people who criticized the experience level on Bo Pelini's staff squirm when that happened.)

Mike Riley wants to go a different direction? Let's go then.  Ron Brown is owed our thanks for his longevity and his contributions to championships over the years.  He's not owed another job in Lincoln.  He's been compensated very fairly for his contributions to Nebraska football, and he isn't owed anything other than what is spelled out by the terms of his contract.

Should Brown's fervent religious beliefs be an issue? Absolutely not. In this country, we have the freedom to believe what we want to believe, and as long as Brown is simply sharing, not enforcing, his beliefs on others, that should never be an issue.  From my perspective, Ron Brown's relationship with Ameer Abdullah, a devout Muslim, is proof enough to me that Brown knows - and practices - the distinction.

In fact, telling Brown that he can't share his beliefs is more offensive than Brown's proselytizing. It's freedom "of" religion that is protected, not freedom "from" religion. Ron Brown is welcome to share his beliefs, and we're all better for him doing that.  We learned that in the wake of the revelation of the horrors that Jerry Sandusky inflicted on young kids at Penn State in 2011.  That doesn't mean that Brown has always toed that line properly.  He admits as such; he knows he's sinner.

So why did he decide to work again for Bo Pelini, especially after the release of that secretly taped final meeting with his players? Critics point to the negative things he said: the vulgarities and the claims that many people around Nebraska wanted him to fail.

But that's only part of the story.  National media types picked up on a theme in that meeting that the local media pretty much missed, and that is how much Pelini cares for his players.  And his coaches as well. The local media missed it because, well, the World-Herald released the juiciest quotes first (tainting the discussion without context), then falling back on the prickly relationship many have with Pelini.

So Ron Brown is off to Youngstown State.  I hope it all works out for Youngstown State, just like I hope this all works out for Nebraska.

Ron Brown is a good man, just like Bo Pelini is and I hope Mike Riley is.

Monday, January 12, 2015

UNO Hockey Ranked Eighth Nationally After Sweeping Denver

On the heels of UNO hockey's sweep of now-#13 Denver this past weekend, the Mavericks jumped to #8 in this week's USCHO rankings.  Minnesota State is ranked #1, while North Dakota is ranked #3 and Minnesota-Duluth is ranked #5.  Those are teams UNO has played this season, and the Mavs split series with those teams.

Friday night, UNO got off to yet another slow start, trailing 3-0 midway through the second period before erupting for three goals in four minutes near the end of the second period.  Midway through the third, Denver took a 4-3 lead sending goalie Kirk Thompson to the bench. Thompson has been pressed into service as top goalie Ryan Massa has been out since Christmas with the flu followed by a concussion suffered in practice.  But with three minutes to go, David Pope scored despite a Denver player's illegal hit to tie the game at four.  On the ensuing power play, senior Dominic Zombo crashed the net and pushed a rebound for the game winner in a 5-4 victory.

Saturday night, UNO started hot by dominating Denver in the first period.  Sophomore sensation Austin Ortega scored on a breakaway just three minutes into the game. Denver cranked up the pressure in the second period, dominating the play down the stretch, but Kirk Thompson played his best game ever in a UNO jersey.  Thompson's 39 save perfomance might have been one of the best goaltending performances ever by a UNO Maverick, as Thompson had to make a number of frantic saves to hold the lead.

The sweep moved UNO into the first place in the conference, passing Miami and Minnesota-Duluth at the half-way point in the season. This weekend, UNO goes on the road to play last place Colorado College before returning at the end of the month to play North Dakota.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Separating Fantasy From Reality With Mike Riley's New Nebraska Staff

It became blatantly obvious to me that a lot of Husker fans took a lot more out of the announcement of Mike Riley's Nebraska football staff than I did. I take most of it as being hopeful about the future, because there certainly are far more concerns about this staff than fans are acknowledging.

I also note that it's probably an overreaction to the "meh" reaction the Riley hire has made from national pundits. Grantland's Matt Hinton earlier this week called Riley the "lowest ceiling hire that the Cornhuskers could have reasonably made." That's led to even more snipes at Bo Pelini from people who previously wanted to "move on" and "leave it in 2014."  It's rather akin to bashing the ex-flame, if only to make your new romantic interest that much better looking in comparison.

Make no bones about it, Riley's new staff is much more experienced overall than Pelini's last staff. But for all the talk of hiring the "best people" out there, Riley went with buddy hires almost across the board: six of the eight announced assistants coached with Riley at Oregon State.  Only two are new to Mike Riley: defensive line coach Hank Hughes and secondary coach Charleton Warren.  Hughes went to college with defensive coordinator Mark Banker, making Hughes really another "buddy" hire, leaving only Warren as a true newcomer.  And I'm still not convinced that Riley made the decision to retain Warren, as Warren was the only assistant coach that Shawn Eichorst allowed to be on the road recruiting during NU's brief coaching search. (An awfully convenient coincidence, if it were.)

The size of the support staff raised a lot of eyebrows, as it's significantly bigger than previously. Some see that as proof of Eichorst's support of the program, but is that the same freedom that Pelini was given? We all know Pelini's private rant about not being supported. We don't know what Pelini exactly meant by that, but just because Riley is hiring a huge staff doesn't mean that Pelini was allowed to do the same.

One concern I have is how Riley and new offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf will mesh their "pro-style" background with Nebraska's "spread" personnel. While Langsdorf and Riley are quick to point out that they'll adapt things to their personnel, I'm also reminded that Bill Callahan also talked about how "flexible" his system could be.  This is one of those things I'll be watching very intently this spring and fall to see how this actually works out.  I suspect this is going to be one of those trial-and-error things; I have no doubt that Riley will be better than Callahan in that respect...but that bar is set awfully, awfully low.

And let's be honest, Riley's offense wasn't very good in recent years at Oregon State.  At the same time Eichorst was making the decision to fire Pelini, Riley was telling folks in Oregon that his offense had to change.  But Riley isn't really changing his staff...he's just changing his personnel by adopting a more potent Nebraska roster.  Langsdorf fills a definite void at Nebraska in quarterback coaching, but overall, I do think skepticism about where this offense is headed is warranted.

This isn't to condemn Riley's staff as a failure; they haven't lost a single game yet.  We don't know how this is going to play out, and that's the fascinating thing we're going to watch over the next eight months. My point is simply that just because you want really, really hard for this to succeed, we don't really know if it will or not.

That's the reality of Nebraska football in 2015.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Huskers Come Up Just Short Against Southern Cal

One of my takeaways from the Bo Pelini era at Nebraska is how they battled back when the chips were down. It wasn't always pretty, and it didn't always work out, but the Huskers battled.

People will point out the yards and points that the Blackshirts gave up. That's fair. But the counter is how future NFL quarterback Cody Kessler had his worst game of the season. Might be his last game for Southern Cal, as he's expected to declare for the draft.

Javorius Allen gouged Nebraska at times, and could have done worse if the SC game plan would have allowed it. That's surprising, considering Nebraska's injury situation at linebacker. Safety play didn't help there either.

Offensively, many onlookers online hated the lack of carries for Ameer Abdullah, but they really weren't noticing how the Trojans were keying on Abdullah all game. What I didn't like were the lack of quarterback runs in the first half, especially considering what Boston College's Tyler Murphy did against SC in September.

It didn't help that the Huskers were getting dominated up front. Dylan Utter was the surprise starter at center, but looked more like a speed bump against the Trojans defensive line.

No doubt in my mind that Husker fans may never truly appreciate Ameer Abdullah for what he meant to this team both on and off the field. Both he and Kenny Bell deserved better endings to their NU careers.

I also don't know if Husker fans will appreciate the outgoing coaching staff. Two guys that deserve better exits are recievers coach Rich Fisher and defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski. Fisher turned around a sorry group of receivers that couldn't catch a cold, while Kaz turned defensive line into a strength. I don't know who will replace them, but I suspect we'll miss these guys.

By the end of next week, I suspect we'll know who Mike Riley's assistants will be. And for as much negativity that resulted from Bo Pelini's private comments to his team, I hope now the focus turns to his comments about his successor, where he advises his team to give these new coaches a chance. 

We all would be well advised to do that, even if we aren't impressed or overwhelmed with them initially.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bo Pelini Rips Shawn Eichorst and Harvey Perlman - And Everybody Loses

Twice on the day he was named head coach of Youngstown State, the words of Bo Pelini came back to criticize Nebraska officials: one publicly and veiled, the other was intended to be private and were vulgar and offensive. First the public comments:
Pelini's last comment likely was targeted at Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, which drew a lot of comments that Pelini didn't even know Perlman's title. Problem with those statements that the "president" label was clearly tied to Tressel.  Was he pointing at former NU president J. B. Millikin? Probably not.  But differentiating between the different job titles of Jim Tressel and Perlman was something that's way too nuanced to elaborate on at a press conference.

Should Pelini have even brought up the past at Nebraska? Probably not, but it's clear to me that the friction between Pelini and Perlman date back to 2003 when Frank Solich was fired. If it wasn't for the fact that Perlman was essentially neutered with respect to athletic department concerns in the wake of the Steve Pederson debacle in 2007, I doubt Perlman would have ever approved Bo Pelini.

Of course, when Dirk Chatelain published a transcript of Pelini's meeting with the team two days after his dismissal, all that became moot.  Most of the initial reaction online focused on Pelini's deplorable language and the decision to air his grievances with his players.  I have a mixed reaction; it's clear the Pelini didn't pull any punches behind the scenes, and he put his players squarely in the middle of this now-messy divorce.  That's not good.  It makes Mike Riley's job that much tougher, and in the aftermath, I'm starting to feel that from a non-football perspective, Riley might be the best man for the job after all to soothe the transition for players that were clearly hurt.

One reaction that I simply don't understand and therefore cannot accept is that Pelini, by his actions, doesn't care about the Nebraska program. I believe people are mistakenly using Perlman and athletic director Shawn Eichorst as the program.  One thing I learned during the Steve Pederson/Bill Callahan program is that you can love the program and despise the people who are currently in charge.  (A "Vichy Nebraska", as I once referenced it at that time.) Pelini's reactions clearly were pointed at those two gentlemen - and not the program.

Step back from the awful language and take another look at Pelini's comments about Eichorst:
You don't spend any time with us, our players don't even know who you are. And I said, 'that isn't leadership.'
Unfair?  The words of a bitter man?  Perhaps.  But here's the thing.  Bo Pelini isn't the first to feel that way about Eichorst.  Eichorst has left this impression everywhere he has been.  From the Miami Herald in September 2012:
 At UM -- bracing for NCAA sanctions in the case involving former UM booster and convicted felon Nevin Shapiro -- Eichorst has been one of the most low-profile athletic directors in school history. He was not at UM during Shapiro's wrongdoings, but except for once or twice, has declined to speak to the media since coming to Miami -- and has mostly kept his distance from UM fans and donors.    Among the media, Eichorst was known as the invisible athletic director.
Last month, noted Pelini critic Lee Barfknecht checked in on Eichorst's history and found the same thing:.
Regarding Eichorst, we’re forced to say “I hear” a lot because of his ultra-guarded management style, and the layer of old chums he has hired — also not available for interviews — to insulate him.
When he was the A.D. at Miami, his nickname was “The Invisible Man.” The past three weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time around Wisconsin, which is where Eichorst grew up and used to work under Barry Alvarez. Folks there wryly ask how we get along with “Silent Shawn.”
But wait, there's more:
That said, I’ve never seen effective leadership from someone who burrows into his office and sets up policies that almost banish communication — especially in running a high-profile athletic department, and even more so at straight-shooting Nebraska.
You can’t lead from behind or the dark.
Eichorst told us in August that he has strong relationships with his head coaches. That is counter to what coaches have told me and many others. Some say they can’t directly get a meeting with him. One said the number of books Eichorst has assigned coaches to read has outnumbered his in-person visits to that sport.
Basically, the exact same thing Pelini is being lambasted for saying. Did he err by ranting to the team?  I'd tend to agree.  But it doesn't change that Pelini is simply telling us the truth.

Isn't it ironic that on the day that Steve Pederson was yet again fired that a picture of an athletic department in Lincoln under siege from an athletic director who seems to be focusing more on empire building than team building is emerging.

You can't dismiss this talk as being Pelini's sour grapes when one of Pelini's biggest critics is corroborating him.  This isn't to say Pelini's critics are all wrong for calling for his ouster; there are plenty of reasons that a coaching change was warranted.  (/wisconsinScoredAgain) And the fact that he brought his players into this mess doesn't help either.

But it's starting to look like 2004 all over again around Nebraska athletics.  Firing Pelini may have simply been shooting the messenger.

And that's downright frightening.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

So Why Is Bo Pelini Taking the Youngstown State Job?

It turns out FootballScoop.com was on the right track when they reported last week that Bo Pelini was headed to division 1-AA Youngstown State.  Last week's "complete fabrication of the truth" is now reality. But why Youngstown State? What does that say about Bo Pelini?

The step-down to 1-AA has certainly empowered Pelini critics to use the coaching market as justification for Nebraska's coaching change.
Comments like that, though, only reinforce in my mind that Pelini's detractors aren't terribly confident in their position.  The "nine wins for seven straight years"  line is one of those facts that's constantly misunderstood by his critics.  Let's make things exactly clear: nobody has ever... EVER ... suggested that Bo Pelini's record at Nebraska is exactly like Alabama's or Oregon's over the last seven years.  Those two teams are the exception.  The comparison is to the OTHER 120+ division 1-A football programs:  the ones that haven't won 9 or more games every year starting in 2008.

We also have the snide statements that this was the highest profile job Bo Pelini could find.  That may ... or may not be true.  I suspect it's not.  I think Bo was considered for the Wisconsin job, but the last two NU/Wisconsin games would have made Pelini a hard sell in Madison.  I'm sure there are plenty of other jobs Pelini would have been a candidate for, and may have been, in fact.

So why Youngstown State?  Everybody knows that Youngstown, Ohio is Bo's home town.  And that's the clincher for Pelini in my opinion.  It is home.  Nebraska is going to pay him nearly $8 million over the next five years, so barring a Power Five conference job coming open, he's not going to make more money elsewhere.  Every dime Pelini makes at another school is a dime that Nebraska doesn't have to pay, so there simply aren't going to be many opportunities to make more money at another school.

I think the biggest deal for Bo Pelini is bringing his family back to Youngstown, Ohio.  His kids can attend Cardinal Mooney, and family is a big deal to Bo Pelini.  A really big deal.  Back in 2007, Yahoo! Sports interviewed then-LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini and highlighted the man inside the gray sweatshirt.  This quote stands out to me today:

Across town, many of the 92,000 fans who will attend LSU's showdown against defending national champion Florida are already stirring gumbo and guzzling Miller Lite in the parking lot at Tiger Stadium.

But to Bo Pelini, that game is no more important than the one he's at now – mainly because his son, Patrick, is among the players trying to kick the ball into the net.
"It's fun watching your kids grow up," Pelini, who also has two daughters, says later. "Baseball, t-ball, gymnastics, ballet. I try not to miss anything."
LSU's defensive coordinator pauses for a moment and grins.
"But," Pelini says, "I do think a few people get freaked out when they see me standing on the soccer field the morning of such a big game."
Pelini's kids are now eight years older now, and last summer, he talked about driving his kids to summer camps across the state of Nebraska.  That's something most people wouldn't expect most coaches to do.  But that's not Bo Pelini.  Remember a couple of years ago when Pelini raised a stir by taking his son to a North Carolina/Duke basketball game?
That's Bo Pelini to me.  I think this is a family move for Bo Pelini, pure and simple. It's not so much that he's returning home as much as his family is.  And frankly, I'd actually be surprised if Pelini didn't spend a few years at Youngstown State.  At this point, it's not about the money.  Nebraska will be paying Pelini for the next five years, and he'll earn the same thing whether he's coaching at Youngstown State, Colorado State, Houston, or Memphis.  Only place he earns more money is if a Power Five job opens up.

Five years from now, the situation may be different.  His youngest daughter will be finishing up at Cardinal Mooney in all likelihood, and Pelini should have a solid resume at Youngstown State that would be enticing to other big name programs. In the meantime, Pelini will have had a chance to refine his coaching prowess.  He might be ready to jump back into the rat race of big-time football then.

But for now, Youngstown isn't the biggest place Bo Pelini could find.  For Bo Pelini, it's just the best place.

Friday, December 12, 2014

UNO Hockey Returns Home For Eight Straight Games

After spending most of the last two months on the road (10 out of 12 games on the road), UNO hockey returns to Omaha for eight straight games over the holidays.  This weekend, it's sixth place St. Cloud State in for games at 7:37 pm tonight and 8:07 pm Saturday night.  UNO has been fairly successful on the road until the last couple of weekends.  Thanksgiving weekend, UNO won an overtime shootout on Friday, but lost 3-2 on Saturday night at #1 North Dakota.  Last weekend, UNO stunk it up on Friday night, losing 8-2 in a game televised on Fox College Sports, only to rebound strong with a 5-2 victory over #6 Miami.

Hockey pollsters have the Mavs ranked twelfth in the country.  The early simulations of the Pairwise rankings have UNO third in the nation, trailing only Mankato and Minnesota-Duluth.  Very impressive considering this is a team that arguably is in a rebuilding season with 11 freshman, 7 sophomores, 3 juniors, and 5 seniors.  And a completely different vibe after getting shut out in an exhibition game against a Canadian team.

With a run of home games, this should be an opportunity for UNO to make a move in the conference standings. A sweep this weekend against St. Cloud moves UNO within one point of conference leaders Miami and Minnesota-Duluth, who aren't playing conference games this weekend.  I suspect North Dakota will be in first place by Sunday, though.