Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is It Fair to Pull the Plug on Bill Callahan?

With Nebraska's losing streak now at four games (and counting), the writing appears to be on the wall for Bill Callahan's career at Nebraska. Two weeks ago, most fans were calling for immediate changes, but Tom Osborne has dismissed that talk, pointing out that you can't replace coaches mid-season in football, as there just aren't many replacements sitting around waiting. (And let's face it, there's usually a reason those replacements are sitting around without a job...) So the uproar for "fire 'em all" has subsided somewhat, though you get the impression that everybody assumes that when Osborne "assesses" the program at the end of the season, Callahan's head coaching career will be over. Jeffie over at DoubleExtraPoint notes a Freudian slip by Osborne in an interview with KETV-Channel 7 last week, where he tells Jon Schuetz that the future of the walk-on program will depend "on the new coaching staff."

But is it fair to pull the plug on Callahan after four years? Let's look at the common arguments for keeping Callahan.

You need five or six years to turn around a program. Osborne himself once said that if the rest of the Big Eight wanted to become competitive in football, they need to give some of these coaches more than four years. Osborne had a point. Dan McCarney took five years to post a winning record at Iowa State, though he never was able to take the Cyclones much further than that. Bill Snyder took five years to get Kansas State to a bowl game. But let's be honest; Kansas State was one of the worst football programs in America when Snyder was hired, and Iowa State wasn't much better when McCarney was hired. Callahan took over a team that finished 10-3 the season before...a record Callahan hasn't been able to match. And let's be honest... NOBODY gets 5 years to change things. The going rate seems to be three years now for national programs, if you judge the actions of Notre Dame and Florida.

The problem this season was defense; Callahan was hired to fix the offense and that's been great. That's revisionist thinking; Callahan was hired because Steve Pederson wanted to recreate Husker football in a new image. We've been told that Nebraska was "gravitating to mediocrity" and that "we would not surrender the Big XII to Oklahoma and Texas". We were told to expect championships and asked for money for the "Championship Drive" for "Championship Facilities" to impress recruits. Four years later, Nebraska sits at 4-5 going into November. Missouri and Kansas are in the top 10 of the BCS standings. As for whether the offense is "great", Nebraska is 36th in the country in total offense and 63rd in scoring offense.

Frank Solich got six years, and got a final chance to update his staff. Bill Callahan deserves the same. Oh no, please, let's not bring Solich up again. Technically, yes, Solich got to remake his staff, but did he really have a chance to keep his job long term? Steve Pederson was going to fire Solich anyway. Let's not go through that charade again. Besides, Bill Callahan has known his staff was dysfunctional from the start. They argued in 2004, and Callahan can look at Kevin Cosgrove's records to know that he's sub-par as a defensive coordinator. Heck, just look at Wisconsin who's defense improved dramatically once Callahan took him off their hands.

This system just takes time and experience to work. Former Husker quarterback Zac Taylor wrote the Lincoln Journal-Star last week to point this out. Problem is, I think that Taylor probably doesn't do his former coach any favors in his defense. He confesses that it took him a full year to comprehend the offense, and says that's also affecting Sam Keller. But guess what, we're going to get another new quarterback in 2008, meaning that it will be at least 2009 before we possibly can have a 2nd year starter at quarterback. And that's assuming that Patrick Witt or Zac Lee starts in 2008... In addition, Callahan's system is proving to be extremely poor in developing players. Callahan devotes most practice time for the starters, meaning there is very little opportunity for the backups to progress in this system except in the spring. That simply doesn't bode well for the next few years.

Changing coaching staffs is simply going to kill recruiting. Is anybody still buying this recruiting service bull$--t anymore? A few weeks, the World-Herald pointed out that recruiting ratings is mostly hype. 1620 the Zone pointed out that in the blowout losses to Missouri and Oklahoma State, the Husker defense had the most Rivals "stars" of any other unit on the field. In one of his first talks to fans after taking over as athletic director, Tom Osborne told fans that recruiting hype has not "been the best for college football." Last week, Bill Callahan bemoaned the effects of the turmoil on recruiting, pointing out how tough it was to get to #7 in the Rivals ratings. A few of the remaining recruitniks bemoan the loss of this "special" class, the likes of which we haven't seen at Nebraska. I guess they've forgotten 2005 and that "top five" class featuring names such as Harrison Beck (currently warming the bench at North Carolina State), Leon Jackson (now at Hawaii), Chris Brooks (finally made his first career catch in mop-up duty against Nevada), and Justin Tomerlin (no longer with the program). The fact remains that in college football, it has less to do with the talent that you bring in than what you do with that talent once it gets there. That's why Nebraska is now near the bottom of the Big XII North.

Bottom line: I really can't come up with any reasons to retain Bill Callahan. My opinion doesn't count though; it's going to be Tom Osborne's decision.


Christopher said...

I don't disagree with the general point of the post, but I do think you and others are going a bit far in belittling recruiting. It's true that college football is about developing talent. It's also true that the star rating systems are problematic and probably misleading. But don't get it twisted: there's a reason teams from Florida and Southern California have been good historically. It's the same reason Texas will always be Big XII contenders. It's the same reason Urban Meyer publicly thanked Ron Zook after last year's title game. It's why TO did a jig when Tommie Frazier committed to NU. Talent matters. Well-coached five stars beat well-coached three stars nine times out of ten.

Right now we've got (and can continue to get, I think) the stars. We don't have the coaching. For NU to get where we want it to go, a new coach would have to excel in both areas. I think we're deluding ourselves if we think success in one (coaching) can significantly compensate for deficiencies in the other (talent).

hbrogan57 said...

There have been other teams that have changed coaches mid-season. To give Callahan another year is ludicrous. The defense is now rated 119 out of 119. How can things possibly get ANY worse???? Changing mid-season may be just the thing that's needed. It would definitely send a clear message.

Watching Saturdays' game I noticed that, while Watson was play calling, there were changes made on the fly and it seemed as though the team was doing quite well. However, as soon as Callahan took things over everything seemed to fall apart.

This show that the players have little trust left in the current coaching staff.

Let alone the fact that the defense was blitz...blitz...blitz.... and once the opposition dialed in to that fact...well...everyone saw the end result.

Callahan and Company are better off saving a little face and resigning. But I don't see that happening anytime soon. Seems like they will hold out for the last gasp.

Perhaps they are trying to get into the record books as being the WORST coaching staff in Husker history.

Husker Mike said...

I probably should have clarified myself that it was recruiting services, not recruiting itself. Recruiting is important...but not as important as development. And as Christopher points out, it's best if you can combine the two (developing great players).

As for changing coaches mid-season, nobody is available right now that I'd like to see in Lincoln right now other than possibly Marvin Sanders as defensive coordinator. (And he might not be available due to contractual issues.) Let's face it, we could promote someone within the staff (Shawn Watson, perhaps?) on an interim basis, but that's it for midseason changes.

Anonymous said...

I don't know alot about all the recruiting and things behind the scenes. I think it is obvious that recruiting is important. But should we moan about recruits who are opting out because Callahan looks like he is on his way out? To me it seems that a kid who doesn't want to play for Nebraska anymore cuz Callhan might be gone shows that he is more interested in playing the type of offense that Callahan supports. We have all seen that this scheme does not work at the college level as it takes too long to learn.
It would seem that getting Callahan out and getting back to fundamentals and conditioning would attract the kinds of recruits that you would want for THAT type of program.

Anonymous said...

I add this point to my comment above:

Yeah, its bad that we're losing commitments, but if it is because you want to be coached by someone who arguably has brought in a philosophy that doesn't work, then is it really a loss?

Anonymous said...

We should do what SMU did today fire the coach and let him finish the season so we get on with looking for a new one and get a jump on other programs such as A&M , ND, Baylor etc., and let the recuits know he will no be at NE

hbrogan57 said...

Yes we DO have the talent. But, once players, or anyone else for that matter, loses respect for those trying to teach them ANYTHING then there is little to help other than to change the powers that be.