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.