Monday, October 22, 2007

Nebraska Football: Just What is The Problem?

The lady who sits by me frequently at the games asked me towards the end of the game what I thought the problem with the Huskers were. The very short answer ("Everything") isn't accurate. The most accurate short answer ("Coaching") isn't complete. It's really a systematic failure of the program. So let's look across the program and get an idea of where this program is.

Ah, the old strawman of talent. We've been beaten over the head with the idea that only talent matters and that Bill Callahan and company have been bringing an unprecendented level of talent to Lincoln. Now that strawman is being ripped apart by the reality that the talent argument has been taken to absurd levels. Talent is important, but it's only part of the equation. Furthermore, we've seen recruiting prioritize on recruiting offensive skill players, many of whom don't see the field (Chris Brooks, Menolik Holt, Niles Paul, etc.) but not enough defensive linemen and linebackers. And many of the defensive recruits have been junior college players with only a couple of years to play before their time is up. While the defensive line should be back next year, only Phillip Dillard returns among the top five linebackers. That means Nebraska's next coaching staff has their work cut out for them to fill this hole.

Strength and Conditioning
Dave Kennedy was supposed to be the guy who was supposed to bring "Husker Power" back, but so far, the evidence isn't terribly convincing. He certainly didn't make much of a difference at Pitt, and it appears that he's not doing it at Nebraska either. For what it's worth, Travis Justice said on KXSP-AM last week that he had been told by someone "in the business" that Kennedy was the "worst strength coach in the nation." (Of course, you have to take the source with a grain of salt.) That being said, you certainly don't hear any rave reviews of Kennedy's work, and in fact, you hear many former players suggesting that Kennedy's program isn't working.

The photo of wide receiver Will Henry's playbook has been posted all over the internet. Let's be honest here... most college textbooks are smaller than this. We've also seen Sam Keller and Joe Dailey have to run to the sidelines to get the playcall right. So we know the offense is too complex. Players who aren't sure of what they are doing are hesitant, and hesitant players play slow. Football is supposed to be instinctive, and this playbook doesn't allow that.

Adding to the problem is Callahan's practice routine of focusing the majority of repetitions on the starters, leaving the reserves to watch on the sideline and not get much work. Player development is essentially limited to spring and preseason practice, which doesn't bode well for the future. No practice means no chance to master the playbook, thus creating a vicious cycle of mediocrity.

This one's been beaten to the ground. Whether it's Kevin Cosgrove's love of playing "prevent" defenses all game long or Bill Callahan's rather predicable personnel/formation groupings, it's become almost a laughingstock that opposing teams can master them in one week, while our players never seem to master them.

Reports of disfunction are nothing new to this coaching staff. In 2004, people outside the Nebraska locker room heard the coaching staff doing battle with each other at Iowa State. Callahan took off the headphones late against Missouri this year. Jay Norvell, John Blake, and Scott Downing all apparantly left Lincoln privately unhappy as well. If the coaches aren't all on the same page, then the players are getting conflicting instructions as well, leading to more dissent. No wonder the players seem to be merely going through the motions. That makes three lost teams for Bill Callahan in the last five years: 2003 Raiders, 2004 Huskers, and now 2007.

The good news is that none of this is necessarily fatal. In fact, good personnel decisions by Tom Osborne can address four of the five issues for future seasons. That doesn't help things for 2007, however.


Christian Word Artist said...

That all seems to add up. Pretty good assesment I'd say Mike.

How much do you think that arrogance and too high of expectations come into play in all of this? Does that affect the team and coaches in any way? From an outsider point of view on this (Cyclone bias) this is what I think of current Husker football and fans: BANDWAGON. A year ago I heard everyone praising Callahan. Of course, not now. Also wild predictions of 9-2 seasons were made last year and this year the same. This season is not yet over, but the general attitude is that of "cash in the chips". I hear that Husker fans have passion. But in the year I've been in Omaha I haven't seen it. Try being a Cubs fan - that is true sports fan passion.

Some advice to Husker nation: The rest of the country admires your tradition - but, it's not an entitlement. You don't win and deserve to win based on solely of just who you while everyone respects and admires that tradition, no one cares to hear about it as if the "sputtering" program is the end of your world. Because it's not! Stop being overdramatic about everything. Live in the now and look to the future. I hope that Tom Osborne can right the ship for the program, he's a good guy and I was fan of the team back in those days. But don't set yourself up for an even bigger let down in the process. And don't expect the changes to come overnight. Dan McCarney (who got booted too soon imho) and Kirk Ferentz (who is on the fringe of the hot seat) both had a few 1-10 and 2-9 seasons before bringing their programs back.

Mike, I started reading your blog here when the wheels started coming off a few weeks ago. As an outsider (and former Husker football fan) now living in redland I appreciate the balanced approach. The social dynamics of the current situation has been fascinating to watch. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Take one look at what Dave Kennedy does just for his conditioning alone during the summer.

Weeks 1 to 3: 2x week 2 mile runs
Weeks 4 to 6: 2 x week 16 x 350 yard runs
Week 7 to 9: 2 to 3 times a week 25 x 200 yard runs

This includes everyone, offensive and defensive linemen. What the hell is a linemen doing running 2 miles, or even anything over 20 yards.
He trains his football players like middle distance runners. This makes them slower, weaker, less explosive, and carry less muscle mass. Ask Corey Schlesinger about working out with Kennedy. Corey stopped by a couple summers ago to workout with the team and stayed for five minutes and said this guy is an Idiot!!

This guy is not even a certified strength and conditioning coach!! The NSCA was started by Boyd Eppley and is based in Lincoln. Every strength and conditioning coach in the country is certified, except yours truly!!

Now the hard facts. There are 7 performance tests that are conducted at Nebraska for strength and conditioning (Hang Clean, Squat, Bench press, 10 yard dash, 40 yard dash, pro agility, and Vertical). There are 10 positions for the team (OL, TE, RB, QB, Rec, KP, DL, LB, DB, DE). So out of 70 possible records there has not been one record broke in the past 4 years, not one!! The last time a performance record was broke was in 2003, when Bailey was still the strength coach. Go on the website and see all the records broke in the 90's and 00', 01, 02, 03. You should have at least one or two broke every year. Not one since Kennedy has taken over. Proof that our guys are NOT getting stronger, faster, or more explosive.

He has got to go or there will be no development of our football players.