Monday, December 31, 2007

Shatel Asks: What Does UNO Want?

Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald dropped in at UNO hockey fan site this past weekend to respond to postings about his response to a question about UNO hockey last Friday. Shatel really answers this question and all questions about UNO athletics with another question:
It has more to do with what I think is a central issue at UNO: what does UNO want to be in athletics? There isn't a commitment or urgency to be a championship program at UNO. Mav Mojo has won national titles in several sports, but much of that has to do great coaches doing their things. I've always felt like UNO just wanted to have sports programs and the championships just happened because their coaches are that good. They don't get a lot of help from the administration.
The question since UNO started hockey in 1997 is what do they want to do with it? I don't think they've ever figured it out. I've always felt that Del Webber, Don Leahy and several boosters started this thing with big dreams, but once Del and Don left, the ones left holding the puck didn't know what to do with it.
We're now only one year removed from the Nancy Belck era at UNO. Athletics under Belck seemed to be more of a necessary evil, something to be cut or exploited when it was useful to her administration. Now she's gone, and a new administration has taken hold at UNO. But does this new administration have a vision or a plan for UNO athletics? So far, we really haven't seen much of one.

Is UNO satisfied with the current state of athletics? Football is pretty good, finishing an undefeated regular season but losing once again at the start of the playoffs. Basketball is occasionally up but mostly down. Wrestling and baseball do very well nationally. And the flagship hockey program is usually in the upper half of the CCHA.

Is that all there is? Is that the best that UNO can do?

With the status quo, probably yes. The glass is certainly not empty, and from my perspective, UNO has filled it's cup. But after seeing a glimpse of what can happen when that cup gets filled (undefeated football season, hockey in the big skate), fans naturally want more. And that's going to require a bigger cup. Does UNO want a bigger cup?

But when you look around, there are signs that other programs don't have this same ceiling. Many of UNO's compatriots in the North Central Conference are going division 1. Fellow CCHA school Miami is #1 in college hockey. Why is it that UNO seems to be stuck somewhere that can be best described as mediocrity?

I'm not going to pretend that I know the answer. I don't think it's an easy question with a simple answer; it's probably an essay or at least multiple-choice answer. Let's look at the hockey program. What does UNO hockey have going for it? Very good attendance for college hockey, playing in one of the top conferences. An NHL caliber arena. They got off to good start, making it to the CCHA championship game in just the program's third year. Even made the NCAA tournament once.

UNO rode a rocket ship through their first ten years, but seems to have plateaued. This weekend, they got beaten at home by two bottom-feeding Ivy League schools. Some want to point the finger at head coach Mike Kemp, but there are numerous other issues that need to be addressed. UNO doesn't have a dedicated practice facility, and once again, they are being bumped from their home ice to accomodate the state wrestling tournament.

It's starting to become time for athletic director David Miller and chancellor John Christensen to come out and either accept or reject the current state of UNO athletics. Do they say, "we're happy to be in the middle of the pack", and be happy with what successes happen to occur? Or does UNO identify a plan to take the program to the next level?

UNO has serious facility issues. Half of the Sapp Fieldhouse's bleachers are out of commission, reducing capacity for basketball and wrestling. No practice ice. Baseball plays at high school fields all across the city. This is not a problem that can be piecemealed together and fixed as you go along. Fix one thing, and suddenly something else goes.

If UNO wants to go to the next level, they need to take a comprehensive look at everything and look at what needs to be done for the future. Facilities. Coaching. Fund raising. Everything. Supposedly the Karnes Comission did this last year, but nothing seems to have emerged from that other than jumping to the MIAA for most sports. Last year, the excuse was that there were interim people in charge, but now there are permanent leaders in place. That excuse doesn't fly.

So the question remains: What does UNO want from it's athletic department? Is it just whatever the current budget can afford? Or is there something more?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bo Knows Defense

Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star came across a little gem on the web site, where Pelini talked to Louisiana high school coaches for an hour. You can listen to it yourself if you've got an hour.

Here are some of the high points:
  • His goal is to field the "best effort defense" in the nation. (Hey, we saw this ourselves with the Huskers in 2003)
  • Don't talk negative. Don't yell at the player, yell at the mistake. "It's about getting the kids to understand what they’re doing so they can do it fast.”
  • It's not as much about X's and O's, but rather connecting with players and building a bond with them.
  • Disrupt the offense by providing multiple looks early and often in the game.
  • Don't panic, because then players start to press and start getting beat over the top for big plays.
  • The most important defensive statistic is "explosive gains", which are passes that gain more than 16 yards or runs for more than 12 yards.
  • Stop the run early and force teams to become one dimensional on third down.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Big XII Roundtable: Tradition

JJ over at CornNation sent out a Big XII Roundtable last week, but you know what...with all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I lost track of it. But, rather than just ignore it, I thought I'd at least throw my responses out there... better late than never, I suppose.

This roundtable was talking about traditions and giving and receiving of traditions, keeping with the holiday season.

You have to take one of your traditions and give it away to your main rival. Remember, you're giving it away, meaning that it's no longer yours after you give it.
Of course, the first question here is, who is Nebraska's rival? Traditionally, it was Oklahoma, though I would assume that Oklahoma considers Texas their rival. ABC would like it to be Colorado, but anymore you could make a case for just about anybody in the north.

And since we're dealing with a rival, it's usually something you don't want. So what are the worst Nebraska traditions? My choices would be 'Lil Red and the "Power of Red" banner. 'Lil Red is simply an embarassing mascot, and "Power of Red" is simply a stupid marketing slogan and the banner in the stand is waste of good plastic. Who should get them? Well, my first choice would be Colorado. I imagine that an inflatable mascot would go really complement Ralphie well, and since Colorado rarely sells out, the banner would help hide some of the empty seats.

You can take one of your traditions and give it to anyone else you might want to benefit, within the Big 12 or not.
Hmm... we've lost a lot of traditions in recent years, so I'm not sure we can claim some of them. But if we're not able to have them anymore, perhaps we can find a good home for them. And of the traditions we've lost that mean the most, the bowl streak was the most important and most valuable. I'd like to offer that one over to our friends over at Iowa State. They really could use a tradition like that, and if Iowa State becomes consistently good in football, they'll become Nebraska's natural rivalry.

What tradition would you most like to get from someone else as a gift?
I'm going to limit my scope to traditions I've experienced, so I'll exclude boating to games at Washington and Tennessee. (Plus, I'm not sure how many boats we can get on Salt Creek anyway...) The "Tomahawk Chop" from Florida State gave me nightmares after the 1990 Fiesta Bowl. Kansas' "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" is a simplistic chant, but can be similarly haunting as it builds. Kansas State's student section bopping to the Wabash Cannonball is one of the more unique traditions I've seen.
But my choice has to be Texas A&M's band. Between the pure volume they crank out and the precision marching, they make the biggest off-field wow I've seen.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Blankman's Not Happy With Things in Lincoln

Blankman over at Midwest Coast Bias is clearly not happy with the changes to Nebraska football over the last month. In fact, it almost seems that we might be swapping roles as I've certainly found fewer things to be "Blasphemous" about lately. Blankman certainly feels that way, though.

I get the feeling that Blankman feels that Osborne's return as athletic director was more of a bloodless coup than a triumphant return. An interesting opinion, though even if you believe Osborne had ulterior motives, it would not have been possible to ascend to the top without the football program's complete implosion in the month of October. Opportunistic perhaps, but Osborne's predecessor dug his own hole.

Blankman also takes his shot at what he considers the "Five Pillars of the Tradition Coalition", which seems to be a constant theme no matter who is talking:
Tom is back and it's wonderful
Blankman takes issue with Osborne's involvement in recruiting, and I'll agree that I'm uncomfortable with that as well. I'm not sure what his other expectations for the athletic director are, except that I get the impression he didn't agree with changing football coaches.

Ramping up the Walk-On Program
Blankman points out that the walk-on program was never dead under Bill Callahan. It wasn't. It was simply curtailed. He points out a Journal-Star article from November about it, which points out that incoming walk-ons went from 30 in 2003 to 12 this season. Is twelve too few walk-on, or are thirty too many? I don't know the answer, but it might in fact be yes. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle. You want players who want to play for Nebraska...but not so many you can't handle the numbers.

Criticizing Recruiting Services
Well, I've certainly not been shy about condemning recruiting services. It's easy to confuse recruiting with the rankings by these services. Sometimes they get things right... sometimes they don't. But some people take the rankings as gospel, which is where people get into trouble. That's what the message has been.

Talk about recruiting the best players in Nebraska
Nebraska has always depended on a combination of in-state AND out-of-state talent. Look at that 1997 Husker team...nearly half the starters were in-state guys. There are talented players in this state, and for them, "I Play For Nebraska" is not just a slogan or a sign in the locker room.

The Nebraska Way is Back in Force
One of these days, I hope to come up with a definition of the Nebraska Way. It may be like former Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart's definition of pornography: "I know it when I see it." It may be all the little things that, while minor by themselves, make the program something different than what it previously was. Is different a bad thing? Not necessarily. But sometimes change is not for the better, and when you look at the last four years, there are a lot of things that are significantly worse than they were. Those results make any changes look very questionable in the end.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Wishes for 2007

Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald started this a few years back, but I'll add my own version.

Bo Pelini, Barney Cotton, Marvin Sanders, and Ron Brown: Making the most of your second chance.

Nebraska defensive players: The lightning that hit the 2003 Blackshirts

LSU: A national championship.

Husker Nation: Unity.

Bill Callahan: An NFL offensive coordinator position

Turner Gill: A bowl game for the Buffalo Bulls.

Kansas City Chiefs fans: Making good use of their very early draft picks.

Chicago Cubs fans: Sam Zell loses control of the Cubs before he can sell naming rights to Wrigley Field. Bonus: $48 million turns out to be a bargain for Kosuke Fukudome.

Creighton Bluejay basketball fans: Another MVC championship.

Nebraska basketball fans: Some nice upsets at home, a 20 win season, and an NCAA tournament bid.

Bratjay Fans: Nebraska playing in the NCAA tournament at the Qwest Center.

Mike Kemp: A 2006-style hot streak in the new year.

UNO hockey fans: Getting to worry about squeezing in 2nd round CCHA playoff games around the Bruce Springsteen show.

Omaha: A 20 year commitment from the NCAA for a new downtown ballpark for the College World-Series.

To all of you: Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous new year.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Recruitniks Panic as Callahan Recruits Decommit

Oh my! The sounds of despair from Husker recruitniks is becoming deafening as recruit after recruit decommits. "Our Top Ten Recruiting Class is disappearing!" "This new staff has no idea what they are doing!" Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!

Here's it in a nutshell: Chill out.

This is to be expected for the most part, for a number of reasons. First of all, decommitments are nothing new. Remember two years ago when Josh Freeman dumped Bill Callahan for Kansas State? It happens. High school kids change their mind all the time.

But to this extreme? Well, consider what has happened since most of these high school kids committed to Nebraska. Nebraska extended Bill Callahan's contract, he promptly went 5-7, and was fired. Quite a roller coaster for coaches, players, fans ... and recruits. And while players do consider the school, in many cases, the commitment is to the coach more than the school. When they do sign, it's to the school, but until the signature occurs, it's a verbal promise based quite a bit on the coach.

And for the most part, the guys who sold these high schoolers on Nebraska are gone, replaced by complete strangers to these guys. Yeah, the building is the same. The academics are the same. But the football program is completely different now. For the most part, these guys are strangers. It happens. It's the price of change.

Another factor was created by Bill Callahan himself, and now is working against Nebraska. Callahan had a unique (at least unique to me) idea of using big-name recruits to help recruit other big-name recruits. We saw Harrison Beck working to lure others to Nebraska in 2004. Blaine Gabbert did the same this past summer. It was a powerful ally for Husker recruiting, and players decided to "stick together" and sign together.

Suddenly that solidarity between players backfired. They start questioning their commitment to Nebraska, and start looking at their options. And when these players started changing their mind, the solidarity meant that players were jumping together.

So is this a disaster for Nebraska? Are the Huskers screwed? Chill out. It's a good bet that this incoming class will not be as highly ranked as it would have been if Callahan had been retained. But what does that recruiting ranking really mean? What has it meant for Nebraska football in recent years?

The fact is that we'll miss some of these players in future years. Some of them we'll see on the other sideline. But here's another thing to think about... if the new coaching staff would have been in place a year ago, some of these players probably wouldn't have been pursued nearly as much. It's a question of perception and evaluation.

And there's still a month left for this staff to find other players. Players that they think could be better than the guys we lost. Or guys who are a better fit with what this staff plans to do in the future.

Bo Pelini's only been on the job for three weeks, and now things are on hold for a couple more weeks due to the NCAA-mandated holiday dead period. It's a little premature to hit the panic button. Give the man a little time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Fine Use of $3,064,658.38 For Area Sports Fans

Nebraska State Auditor Mike Foley has released a report of the largest expenditures by state government in the previous fiscal year, which ran from July 2006 through June 2007. And since the University of Nebraska is part of state government, you'll see many familiar names listed:

Bill Callahan, $1,571,086.92
Steve Pederson, $475,715.96
Nancy Belck, $273,853.95
Kevin Cosgrove, $253,881.00
Phil Elmassian, $180,217.17
Bill Busch, $180,217.17
Dave Kennedy, $180,217.17

Amazing what $3 million buys you nowadays.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Some Creighton Fans Feel Threatened By Sadler

I'm not sure if it's humorous or pathetic, but it appears that there is a faction of Creighton fans who are feeling threatened by Doc Sadler and Nebraska basketball. I'm not sure that it's a particularly large group, but it's probably some of the more recent bandwagon fans who have never heard of Rick Johnson. They don't remember the days when the Bluejays drew Ak-Sar-Ben Knight-sized crowds to the Civic. They hopped on the Dana Altman bandwagon a few years ago, and never bothered to look back.

On one hand, I can see why they've jumped on the bandwagon. Creighton's become a regular in the NCAA tournament under Altman, and attendance has tripled in recent years. It's surpassed UNO hockey as the #2 sport in town. Altman and Creighton AD Bruce Rasmussen have done a wonderful job building up the Jays program.

At the same time Altman arrived in Omaha, the implosion of Nebraska basketball was just beginning. In the early to middle 90's, Husker hoops was king of the winter time around these parts. Regularly packing the Devaney Center, Nebraska frequently knocked off ranked teams like Kansas and Oklahoma on national TV, gaining at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. Even won the old Big Eight basketball tournament in Kansas City once. Then, Nee lost it... one day, his players walked out on him and protested to then-athletic director Bill Byrne. Byrne stood behind Nee, but the damage was done. The program began to flounder as the team grew more and more undisciplined until Nee was finally fired. Byrne hired Barry Collier who restored some fundamentals but struggled to put together a competitive team in the Big XII.

Creighton finally snapped a 7 game losing streak to Nebraska, and went on their own 5 game winning streak. The tide had turned...Nebraska was now the team floundering, and Creighton was enjoying success. And thus was born two new types of Creighton fan: the "BrieJay" fan who wants to jump on the Altman bandwagon at the new "it" thing to do, and the "BratJay" fan who can't enjoy his own team's success unless he's kicking someone else at the same time. And in this case, it was Nebraska who was the most convenient target. Nebraska, because they are 50 miles away. Nebraska, because they are part of the BCS conspiracy against mid-majors like Creighton.

Now, enter Doc Sadler as head coach of Nebraska. Danny Nee once asked Sadler to be an assistant at Nebraska. He knew what Nebraska basketball once was, and wants to aspire to exceed that. Which doesn't sit well with the BratJay fan. You see, they are like any other bully... they get their enjoyment out of others pain. And suddenly Sadler seems to be easing Nebraska's basketball pain. The idea that Nebraska is somehow catching up with Creighton is something that can't be tolerated. So they take offense at everything. Nebraska wants to rent out Omaha's Qwest Center for a game? Outrageous! Sadler wants to make the Huskers the basketball team of the entire state? No way!

So imagine the reaction of these fans when Nebraska beat an Elite 8 team from the year before in Omaha... You guessed it...change the subject. Nebraska hasn't won an NCAA tournament game before...Nebraska hasn't won their conference regular season title since blah blah. We beat Nebraska... blah blah blah. Creighton is superior to Nebraska. Always has been, always will.

Except for one little fact that BratJay fan conveniently forgets. All time, Nebraska leads the Bluejay-Husker series 23-18. That is the ultimate "scoreboard" when you compare the two programs.

So what's the point? Creighton has a great coach, and they've had great success in recent years. The future for Creighton looks bright. So why feel the need to try and throw dirt on Nebraska? Will that somehow make Creighton look better? Nope...just makes the BratJay fan look like a bully.

It's not all Creighton fans...probably not even most Creighton fans. And that's not to suggest that these two schools aren't entitled to a little bit of a rivalry. But when you take offense at every little thing that happens in Lincoln, that's not a rivalry...that's paranoia.

The Pelini Staff: Good or Bad?

Even though most of the names have been known for over a week, Bo Pelini finally announced most of his staff today. The holdup appears to be with the running backs coach who has been hired, but won't be announced until after he finishes the bowl game for his current team.

Here's the staff:
Shawn Watson, Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks
Barney Cotton, Associate Head Coach and Offensive Line
Ted Gilmore, Assistant Head Coach, Recruiting Coordinator, and Wide Receivers
Ron Brown, Tight Ends
Carl Pelini, Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Line
John Papuchis, Defensive Ends
Mike Ekeler, Linebackers
Marvin Sanders, Secondary

The biggest surprise is that Carl Pelini is the named defensive coordinator; I expected Marvin Sanders to get that position. Bo Pelini told the Journal-Star that eventually Marvin and Carl will be co-defensive coordinators.

So the verdict? Well, there is a nice blend of people with a long-term connection to the program (Cotton, Brown, Sanders), the previous staff (Watson and Gilmore), and young blood (Ekeler and Papuchis). That being said, it might have been nice to see some experienced assistants come in from outside the program. In my mind, there is no doubt this is going to be a passionate group of coaches.

I sense a lot of nervousness about Barney Cotton, based on the 2003 Nebraska offense and his offenses at Iowa State. I'm not sure I share that same concern. I don't think you want to read too much into Cotton's 2003 offense when the top quarterbacks were senior Jamaal Lord and true freshman Joe Dailey. You simply weren't going to throw the ball a lot with Lord at the helm, and you weren't going to play a true freshman a lot when the entire staff was concerned that the athletic director was just itching to fire everybody.

Also of concern is Papuchis' problems at Kansas in 2003. Papuchis says he was assigned to monitor a study hall situation for some incoming junior college recruits still trying to qualify. Papuchis was not penalized by the NCAA however.

So while I generally like the staff and think they can be solid, I also think Trev Alberts' overreacted when he told the Journal-Star two weeks ago that "We’re going to have one of the best coaching staffs in the country." Aside from the 2003 defense, there isn't a high level of achievement with this group. Potential is probably the better way of putting it.

Some fans are also paranoid about the impact on recruiting, which is getting a little ahead of themselves. Nebraska is undergoing another major change and any players that looked at Nebraska because of the previous coaching staff is going to be rethinking things. Of course, patience in this day where news of commitments and decommitments becomes the focus of hours of sports talk is going to be hard to come by.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Huskers Win The Biggest Basketball Game Ever at the Qwest Center

Quite a game by the Nebraska basketball team at the home of UNO hockey this afternoon. That's right...they covered the ice and put down a replica of the Devaney Center floor and played the biggest basketball game in the 5 year history of Omaha's Qwest Center. No, it wasn't a conference game between a couple of mid-majors, but Nebraska playing #18 Oregon...and winning at the Qwest Center. Biggest game simply because Oregon was the highest rated college basketball team to ever enter this arena, and the Huskers beat them 88-79.

Oregon started the game like they were still digging out of a snowdrift from the 6-inches that fell overnight, as the Huskers jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead. They started fast in the second half as well, building a double-digit lead early in the second half. But the Ducks came back and tied the game on a desperation 25 foot off-balance three-pointer with 8 seconds left by Tajuan Porter. Porter was fouled on the play, and fortunately missed the free throw that would have completed a four point play and given the Ducks a 75-74 lead. Nebraska quickly regrouped in overtime, and dominated to get Doc Sadler a signature win.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pelini Says Lucky Thinking About the NFL

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports that Marlon Lucky is considering skipping his senior season to declare for the NFL draft. On one hand, it's not a surprise. Lucky apparently considered leaving Nebraska at the end of last season, so the fact he's thinking about leaving now that the coaching staff has changed shouldn't be a surprise.

On the other hand, I'm really not sure Lucky how much of an NFL draft prospect he is right now. Are "third down backs" in demand? I personally was surprised by how high Brandon Jackson went in last year's draft, so I could very well be wrong. But I think Lucky really needs another year of seasoning. Perhaps Lucky is just curious as to where the NFL thinks he is; just keeping his options open. No harm in asking, that's for sure.

Mo Purify & Corey McKeon Speak About 2007

A lot is being made about comments made this week by Maurice Purify and Corey McKeon in their local papers about the 2007 season. Purify certainly raised eyebrows by defending former coach Bill Callahan:
“He’s a good coach, and he knows his stuff. It’s not really fair. It wasn’t the coach’s fault we were losing. We weren’t doing anything different last year when we went 9-4. It was just the little things — players not making plays when we needed them.”
Little things? Well, it depends on your definition of "little." Personally, I don't consider giving up 76 points to Kansas a "little thing." I don't consider failing to score a touchdown in six quarters against Missouri and Oklahoma State to be a "little thing." (Or just four touchdowns in three weeks against Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M.)

McKeon implied that the team was worn out from preseason and offseason workouts, telling the Chicago Tribune:
"They changed the defense on us this year and we maybe got overworked a little in the spring and summer. Everyone had a lot invested in this season and as we started to falter, guys kind of caved in a little."
Isn't the purpose of off-season conditioning to improve conditioning and endurance? If you are looking for an explanation why strength and conditioning coach Dave Kennedy resigned this week, this might be as good as anything that's been rumored or speculated.

Both players took shots at Husker fans, which seemed to rankle many Husker supporters. Purify told the Eureka (CA) Reporter:
“It’s crazy out there. They expect a lot. Every game there are 90,000 people there to watch you play, and thousands of fans line up after the games to get your autograph. But the only thing they care about is winning. That’s it.”
McKeon went further:
"The tradition here is so special and the expectations are really high. The fans love you one minute and hate you the next."
Are expectations high at Nebraska? Unquestionably yes. But the implication that all Husker fans only care about winning or "hate" players isn't true at all. Are there some fans that feel that way? Certainly. But 80,000 plus showed up and cheered at those home games in October and November when the season was spiraling out of control to depths that hadn't been seen since Bob Devaney first came to Lincoln. That's not hate.

If there was any was directed at the administrators and coaches that misled these players, not the players. But then again, that distinction may have been lost when the coaching staff tried to deflect the blame and criticism from themselves onto the players themselves.

I'm surprised nobody else had ever reported on Bill Callahan's comments on his radio show (listen about 2:10:30 into the archived broadcast) prior to the Kansas State game. In the process of discussing the aftermath of the prior week's 76-39 annihilation by Kansas, he talked about how the coaches were putting their arms around the players and supporting them, consoling them, and telling the players:
"Everybody's against them; you know, everybody's got the hate on the kids."
No, Bill. As the football team regressed week after week this season, Callahan refused to accept responsibility, telling fans he was doing an "excellent job in every area". So it shouldn't be a surprise that he tried to push the criticism from fans onto the players. The problem with that is that there younger players that will be returning next season with an energized staff. How quickly can Bo Pelini and his staff undo the damage that Callahan has done?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Wild Seven Days

Whew...what a week. Certainly it sounds like Bo Pelini and Tom Osborne have been busy this past week. I must say I'm still someone concerned that Osborne is still out recruiting, not so much that Osborne is recruiting as much as the idea that Osborne is going to be hands-on with the football program. I'd like to think that Osborne's involvement is merely an attempt to get the transition off to a good start and that his long term plan is to back away once Pelini's staff is in place. Osborne should know what it's like to follow a legend who's sitting in the athletic director's chair; he was hired and worked under Bob Devaney. Folks close to Osborne think that this is just a transitional thing, so I'll take their word for it.

Bo Pelini did one thing his first week that his predecessor never did; take on Jim Rome. Never have been a huge fan of Rome, but one thing I've learned is that it pays to be on his good side. Appear on his show, and "Jungle Karma" helps ensure you get positive vibrations from Rome and his Clones. Refuse to appear, and Rome takes advantage of every opportunity to ridicule you. Bill Callahan became Beau Bridges to the Jungle, and Nebraska was ridiculed throughout the Pederson/Callahan error. A little positive spin can't hurt.

The more interesting items from Pelini's interview were that it appears that Shawn Watson appears in line to become the true offensive coordinator for the Huskers next year. Yeah, he had that title last season, but really, Bill Callahan was in charge. Former offensive line coach Dennis Wagner voiced some frustration with Callahan at the final Big Red Breakfast:
"He is the head coach. If he says this is what you do, this is what you do. If you don't, then you have problems within your group. It isn't always that you want to do it that way, but it's the way you're supposed to do it. That's just part of doing the things you're asked to do by the person who hired you."
And Pelini implies that Watson will put his own "flavor" on the offense...implying that it probably will be "de-Callihanized." Too what extent? Hard to say, except to say that you have to remember that players have been recruited and coached (to some extent) in this offense, so it's probably best to work from what's in place if you want to have any sort of success in 2008. (See 2004 Nebraska as an example of what happens when you try to use square pegs in round holes...)

Pelini definitely intends to try to win in 2008, telling Rome that Nebraska's problems in 2007 may be more of a result of culture and lack of belief in the coaches than in the systems:
“There’s never a quick fix. Things have to be developed and a culture has to be built, but there’s talent here. And we just need to build on that talent and keep recruiting the right way — get the kids buying in and believing again.
You start going through some tough times and people forget what it takes to win and how to win and a bit of doubt starts creeping in their minds. We have to remove that doubt and get believing again.”
“I don’t think (we’re) that far off. I think we’ll be significantly better next year. How that equates in wins and losses, I don’t know yet.”
Strong words? Perhaps. But one thing is clear...if Nebraska could have been remotely average on defense in 2007, they probably could have won two or three more games. Maybe even four. Probably still would have lost to Kansas and Missouri in all likelihood. But that would have put Nebraska in an ok bowl game. And for some reason, I think Bo Pelini and his staff is enough to convert Nebraska into at least an average defensive team by itself.

Haven't talked much about UNO Hockey lately...mostly because I'm still not quite sure where things are going. To be fair, they've had a tough schedule, playing #1 Miami, #3 Michigoon, and #6 Notre Dame in the opening weeks. 0-6 is certainly understandable, and UNO had some chances in those games. In the rest of the games, it's been a mixed bag. A sweep of Ohio State was a high point. Only getting two ties against last place Lake Superior State this weekend might be a low point. Mike Kemp told the World-Herald what a lot of Mav fans have been grumbling about:
"The way we're playing right now is not acceptable. I know we're better than what our stats show, but we need to prove it."
Yep, UNO is playing a lot of freshmen. OK, I get it. But I had hoped that the changes in coaching staff would have addressed the underperforming performances by now. Yes, it's still early in the season. But I'd like to see the Mavs at least over .500 at this point in the season. A positive sign this weekend was some good goaltending from Jerad Kaufman.

Did catch bits and pieces of Doc Sadler's Husker hoops team this past week on TV. A disappointing overtime loss to Western Kentucky (who actually isn't a bad basketball team) and a win today against Rutgers, who'll probably be fighting to stay out of the cellar in the Big East. The big test comes this weekend when 7-1 Oregon comes to Omaha. Will the BrieJay fans continue to be silent about the Huskers playing in "their building"?

Omaha Starts to Heal from Westroads Tragedy

Life in Omaha is starting to return to normal after last week's Westroads Mall tragedy. The mall itself reopened yesterday to brisk business, though Von Maur remains closed. Von Maur plans to reopen, probably after the damage is repaired and employees are ready to reopen. Which is a very good thing; it appears that the stores are conscientious employers and want to do what's right for their employees and the community. They are hurting too, as every day they are closed during the busy holiday shopping season hurts them in the pocketbook.

Earlier last week, there were some thoughts that perhaps Von Maur wouldn't reopen which would be a shame. Closing the store wouldn't make this go away; it won't bring the victims back. It would tell future maniacs that their actions can have an even larger impact on the world. Past shootings, though with fewer victims, haven't lead to closures. Hopefully Von Maur can get everything in order soon and reopen and help this community move on.

That's not to say that Omaha is going to forget the victims of last Wednesday either. Tomorrow starts the painful task of memorial services, funerals, and burials. As if you add major insult to injury, it appears that the Topeka funeral protesters are planning to appear outside many of the services tomorrow. When they announced plans to protest Saturday at Westroads, hundreds of Omahans lined up outside of Von Maur yesterday as a sign of support for the victims, the mall, and this community. It almost seems a shame that society needs to respond to this.

Fortunately, there are a lot of positive responses from our community. We're seeing the community pulling together in support, with memorial funds being established through numerous organizations. Eventually as the facts emerge from last Wednesday, we'll be able to better identify lapses in our mental health system as well as our laws. It appears that Omaha's police response was as good as could be expected, but there might be opportunities for improvement.

One thing is clear: while Omaha will not forget the eight people lost last Wednesday, life will go on. This city will prosper.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

2010 Husker Football Schedule: Yet More Turkeys (and Rearranging the 2008 Turkeys)

Apparantly as one of Steve Pederson's final acts as athletic director, the 2010 non-conference schedule has been announced (even though apparantly the contracts have been signed for some time). Hold your breath; here it comes:
  • September 4th: Western Kentucky
  • September 11th: Idaho
  • September 18th: at Washington
  • September 25th: South Dakota State (1-AA)
Now, who knows what these teams will be like by then, but here is how Sagarin rates those teams in 2007: #121-Western Kentucky, #168-Idaho, #53-Washington, #95-South Dakota State. Maybe the message to season ticketholders should be "bend over, here it comes".

And the previously announced 2008 schedule has been revised as well to start the season Labor Day weekend:
  • August 30th: Western Michigan (Sagarin #103 in 2007)
  • September 6th: San Jose State (Sagarin #113 in 2007)
  • September 13th: New Mexico State (Sagarin #153 in 2007)
  • September 27th: Virginia Tech (Sagarin #5 in 2007)
Wow...I thought the 2009 schedule was horrible, but 2010 is even worse. (2009 featured #86 Florida Atlantic, #139 Louisiana Lafayette, #122 Arkansas State, and #5 Virginia Tech).

Some people will use the excuse that "everybody is doing it"... and yes, Nebraska needs 7 home games a season. But that doesn't excuse playing eight home games in 2008 against that type of competition. Heck, with Western Michigan open to playing Labor Day weekend, you could have scheduled Michigan instead of San Jose State for September 6th and made that a much more acceptable schedule.

The 2010 schedule is completely embarrassing, especially if Washington doesn't start to improve quickly. Ohio State played that type of schedule this season, and I feel that is enough to disqualify the Buckeyes from from playing for the BCS national championship. Hopefully, 2010 is the last season we'll see teams like that filling the Husker schedule. If Nebraska is going to schedule teams like that, might as well schedule Nebraska-Omaha and keep the money in the University system.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Mall Tragedy Hits Close to Home ... Way Too Close

Everytime you read a story of some tragedy that happens somewhere, you feel it, but because it was somewhere else, you somehow feel somewhat isolated from it. You read about Columbine, you hear about Virginia Tech, and while you feel it, you don't really feel it.

Until it hits your town, about 50 blocks from your own home. Earlier this afternoon, a troubled 19 year old dropout decided to go down in infamy at an Omaha department store, murdering eight innocent people before cowardly taking his own life. Five others were injured, a couple of which critically.

Suddenly it's real. Do I know any of those victims, or their families? Don't know; the names haven't been released yet. Three weeks ago I passed through that very store near the area where these people were murdered. A couple of hours earlier, my mother was in another store in that mall; a clerk she saw was interviewed on television this evening. Tonight, I saw the Von Maur department store as I drove home, but suddenly it meant something completely different tonight than it did when I passed it that morning.

It's a shopping mall. It's Christmas time. It's supposed to be a time of joy.

Then suddenly one punk takes an AK-47 assault weapon into a store and changes the lives of thousands of people forever. Eight innocent people are gone. Others are badly injured. Their families are suddenly torn apart. Hundreds (thousands, perhaps?) of people who were working or shopping at that mall suddenly found themselves diving for cover and being locked up, not sure what was happening or whether they were going to get out alive.

Say a prayer for those people. Remember them in your thoughts.

See also:

Week 14 Power Poll

Hey... I know the BCS came up with their own standings...but here's where I put them. Needless to say, I disagree with one of their selections rather vehemently.

1. LSU (Yes, they lost twice. In triple overtime.)
2. Oklahoma (When Sam Bradford is healthy, clearly the second best team in the country.)
3. Missouri (Only losses were to the Sooners. Should have been a BCS team.)
4. Kansas (Enjoy South Beach. Missouri deserved it more than you though...)
5. Georgia
6. West Virginia (Better wins and losses than the Buckeyes)
7. Ohio State (Didn't play anybody in Sagarin's top 20. Their BCS title game berth is a total fraud.)
8. Virginia Tech
9. Southern Cal
10. Florida

Big XII Final Standings
1. Oklahoma
2. Missouri
3. Kansas
4. Texas Tech
5. Oklahoma State
6. Texas A&M
7. Texas
8. Iowa State
9. Colorado
10. Nebraska
11. Kansas State
12. Baylor

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Big Red Roundtable: Return of Bo Edition

Well, now that the coaching search has ended, it's time to reconvene the Big Red Bloggers to see where Husker football is and where it might be going.

The 2007 season finished with a disappointing 5-7 record. Very few people expected this. What went wrong?

Just about everything? Seriously, this season exposed some deep problems in this program in terms of developing players, both physically as well as with fundamentals. Guys like Adam Carriker, Zac Taylor, and Brandon Jackson covered up those problems in 2006, but when they departed, cracks appeared. USC exposed those cracks, and by the time October arrived, the team was in disarray. In the end, what we found was that Bill Callahan built his staff with recruiting in mind and in this day and age where everybody has talent, you've got to be able to develop players and coach 'em up. This staff simply wasn't up to the task.

Bo Pelini takes over as head coach. Good move or bad?
Great move. It's the move that should have been made four years ago. Pelini addresses many of the glaring needs on this team. He's a fiery leader who inspires his team to outperform the opposition. He's an accomplished defensive mind who's led top defenses at three different schools in the last five years.

Nebraska fans were divided after the last coaching change. Do you see fans finally uniting?
I'm not sure...I'd sure like to think so, as I think it was pretty clear this season that changes were absolutely required. Bill Callahan might have salvaged his job in September if he would have made changes in September after the Ball State game, but allowing the defensive collapse to continue most of the season pretty much meant that he was a goner by mid-season.

By that same token, the return of much of the 2003 coaching staff probably won't sit well with the staunchest defenders of the previous coaching change.

How would you like to see Bo Pelini fill out his coaching staff? Anybody or anything in particular you are looking to see?
It looks like it's filling out quickly. On offense it looks like an interesting mix of old (Ron Brown, Barney Cotton) and new (Shawn Watson, Ted Gilmore). Can these guys mesh? On defense, it looks like Pelini is going to bring back much of his 2003 staff with a couple of additions. That looks outstanding, as the 2003 defense played harder and better than any Husker defense this century.
I feel fairly confident the defense will be much improved in 2008. My questions revolves around the offense. How much of the "West Coast Offense" will remain? Will we have a cohesive group of coaches? Then there are some more specific questions that I want to see answered. How do we replace receivers like Maurice Purify and Terrence Nunn? We lose a lot of experience at receiver. And most importantly, what happens with Marlon Lucky? Lucky is a great talent in the open field, but hasn't been exploited because he's been used primarily as a I-back. Is there a way to better utilize him and get him the ball in space?

What do you think the expectations are for Bo Pelini? Do you think he needs to win x amount or do x by a certain date?
I don't think coaches should have specific requirements to win a certain number of games. Too many variables came into play. I think Bill Callahan could have survived a 7-5 or 6-6 season this season under certain circumstances. For example, several close losses and a lot of injuries forcing him to play younger, inexperienced players. Back in the preseason, I thought he needed to win 10 games, and that was mostly to show progress. If there had been a rash of injuries at quarterback and Patrick Witt started most of the games this season, I probably would have been more receptive to 5 or 6 losses.

With that in mind, Bo Pelini should show consistent progress, winning the games he should win and not getting blown out by someone he should beat. In this day and age of college football, winning ten or eleven games each and every year might not be reasonable. Heck, Florida only won 9 games this season. Even the best programs are occasionally going to have a bad season or two. Right now, I'd be happy with a winning record in 2008. I have a feeling my expectations may go up just a little bit as next season approaches though.

What do other Big Red Bloggers think?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Trev Alberts: "We're going to have one of the best coaching staffs"

Trev Alberts is gushing over the changes underway at Memorial Stadium, according to the Lincoln Journal-Star:
“We’re going to have one of the best coaching staffs in the country”
“This is not a situation where we go through these processes of, ‘Well, we don’t have any talent,’ and then the next year, ‘Well, we’ve got to teach them the system.’

“There is a lot of talent here at Nebraska. I truly believe that. With the proper coaching and motivation, I truly believe that they’re going to be competing for the Big 12 North again next year.”

And that was yesterday. Today, Alberts was spotted leaving Memorial Stadium leading to speculation that he could be part of the athletic department. Nothing has officially been announced, but the Lincoln Journal-Star confirmed that former receivers coach Ron Brown is back as tight ends coach. Today, KETV-Channel 7 reported that former offensive coordinator Barney Cotton, former defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders, and Northern Iowa linebackers coach Scott Frost all were spotted around the Husker offices. It also appears that only Shawn Watson and Ted Gilmore will be retained from the previous staff.

So here's an initial guess at a coaching staff under Bo Pelini:
QB's: Shawn Watson (offensive coordinator perhaps?)
WR's: Ted Gilmore
TE's: Ron Brown
OL: Barney Cotton
DL: Carl Pelini (you'd have to expect Carl to leave Ohio to work with his brother)
LB: TBA (Jimmy Williams, now at Buffalo?)
DB: Scott Frost
Defensive Coordinator: Marvin Sanders

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Bo Pelini: A Special Coach in a Special Place

Amazing how fast a coach can be hired when people know what they are doing. The eight day coaching search ended today with the hiring of Bo Pelini as head football coach at Nebraska. I was driving up I-29 this afternoon listening to the press conference, and I must say I came away even more impressed with Pelini. Ever since Pelini first arrived in Lincoln in 2003, you had the feeling this was a special coach. Many Nebraska fans loved what Pelini was able to accomplish with his players that season, and were sorry to see him go. I get the feeling that the feeling was mutual, as Pelini yesterday told his LSU players that Nebraska was his dream job and today he talked of Nebraska as a special place. Sucking up to the fans? Yes...but not really necessary. Many Husker fans are very happy to have Bo Pelini back in Lincoln.

Myself among them.

A lot has been suggested that this hiring will "heal" the divisions in HuskerNation. I'm not sure if that will be the case or not. I really wonder how fans will react to Pelini's comments about Frank Solich:
"A large reason why I’m standing here today because I want to make sure I give credit where credit is due is Coach Solich. I respect the job that he did. I wouldn’t be standing here today if it wasn’t for Frank Solich giving me the opportunity to come back into college football at such a special place and to be a defensive coordinator. I think people along the way I have forgotten how important he was to the University of Nebraska and what he did over a long period of time. I want to make sure I give credit where credit is due because sometimes I don’t think Frank gets the credit for everything he’s done for this place.”
Over the past five years, Solich has been a divisive figure in Nebraska football. Ostracized by some and martyred by others, many fans have deep feelings for the man. I personally find Pelini's comments refreshing, but I wonder how people who still love to throw rotten eggs at Solich will feel about it. Will they support Pelini like they supported Bill Callahan?

Curiously, in some cases, it might be "yes". They claim that they weren't so much "anti-Solich" or "anti-tradition", but rather "pro-Nebraska". Which is great...except I'm not sure why there was a need to throw dirt on Solich after he was gone. Some of these same fans said that they've had past reservations or criticisms of Pelini as well, but those are all in the past. Since Pelini is now the head coach, everything apparently is all hunkey-dorey.

Excuse me? These fans seem to think that it doesn't matter what people do or have done; if they are wearing the big red N, all is fine with the world. Once they take it off, well, they are lower than dirt. It's kind of a takeoff on "my country, right or wrong." Which raises the question, why would you support something if you know it's wrong? Wrong is wrong. Heck, I felt Tom Osborne was wrong to reinstate Lawrence Phillips in 1995, but I never stopped supporting Osborne or the team.

I'm not sure I understand it, but if all of the Solich-bashers are now on board with the Pelini era, then Steve Pederson's vision of a united Husker Nation might actually become a reality in spite of Pederson himself.

Pelini: My Dream Job Awaits

With ESPN swapping their stories about Bo Pelini and Les Miles on almost a daily basis, it makes you wonder what the truth actually is. Remember last year when Iowa State stunned the college football world by hiring Gene Chizek when they thought it was going to be someone else? (Apparently Nebraska is using the same search firm that Iowa State used last year, from what I've heard.)

In any event, nothing is for sure until the official announcement (and as Dana Altman showed last spring, even that doesn't mean much) but Bo Pelini made it clear yesterday that for him, there is no place like Nebraska.

Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star talked to LSU defensive end Kirston Pittman who said
“He didn’t say it in those exact words,” Pittman said. “But he did tell us that (Nebraska) was his dream job and the opportunity of a lifetime. We respect him as a coach for coming out and telling us that he was leaning toward it.”

Pittman said Pelini told his players he would inform them of his situation either after the game or today.
The Omaha World-Herald got a similar quote as well. Now, LSU's opportunity to play in the BCS title game may affect the timing of this. Might even mean that Pelini might not be available to Nebraska until early January. But it's clear that the Nebraska job is Pelini's for the taking.