Or is it?
As players get ready to start spring practice, several players are now contrasting Bo Pelini's approach to his predecessor. Bill Callahan prided himself on his organization and planning. Before he had even hiring his entire staff, Callahan had already laid out his plans for spring practice. He force fed his NFL system and crammed it into the time alloted by the NCAA for preparation. Some fans thought it was brilliant how advanced the new Husker system was.
One minor problem. Players had one shot to master these concepts. There simply wasn't time to work on teaching when it came to practice time.
We've seen the Callahan era playbook and wondered just how players were ever able to master it. The sad fact is... they didn't. The guys that did play were the ones who were able to muddle through. That helps explain why Sam Keller struggled. That explains why players like Niles Paul and Ricky Thenarse didn't see much playing time.
But Callahan's routine, conceived in the NFL and tailored to prepare starters for Sunday games, had a drawback at the college level, some believe. It's a problem every kid who's ever taken a science or math class can understand: Comprehension of one day's material determines comprehension of the next day's. Fall behind, even a day or two, and the test questions get mighty hard.
Nebraska football players often fell behind.
"Coaches weren't really in teaching mode," safety Larry Asante said.
So whoever understood the information, Asante said, "that's the guy who played."
"There were guys out there lost."
Let's contrast that with a different approach. One from a coach named Bo Pelini dating back five years:
Let's revisit that quote.
The Huskers were coming off a disastrous 2002 in which they crumbled under Blackshirt expectations, resulting in coordinator Craig Bohl's dismissal.
During the first scrimmage of spring practice, Pelini ordered his defense into one very basic scheme for the entirety of practice. Won't the offense catch on and expose us, Husker defenders asked. Doesn't matter, Pelini said. Success starts with effort, not scheme.
"We went out and just dominated the scrimmage," Ricketts said. "Right then and there, everybody bought into the system."
It's hard to argue with the results from five years ago, though the circumstances and players are quite a bit different. I've argued that last season's defense got significantly worse as the season wore on; it wasn't so much a talent issue but a lack of faith in what they were doing. I think that's something that Bo Pelini immediately addresses. Expecting a top-15 defense to emerge in Lincoln is unrealistic...but expecting significant improvement shouldn't be.
Success starts with effort, not scheme.
Another area of improvement is in the cohesiveness of the coaching staff. I've long felt that Callahan's staff was as dysfunctional as Al Bundy and his family...something I really don't think this staff is going to have near the problem with. Now, we're hearing more about that from players such as Matt Slauson, who told the Lincoln Journal-Star that players didn't know who was starting until ten minutes before the game and that he wasn't sure who was making the decisions.
Certainly former offensive line coach Dennis Wagner agreed with that, telling fans at last year's final Big Red Breakfast that he didn't see eye to eye with Callahan:
"There was definitely a frustration for the team, one, but for me especially. Because I kind of feel like I got jacked around a little bit, switching positions all the times, switching playing time all the time, playing a few plays here, a few plays there. I was really frustrated the whole time ... I had no idea what was going on the whole year. I think (it) just messed with my head a little bit. I don't know if there were head games they were doing or what, but I just didn't feel comfortable where I was."
I'm not sure what we'll learn about the future of the Husker program, but I'm getting a strong indication that many of the problems we saw last year were the result of a complete clusterf*** of a coaching staff. If that is truly the case, then the future of Husker football might look a heck of a lot better than it looked at the end of last season. If the players believe in this new staff, you never know what might happen.
"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."