Barney Cotton, the assistant coach Husker fans love to hate, has new responsibilities according to Bo Pelini. He'll primarily be responsible for tight ends as well coordinate the running game. It's a curious move that's tough to understand. A new graduate assistant, Kyle Brey (also the son of Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey) will be working with Cotton on tight ends.
So let's review this. When Tim Beck became offensive coordinator, Ron Brown moved from coaching tight ends to running backs. Cotton absorbed that role along with continuing to work with the offensive line, though graduate assistant Vince Morrow took on most of the coaching responsibilities for tight ends. But Nebraska hasn't used the tight ends as much with Beck calling the plays. Injuries to Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton might have been the excuse in 2011, but not in 2012. Of course, when you have Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, and Quincy Enunwa catching passes like they did in 2012, it's tough to take them off the field to insert a tight end.
So Morrow leaves for Kentucky (at the encouragement of Pelini), and snares a few verbal commits away. Cotton slides over now to focus on tight ends with another grad assistant? At a position that Nebraska didn't seem to use much the last two years.
Does this make sense? I'm not sure, but let's dismiss the notion that Pelini is an idiot for now. Some fans have that opinion, but I'm not buying that one. So let's try to figure out what Pelini is thinking.
Tight ends. Nebraska had talent in Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton, and didn't use them much the last two years. Is that Beck's fault? Or maybe Morrow wasn't in sync with what Tim Beck wanted. Many fans were shocked when Morrow left, but consider the possibility that Morrow wasn't doing as good of a job as fans were thinking. Remember that defensive back recruit from December that Morrow got a commitment from, then suddenly Nebraska lost interest once Morrow left? That always struck me as odd, perhaps that Morrow was doing his own thing. Maybe Morrow wasn't doing as good of a job as fans might have thought?
So Pelini nudges a friend to Kentucky for a soft landing, and shifts Cotton over to clean up the mess. That's a reach, but it makes a heck of a lot more sense than "Pelini is an idiot". Of course, what do you need two tight end coaches for with a wide open spread attack?
The run coordinator responsibility appears to be more of a formalization of a role that already existed. Beck said in December that he wanted Cotton next to him in the booth.
Of course, this change takes resources away from the offensive line, and John Garrison is going to take over this area, though Cotton will still help here. Personally, I can't help but think that Nebraska is phasing out Cotton's role in the offense by bouncing around between the o-line, tight ends, and run game coordinators. Each one of those has another body in place. So why this? It could be as simple as Pelini likes the insight that Cotton provides him. It could also be the fact that there are still two Cottons on the Nebraska roster: junior guard Jake and freshman tight end Sam.
Why not just cut the ties to Cotton now and open up another spot on the staff? Pelini has his reasons for keeping him. I don't have an answer here, but obviously Pelini still wants him around. And Pelini knows that he's ultimately accountable for the performance of his team. He won't have a job for long if he values friendship over competence. So obviously, Pelini feels Cotton is a net asset to the program.
If I had to look long-term, I suspect that in three years, Cotton will be retiring from the coaching staff. In the meantime, it looks like Cotton will continue to be the punching bag for Husker fans frustrations for a while longer.