Thursday, February 23, 2017

Husker Fans Shouldn't Blame 2016's Collapse on Talent

The recruitniks were out in force in December and January, trying to pin the blame on Nebraska's 2-4 finish to the season on the overall incompetence of the previous staff. It's easy to do, because the results were painful and the people they point fingers at are long gone.  Bad coaches who did bad recruiting, leaving the program in such a sorry state, Mike Riley was a miracle worker getting this team to nine wins while having to rebuild the program from the ashes.

Unfortunately that's like an InfoWars sports report.  Totally #fakeNews.

Billy Devaney, who was hired by Mike Riley to help provide additional oversight and guidance on the football program said talent wasn't an issue, except against Ohio State.  Every other game, Nebraska should have been able to compete better.  Here's what Devaney told Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star last week:
"Wisconsin, obviously, was a pretty balanced team, but it was a good matchup. The Iowa game, that was bullsh--. There was no way in the world that should have happened.
"Even Tennessee, yeah, they were athletic. But I thought there were other places that we should've competed better, where we matched up well. Ohio State was the only game where I thought we were in trouble, where the talent gap was noticeable."
Recruitniks don't want to hear it, but the words and actions of North Stadium mean so much more than your own conclusions. Two coordinators with long-standing ties to Mike Riley:  fired.  A clear message has been sent by Mike Riley:  Now that I'm here in Lincoln, what was "good enough" at Oregon State simply isn't "good enough" at Nebraska.

Think I'm making this up?  Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald talked to Dan Van De Reit, Riley's assistant athletic director of football operations:
There’s been one major difference from OSU: the head coach. Riley’s dismissal of three coaches in two seasons, and his urgency in landing defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, is a side few saw at Oregon State.
For good reason, Van De Riet said.
“Coach Riley has always been one of the most competitive guys I know,” Van De Riet said. “With expectations come hard decisions. We were at a place for so long where a bowl game was fine.
“Those decisions are hard. I don’t know if at Oregon State if that was necessary. You win seven games, six, go to a bowl game, the fans are happy. The goal there was to get to a bowl game, because they hadn’t had one.
“I’ve been impressed with the way he’s not only been aware of the expectations but how he’s managed those expectations. He’s set the bar to what he feels it’s going to take to win.”
"I don't know if at Oregon State if that was necessary."  Read that quote again.  And again.

Maybe Mike Riley has been slow to truly accept it, but it's becoming clear that Riley recognizes that what he did at Oregon State (which wasn't really working anyway, if you ask people there) isn't going to work at Nebraska.

Want more evidence that Mike Riley isn't exactly sold on his staff? The assistants he kept got contract extensions, but several (Danny Langsdorf, Mike Cavanaugh, Reggie Davis and Keith Williams) didn't get raises.  Williams' situation was exacerbated by his August DUI; otherwise, he'd be deserving of a nice raise. The other three offensive assistants? If you really think that winning nine games last year was a masterful job of coaching (especially on offense), you'd think Riley would reward them with their new contracts.

Especially with the avalanche of cash that the Big Ten's new television deal will be bringing in.  Thanks to Nebraska's buy-in period to the Big Ten Network coming to completion, I believe the Huskers will see an increase of up to 150% in revenues, from about $22 million to over $50 million a season.  Nebraska seems to be planning to use the revenue bump judiciously.  Spending more money to bring in a highly regarded defensive coordinator like Mike Diaco? Reward Trent Bray and John Parella for their good work? Open the checkbook.

Spending more money on coaches who were underperforming at Oregon State?  The checkbook stays closed. Maybe Mike Riley isn't quite ready to press that eject button yet on underperforming coaches like offensive line assistant Mike Cavanaugh, but he's clearly not going all-in either.  Perhaps only to promote staff consistency; let's blow up the defense and do it right this time, but leave the offense alone for now.

Truth be told, I've been more concerned about the offense than the defense, but Riley may have no choice but to stay the course since there aren't any dual-threat quarterbacks (other than Zach Darlington) left in the program.  The whole notion that Nebraska football should jettison the migration towards single-threat pro-style quarterbacks with two freshmen and a mid-major transfer waiting anxiously in the wings certainly sounds blasphemous to those that anxiously awaited (and loudly herald) their arrival.  But I'm unconvinced that this is the right direction for Nebraska to aim offensively when you consider the evolution of modern college spread offenses combined with the lack of success Riley's offense found in recent years in Corvallis.  (Not to mention the lack of success of Tanner Lee at Tulane.)

Be careful what you wish for... you just might get it.

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