|All Points West: Young AD on fans’ hot seat|
|December 04, 2014 Frank Marquez|
The games that matter and high expectations: Nebraska shouldn’t have struggled against a McNeese State or an Iowa. Nebraska should have beaten both Wisconsin and Minnesota. The result would have matched them against Ohio State for the Big Ten Championship.
NU Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst built such a case in a press conference on Sunday, replete with the “ums” of an amateur spokesperson. He had given Head Coach Bo Pelini this year to improve upon the mistakes of last season. But the problem is bigger than Bo. Certainly, parts of the program are not up to snuff, such as a weak coaching staff and the threadbare recruiting and walk-on programs.
These problems may be perceived as remnants of a Bill Callahan era. If so, the NU administration, boosters, and Husker Nation may need to take a long hard look at how long it takes to build a successful program in today’s Division I. As an alternative to sticking with one coach the way it did with Dr. Tom Osborne, NU instead faces paying a Nick Saban salary of $6 million a year and hope for quick results.
Even this is not a guarantee. Case in point: the unemployed Mack Brown, and a Texas Longhorn program in a nosedive.
Eichorst may have good intentions but he has bungled his approach. Firing Bo the way he did, leaves a very bad taste and is not something the Husker Nation will soon forget. Plus, sending an email message to the players to let them know they no longer have a head coach was a brick to the head. Seriously? The players responded in kind, blowing up social media with their disapproval and displeasure.
Even Twitters’ Faux Pelini chimed in saying he could coach the team from afar, “how hard could it be?”
I sighed at the decision and its timing. The Huskers finished the regular season on a high note in a 37-34 comeback win in OT against the Hawkeyes in a hostile Kinnick Stadium. Because Nebraska met the weak criteria of winning six games weeks ago, a bowl game in December was already on the slate, a foregone conclusion. Bo will take neither the credit nor the blame against an SEC or PAC 12 foe.
Should a head coach at Nebraska always be looking over his or her shoulder?
I’ll stick to my guns about Bo ever being the problem. Nebraska needs to look at the program in its entirety. That has become even more of a focus since Husker Nation was scarred by the losses and lack of direction from the Callahan years. Most of the fans and dare I say boosters don’t know what takes place in the locker room nor the coaches’ war room. The program likely lives in a fish bowl.
As an observer, like most fans, I have watched talented players come and go in a stagnant program. The Huskers are stuck in third gear, but who in their right mind wants to be paid millions to take an occasional tongue lashing from Bo or the head coach to be named later? If it’s about winning, that’s one expectation that won’t soon go away. Good luck in finding the model of positivity.
What’s worse is the timing of Bo’s firing. Nebraska has yet to play in a bowl game. According to social media this does nothing for the team’s morale. And most likely, it will serve as a distraction during the team’s preparation for the game later this month as interim Head Coach Barney Cotton attempts to pick up the pieces. A convincing victory against a quality opponent makes Eichorst’s call to let Bo go all the worse. The Huskers may have even begun to form an identity in the win over Iowa. Seniors Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell rose to the occasion in the final regular season game regaining midseason form.
Underclassmen QB Tommy Armstrong, DeMornay Peirson-El and Jordan Westerkamp also stood out, and play a very big role in the future and foundation of Husker football. Pending Bo’s replacement, some of Nebraska’s top recruits will likely look to other more stable Division I programs. Important to note: This is Eichorst’s new direction.
By comparison, Minnesota hired Coach Jerry Kill four years ago. The Golden Gophers have watched a steady improvement. This year, Minnesota (8-4) finished the regular season in a 34-24 loss to Wisconsin, setting up a Badgers-Buckeyes tilt in Indianapolis. Ohio State heads into the game having lost star freshman QB J.T. Barrett to injury. Barrett suffered a broken ankle in Saturday’s East Division game against rival Michigan. Even Big Blue suffered a dismal season, a program in turmoil because of its coaching merry-go-round.
So, one must ask: Is this a Big Ten problem?
But back to Nebraska’s woes: Let’s look at Eichorst who took over for the legendary Tom Osborne in January 2013. Barely in the job, Mr. Eichorst is now on notice. If he does not choose a coach who can get Nebraska to the land of milk and honey, he’s a failure. In other words, Nebraska must develop a consistent dominant conference juggernaut, one that routinely competes for national titles.
In this era of immediate satisfaction, if you can’t produce better than a .500 season in the first year, failure prevails, thus raising the stakes at Nebraska even higher. Yet, in Miami, Eichorst extended football Head Coach Al Golden’s contract to 2020. The result: The ’Canes have wallowed in mediocrity.
I will not speculate about who will replace Bo. Such an exercise does more harm than good. Give Eichorst a chance to do his job. The position description should include that a candidate will need to have an exceptional understanding and appreciation for Husker football and the program’s loyal fans. I would suggest such an understanding and appreciation would require visiting the people of several small towns across the state. Remember, too, that a worthy candidate will need to improve on Bo’s record of 67-27 (39-17 in the Big Ten) in seven seasons, winning better than half those games against quality opponents.
And please Mr. Eichorst, when you hire Nebraska’s savior, make sure you get all of that in writing.