Who Will Be Nebraska's Next Defensive Coordinator?

With Carl Pelini's departure for Florida Atlantic, once again there is an opening on Nebraska's coaching staff once again. Who will fill that opening...and when? We'll start with the "when" part...and that looks like it won't be until after the Capital One Bowl. Pelini doesn't seem to be in a big hurry, and with game preparations and the holidays coming up next, I don't see it happening until early January.

Who will it be? The common wisdom is that defensive line coach John Papuchis is next in line. Hard to argue with that reasoning. Bo has a history of naming coaches he's familiar with, and Papuchis has worked with Pelini the past seven years. (Four at Nebraska as an assistant coach, and three as a graduate assistant with Pelini at LSU.)

But let's make one thing clear: Bo Pelini is really the defensive coordinator. Sure, someone may have the title, but in the end, it's Pelini making the big decisions. So in that light, does it really matter who's the defensive coordinator?

In my mind, it's a bigger deal to see who fills the open position on the staff, and what the responsibilities will be. The most glaring area on the team from my perspective is the secondary, where I don't think the transition from Marvin Sanders to Corey Raymond worked out well. Is that Raymond's fault? I'm not going there; I'm just suggesting that the secondary hasn't met expectations in 2011.

With Sanders hiring at Florida Atlantic, it's clear that Sanders won't be coming back to Nebraska. There were a lot of rumors about Sanders' departure last February, and Sanders return to coaching does little to contradict those rumors. So all of those personal/family issues are all resolved now? Hmmm... From a football perspective, I think Sanders was sorely missed on the staff this season.

How about a quarterbacks coach for Taylor Martinez and to help develop Brion Carnes and any potential incoming recruits? Sounds good in theory, but I believe that Martinez has really played better as this season progressed. Can Nebraska justify a sixth offensive coach? Hardly, as that only leaves three coaches for the defense. So unless you start tinkering the entire staff, that's not an option.

But that idea about recruits does spark another thought process. Pelini's defensive staff is young...very young and inexperienced. Papuchis has only been an assistant coach for four years; Raymond, only two. Ross Els is the veteran of the bunch, with ten years of experience at New Mexico State and Ohio. Frankly, I think Pelini's staff could use some veteran assistance. Ron Zook, former Illinois and Florida head coach, might fit the bill here.

The Zooker? Sounds crazy, but KOZN radio's Kevin Kugler makes an interesting observation about Zook. He's a known quantity as a recruiter, and brings a solid background in that respect. And he has that that connection that has seemed to drive Pelini's personnel decisions. Among Zook's many coaching stops in his career was a three year stop at Ohio State as secondary coach, where he coached a safety named Bo Pelini for three years.

Why a veteran? Nebraska's staff has youth all over the place; Els is 46 and only Ron Brown (54) and Barney Cotton (55) are older. Not sure that making the staff even younger is a good idea. And when you consider that Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke are going to be battling hard on the recruiting trail, bringing in a veteran to bolster recruiting might be even more important.

Mike Stoops name has come up in discussions, and he has the resume as well. But I get the feeling that Stoops is going to be in more demand than someone like Zook. And let's make it clear, even if it's not Zook, there might be another veteran assistant that's worked with Pelini over the years that would fit the bill here. No matter who it is, I think it's a coach that needs to have a knack for recruiting. I'll knock the so-called experts about their recruiting ratings, but recruiting is important. In fact, it's becoming more important than ever.

Maybe that should be Pelini's focus as he hires his next coach.

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