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Interview with Guy "The Fly" Ingles: Steve, Frank and Tom and the Death of Option Football

Guy "The Fly" Ingles played for the Huskers during the Devaney years, his final season being the national title season of 1970. Ingles earned second-team All Big Eight honors as a split end and was an assistant coach under Tom Osborne for seven years. Guy lives in Omaha and is a financial advisor for Smith Barney.
This is part one of a two part interview. Our first part covers Ingles' comments on the coaching change that occurred when Frank Solich was fired by Steve Pederson and the state of the Huskers at that time. The second part will include Ingles' perception of where Nebraska is now and the challenges that face us moving forward.

For the past four years there's been a central theme in conversations about Husker football. That theme is dealing with what happened between Steve, Frank, and Tom.

Steve, Frank, and Tom:

Most college football fans know the story. Tom Osborne retires after the `97 National Championship season, hand-picks his successor Frank Solich in the same way that Bob Devaney chose Osborne when he retired after his last championship season. Solich runs the program for a few years, getting into the National Title game in 2001 where the Huskers were dismantled by the Miami Hurricanes. Two years later, athletic director Steve Pederson fires Solich and brings in current coach Bill Callahan. It's been re-hashed by enough fans and media that you have to wonder if there is any more to add.

There hasn't been a lot said from those close to the program about the incident, but who better to relate the story than Guy Ingles. Ingles was in high school when the Huskers begin the start of a dynasty when Bob Devaney arrived in Lincoln. He then played for Devaney, becoming a second-team All Big Eight split end on the 1970 National Championship team. He spent seven years as an assistant coach under Tom Osborne and still attends charity events on behalf of the Husker program. Ingles' daughter Bailey was a four-year letter winner as a Husker swimmer,  an experience Guy described as excellent.

Ingles talked about what happened during Frank Solich's tenure as head coach:

 "Once Frank got through his first couple of recruiting classes, the talent level went right off a cliff. You had no NFL draft choices, and only one player as a first-team All Big 12 selections. Frank goes 7-7 (in 2000), then hires a new staff. Everybody is pumped up and he wins nine ball games the next year, but he doesn't beat anybody that ends up with a winning season. The three people you had to beat (Missouri, Kansas State, and Texas) just clocked you. Clocked you in the face."

Steve Pederson was in a tough position when he arrived at Nebraska. The talent level had sunk, but Pederson faced a dilemma. In firing Solich, he would be firing the guy that Tom Osborne picked as his successor after Osborne helped Pederson get the job as athletic director. If we know anything about Tom Osborne, we know that he's a very loyal person. Frank's firing wouldn't sit well with Osborne, and Ingles related that this fact was heavy on Pederson's mind.

Ingles doesn't doubt that something needed to be done, but points out that Pederson had to make a hard choice:

"I'm not sure I agree with it completely because I like Frank and Turner Gill and all those other guys that were coaching. But I think we were on our way to 3-8. What might happen at 3-8 is you get rid of both of them. Steve's gone, Frank's gone, and you start over from scratch and you start with nothing. "

Husker fans still argue about whether or not Solich deserved to be fired, an argument that will be never be resolved. Had Pederson let the team fail, it would have been easy that the action was justified, but he would have failed in his job as the head guy in charge of the athletic program.By firing Solich with a 9-3 record, Pederson set the bar for success very high. Perhaps it would have been better in the long run had he let the Nebraska program drop to 3-8.

Whether you like Pederson or not, you have to face the fact that this was a difficult decision. The moment he made it he became the most hated man in Nebraska, something he may never live down.

The Option? Dead:

Another argument that persists comes from the huge change in philosophy that occurred when Bill Callahan was hired as Nebraska's football coach. Callahan brought the "West Coast Offense" a move away from the option, an offense that Nebraska used to dominate college football in the 90's.

We discussed option football, and why it won't work in today's game. Ingles pointed out that the only way you can successfully run the option is if you can block the outside, but that college defenses are too strong and too fast now. The defensive backs are too good to be blocked. The option died in 2001 when Nebraska lost to Miami in the national title game:

"Their linebackers outran Eric Crouch, our Heisman Trophy quarterback. That was the end of the option. That was the last time you'll ever see it at the championship level. Crouch couldn't beat Oklahoma and Texas now running the option and he's as good as there was. So was Frazier."

With the arrival of Bill Callahan, Nebraska moved to a more pro-style offense. The offense provides Nebraska with a wider base of talent from which to recruit great athletes:

"There are one hundred high school quarterbacks in this country that are going to play major college football and it's all because they can throw the ball. Then you can get the receivers to come to school because you're going to throw it to them. What kind of receiver are you going to recruit if you told them you were going to run the option, or that you were going to run the ball two-thirds of the time and that they would be down-field blocking most of the time. You can't do it. You can't recruit the kind of kid that you want. You're not going to beat Texas and Oklahoma running the option now days."

As we've seen, Callahan's offense isn't a `passing offense' per se, but it relies on a quarterback that can read defenses and throw the ball. As Ingles states, there are plenty of these types of quarterbacks available, whereas there are only a few option-based quarterbacks to be found and then you have to convince them to come to Nebraska. Even with legendary Tom Osborne as coach, only three quarterbacks, Tommie Frazier, Scott Frost, and Eric Crouch, were at the level needed to compete on a national stage.

This concludes part one of the interview.