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Review: The Nebraska Way by Jonathan Crowl

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The first coverage of Jonathan Crowl's "The Nebraska Way" came out in the Daily Nebraskan last October. The article quotes Doak Ostergard instead of author Jonathan Crowl about the purpose behind the book:

Ostergard said the main purpose of the book was to educate people on the qualities of the football program and speak on the way "business has been done recently."

"We need to try and define what that Nebraska way really was," Ostergard said in an interview with the Daily Nebraskan. "From the outside, people can't understand it, and from the inside, people can't explain it."

It was an awkward article that gave the impression the self-published book was nothing more than a disgruntled ex-employee taking a shot at his former employer. The DN article also included some titillating information about how then coach Bill Callahan viewed Tom Osborne and Husker fans.
In one instance, Ostergard recalled a meeting with Callahan where the coach voiced his frustration over an article printed in a local newspaper.

"F-ing people need to get a life," Ostergard quoted Callahan as saying in the book.

In the book, Ostergard continues to quote Callahan:

"Why don't they go read a book or get lost in the Sandhills? I'm going to get me a real newspaper. I'm going to read The New York Times."

Callahan also grew impatient with former coach Osborne, Ostergard told Crowl.

After a phone conversation with the former coach, who was serving in Washington as a congressman, Ostergard said Callahan referred to Osborne as "a crusty old f-."

Titillating, but is it a fair representation of the book? Or were the reporters at the DN just trying to make waves?

"The Nebraska Way" starts with a foreword by Doak Ostergard, reviewing how he came to be at Nebraska and a quick review of the accomplishments of Husker football over the past (roughly) 40 years. It then starts with Ostergard's firing by Bill Callahan after which we begin a reflection of how things had been done under Osborne.

The first half of the book takes us through the Devaney, Osborne and Solich years. The journey provides a decent review of that piece of Husker history with an impressive number of quotes and anecdotes from former Cornhusker players. At times it's a little gooey, but that's to be expected when reliving glory days

The underlying theme of the review provides a background against which Steve Pederson's reign as athletic director is compared. The result is not a pretty painting. For example, below is the case of Jan Eby, employed by the athletic department for 31 years, but who was fired by Pederson shortly after he became athletic director:

"I was called on December 29, and I was sitting down to a belated Christmas dinner with my family," Eby said. "I was told my services were no longer required.… I said I really needed the job and asked if there were any other opportunities, and I was told no." Eby, an employee with the athletic department since Devaney’s days as head coach, was told by a messenger to have her desk cleaned out before employees returned to the office
from their holiday break. She later learned her experience was shared by numerous other employees not only at Nebraska, but also at Pitt.

"It was the same pattern," Eby recalled.

Author Crowl doesn't pull any punches in his disdain for Pederson, painting him as gutless, arrogant, and insecure. There are several instances of his poor handling of personnel affairs, such as not giving reasons for termination, ducking meetings (including not responding to Tommie Frazier before he took the coaching job at Doane), and constant micro-management.

Bill Callahan doesn't come off nearly as bad in the book as depicted by the Daily Nebraskan article quoted above. It's clear from the book that Callahan had issues with how the team was performing, but he's represented as a man who was being manipulated by Pederson more than being evil of his own accord.

"The Nebraska Way" is unique in it's coverage of the Steve Pederson/Bill Callahan era at Nebraska. Crowl's writing is good, more journalistic than storytelling. If you'd like to learn more about what was happening inside the athletic department at that time, then this is the book you need to read.

My biggest complaint about the book is that too much centers around Doak Ostergard. It would have been better had there been more references or more comments from other athletic department personnel. There are a few, but not enough. Given that Pederson was still running the athletic department at the time the book was written and released perhaps that's understandable.

Normally, I do a book review and then perhaps a follow-up interview with the author. In the case of "The Nebraska Way", I had some problems with the book and wanted to address them immediately. Following this review will be an interview with author Jonathan Crowl.