Last week, the worst-kept secret in this state (at least since Steve Pederson's attempt to hire Houston Nutt) finally was confirmed when Bo Pelini told reporters that he had hired Ross Els (linebackers), Corey Raymond (secondary), Rich Fisher (wide receivers), and John Garrison (offensive line/tight ends). Pelini seems happy with the makeup of this staff, and that's important. All are relatively young guys who bring a breadth of experiences and a passion for the game that should be a benefit in not only coaching, but also recruiting. I'm not concerned that there are no "splash" hires or big names in this bunch; there's no need for that. These are ASSISTANT coaches; fans really shouldn't recognize the names of assistant coaches unless they are alums, former NFL stars, or failed head coaches (see Weis, Charlie). Prior to December 2002, had anybody in Nebraska heard of Bo Pelini? Nope. But the man became a household name within a few months.
I do admit I'm a little worried about the "buddy hire" syndrome. Coaches need to have a coaching staff they feel comfortable working with, but at that same time, a head coach shouldn't hire a buddy just because he's a buddy. When I read all of the connections Bo has to these coaches, and all I could think about is Bill Callahan hiring Kevin Cosgrove back in 2004 despite a record of mediocrity at Wisconsin. That's immediately followed by visions of Coz's defenses getting gouged in 2007.
And if that doesn't send shivers up and down your spine, I don't know what will. I don't know if we'll ever get over 76-39.But Pelini, thank goodness, is not Bill Callahan. Pelini has had a pretty good track record for identifying coaches. Fans may have wondered about the hiring of Mike Ekeler and John Papuchis three years ago, but they've proved to be excellent additions to the staff. Ekeler's now co-defensive coordinator at Indiana, while Papuchis was nearly snagged by Will Muschamp for both the Texas and Florida staffs earlier this winter. So I'll trust Bo on these hires. I really like the Raymond hire; he seems to be a great up-and-coming coach.
Would I have liked to have seen Scott Frost come back to Nebraska as wide receivers coach? Absolutely, but the situation wasn't right for Frost. That's his decision, and Husker fans should wish him luck. Hopefully, we'll see Frost and his receivers getting smashed by a Pelini defense in next season's Rose Bowl. So Pelini turns to old buddy Rich Fisher, who's been coaching at a prep school in the Boston area. Nothing wrong with that, and he's been highly regarded in that area for not only his offensive creativity but also for his character in leading his team through turbulent times. I don't see anything wrong with hiring a high school coach; certainly it's worked for Nebraska in the past (i.e. Dan Young). John Garrison is making quite a jump from intern to full assistant without a stop as a graduate assistant, but Bo's worked with the guy for some time now.
I like the promotion of Tim Beck to offensive coordinator. Yes, he's never called plays at this level. But so much of what Nebraska's offense has become as of late seems to have evolved from Beck and his background that he seems to be a good candidate to take it further. Let's be honest; most people thought the offense wasn't too bad in September and October. It got muddled up at the end of the season, but the foundation looked pretty good. It appears to be more of a need to refine than start over.
I also don't have a problem with how it all evolved. I was never on the "Watson must go" bandwagon, so I was willing to let Pelini make his call either way. Watching how Shawn Watson landed at Louisville and Ted Gilmore appears to be landing at Southern Cal, I think Pelini was handling this deftly, doing what was best for the program. Sure, fans who were looking for a heads on a platter served up were denied the satisfaction of seeing someone pay the price for an offense that was, well, rather offensive at the end of the season. But nobody wins by having someone get punished. If you read behind the lines of the Marvin Sanders departure, it's clear that there was some problem (almost assuredly not related to football) that forced that issue. Pelini handled it as deftly as possible, especially considering that Indiana coach Kevin Wilson leaked the story prematurely.
I understand and appreciate Bo's desire to hold off on the announcements until everything was finalized. In this situation, Bo was also not helped by bureaucracy that had one of the assistant coaching positions being posted on the UNL jobs web site. (Quick question: How many of you applied for the job, convinced that you had to be more qualified than Shawn Watson?) No doubt that added to the delay in finalizing the staff. Finally, once all that was done, Bo contacted the media while on a delayed vacation so that this story didn't linger any longer than necessary.
All that is fine as far as I can see. It's unfortunate, but things don't always go as planned, so you make the best of it. I think Bo did exactly that. So what leaves me wanting?
Simple. Since returning from vacation, Pelini and the new coaches haven't faced the media. That's not a problem for the media; that's a problem for the staff. Sure, Pelini and Beck have done one-hour stints on the Husker Sports Network, but that's not a substitute for facing all of the media. And let me make it clear: it's a problem for Pelini and his coaching staff, not for the media. The media is going to continue to do their job and cover Nebraska football whether Pelini wants to talk or not. In this 24x7 Twitter-fueled blogosphere, fans demand coverage constantly. (Isn't that why you are reading this?) Pelini's rejection of a press conference doesn't quiet the discussion, it just means that the discussion occurs without Pelini.
Both the World-Herald and Journal-Star covered the two radio interviews in stories, but I'm sure the media still has questions they'd like to ask. Those questions remain unanswered. The World-Herald went a step further and profiled all of the additions to the staff, minus input from Pelini and the new assistants. The story went forward anyway; it just went forward without any input from the coaching staff. If the athletic department is unhappy with any of it, that's Lincoln's problem, not the media's. The program declined the opportunity to participate, and so the voice of the program was limited solely to "Sports Nightly."
New electronic media like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook are the latest examples of how communication continues to evolve in society. Years ago, the story could be controlled and managed through traditional media. Stories frequently could be covered up by simply not talking about it. Now, that's not possible. If someone knows about a story, it's easy to distribute the story, no matter how accurate it may be or whether that version of the story has an inherent bias to it. Simply refusing to comment doesn't control the story, it simply abdicates the ability to control the story and lets the rumor mill and anarchy take command. I understand deferring comment until the process was completed; that makes sense. Pelini needed to finish his hiring process first. That was the priority, but now that's complete, and now those questions that have been building for weeks now should start being answered.
And that's why the staff changes leave me wanting more. There's more information I'd like to have about these coaches and what the future direction of the program is. If Bo Pelini and his assistants are happy with what's being reported without their input, good for them. But if they aren't pleased with what's being reported, they have nobody to blame but themselves for not being part of the conversation.