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Nebraska Football’s Coaching Carousel: A CornNation Roundtable

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The CN team discusses Billy C, Mr. Riley and that guy from Youngstown. Can we get all of this out of our system?

Billy C Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

In CN’s 2018 offensive line preview, our Jon Johnston opened a bit of a can of worms by comparing our excitement over the new staff to three years ago:

Now, I know that we are excited about the new Scott Frost era and former Husker offensive line coach Greg Austin. I loved Austin as a Nebraska player. The guy didn’t let anything stop him. He’d go down with yet another injury (I wonder what his knees are like now) and he’d get up again.

Keep in mind, however, we were just as excited when the last regime came on board. (You can deny it in the comments section, “Told You So” guy, and then you can thank me for giving you the opportunity.)

Some of you denied it, some of you owned it. But it got us to thinking about our thoughts and expectations with Nebraska’s football coaching changes as of late. So we’re going to get this topic out of the way, and hope that we can put this all to bed.

Compare and contrast your feelings about Nebraska’s last three coaching changes, both how you originally felt and how you feel now that you’ve had time to digest it.

Paul: I thought the Callahan hire was the ultimate in grasping at straws. It took what? 6 weeks to find a coach? Who would have thought taking the NFL’s sloppy seconds would turn out badly? I liked the Pelini hire, as did most folks. I think it was the hire with the most potential for long term success. What we didn’t expect was Pelini’s inability to adjust to the limelight at Nebraska. The Riley hire had me scratching my head. He was clearly hired because he was the anti-Pelini in every way, and in some ways that resonated with Nebraskans. Pelini’s temper and shenanigans wore the fan base out, and we wanted a change. But...he was a .500 coach when he arrived...and a .500 coach when he left. All the expectations that he would perform better when provided better resources fell flat pretty quickly. I like Riley. I still do. I don’t bear any ill will toward him. But I was glad when he wasn’t coaching the Huskers any more.

Mike: Frankly, I thought Bill Callahan turned out better than we ever could have hoped after Steve Pederson’s ridiculous search. Don’t get me wrong; he wasn’t very good...but he was better than Houston Nutt. No doubt that Bo Pelini was a huge upgrade, but I’m not sure he had all of the resources he needed for the first half of his tenure. Trying to pay off the north stadium expansion and the buyouts of Pederson and Callahan limited what Osborne could offer in 2007. I still believe Pelini was a good coach, but just wasn’t good enough for Nebraska. Especially when you consider all of the drama, though we need to be honest about that. Much of that drama (i.e. “the toxicity”) didn’t originate with Pelini; Bo simply didn’t react appropriately. The Riley hire made absolutely no sense; you don’t hire a coach because he’s a nice guy. I originally thought he only last four years, but after he found a way to lose to Illinois and Purdue, I was surprised he lasted as long as he did. That was such a wasted opportunity; Nebraska had an opportunity to consider just about anybody in the nation (well, except for Saban and a handful of others) and Eichorst just didn’t even try.

Nate M: At the time of the Bill Callahan hiring all I knew about him was that he coached in the Super Bowl for the Raiders. That was good enough for me at the time. I was probably a “superficial” fan at the time and never really analyzed or thought through whether it was a good hire. I just assume that Nebraska was the type of institution that wouldn’t make a bad hire. They had to of known what they were doing. Right?

With the hiring of Riley, I was kind of excited because of the whole “now we get to see what he can do with more” type of argument. I kept on hearing “he was a .500 coach!” I thought that was a dumb argument. I now realize that I was the dumb one.

The only hire I don’t regret with “20/20 vision” is Pelini. He is a good coach but just didn’t have some of the nuances and recruiting down like I wish he would have. If he had Callahan’s players his entire stint at Nebraska he’d probably still be here.

Jill: I was worried about Callahan’s hire. I didn’t like how Solich was let go after a good season in which he had made significant staff changes. I felt like he should have been fired a year earlier than he was or he should have been given more time after making those changes. The bumbling way the search was conducted concerned me as well. I forced myself to be positive, after all Callahan had a good resume.

The Pelini hire felt inevitable, much like the Frost hire. I know Turner Gill was in the running, but it always felt like Bo would be the choice. His inability to grow into some aspects of the job (mainly recruiting) could potentially have been fixed. But the toxicity that developed around the program made it clear that it was time to exit.

The Riley hire baffled me at first. However, the certainty with which Eichorst went after him and the quick, no-leaks nature of the search gave me comfort. Once he was our coach, I sincerely hoped he could succeed. The 2016 season gave me a lot of hope, but that turned out to be a train instead of a light at the end of the tunnel.

Andy: OK, Callahan first. To be honest, I wasn’t completely unhappy with that one. I’m pretty sure that’s because the hot mess that Pedersen’s “search” was such a visible, bumbling fuckery that the hire itself didn’t look too bad in comparison. I mean, the other candidates were Dave “Magnum” Wannstedt & York, NE frequent-flyer, Houston Nutt. By comparison, Callahan looked like Tom Landry.

He was an NFL coach with college experience and had a decent offensive mind whose strength was the offensive line. I just didn’t know how godawful little he cared about the other side of the ball.

I was very fired up about the Bo hire and in hindsight, I’d make it again in the same situation. Think about it - Paul Johnson, Turner Gill and Jim Grobe? I’d take Bo back from Youngstown in a heartbeat over that murderer’s row. I wish he had held it together, but Osborne was the only one who had his back, and the writing was on the wall the moment Limp Dick Harvey forced Dr.Tom out and hired on Little E to fire Bo. Screw them both. I do not condone the toxic way Bo left the program at all. But as Sam Kinison said, I UNDERSTAND IT!!!

The Riley hire was absolute garbage and I said so from the start. Oregon St. was in a 5-year tailspin and their own fans were openly grousing that they were stuck with their native son. It became divisive among fans Immediately when a chunk of the Bo-Haters married themselves to Riley since he wasn’t Bo and some Bo-lievers set him on fire for the same reason even if they weren’t sure who he was.

Personally, I knew who he was and read up to learn what I didn’t and concluded that we were in deep shit. Deep, deep, Mangino on the pooper shit. I really hope Frost is the real deal, because Riley did amazing damage to the program in a short time especially in terms of minimizing commitment and competition. Honestly, I could care less how “nice” he was.

Perlman, Eichorst, Riley, Diaco. Don’t any of you four go making hotel reservations for Welcome Back, Jackasses Day. Go join Dan Beebe in whatever hole he crawled into. (No, I’m not over this yet.)

Rank Nebraska’s offensive and defensive coordinators from 2004 through last season.

Mike: I’m sure my offensive coordinator list is going to anger some people: Tim Beck, Shawn Watson, Jay Norvell, Danny Langsdorf. Beck clearly was the most creative of the four, while Langsdorf spent three years playing to his team’s weakness. He had absolutely no understanding what his team did well.

My defensive coordinator list? Carl Pelini, John Papuchis, Mark Banker, Bob Diaco, Kevin Cosgrove. I could easily swap Paps and Banker around. Diaco edges out Coz, if only because he was only in Lincoln for one season. I kind of wonder if he would have worked out better given more time, and a passable offense that didn’t put the defense back on the field three plays later.

Nate M: Oh my. Looking at this list is so depressing.

Jill: I agree with Mike in putting Tim Beck at the top of the OC list. I could go back and forth with Watson and Norvell. Langsdorf definitely brings up the rear. 2016 Langsdorf isn’t too far behind the others, but 2015 and 2017 Langsdorf caused much cursing and screaming at TV screens.

The DC list...What Nate said. I think the best DC was actually Bo Pelini, followed by Carl. I know Bo didn’t really have the title of DC, but his fingerprints were all over the defense, especially after Carl left.

Andy: Offensive - Beck, Callahan (Norvell), Watson, Langsdorf. My favorite quote about Watson was, “He’d rather rush and pass for 100 yards each than rush for 400 and pass for 10.

Defensive: 1) Carl.... 2 thru 9) no one in particular..... 10) Paps, 11) Banker....12 thru 98) some geriatric English bulldogs licking their balls...99) Diaco, 100) Cosgrove.

This was the staff position that consistently burned my ass and - with the exception of Carl - acted as an anchor to their head coach who was treading water in the deep end. Cosgrove definitely played a huge part in Callahan’s ouster. Pap’s blank stare when the holes started to open up was always a comfort. Riley became the first coach to quit an incompetent buddy on welfare, Banker in this case, but then made things worse by hiring the dimwitted, self-absorbed prick, Diaco. Defensive coordinaters 2004-2017 final ranking? FML.

Salvage those coaching staffs and assemble the best of the bunch. Not all of those guys were clowns, right?

Mike: Oh, wow...but my list is going to have a really strong Pelini influence: OC Tim Beck, RB Ron Brown, WR Keith Williams, OL Dennis Wagner, DC Carl Pelini, DL John Papuchis, LB Mike Ekeler, Secondary Marvin Sanders

Nate M: HC: Bo Pelini, OC: Tim Beck (is that really the best we’ve got?), RB: Ron Brown, WR: Keith Williams, OL: Bill Callahan (is that cheating?) , DC: Carl Pelini, DL: John Parella; LB: Mike Ekeler, DB: Marvin Sanders

Jill: My list would look like both of the above. I like Nate’s inclusion of BC as the OL coach. Yes, it’s probably cheating, but he probably would have been the best of the bunch there, so...

Andy: I always felt Cally was more the OC than the O-Line coach and that Norvell was the guy being paid to have really good seats, but he was nothing compared to the last few years of Barney whose title was something Asst Head Coach & Late-Night Pepperjax Coordinator.

Anyway, agree with most of top but not Parella. I know he’s not completely to blame but that line was brutal. I’d like Ekeler back, I really enjoyed his enthusiasm and fire and it rubbed off.

So there you have it. What say you?