Well, it is that time of the year where Husker football fans are finding themselves filled with anticipation for the upcoming football season, many, including myself, have perused the schedule and perhaps envisioned the matchups in a win or loss scenario.
Oftentimes, however, we inadvertently do so with recollections of prior year performances. But not just the past 5 to 10 years, rather we digress to the performances of teams from the mid-to-late ’70s, ’80s, and early-to-mid ’90s, not only recalling offense production but past traditionally defense stinginess’
At times we cannot wrap our heads around how in recent years the Husker defenses have let teams off the hook on 3rd and long situations, particularly because as a fan base we have grown accustomed to 3-and-outs and limiting 3rd down conversions.
What did the heck happen?
It is easy to attribute this demise to a diminished level of the talent pool, or simply say that offenses are now more prolific, or multi-faceted creating havoc to the defense, while these are reasons that contain merit, I believe the causes are somewhat deeper rooted.
Gone are the in-your-face days of Kiffen or McBride lead defenses, their teaching, and coaching mantras, and the consistent level of talented personnel brought in or developed! Gone too are the days of 17-19-year-old collegiate prospects who will respond positively to an "in-your-face" teaching/coaching approach as are those that labored and gained irreplaceable upper body strength via the physical demands from toiling harder than what is experienced by operating a video game controller.
Realistically, I can trace the beginning of the slide back to Craig Bohl as DC under Solich’s teams, but with Bo Pelini coming in during Solich’s final season and providing a temporary stop-gap, we’ll give that a momentary reprieve. Craig was a very good D-back at Nebraska and had proven himself a very good head coach on the FCS level, but was not yet ready for prime time as a DC at a Power 5 program level, having been exposed by Colorado’s 62-point onslaught in 2001.
Solich’s dismissal after the 2003 season, in my opinion, wasn’t due to his coaching ability, rather that of his inability to recruit (at that time) and develop the talent level commensurate to his predecessor. That and a rift with new AD Steve Pederson.
From my perspective, the crux of the downturn began during the Callahan experiment years and the defense under Kevin Cosgrove. Even though Cosgrove looked the part of a tough-nosed individual ala McBride, his pro-style teaching and weekly game-day preparation approach lacked the necessary player skills development needed at the collegiate level. While the customary walk-through game-day scheme understanding and development work for pros who have honed their skills in college, it remains crucial that defense-oriented players at the collegiate level buckle up their chin straps and get after it daily developing their skills by repetition and physicality. During this experiment period, not only were the days of the storied walk-on program diminished but too was the emphasis on strength and conditioning.
During Bo Pelini’s reign, it seemed initially that a defensive staunchness was going to become relevant yet once again, and mostly in part due to the presence of dynamic players like Suh and Lavonte David that were the case. But that also correlated with the time Bo’s brother Carl served as DC. Is it just me, or do others find it ironic that with Carl’s departure from the Husker program there was a very noticeable decline in the Husker defenses’ tenacity?
Granted losing Suh to eligibility played a significant role, but John Papuchis was never really able to attain the level of dominance as his predecessor. Although admittedly there was an apparent return to strength training and conditioning, it realistically takes roughly 3 years through that cycle to begin experiencing the fruits of that labor.
Bo Pelini was a master of promoting from within his trusted circle which is how Papuchis came into his role, but unlike Bo’s brother Carl, did not appear to consistently be on the same page as Bo.
Bo’s somewhat nepotistic philosophy still seems to ring through even today! Although it has also been proven that a revolving door approach to assistant coaches is not beneficial.
Experiment number 2, the Mike Riley fiasco years. His DC, Mark Banker negatively epitomized the staunched coaching regime of scheme development to best use a players strengths, by just tossing that philosophy to the wind and unilaterally invoking a 4-3 defense approach without the needed athletic skill-set and scheme understanding talent level of players to support this approach, which translated into losses to teams that really should not even be close contests. Whether in athletics or business, a good coach/mentor devises an approach that gives his people the ability to be successful while developing the necessary skills to implement an ultimate goal. Banker never fully grasped that concept, as to add insult to injury, Riley tossed Banker out for Bob Diaco and the instantaneous transition to the 3-4 scheme without regard to the associated learning curve for execution. Under Banker and Diaco, the once storied and feared Husker defense had disappeared into the abyss.
While many, myself included, welcomed with anticipation the return of Scott Frost as the HC, but bringing Eric Chinander on as DC, for me remains questionable.
Granted the program’s overall culture and player talent pool - development/conditioning has to overcome years of mismanagement, but Coach Chin’s approach so far has yet to attain the desired goals.
Now that this regime has, per their admission, enhanced the talent pool and undergone player transformation via strength and conditioning, will their coaching acumen start to turn the tide? Flashes of brilliance have been witnessed in recent years, but the needed level of enthusiasm and consistency still wane.
The 2021 football season should bring forth the answer to the question of is Chin’s ability to lead the defense warranted?
Failure to attain realistic but not yet lofty goals should cause Frost some pause as to questioning the continuance of the nepotistic approach to hiring coaches. Loyalty and longevity are keys to success but are only warranted if product delivery is consistently met with expectations.
Nebraska’s athletic program and fan base deserve nothing less. Nebraskans are collectively simple, honest, hard-working, and loyal folk. Steve Pederson stated in firing Solich he did so because he did not want the Nebraska program to fall into mediocrity,
Well, Mr. Pederson, you didn’t let it fall into mediocrity, you waltzed it through the front door, while Eichorst tango'd with "national irrelevance" as if he were in a scene from Bolero!
The time is NOW for the players and well-compensated coaches to reignite the fire in their bellies.
Coach and teach like your livelihood is dependent on the product delivered because it should!