Husker Program Flatlining Under Pelini
The jury is clearly still out on whether or not Bo Pelini will become a great college head coach. But I am now starting to get the feeling that the jury will have to continue deliberating while Pelini is at another university. Perhaps we will never know. I have always felt that Bo Pelini's matter-of-fact, business-like demeanor was better suited for the NFL. I believe that Bo Pelini has a great defensive mind, but the past two-plus seasons he seems to be trying to teach calculus to algebra students.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY SportsPelini employs a unique matchup zone defense that calls for precise alignments. The system mandates detailed communication requiring all eleven players to be on the same page. Throughout Pelini's six seasons at Nebraska, defensive players have commented on how complicated his system is and their difficulty in learning it. Much like the West Coast Offense, Pelini's defense requires years to fully grasp and might be better off in the hands of NFL players rather than 18-22 year-olds. Pelini's defenses and the quality of his teams have gradually regressed since the 2009 season. Communication breakdowns and missed open-field tackles on defense along with turnovers and spotty offensive line play have plagued Nebraska under Pelini.
Bo is a first time head coach who continues to learn on the job. Prior to coming to Nebraska, Pelini had never been responsible for managing a 105-man roster or formulating a recruiting strategy. While Pelini's 2011-13 recruiting classes have been quite good, his first three classes were unimpressive and his roster management continues to raise eyebrows. Questionable redshirting decisions and recruiting below his available scholarship numbers are a couple of examples.
Bo didn't do himself any favors by filling his staff with several inexperienced position coaches and coordinators. Like Pelini, many on his staff are learning on the job as well. It takes a few years for a coach to figure out how to recruit; how to coach and communicate with kids; how to make game-day adjustments; how to run a practice with their position group. It takes several years of on-the-job training to hone your skills as a coach. You are putting yourself behind the eight ball when too many people are learning the ins and outs at the same time. I liken a college football program to a fortune 500 company with the head coach being the CEO. Would a CEO at Boeing or Apple hire executives who were unproven or had to learn on the job? Why should a place like Nebraska?
Much like NFL general managers, college athletic directors like to hire "their" coaches. After an unceremonious welcome to Shawn Eichorst's hiring last October by Bo Pelini, and the resulting stagnancy of the Nebraska program under Bo, Shawn Eichorst might be sifting through resumes of future coaching candidates. In fact, I think it is time for Eichorst to do just that.
If Eichorst does indeed look to replace Pelini, he needs to take an aggressive, proactive approach and be willing to pay top dollar for a coach and his ensuing staff. Nebraska is a Top 10 program nationally and should be willing to compete with SEC schools and the fellow Big Ten programs Ohio State and Michigan and pay for proven, respected coaches.
I am in favor of giving Omaha-native and childhood Husker fan Mark Richt $4 million reasons to consider a change of scenery. Or how about using those same $4 million incentives and seeing if you can entice Louisville's Charlie Strong or UCLA's Jim Mora into relocating to Lincoln. Nebraska should be forthright and aggressive in their search. Gauge the interest of coaches like Gary Patterson (TCU), Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M), Chris Peterson (Boise State), David Shaw (Stanford), Art Briles (Baylor), Al Golden (Miami) and Dabo Swinney (Clemson) to see if $4 million a year will peak their interest. I also like the idea of finding out if Jim Tressel would like to return to coaching. Leaving no stone unturned, I would even check in on Greg Schiano to see if he would be willing to leave the Buccaneers.
After hiring an elite coach, Nebraska needs to keep their checkbook open and hire an all-star staff. Eichorst and Nebraska need to bring in proven, reputable coaches with a large Rolodex for recruiting. There is no salary-cap with coaches salaries and I am of the philosophy that you target the best and pay them accordingly. Along with having a $4 million per year coach, Nebraska should be willing to have a $4 million budget for assistant coaches. Nebraska football generates $55 million a year in revenue. Designating $8 million to the people responsible for bringing it in should not be a concern. Shawn Eichorst only needs the vision and fortitude to make it happen.
Scott Frost is making 368k as Oregon's offensive coordinator. Why not double that and bring him back home to Lincoln to run the Husker offense? Nebraska has been trying to emulate what the Ducks do so why not go right to the source and have the former Husker quarterback take the reins? Former Miami head coach and defensive coordinator Randy Shannon is making 315k as linebackers coach at Arkansas. Again, why not double that salary and make the 2001 Broyles Award winner the defensive coordinator for Nebraska? Shannon is widely regarded as one of college football's best defensive minds.
You cannot limit the assertiveness and spending on coordinators alone. The bulk of teaching and recruiting is done by position coaches. Identify coaches with track records and a history of success and pursue them aggressively. These are some position coaches who should be seeing a 402 area code on their caller ID, this December, with an offer of a raise from the voice on the other end: Ed Orgeron (DL/USC), Tosh Lupoi (DL/Washington), Mario Cristobal (OL/Alabama), Joker Phillips (WR/Florida), Rodney Garner (DL/Auburn), Larry Porter (RB/Texas), Clint Hurtt (DL/Louisville), Lawrence Dawsey (WR/Florida St.), Frank Wilson (RB/LSU), Larry Johnson (DL/Penn St.), Lance Thompson (LB/Alabama), Tommy Thigpen (LB/Tennessee), Rob Ianello (WR/Kansas), Odell Haggins (DL/Florida St.), Tony Hughes (DB/Miss. St.), Chris Kiffin (DL/Ole Miss), Stan Drayton (RB/Ohio St.), Adrian Klemm (OL/UCLA), Tee Martin (WR/USC), Sal Sunseri (DL/Florida St.), Billy Gonzales (WR/Miss. St.), Sam Pittman (OL/Arkansas), Demetrice Martin (DB/UCLA), Chip West (DB/Virginia).
Nebraska should be targeting coaches of this ilk and recruiting them as hard as they do the high school players they hope to sign each February.
Prior to contributing to HuskerMax, Jeremy Pernell co-founded the all football website N2FL.com. He served as the editor in chief of the college football portion of the website which focused heavily on recruitment and talent analysis, including the NFL Draft. You can email him at N2FL@hotmail.com.