Nebraska’s Unsettling Behavior
By Paul Myerberg // Feb 7, 2011
Staff changes have been on the horizon at Nebraska since a dreadful conclusion to a once-promising 2010 season, one that disintegrated in a haze of sloppy, penalty-filled play, a woeful offense and — most shocking and troubling of all — a lack of intensity. These changes were coming, sooner or later; if you had predicted that they would occur prior to the start of the 2011 season, I would have said sooner, not on national signing day.
The reports rolled in with the Letters of Intent: Bo Pelini himself visited offensive coordinator Shawn Watson’s top recruit; wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore, who doubles as Nebraska’s recruiting coordinator, was nowhere to be seen; and in one of the more passive-aggressive digs you’ll find between two coaches, Indiana’s Kevin Wilson let the cat out of the bag about Pelini and Nebraska’s pursuit of his newly-hired defensive backs coach.
Wilson’s decision to publicize Nebraska’s interest in Corey Raymond got this ball rolling — strangely enough, there was nothing too out of the ordinary about his arrival and the departure of Marvin Sanders, the well-respected former defensive backs coach who left the program amid reports of off-field and family issues. Raymond was merely replacing Sanders, who was no longer part of the program; what was strange, after all, was the timing.
How long had Pelini been aware that Sanders wasn’t going to return in 2011? It wasn’t a new development, to say the least: Pelini knew this would be the case, as did Sanders, when each was recruiting players late during the most recent recruiting cycle. One such recruit, Charles Jackson, was perturbed to hear — after he had signed with the Cornhuskers – that the coach he believed would lead him through the paces come the fall was no longer a member of the Nebraska coaching staff.
That move is only a precursor to grander changes yet to come. One thing is clear: Pelini is not happy about the direction this offense has taken under Watson, and cannot be pleased with the lack of development from the Nebraska wide receivers and the passing game at large. The latter regression falls on Watson and Gilmore, with the embattled receivers coach under fire for failing to create a working rotation at receiver, not to mention failing to develop some of his charges into pass-catchers competent enough to work on a major, conference title-worthy level.
The big question is who’s next: it might be Scott Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback and current Oregon assistant, as well as former Kansas offensive coordinator and current Notre Dame assistant Ed Warinner. If Nebraska can give Frost what he wants — a chance to come home, for starters, but also at least a share of play-calling duties — it will signal the complete transition from the West Coast offense to the spread; this past fall saw Watson dabble in both systems, never finding rhythm in his play-calling or in his offense’s consistency.
So the big question is who’s next. Of nearly equal importance, however, is the timing. Can Pelini and Nebraska merely offer an apology, saying that while the timing was poor, it was not done with any malice or forethought? Pelini could certainly offer an apologia, though he wouldn’t meant it, of course. An apology would ring sour: there’s simply no way that these weren’t preordained decisions, these coaching moves, decisions made likely after an ugly Holiday Bowl loss and tabled for the month of January while the Cornhuskers looked to close strong on an already impressive recruiting haul.
Most shocking of all is our, well, shock. Perhaps some of us believed that Nebraska was one of the F.B.S. programs that always shot straight, especially now that Tom Osborne has involved himself in the day-to-day workings of the athletic department — and the football team in particular. It’s foolish, however, to think that Nebraska wouldn’t do the same thing that rivals in and out of its conference have been doing for generations.
There’s nothing in the N.C.A.A. rulebook that prohibits a team from doing just this after signing day, of course. The only people hurt in this case are the prospects who felt misled and the coaches who opted to take one for the team — like Watson or Gilmore — while they could have been shopping their resumes for a job at another program. Yes, Nebraska’s behavior was a bit shady, a bit unsettling and a bit out of character, but it was nonetheless within the rules of conduct, if not the rules of etiquette.
So not altogether shady, but unsettling. Now, if Pelini doesn’t make the most of these impending moves, hiring the best offensive assistants he can find to help further his goal of leading Nebraska to a national title, it will all be for naught: if he fails in that goal, the decision to make these late coaching changes will come back to haunt Pelini on the field, where his Cornhuskers will continue to stumble on one side of the ball, and off the field, where important recruiting relationships have already been put to the test.
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Tags: Bo Pelini, Nebraska, Recruiting, Scott Frost, Shawn Watson
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