Nebraska has fired the Athletic Director twice at mid-season in the past decade, and in both cases the football teams’ performance only got worse during the second half of the season.
There might have been more integrity in firing the head football coach, which would have given those teams the opportunity to prove the administration was wrong. It surely would have been fairer to the head football coaches, who were left playing a game of chutes and ladders with only one dice. But it is more complicated than that.
In 2007 the morale was so low in the UNL athletic department it had to be done. Coaches throughout the department were on the verge of leaving because of autocratic leadership that appeared to be soulless.
2017 is different. The current football staff seems to have lost the team in the last two weeks. Despite that observation, the current staff also appears to have attracted a number of high level recruits who might chang their minds if Riley is fired prior to the December 20 signing date. The administration didn’t trust the former A.D. to hire the right person because he didn’t get it right the first time. But if they got another A.D. in place who could hire the right coach, they could fire Riley at the end of the season or at least after December 20. This is the contemporary version of having your cake and eating it to. If Nebraska’s slide continues, the new Athletic Director, Bill Moos, may be forced to fire Riley before the early singing date.
It takes a lot of hard work, talent and luck to get to the place that Nebraska football was at in the mid-90s. It also takes a lot of questionable decisions, administrative indifference, and a lack of collaboration by a lot of people for Nebraska football to get to where it is today. But if anyone has a right to be angry it should be the players who have not been put in a position to reach their potential as a team for almost twenty years.
One former head coach had never been a collegiate head coach or coordinator.
(Please do not use Tom Osborne as an example of someone who did not have head coaching experience but had great success. Tom Osborne was the defacto head coach of Nebraska football during the Devaney’s championship seasons.)
One had not had success in the college game. One led with his amygdala, and one was a good man who lacked the edge to create the toughness it takes to build a championship team in this environment.
When I was hired at Nebraska in 1977, Coach Osborne’s base salary was about $40,000. Mine was $12,000, so you could say I was overpaid. I don’t like the millions of dollars that are paid to power five football and basketball coaches, but whether or not I like it is not the point.
If you want to be competitive and hire a coach that gives you the chance to be competitive for several years, you have to pay more than the competition. The competition includes schools like Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia and others who are paying outrageous salaries.
I also don’t believe you have to be 55 to be a great football coach. I trust my life to pilots under forty, and a stock brokers under thirty-five. Right now, I could get pretty enthusiastic about a President under fifty.
Nebraska needs to take a risk if it is going to return to being competitive. What you don’t risk is character. That’s a deal breaker. But it is really not as complicated as it looks. John Cook won the Big Ten Conference before he became the Nebraska head volleyball coach. Tom Osborne won two national championships before he became Nebraska’s head football coach.
To win at Nebraska you need to have had success as college head football coach. You need to be on the upside of your career. You need to be a good fit, but most importantly you need to have shown that you can win and win again. You need to be extraordinary.