Nebraska Football: 5 Coaches Who Could Replace Bo Pelini
Nebraska fans watching Minnesota fans storming the field at TCF Bank Stadium after the Gophers upset NU 34-23 on Saturday could be forgiven for having flashbacks. In 2007, Nebraska was embarrassed at Kansas 76-39, a loss that sealed Bill Callahan’s departure as head coach. Saturday’s loss to Minnesota had an eerily similar feel.
I was in Lawrence to see the fallout from that 2007 defeat, and I was in Minneapolis on Saturday. While walking around the city after the game, still wearing Husker colors and admittedly in a bit of a daze, I was amazed at how many people stopped me and asked who won the game.
After suppressing the urge to snap back “What, do I look like a freaking smartphone app?” in a fit of pique, I was struck by two things. First, many native Minneapolitans were not paying the slightest attention to the game, meaning Nebraska just lost to a team that barely makes a blip in its own hometown. Second, I was struck by how consistently those Minneapolitans, in a very Minnesota-nice way, all said (after recovering from the shock of learning of the Gophers’ victory) something along the lines of “You guys are going to get a better coach now, aren’t you?”
Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst may very well be faced with the biggest decision of his career in Lincoln after this season. So let’s play fly on the wall in Eichorst’s office and see what he may be considering for the future of Nebraska football.
Nebraska fans looking for blood after arguably the worst loss in Pelini’s career probably won’t be happy to read this, but his dismissal is far from certain at this point. As a smart and particularly handsome analyst previously observed, even before the Minnesota loss Pelini was coaching for his job this year and likely needs to win the Big Ten Legends Division to remain employed.
(As opposed to this dope who thought Nebraska was the favorite to win the Legends Division last week. What was he thinking?)
That goal is still possible, although it is much harder to see happening after the Minnesota loss. With Michigan State undefeated in conference play and with a relatively manageable schedule to end the season, Nebraska will likely need to run the table to win the division. Otherwise, even if Nebraska beats Michigan State in Lincoln, a two-loss Nebraska team would finish behind a one-loss Michigan State squad.
That means road wins at Michigan and Penn State, in addition to home wins over Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa. After Saturday, few would be putting money on Nebraska winning all five of those contests.
But it could happen. And for Pelini to keep his job, it likely has to happen.
Eichorst should have a list of home run hiring calls to make, and if he were asking my opinion (Shawn! Call me!), Briles would be at the top. Briles has turned Baylor—the Baylor Bears, fer cryin’ out loud—into a Top 10 team and a dark-horse national title contender this year.
He’s done it running the kind of offense that Nebraska fans would love to see, especially given the offensive talent currently in Lincoln. And given his life story and the kind of solid character he is, Briles would be immediately embraced by the Nebraska community.
Getting Briles would be the longest of long shots, of course. Briles’ entire history is steeped in Texas football, and he could very well be a lifer at Baylor. Plus, a certain school a few miles to the south in the Lone Star State will likely be hiring a new coach next year, and I wouldn’t be shocked if a burnt orange dump truck showed up and dropped a load of cash in Briles’ driveway.
Hopefully Eichorst knows that if Nebraska is going to go through a coaching search this offseason, it is going to need to splash the cash to do the job right. But even though Nebraska is nowhere near the kind of job that Texas or USC is, that doesn’t mean Eichorst should be conceding in terms of coach hires. Even though Briles is a long shot, Eichorst loses little by making a strong run at the coach I think should be at the top of Eichorst’s wish list.
As the reality of Nebraska’s defeat began to sink in, Scott Frost was the first name frustrated fans started to throw out as a possible replacement.
At 2:28pm, I received my first mention that Scott Frost will be Nebraska's head coach in 2014.— Erin Sorensen (@erinsorensen) October 26, 2013
Scott Frost would be an amazing head coach for Nebraska— Forrest Waymire (@fwaymire22) October 27, 2013
The connection is unavoidable, of course, with Frost quarterbacking Nebraska’s 1997 national championship team. In his first year as offensive coordinator at Oregon, Nebraska fans could be forgiven for salivating at the thought of bringing the Ducks' high-powered scheme to Lincoln.
Oregon does have a history of offensive coordinators stepping in as effective head coaches, with Chip Kelly stepping in for Mike Bellotti after his retirement and Mark Helfrich taking the baton from Kelly after Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles. That history may help Nebraska fans take some confidence that Frost could be ready right away even though he has never been a head coach.
But the fact remains that Frost hasn’t been a head coach before, just like Pelini had not been before taking over in Lincoln. Now, Frost may be wise enough to avoid Pelini’s mistake and surround himself with experienced assistants, avoiding the echo chamber Pelini has created with his staff hires. But Nebraska fans should still think long and hard if they want to hand the Cornhusker program off to another rookie head coach.
Yes, Cutcliffe has no significant Nebraska ties. But Eichorst has seen a successful turnaround of an historic football power firsthand.
Al Golden has resurrected the Miami Hurricanes' football program, shepherding it to a Top 10 ranking even with the specter of NCAA sanctions casting a shadow over Coral Gables for the last two years. While Eichorst did not hire Golden, he certainly saw how the right hire can make a huge difference for a football program.
Cutcliffe has even more qualifications than Golden did coming from Temple to Miami, given Cutcliffe’s success at Ole Miss.
Under Cutcliffe, Duke just became bowl eligible for the second straight year, the first time in school history. Duke is competing in an ever-improving ACC, and the academic standards and overarching presence of basketball make Duke one of the most challenging schools in the country at which to build a successful football program.
Cutcliffe’s success at Duke (and at Ole Miss beforehand) should make him a prime candidate if an opening arises in Lincoln.
In 2002, the thought of Bohl as Nebraska's head coach would have been laughable. As Nebraska's defensive coordinator, Bohl was run out of Lincoln after receiving much of the blame for NU’s disastrous 7-6 season in 2002.
Of course, after seeing Kevin Cosgrove’s 2007 Blackshirts and the defensive performances of the last two years, the definition of “disastrous” in the minds of Nebraska fans has been somewhat altered.
Bohl took over at North Dakota State and has built the Bison into a national powerhouse at the FCS level. The Bison have won two straight national titles and look to claim a three-peat on the back of a strong defense (No. 1 nationally in the FCS, according to ncaa.com) and a powerful rushing attack (No. 16 nationally).
Bohl’s age (55) could be a concern, of course. But given his strong Nebraska ties and his experience as a head coach in Fargo, Bohl would be a strong candidate as a safe pair of hands to stabilize the Nebraska ship right away. Don’t forget, Jim Tressel came right from FCS Youngstown State to turn Ohio State into a national power.
Yes, it is a bit of a mad world when Nebraska would consider looking to Iowa State for its head coach. But I’ve long admired Rhoads for his passion and for the kind of grit and toughness he instills in his teams. Iowa State has been pretty hopelessly outgunned from an athletic standpoint throughout his career. But the Cyclones under Rhoads have always played tough and played smart, pulling off upsets of better teams relatively regularly.
And heck, it’s not like Rhoads doesn’t know how to win in Memorial Stadium.
Admittedly, Rhoads would be more of a fallback option if others said no to Nebraska. And whether Rhoads would be able to recruit well enough to make Nebraska competitive against Ohio State and Michigan is a huge question mark.
But things worked out OK for the last nationally prominent school that poached an Iowa State coach. And few people would confuse Rhoads for Gene Chizik in terms of personality, lessening the chance of an Auburn-like implosion. While he would likely not win the press conference if hired, Rhoads’ personality and coaching style would be a great fit in Lincoln.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.