Ten years ago Frank Solich and the Nebraska Cornhuskers were going into Black Friday looking to take down their rival Buffalos from Colorado. Solich had just come off a terrible year, but after making a few changes to his coaching staff Nebraska looked improved. A win against Colorado would lock up the benchmark of 9 wins, one that Solich had failed to hit in 2002.
Fast forward to November 29th, 2013 and Bo Pelini is taking on the Hawkeyes from Iowa. There is absolutely nothing on the line, other than the same nine win benchmark Solich lived up to a decade ago. .
Pelini, too, is coming off of a year that was disappointing year for Nebraska. While they hit that nine win benchmark, which should be called a plateau, things ended poorly in The Big Ten Championship and Capital One Bowl. Once again he is looking for a nine win regular season. That mythical, unimportant ninth win that so many fans can’t seem to let go of.
Just as the firing of Frank Solich after the Colorado game in 2003 was debated and scrutinized, so will Bo Pelini being let go after today’s game. Sure, the game still has to be played and we don’t yet know if Bo’s bunch will win, but today should have no impact on the administrations decision to keep him or let him go.
Here it is, that point in the argument where 50 percent of you will start shouting about how there are only a few teams that have won 9 games over the past six years. That those teams include Oregon, Alabama, and Boise State. Yep, it’s true. They have won at least nine games per season just like Bo Pelini and his Cornhuskers. They have also won conference championships and appeared in BCS Bowl games, and Bama has even pulled in several BCS Championships over the last six seasons. That is something that Bo Pelini’s Huskers have failed to do.
“But, but it took Tom Osborne over 20 years to win his first national title.” I know some of you are thinking it, come on admit it. Yes, it took him over 20 seasons to finally win the big one, but the team was relevant each and every year. Dr. Tom always had his team ready, and they often competed for or were in the mix for the national title. They had an identity. Sure that identity evolved with time. Evolution is something else that this program has lacked under Bo’s direction.
Husker Nation is divided about Pelini. Many will be angry when he is let go (sure I am taking a chance assuming that he will be fired, but I honestly don’t know how he keeps his job) later this evening or Saturday afternoon. There will be people who are happy that Pelini is gone, although I don’t believe that anyone should be happy at the expense of someone losing their job.
Honestly, how Pelini’s departure will be viewed depends completely on how Shawn Eichorst handles the search for a new head coach. What you don’t want is the same circus that rolled into town back in 2003-2004. We all remember the airplane that was waiting for Houston Nutt down in Arkansas, and how that plane left empty without a new head coach for the Huskers. We all remember how Bill Callahan ended up being the guy. He might have been the only guy at the time willing to take the job.
Then we remember Tom Osborne dismissing Callahan and conducting a brief search that ended with Pelini taking the helm. It was up to Bo to get the Huskers back on track and fix a badly fractured Blackshirt defense. Pelini has stabilized the program, bringing it from critical condition (a program on the verge of collapse) to fair condition (alive but nationally irrelevant). It’s time the administration finds the guy, the right guy to lead Nebraska into the future.
If Bo Pelini keeps his job, then Eichorst has basically punted the decision down the road for another year. He might even point to Pelini’s Huskers turning a corner during the season, which is true enough. The problem is Pelini’s teams have been making left turns for the past six seasons and the program is headed for another unless a change is made.
There is no room or time for any more adjustments or coordinator changes to be allowed. For six seasons Pelini has hired his friends and promoted them out of comfort. They are his guys, yes men if you will. Pelini has failed to see realities in the flaws of his systems on both sides of the ball. I’m not inferring that Pelini’s systems can’t work, but if you had outside eyes on your staff who bring a different perspective maybe it wouldn’t take his defense six years to learn the art of a form tackle.
Shawn Eichorst needs to go for it on fourth down instead of punting this coaching change. He needs to find a coach who surrounds himself with the right guys and isn’t afraid to ask for help when needed. He needs to find someone who can respect Nebraska’s past while leading the team into the future even if it means being unconventional. Someone who understands that nine wins are nice but ten, eleven, and twelve win seasons are also expected every few years.
Losing to Minnesota can’t happen. Losing twice a year at home is unacceptable. Five turnovers in a game cannot be allowed. While perennial national championships should not be expected out of Nebraska, being a household name in the final weekend in November isn’t asking too much. Competing for and winning conference championships on occasion seems like a reasonable request. Mr. Eichorst, it’s time to make changes in Lincoln and pony up the money it takes to bring in a proven head coach, not another hot coordinator. Go out and find a guy who knows how to win, knows how to win big games, and will be happy to spend the next 10-15 years restoring the brand that is Nebraska Cornhuskers Football.