One story in a Wine Country Husker series, looking at position breakdowns for the Nebraska Cornhuskers for the 2009 season. Today, we look coaching:
Looking back: After the Huskers ended the 2007 season that was horrible of historical proportions, resulting in the dismissal of head coach Bill Callahan, the fan base and program entered the 2008 campaign optimistic that Bo Pelini (the people’s choice) would begin to lead the Huskers back to respectability.
Expectations ranged from 7-5 on the low end to 10-2 on the high end. The latter, of course, were primarily the Kool-Aid sippers who could not understand that Pelini’s task would not be a quick fix.
The Huskers went 9-4 including a season-closing 26-21 win in the Gator Bowl over Clemson. Nebraska twice battled back from 11-point deficits against an underachieving but talented Tiger club.
The blowout losses to Oklahoma (62-28) and Missouri (52-17) were disappointing but Nebraska finished the season by winning six of its last seven games.
Pelini and his staff did an excellent job laying the foundation as far as beginning to develop players. The Huskers might not have always played smart and had their limitations as far as talent but the days of being ill-prepared and playing lifeless football appear to be a thing of the past.
The staff was excellent during the week as far as bringing out that extra something in the players. For the first time since Tom Osborne was the head coach, players really seemed to learn from the coaches and enjoyed a bond with them that was lacking under Callahan and to a lesser degree Frank Solich.
As far as gameday is concerned, the staff showed great ability to make adjustments to the scheme that fit the talent of the roster. What a concept but I digress.
Looking ahead: Going from 5-7 in 2007 to 9-4 in 2008 was the easy part. The hard part will be going from 9-4 to say 11-2. Then again, losses to Virginia Tech (35-30) and Texas Tech (37-31 in overtime) could have easily produced an 11-2 mark last season but the truth of the matter is that the higher a team attempts to shoot up the ladder, the smaller the margin for error becomes.
The culture is definitely in place and so is the foundation. The focus of spring practice this season will be about refining the principles that were established last season.
Pelini brings an infectious passion, which can be two-fold. The team takes on his personality in that they never once quit. Pelini just needs to continue to improve on harnessing those emotions (i.e. picking battles with referees more carefully). Being passionate is one thing, excessive sideline histrionics are another.
Perhaps, quarterback Patrick Witt’s decision to leave the program in part because Pelini reportedly refused to kowtow to Witt’s father’s desire to have his son named the starting quarterback by the end of spring drills is an example of the coaching staff taking back the reigns of the program.
Too often, Callahan and Solich kowtowed to the players.
Perhaps the best decision Pelini made was to redshirt virtually the entire 2008 recruiting class. Why not? After all, very few high school athletes are ready to make the jump to Div. I-A immediately so why not develop them the right way?
The Huskers might not have the breakout season we are ultimately expecting but the foundation is in place.