When I hear talk about the notion of “recruiting” for Nebraska football, I hearken back to a statement Bill Walsh made as an NBC commentator.
Though Walsh has been deceased for nearly two years, his influence on the game of football will always be remembered. Walsh led the San Francisco 49ers to three of their five Super Bowl championships and popularized the West Coast Offense, which used short passes to set up the running game. Many NFL and in some cases college teams use at least some variation of the offense.
Anyhow, I remember years ago in the Orange Bowl when Miami was beating us handily. Walsh said something to the effect of, “The problem Nebraska faces is that there are just not enough good athletes in the state.”
In an Omaha World Herald interview on July 16, former Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer indicated somewhat similar views as he was in Omaha to speak at a Thursday banquet before the Boomer Esaison Foundation Nebraska Golf Classic. Switzer added that “recruiting is the key” for Nebraska in getting back to prominence.
“You got to recruit consistently well every year,” Switzer said. “You got to recruit skilled players, good players at all positions, both sides of the ball. Oklahoma and Texas (are) the only two teams in this league that have been able to do that, be as good on both sides of the ball. The Nebraska job, I've always said, is a tougher job, because of the proximity to talent. (Oklahoma coach Bob) Stoops is fortunate. He's got the Red River, which has got Texas south of there, 1,600 high schools that play football, great high school football.
You've got to import players. Nebraska doesn't produce enough players to compete every year consistently. Oklahoma doesn't; that's why they have to go to Texas.”
Switzer and Walsh’s statements might rankle some Huskers but their anger misses the point. They never said there were not good athletes in the state. Let’s face it, Ahman Green came from Omaha but you go to California, Texas, or Florida and they have 10-15 Ahman Greens. After all, there are only 1.5 million people in Nebraska and 15 million plus in the states I just mentioned. It’s no different than a public high school of 2,500 kids is going to have more viable options to start at quarterback than a public high school of 200 kids.Nebraska’s recruiting disadvantages have been well-documented, weather, lack of beaches and mountains and lack of a bustling night-life. Though I find the last of those two arguments compelling because we’ve had a few players get in trouble over the years at various downtown Lincoln establishments.Of the three enormously populated states, I think Texas would be the one for Nebraska to emphasize because there are four Texas schools in the Big 12 Conference. Plus, Nebraska has competed three times in the Alamo Bowl and once in the Cotton Bowl over the last ten years.
Regardless of who or where, we recruit it comes down to the notion that “the heart and soul of Nebraska football comes from the state of Nebraska. The arms and legs come from the other 49 states.”
It also comes down to how well the coaching staff develops talent.
Bill Callahan’s coaching staff knew how to acquire talent but they did a horrific job of developing and coaching it. The biggest hurdle Bo Pelini was going to face his first year was cultivating a winning attitude and desire amongst his players, but given his fire and ability to relate with players on a personal level and the fact that he is dealing with impressionable young men, the quick change in attitude is something that should not have come as a total shock to people.True, Nebraska very seldom had recruiting rankings that knocked people in the Bob Devaney/Tom Osborne/Frank Solich years but the Huskers have never had much of a talent deficiency. What we did have between 2004 and 2007 was a major coaching/leadership deficiency.
Nebraska has athletes; the coaches have just needed some time to turn them into football players; now I look for them to turn them into a great team. This team, in my opinion, is good enough to win nine games or more in the regular season on a regular basis. If they win more, great. If they win less, well that happens sometimes. We can definitely count on great effort, progressing each week, and doing things to make themselves better for future seasons.