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Archive for Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Woodling: All’s not well in land of Husks

December 3, 2003

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Is there any workplace in any business in these parts that doesn't contain at least one Nebraska football fan?

We have a couple at the Journal-World. One is photographer Scott McClurg, who hails from Lincoln, Neb. The other is features writer Jim Baker, an Omaha native who asked me last week if I thought Frank Solich would be fired.

Baker was surprised when I said yes. The handwriting was on the wall last year, I told him, when Solich was forced to make wholesale changes on his coaching staff -- a sure foreshadowing of an impending ax.

Remember Terry Allen's next-to-last year at Kansas University? Allen made sweeping changes in his coaching cadre prior to the 2001 season. Just what the Jayhawks needed, everyone said. Allen was a good head coach. He just needed better assistants.

Not exactly. Allen was fired three games before the end of the '01 season and replaced temporarily by aide Tom Hayes.

Curiously, a similar situation has developed at Iowa State, where Allen is now associate head coach. ISU boss Dan McCarney fired a couple of his offensive coaches Tuesday in the wake of the Cyclones' depressing 2-10 season. More foreshadowing of McCarney's fate? We'll see if McCarney survives after the 2004 season.

Bo Pelini, one of Solich's top aides, says he is interested in taking over the Cornhuskers. Forget it. Athletic director Steve Pederson will clean house. Speaking of Pederson, did you read what he said after firing Solich?

"We won't surrender the Big 12 to Oklahoma and Texas," the Huskers' AD stated.

What about Kansas State? That 38-9 loss to K-State in Lincoln raised the scepter of a white flag while serving as a red flag for Solich's future.

Rick Whitt of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was one of many writers who blistered Pederson's hatchet job on a coach who won nine games during the regular season. White called the Solich dismissal "one of the most controversial moves in college coaching history."

But aren't practically all coach firings controversial? College football coaches are human mine-sweepers. Their tenures are so tenuous you can count the men who have lasted 20 years as a Division One head coach on the fingers of both hands.

Pederson surveyed the Nebraska football program and must have seen what everyone else saw. For one thing, nobody on the NU staff has nurtured connections with junior colleges. In the Big 12 today, it is imperative to recruit juco players because of league rules prohibiting the granting of scholarships to non-qualifiers.

Kansas State's Bill Snyder is the primary practitioner of the art of juco recruiting. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops does it, too. And, as you know, Kansas coach Mark Mangino has brought in many juco transfers. KU's best offensive player, quarterback Bill Whittemore, came from Fort Scott Community College.

Solich's other big mistake was refusing to adapt and junk Nebraska's time-honored but archaic I-formation. In contemporary college football, offenses must spread the field to force opponents into defensive mismatches and coverage mistakes. Nebraska's offense became too predictable, and thus stoppable.

Nebraska's passing attack suffered from having an I-back -- Jammal Lord -- playing quarterback and from having pedestrian wide receivers. Then again, how many talented pass catchers are going to sign with Nebraska?

Pederson stressed his decision to fire Solich was based on "where I see our program headed in the next 5 to 10 years." In other words, Pederson saw a program incapable of leaving the 20th Century under its current leadership.

To tell the truth, there was little pressure on Pederson to fire Solich. The real pressure is to find the right man to replace him.

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