History will show that Nebraska called a press conference Nov. 30 to discuss the firing of its football coach.
His record: 9-3.
The coach: Frank Solich.
Eleven years later, there was another press conference to discuss the firing of Bo Pelini, who was also 9-3.
Nebraska football history majors can tell you what happens next. Does Shawn Eichorst know anybody in the NFL?
I don’t know what Eichorst will do. I have no idea whom he knows. I don’t have a clue if he’ll hit a home run or a broken-bat single.
But one thing I know: This isn’t 2003 all over again.
Not even close.
You’re worried about another fishing expedition that goes into January, a line of coaches who won’t answer their phone because NU fired a good man who went 9-3? Don’t.
It’s not the same.
Unless you get an autograph from Nick Saban or Urban Meyer on a contract, hiring a football coach is a roll of the dice. But there is a better chance this will work out than there was in 2003.
When Solich was fired by Steve Pederson, the climate and expectations around NU football were exponentially different.
The program was only six years removed from winning the national championship. One coach removed from Tom Osborne.
Solich fed the monster with a Big 12 championship in his second year, 1999. The Huskers were ranked No. 1 during the 2000 season, and No. 2 heading into the last game of 2001. They played for the national championship after that season, in the Rose Bowl, Solich’s second major bowl game.
People were still in championship mode. When Solich lost, it was still a shock to the system. That mentality, combined with the firing at 9-3, was seen in the coaching fraternity as radioactive. The demands around the program were still at the highest of levels.
Meanwhile, the coaching frat knew that Solich was part of the Husker family, as was most of his staff, and whoever came in would be scrutinized heavily for replacing not just a coach, but a way of life for decades.
Facilities in 2003 were simply a promise on paper. Other programs had passed NU by.
Then there was the Pederson Factor. There were stories back then about an NFL assistant who agreed to come but changed his mind. Also, former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt told me last summer he was turned off by Pederson when they spoke during that time.
Then Pederson tiptoed through the day-after press conference like a bull in a china shop. He came off like a bumbling superhero trying to save the day. He dropped the M-word (mediocrity).
It made the situation even more radioactive.
Eleven years later, the situation should be more attractive.
A generation of fans has forgotten what it’s like to chase a national title, and another generation has never experienced it. There hasn’t been a conference title in 15 years.
This program has come to expect nine wins and four losses each and every year. That’s not what Nebraska was in 2003.
Coaching candidates looking at Nebraska will now find a different animal than 11 Decembers ago.
They will find a fan base whose expectations have been beaten down from years of Holiday, Gator and Capital One Bowl appearances, national irrelevance and an assortment of embarrassments on the field.
The fans talk a good game when it comes to expectations, but the truth is, they would love a program with an identity and a team that played smart and was well-coached and didn’t fall apart in big games.
A guy who did that, made Nebraska look like it belonged in championship games, and also smiled and played to the crowd, would be hailed as an immediate hero.
And get paid handsomely, I might add.
Doesn’t sound so unreasonable, does it?
The new coach will be following a good man — and a good football man — who ran a clean program and kept his players in line. But there was so much drama with Pelini, the us-against-the-world mentality, the sideline outbursts, telling off the fans, daring the boss to fire him.
It’s hard not to believe that some of that is why Pelini is out today, but that’s another thing: I think Husker Nation would welcome a change of climate, a little less rough, a little more uplifting, a little more uniting.
For a coaching candidate, this is not exactly heavy lifting.
Those candidates will also find up-to-date facilities and salary. Eichorst should make sure the salary pool for the assistants is more than competitive. That’s the way to lure a good coach.
And there is Eichorst himself. Nobody was sure how he would come off at his Sunday press conference, but he was stellar. He was succinct and direct when explaining the reasons for making the move and his vision for Nebraska football. He didn’t box himself in a corner by talking about the candidates or the process.
The vibe was totally different from that Sunday press conference back in 2003. Eichorst exuded an air of confidence and control.
In fact, he sounded a lot like someone who knows whom he wants — and might already have him.
He sounded like an athletic director who knows you don’t fire a 9-3 coach if you have no idea that you’ll be able to get someone better.
But let’s make a deal: Let’s stop talking about 9-3. Numbers have never defined this program. And the members of the coaching fraternity all know Nebraska football today is known more for the Wisconsin losses and the breakdowns than for the nine wins a year.
Did we mention Pelini’s successor will be coaching in the Big Ten West? Good coaches, solid programs, but not exactly scary for candidates with championship plans.
Nebraska should be able to attract a coach who is confident in his ability to build a championship program. There are many more reasons now why they should than shouldn’t.
Who? The preference would be an established head coach, someone with a system, philosophy and staff in place. Scott Frost is on a lot of fans’ minds now, but for the former Husker quarterback and current Oregon offensive coordinator to be considered, he’d have to bring some veterans on his staff. This program needs experience, not another learning curve.
These things aren’t easy. They’re emotional. They’re draining. They’re scary. But there’s no reason to turn history on its head and fear the worst. Sunday was a familiar day, but it’s a different day. This time, Nebraska should have a coach before the NFL playoffs.
Written on November 30, 2014