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Callahan's Mess

Ralph Brown's picture

As many people who think Bo Pelini is not the right guy to lead the Huskers back to prominence, let me refresh your memory about the universities previous head football coach and the path of destruction he left behind.

I may get into trouble just by saying his name. Oh wait, what’s his name again? Bill Callahan. Yeah, yeah that’s the guy!

Remember him?

Let us all not pretend that we don’t remember him. Yeah, the same guy that went 5-6 in his first season as head football coach for Nebraska. A record that yielded NU it’s first losing record since 1961.

How could we forget him?

The same guy that was supposed to resurrect a program that was losing its mystique? A mystique that was placed in a galaxy that voyager 1 could not reach. I don’t want to be too hard on good ole Callahan, the team did finish the season with a 8-4 mark in his second year, including a 32-28 Alamo Bowl victory over No. 20 Michigan. That same year Callahan’s team also finished the season ranked no.24 in both national polls.

The Huskers continued to show growth in 2006 by working their way to a 9-5 record that included a 6-2 regular season Big 12 mark. That same year senior quarterback Zac Taylor was playing out of his mind and established school records with 3,197 yards passing and 26 touchdowns through the air. The Huskers also defeated top 25 teams Missouri and Texas A&M, and entered the Big 12 title game ranked 19th nationally. Callahan’s Huskers ended up falling short to No. 8 Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game 21-7. The title game boasted a defensive battle that had many Huskers fans proud of the team’s achievement, even after losing.

The following season wasn’t as auspicious for Callahan’s group. Reverting back to a losing season at 6-7 and a deplorable 2-6 conference record, Huskers fans found themselves lost and outraged, wondering what happened to their once perennial program that set the bar of success for so many years. The perplexity carried by Huskers faithful, quickly turned to anger. Boosters, fans, former players and administrative staff wanted Callahan out of town faster than Joey Chestnut eating his first hot dog at a hot dog eating contest.

Bill Callahan not only stripped the Huskers football brand from respectability in 2007, the Blackshirts were among the nation’s worst defensive units, surrendering a whopping 477 total yards a game. This cuts me deep just revisiting this abomination.

Take a gander!

Nebraska Defensive total yards given up above 500 in 2007:

1.) Ball St – 610
2.) Mizzou – 606
3.) OKST – 550
4.) Texas – 545
5.) Kansas – 572
6.) Colorado – 518

The Blackshirt defense was so non-existent in 2007, that on October 16, there was a collaborative agreement between defensemen and coaches to remove the vaunted jerseys. Forty five years of Blackshirt history down the drain. Defensive coordinator at the time, Kevin Cosgrove said “it’s a decision we all made.” Well, at seasons end, Huskers Legend and Athletic Director, Tom Osborne made a decision to cut the cord on Bill Callahan and his cohort’s uneventful time in Lincoln.

In the four year time span, the EF5 Callahan-ado, ripped through the Huskers football program with such ferocity. Packing winds of 295 mph and causing devastating damage to the program’s identity, record books and fans, only to leave the extensive mess to the next guy.

That next guy was Louisiana St Univeristy DC, defensive “GURU”, Bo Pelini. Just coming off a National Championship, the Huskers programmed hoped Pelini would bottle that winning mentality and high standard at LSU and use it to resuscitate a program that was essentially on its last leg.

Bo Pelini in his first year as a head coach took on a responsibility no coach has been asked to do in the history of the program. Restore the mystique, bring the program back to prominence, re-cultivate the Blackshirt tradition and while you’re doing that, we need you to grow as a coach too. Control your emotions, manage better, pick the right coaches, handle the impatient Huskers fans and do all of this in a hurry. Like now!
In Pelini’s first year as head football coach he led the team to a 9-4 record and finished the season with a 26-21 victory over the Clemson Tigers at the Gator Bowl. This 9-4 mark was the highest among all 28 Division 1A teams with new head coaches and staffs that year.

In 2009 the Blackshirts were back, led by defensive tackle and unstoppable force Ndamukong Suh. The Huskers defense boasted phenomenal numbers, allowing just 272 total yards a game, 93 rush yards and 179 pass yards. This stingy defense, allowing opponents just 10.4 points a game, was the main reason the Huskers made it back to the Big 12 title. Heavily favored to lose the game Pelini’s outfit took the game to the wire and lost by a controversial call that put time back on the clock for the Longhorns to sink a game winning field goal.

As years passed, Bo Pelini’s hard-nosed in your face personality had begun to rub fans the wrong way. Hey, I might have yelled at some of my players the same way Pelini has. He still has the biggest responsibility a Nebraska football head coach has ever had hanging over his head. Pressure is higher than ever in Lincoln. Still living in the 90’s, Huskers fans want Championships, and they want them now.

Have we forgotten about the process and time it takes for people to be great? Let’s not forget, this is, coach Pelini’s first head coaching gig. With adversity comes growth.

The last two seasons may not have been ideal for the university’s Blackshirts, but Bo Pelini has played in three conference championship games in 5 years. Let’s not take the grass is greener stance yet. Bo Pelini always works better with his back against the wall, remember? I would bet with all the uncertainty and doubt hovering over his defensive group, his guys will stand up to the challenge.

Last season showcased tremendous positives that we can pull from coach Pelini and his staff. One, they are resilient. Two, they work very well under pressure and three, they are all growing in small areas. If you just pay attention to the big picture you’ll never see the small areas of growth Pelini is making.

I had plenty of reservations about Pelini as I looked at the big picture. Once I looked at the past 5 years through a magnifying glass the growth and possible bright future crystallized.

Last season Bo Pelini had to win six straight games in order to represent the Legends Division for the Big Ten Title game and his team stood up to the challenge. Overcoming what seemed to be insurmountable comebacks at times. They say a team takes on the personality of their coach, and this team has done exactly that.

When Bo Pelini and his staff are dialed in they can’t be stopped! My question is, how long will it take for this staff to stay dialed in for the entire season?
As Nebraska fans, we all must be patient with the process. In a year where the program trades Wisconsin and Ohio St for Purdue and Illinois, Bo Pelini’s best season yet, is very reachable.

Pelini and Co. are steadily cleaning up the wreckage Bill Callahan left behind, and with each year that passes we’ll get to bury those forgettable days deeper into our memory bank.

Look at it this way. If or when you start to think about what coach Pelini is not doing, or should do more of, just take yourself back to 2007 and the massive destruction coach Callahan left behind. We could be there!