Courteous Comments with Kirt Manion

Kirt Manion
Nebraska City News-Press

Stability not the issue at Nebraska 

On July 1, 2011, Nebraska officially joined the Big 10 Conference.

Ten years later, the relationship between the school and the league seems rocky.

And that boils down to football results—the lack of wins by the Huskers.

ESPN Senior Writer Adam Rittenberg recently examined Nebraska’s Big 10 struggles in a piece for ESPN Plus and proposed that a major part of the Huskers’ struggles boiled down to its lack of stability. He also implied that Nebraska’s fans needed to adjust the view of the program from one with Nebraska as a national power to one in which the team focused on winning records and middle-tier bowl appearances.

When Bill Moos took over Nebraska and hired Scott Frost, he noted that Nebraska needed to get to a place where a four-loss season would be disappointing.

Both the Rittenburg’s implication and the Moos’ statement seem to be out of whack with the reality of the football team’s past and its real place in the sport.

Nebraska enjoyed a tremendous winning tradition from the early 1960s, the beginning of the Bob Devaney era, to the late 1990s, the end of the Tom Osborne era.

Nine-win seasons were a basic standard for the Huskers through the Osborne era all the way up to the final few years of his tenure when the team soared to dominance in winning three of four national championships.

What happened next was less about instability and more about finding the fit that would make Nebraska able to reach the standard that existed in the years prior to its ascent to championship glory.

Frank Solich inherited the job from Osborne in an effort to foster continuity. Toward the end of the tenure, those surrounding the program felt that the Solich-led Huskers were declining away from the nine-win standard. The 7-7 season of 2002 seemed to fortify that notion.

Solich was fired, but, due to others turning the job down, the team ended up with Bill Callahan, a man who was less than the perfect fit for college football and particularly for college football at Nebraska.

After Callahan left, Bo Pelini came on board and did well, but, toward the end, those close to the program began to feel as though Pelini’s success was fading. There were blow ups and blow outs to fortify that notion. 

Mike Riley, Bo’s replacement, wasn’t the answer. And, three years later, Scott Frost had the hottest name in college football, so the Huskers beat others out to hire Frost.

So far, the wins aren’t coming as everyone had hoped.

Nebraska has had several coaches dating back to 2003. And it has had several athletic directors too. 

Instability is the problem. Right? Well, not really. 

If Nebraska had chosen to stick with Solich and, had the results faded as some feared, there would have been stability without victory. 

Nebraska’s changes haven’t resulted in victory. But the choice to change is less about upsetting a winning formula of stability and more about being unwilling to accept non-competitive football.

Right at the moment, the Huskers are not trending positively.

What does Nebraska do now?

Of course, Nebraska fans want to see their team win again. And Frost is going to get every chance to win. This year seems to be a time of some hope for that.

And if Nebraska wins again, what will that look like? Nine win regular seasons would be the standard with competitive performances in the set backs.

The Huskers would then wait for the magic mixture of recruiting classes and quarterback play that would put the team among the elite. And that could take a very long time.

Nebraska, during most of the Osborne era, was not a dominant national power. It was a program that looked to go unbeaten in the regular season with wins over one tough out of conference team and a couple of solid conference foes and one big-time super team, like Oklahoma.

In a bowl game, particularly a big one, Nebraska was a consistent underdog. Even in the second championship season for Osborne, which culminated in a beat down of Florida, Nebraska entered bowl play as an underdog.

Nebraska didn’t go unbeaten many times. They had solid seasons with a few losses.

Nebraska fans are not delusional for wanting to win consistently again. The team isn’t destroying stability by continuing to look for the right fit as head coach. And nine-win seasons meet a standard Husker fans can respect. They don’t represent a season of disappointment.

With the improved competition overall, an argument could be made that eight wins work just as well as nine.

When Nebraska measures itself, it does so with an eye toward Wisconsin (three coaches in 10 years just like Nebraska), since that’s what Nebraska used to be like. The Badgers are 95-35 since 2011 with five division titles.

Rittenberg suggests Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern as the standard for Nebraska.

Since 2011: Iowa, 79-46; Minnesota, 63-52; Northwestern, 72-52.

Nebraska is 66-55 since 2011 with a 12-20 record in the last three seasons. Iowa is 25-9 in the last three seasons, which represents the exact difference in wins between the two schools. Nebraska was 19-19 in three years under Mike Riley. Iowa was 28-12 over that stretch. Iowa was 26-25 from 2011 to 2014. Nebraska went 37-10.

All Iowa needed to surpass Nebraska by 13 games in the overall record was for the Huskers to go through their worst six seasons since 1956-61. And yet Iowa is the standard.