There are times when events cause me to expand my scope a bit beyond the usual parameters of Virginia Tech and ACC sports. This is one of those times.
In the summer of 2003, amid the wreckage of what was once the Big East Football Conference, a couple of athletics directors at schools left behind following Little Johnny’s Great Raid took note of what they perceived serious problems facing their employers and decided to run away. Among them was Steve Pederson, then the AD at Pitt.
Pederson ran out the door and didn’t stop until he had reached Lincoln, Nebraska. This seems to have led to a bad news/bad news situation.
Pederson was replaced at Pitt by Jeff Long. Long’s first move was to run off successful football coach Walt Harris and bring in proven loser Dave Wannstedt. Results seem to indicate that this will go down as one of the worst hires in the history of organized football. Incredibly, Long has been rewarded for overseeing the wrecking of Harris’ program by being hired to replace retiring Frank Broyles at Arkansas. It can be assumed that Houston Nutt’s Razorback regime will soon be history and the Arkansas faithful will soon be enjoying 3-9 records. Maybe this time Long will bring in Dan Henning or Carl Torbush. That is the bad news.
The bad news is what has happened at Nebraska. Unlike at Virginia Tech, at most places the football coach actually works for the athletic director, not the other way around. ADs also tend to like to have as coaches their own hires. When Pederson touched down at Nebraska, the incumbent was Frank Solich, the hand-picked successor of ultra-successful and retired coach Tom Osborne. Solich had carried on the winning ways he had inherited from Osborne, who himself had received a winning legacy from Bob Devaney.
The fact that a winning program existed at Nebraska with a coaching line that stretched back for decades mattered not a whit to Pederson. He promptly fired Solich following a nine-win season. This no doubt produced great amounts of glee among the message board loon trough of the Bugeater Nation. I’m sure they had grown very weary of the heavy emphasis given to the ground game by Devaney/Osborne/Solich and the coach of every other program that wins consistently and achieves the label of ‘traditional power.’
The message board loons had to have been delighted when Pederson brought in Bill Callahan, best known for losing miserably at the NFL’s Oakland outpost. Callahan brought with him the West Coast Offense. For just about the first time ever, Nebraska was going to pass the ball. How did that work out?
The nine-win seasons and occasional MNCs came to an abrupt and screeching halt. It seemed to have escaped the notice of Callahan, and Pederson when he hired him, that while Nebraska high school football is famous for producing scads of huge, corn-fed offensive linemen conducive to a strong running game, it is noticeably deficient when it comes to churning out the critical elements of a passing game, top-shelf quarterbacks and wide receivers. To obtain the quality of players necessary to run a good West Coast Offense meant recruiting heavily out of state, i.e., somebody else’s back yard. That difficult recruiting chore appears to have been beyond the capabilities of Callahan.
Recently it has looked a lot like the bottom has fallen out at Nebraska. The last two weeks have resulted in two bad losses, the most recent the worst home loss suffered by the Cornhuskers since the Eisenhower administration. Action was deemed necessary and it came.
It came not with the firing of Callahan, yet, but with the axe applied to the neck of AD Pederson. Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman fired Pederson, with the comment of, “He was the idiot who hired Callahan.” From his perspective, Pederson probably most laments not following the example of Pitt’s Jeff Long, who got out of town before he could take the hit for hiring Wannstedt.
With the passing game fancy having turned out to be a passing fancy, Nebraska has gone back to basics by bringing back Tom Osborne as ‘interim’ AD. ‘Interim’ should last only as long as it takes to fire Callahan, then install one of Tom’s boys as AD [I’m sure Frank Solich is available], who will in turn hire another of Tom’s boys as coach. Osborne did say that he will wait until ‘after the season’ to determine the fate of Callahan. This is the college athletics equivalent of a judge from the Old West announcing that he will give a defendant a fair trial before sentencing him to hang. ‘After the season’ means that sometime during the late afternoon of November 23, no later than midmorning of November 24, Callahan will be goldsmithed.
For his part, Callahan announced that he had conducted a ‘thorough’ self-evaluation of his own coaching abilities. Not surprisingly, Callahan had determined himself to be a fine coach. Callahan, naturally, also claimed that he based his evaluation of himself on something other than wins and losses. Callahan likely was referring to his genius at having negotiated a large buyout clause calling for $3 extra-large in the event of his firing. He also announced his determination to collect every $0.05 of it by not quitting. Since Steve Pederson is going to be collecting his own buyout of $2.2 mil, he will turn out to be the gift to Nebraska athletics that keeps on giving.
The economics of today’s collegiate athletics environment dictates that the primary responsibility of an AD is to raise huge sums of cash and keep happy those donating it. The most important job, however, remains the hiring of competent coaches for the high-profile sports. Steve Pederson seems to have done a lousy job at both.
I very much appreciate all of the phone calls, e-mails and even snail mails that have come my way during my most recent bout with pneumonia and what is turning into an extended convalescence. Once again I am very impressed by the best collection of people on the Internet, those who, for whatever reason, read my stuff. There have been many expressions hoping that I, like Tyrod, Vince and Cam, will be back in action for the important game against Fredo next Thursday.
The Quack tells me that I need to think in terms of not returning to tailgates and games, but removing my picture from the Regulars page of the Clubhouse Tailgate. He is quite direct in telling me that if I have any intention of attending a night game at Lane Stadium or anywhere else it will be my last for a long time. But, he is a quack, so what does he know? We shall see.