January 6, 2011

Husker Buzz: Michigan situation eerily similar to NU's

When I watch the developments that have happened at Michigan with Rich Rodriguez, it's hard for me not to compare it to what happened at Nebraska with Bill Callahan in 2007.

Like NU, the Wolverines were looking for an exciting "splash hire" when they pushed out Lloyd Carr after a 9 win season in 2007. Former Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin initially pursued Les Miles of LSU and Greg Schiano of Rutgers, before eventually turning to West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez.

If you compare that to NU's situation in 2003, former Athletic Director Steve Pederson pushed out Frank Solich and his staff after a 10 win season and he was turned down by Dave Wannstedt of the Miami Dolphins, Houston Nutt of Arkansas , Al Saunders of the Kansas City Chiefs and Mike Zimmer of the Dallas Cowboys before settling on former Oakland Raiders head coach Bill Callahan after he was fired by Al Davis.

Both Callahan and Rodriguez were good football coaches that were offensive geniuses who knew how to recruit, but neither knew how to build a successful defense. They were also both outsiders that never had the full blessing of the traditionalists in their program because they weren't Tom Osborne and Bo Schembechler disciples.

People expected Callahan to fully understand Nebraska's traditions and history, just like Michigan fans fully expected Rodriguez to understand what it meant to be a "Michigan man."

Callahan took NU from the option offense to a pro style West Coast offense, while Rodriguez switched Michigan to a spread offense out of their traditional pro-style offense they had been running since Schembechler took over in Ann Arbor.

If there's one thing athletic directors around the country should learn about hiring a head football coach at tradition rich programs like Nebraska and Michigan, it's very hard for your fan base to accept drastic changes when they were used to something working for so long.

As I said, both Callahan and Rodriguez are good football coaches. Callahan is proving that again with the New York Jets and I'm sure wherever Rodriguez goes he will have success, but it's different when you are talking about places like Lincoln and Ann Arbor.

From the minute Rodriguez walked into the door at Michigan he had his doubters and never once did it feel like he had the full support of the Wolverine fan base. Covering Callahan during his four year at NU, you could say the same thing. Because of the way Pederson fired Solich and hired Callahan you never felt like everybody was on board, and never once did it feel like Osborne was on board with the changes made following the 2003 season.

If Michigan AD Dave Brandon is smart, he'll look towards San Diego State's Brady Hoch, who is a "Michigan man" that understands their culture and traditions just like Bo Pelini.

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FoxSports.com's Lisa Horne went way over the line in her column that ripped Pelini for allegedly lying to serviceman Morgan Ryan about getting to call a play in the Holiday Bowl.

Horne accused Pelini of mistreating and taking advantage of a serviceman in order to "one-up" Washington's Steve Sarkisian at a naval base luncheon.

Apparently Horne isn't aware of everything Pelini and his staff has done for local serviceman over the last three years.

NU donated nearly 1,700 tickets to local San Diego serviceman for the Holiday Bowl, along with several tickets to the Big 12 Championship game. On top of that, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini told me that any type of care package request they get from families of local troops overseas they go out of their way to honor it.

Carl Pelini told me that includes sending game tape each week to an entire divisions in Afghanistan and sending over countless autographed football, pictures, jerseys and flags.

It's unfortunate this article came off in a light that Bo Pelini could care less for somebody serving our country, because in all reality this coaching staff has done as much as any in the country to show their appreciation and support to our troops.

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When you start to look ahead to next year's Big Ten schedule, the league is wide open, especially with the suspension of the five Ohio State players for the first five games of 2011.

The first preseason poll I've seen on nationalchamps.net has Michigan State at No. 11, Wisconsin at No. 12, Nebraska at No. 14, Ohio State at No. 19, Michigan at No. 24, Penn State at No. 30, Northwestern at No. 42 and Iowa at No. 47.

On paper the schedule looks very daunting for the Big Red, but if you compare what they return to the rest of the league they should be right in the mix.

MSU looks like the team to beat in the Legends Division, as they return 13 starters, including quarterback Kirk Cousins and 1,000 yard rusher Edwin Baker.

Some early keys to 2011 are the Huskers must go 4-0 in their nonconference games and take care of business at home against Washington and Fresno State. I also think they need to at least hope for a split in their first two conference games at Wisconsin and at home against Ohio State.

If the Huskers can get their offense figured out, I see no reason why Nebraska can't contend for the division title and win 9 or 10 games in 2011. I for one am looking forward to the chance to see Nebraska play in one of the three Florida New Years Day bowls the Big Ten has to offer.

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Kudos to Doc Sadler's team for their 12-2 start…now the real season begins on Saturday when Iowa State comes to town.

You hate to say it, but this is almost a must win game for Sadler's crew, as they'll travel to No. 9 Missouri and No. 3 Kansas after their match-up with the Cyclones. After that, they have two winnable games against Colorado and Texas Tech.

A 3-2 start in league play would do wonders for the confidence level of this team and hopefully draw some bigger numbers over at the Devaney Center.

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After watching the January bowl games this year, I found myself wondering why Nebraska's offense can't resemble more of what I saw from Stanford or Wisconsin.

NU had one of the most physical offensive lines this year in the Big 12, but you would never know it because the wide splits they played in made it difficult to push people off the line and get effective double teams on defenders.

My New Years wish for 2011 is to see a physical downhill running offense that is better suited for NU's linemen and backs, and one that will allow Taylor Martinez to do things that better fit his skill set.

This is an interesting time as Nebraska prepares for their move over to the Big Ten Conference. They need to find something that works on offense and find something that is easier to make in-game adjustments with. It just seemed like if teams threw different looks at Nebraska's offense this season, they had a hard time adjusting, and that was never more evident in the Big 12 Championship game and the Holiday Bowl.

You still can't complain though where this program is at. The Huskers have 29 wins over the last three seasons and that ranks only behind Oklahoma (32) and Texas (30) in the Big 12 Conference. I know people want championships around here, but Nebraska is back to competing again and their talent level is on par with the top programs in the country. I have hard time complaining about that.


Sean Callahan can be reached at sean@huskersillustrated.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha. He can also be seen on WOWT TV in Omaha four nights per week during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.



 

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