Bo Pelini: Nebraska’s Pelini problem has no easy answer

“Nebraska’s defense utterly collapsed in the second half of a game the Huskers were controlling.” I don’t have that sentence saved in AutoText but I should.

Bo PeliniYou saw it, I saw it, and Tommie Frazier saw it, which led to the Husker legend calling for a solution: firing the entire defensive staff. In fact, he may have even gone further than that, calling for Nebraska to “get rid of the defensive play caller, the Dc, lb dl and db coaches.”  That sounds like he might have even been calling for Bo Pelini himself to get fired. Even If Frazier didn’t call for Pelini’s firing, though, plenty among the Husker faithful wouldn’t mind a bit if that happened.

Now, I love the history of college football, so when I see a situation like this arise, I look for historical precedents. Past events are not always predictive of the future but they do help us find some kind of understanding. I couldn’t find any recent instance of a head coach firing his entire staff on one side of the ball. Steve Sarkisian came pretty close two seasons ago at Washington, but the complete switcheroo is apparently elusive.

There is a precedent for the situation Nebraska is in right now, because there has been a coach who trod this ground of being pretty good at a football powerhouse but never quite delivering the desired results. His name is Earle Bruce, and he coached the Ohio State Buckeyes from 1979 to 1987.

Following a brilliant 11-1 run in 1979, Bruce’s tenure in Columbus can be summed up by one statistic: 9-3. That was his record every season from 1980 to 1985. There are only a handful of schools that would be completely dissatisfied with such a six-season run. Unfortunately for Bruce, Ohio State is one of those schools. Fortunately for Bruce, he improved in 1986…to 10-3. But after going 6-4-1 in 1987, he was shown the door.

Nebraska fans are reading that and probably thinking the two situations really aren’t that comparable. After all, Earle Bruce once lost only one game in a season. But they are comparable. Prior to the wet-mattress 1987 season, Earle Bruce coached just well enough to make him not quite fireable. That’s the same place in which Bo Pelini, who has lost exactly four games in every season, finds himself.

So what does Nebraska do? Does it tell Pelini he has to replace the defensive staff? Would sacrificing defensive coordinator John Papuchis be enough? Or should the Huskers simply decide that if Pelini, a defensive specialist, hasn’t fixed the Blackshirts by now that he never will?

All this would be a lot less complicated if not for a few reasons. The first is that Nebraska’s football personnel decisions over the past decade or so have not always come from a place of wisdom. Mind you, the fans have always gotten what they wanted. They ran defensive coordinator Craig Bohl out of town after 2002 and still don’t regret the decision even though Bohl has won two FCS titles playing Nebraska football at North Dakota State. They hounded former athletic director Steve Pederson into dumping Frank Solich just one year later even though Solich had actually started turning things around. When Nebraska couldn’t find a better coach than Bill Callahan, the fans managed to get rid of both Callahan and Pederson and got who they said they’d always wanted: Bo Pelini.

If there’s a better illustration of “be careful what you ask for” than the last decade of Nebraska football, I’d like to know what it is. The fans, it seems, do not always know what’s best. New athletic director Shawn Eichorst should be cautious about giving them exactly what they want.

The second complicating factor is the existence of the perfect candidate for Pelini’s replacement: Scott Frost, former Huskers quarterback from the best part of the Tom Osborne era. Frost has coached successfully on both sides of the ball as a co-defensive coordinator at Northern Iowa and now as Oregon’s offensive coordinator. He is a Nebraska native who knows the Husker way and is well versed in an offense that even the NFL appears unable to stop. He’s never been a head coach at any level before, but there was this one time that Nebraska hired an obvious-choice coordinator who had never been a head coach before and he turned out to be Tom Osborne.

Then again, there was another time Nebraska did the same thing and he turned out to be Bo Pelini.

The last complication is that coaching hires don’t take place in a vacuum. Everybody knows that only a miracle will prevent Texas from sacking Mack Brown after this season. There’s little chance the Longhorns would be interested in Scott Frost as a head coach, but Texas can create a stunning ripple effect. Though not many are considering Frost a strong candidate for a big promotion now, it’s still mid-September. What do you do, Nebraska? Would it make a difference if Pelini actually does save this season with an incredible run? Do you give him another year to turn things around with a new defensive outlook? Do you run the risk of elevating Frost too soon? Do you run the risk that Frost will get a different job in what figures to be another tumultuous season of hirings and firings?

Do you have somebody else in mind?

Can you actually get that somebody else?

In the end I think Tommie Frazier might be right, or at least pretty close to it. Nebraska has an excellent offense with lots of talent. I think what the Huskers really need, though, is two new coordinators and a greater sense of urgency.


  1. Rod McDowell says:

    I assume that Bo is as capable of running as good a defense as he did when he was the defensive coordinator at Nebraska under Frank Solich and at LSU. Both very successful defenses. The problem appears to be that he can coach quality players if they exist in a program, he just can’t recruit new ones into his own program. I am sorry to insult our players but that is what the team lacks. Coaching, intensity of players, maybe, but the biggest problem is a lack of talent. We just don’t match up man for man with the talent of quality football teams. So if we are okay with beating up the little guys and getting our ass handed to us by the big guys, then Pelini is our man. I will say this however, we won’t be selling out that stadium if we continue as is. We may have to open up the pocketbook and spend some extra money to get a top notch head coach. But anything less won’t bring recruits to the less than stellar program that Nebraska football has become. I say, fire Pelini, get a known, quality coach and move back to a top tier football program. “Go big Red”

    • Are you ridiculous?It’s one game firing Pelini would be the most stupid idea since hiring Steve Peterson he will get the defense fixed we just have to be patient

      • Rod McDowell says:

        You must not be watching the same Husker team that I am. If this was just one game I would agree with you, but the downhill slide has been going on for some time now. What is ridiculous is people like you who would do nothing and let the Cornhusker football team slip into oblivion. I am not saying that we should repeat our mistakes made with Peterson, Callahan or Pellini. I am saying spend the time and money to do it right this time!!!

        • It took Tom Osborne 21 years to win a national championship did we fire him after a heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma or Miami no. Does Pelini need to recruit better yes but true husker fans don’t give up on their coach we didn’t do it with Tom and we shouldn’t do it with Bo after we win out and beat Ohio state I’ll be the one smiling and the rest of you will fell like crap

          • Rod McDowell says:

            Not going to argue with someone who hasn’t got any idea what he is talking about. Win out and beat Ohio State huh? Wow are you fooling yourself. Now I understand who makes comments about giving Bo a chance based on our experience with Tom Osborne. One big difference, Tom was still in the hunt for a national championship all those years, Bo, a place in the top 30. We are all fans but sometimes you just have to be a realist.

          • Real Husker Fan says:

            Who cares how long it took Osborne to win a National Championship. It took Urban Meyer 3 years as a head coach to win a National Championship, and then he won another one 3 years later. Why can’t we have a coach like that? People need to stop talking about how long it took Osborne to win a Championship because the game is different now.

          • How do you feel about that comment now?

        • Who do you think will beat us Michigan State there offense is worse than ours was back in 2009. Michigan they almost lost to Akron at home. Penn State has a true freshman QB and if you think we will lose to Iowa your really in denial and the way Ohio State plays Braxton Miller is going to get seriously hurt its just a matter of time

  2. get scott frost pelini has been same since hes been game plan and no passion coming from players,escpecially defense and whats with martinez hes sprint turned into a walk

  3. i should also point out i like all the players just frustrated over the last 6 to 8 yrs and would hate to see scott frost end up some where else. He will be a head coach some where, hes resume is looking excellent,would like to have him here

  4. I don’t know what rock you crawled out from under, but do everyone a favor and crawl back. We’ve been waiting for six years for him to fix it. This year’s team makes the same mistakes, plays with the same lack of focus and the coaching staff is still just as clueless at his first team. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result. Stupidty is believing it will happen. A bit of advice for you: It is better to remain silent and thought a fool then to speak and remove all doubt.

  5. Rod, As a East Coast Nebraska Fan for the past 43 years. You’ve hit the problem right on the head. This Team has been depressing to watch for several years now. No Fire,No Pride and most of all No Overall Talent.
    This use to be a Top Tier Program,that players killed to go to and play for. They need to give Bo the hook and get someone in who can coach & recruit top flight players from any sector….

    • The problem NEB is facing is the social Media that Tom did not face. There are many more programs that recruits prefer such as Oregon. Neb does not have advantages over may programs. This is your advantage a big stadium with a loyal fan base that do not have many other entertainment alternatives.. However, these same advantages sometimes work against you in attracting players from FL, LA, GA and CA

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