It’s been said that the head football coaching job at the University of Nebraska isn’t as attractive as it once was.
That the school is too far removed from its days as a perennial Top 10 power that regularly competed for national championships.
That it’s harder today for Nebraska to overcome its geographic isolation, located on the cold plains far from major population centers.
Or that the school doesn’t have the cachet of more trendy football schools like Oregon or Baylor.
Don’t believe it, say three college athletics consultants, a former coach-turned-TV analyst and two other network analysts.
Even today, they said, few schools in the country can match Nebraska’s winning tradition, its commitment to success and the resources it has available to build a winner. Those qualities alone should stir up a wealth of coaching candidates — from up-and-comers to established veterans — who will seek to follow Bo Pelini as Nebraska’s 29th head football coach.
“Let’s put it this way: Every coach wants to win a national championship,” said Chuck Neinas, the former Big Eight Conference commissioner who now advises schools on coaching hires. “Nebraska is a place you can win a national championship. It’s already been done.”
“My bottom line is it’s a terrific job, a job that people in good jobs right now would be interested in,” said Charles Davis, an analyst for Fox College Football. “No one can convince me the Nebraska job has so many detriments you can’t win again. It’s Nebraska.”
It didn’t take long after the Pelini era officially ended at Nebraska for the school’s passionate followers to turn their focus to his replacement. While not necessarily in agreement on Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst’s decision to fire Pelini, Nebraskans were fairly united Monday in their hope that the next coach can return the Cornhuskers to the kind of greatness Pelini was never able to achieve during his seven-year run.
While not wanting to delve deeply into names of possible candidates, the experts consulted Monday all believe there will be no shortage of them.
“It will not only attract a lot of candidates, it will attract a lot of great candidates,” said Jeff Schemmel, an Atlanta-based coaching search consultant. “There’s no doubt in my mind Shawn Eichorst will have a very good pool to choose from.”
The reason for that belief, he and others say, is the passion and commitment of fans and university leadership at Nebraska to produce a winning football team.
“Success in football is important at Nebraska,” said Ivan Maisel, college football writer for ESPN.com. “For that reason alone, Nebraska remains a job coaches will be attracted to.’’
Though passion and commitment are intangibles that can be hard to measure, they can probably best be summed up by looking at the big dollars that fans put behind football at Nebraska.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, Nebraska’s athletic department generated some $60 million in football revenues in 2013 — the 11th highest figure of any school in the country. That put it right behind longtime Top 10 powers like Texas, Alabama, Michigan, LSU, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, and Ohio State.
The figures reflect how fan interest and full stadiums translate into things like ticket sales, booster contributions, media rights and advertising dollars. And those dollars then become available to pay for facilities, recruiting, coaches’ salaries and everything else needed to compete on the football field.
When it comes to spending on football, Nebraska also ranks in the top 25, with its $24 million spent in 2013 ranking 23rd in the country. (The $36 million difference between Nebraska’s football revenue and football spending represent football profits, which at Nebraska, as at most other schools, are used to fund other sports.)
Such big dollars could come in handy when it comes to paying Nebraska’s next coach. Pelini’s salary was about $3 million a year, which ranked in the top 25 nationally — but not in the top 10. Eichorst said Sunday that Nebraska will pay what it takes to attract the right man for the job.
Nebraska’s big resources also would allow the school to buy a prospective coach out of his current contract at another school. Such payments are increasingly required under college coaching contracts, said Andy Fellingham, a New York-based consultant who advises college athletic departments on business issues.
“Now you have to pay a ransom, but I’m sure Nebraska is willing to do that,” Fellingham said. “What’s another $5 million?”
As to perceived barriers to success at Nebraska, it is true that the school today is not commonly seen as a Top 10 program. Nebraska last finished in the Top 10 in 2001, the year it last played in a national championship game.
But while many of today’s young athletes don’t remember the days when Nebraska was an elite program, those in coaching clearly do. They know Nebraska regularly cracked the Top 10 from the 1960s through 1990s, winning national championships in 1970, 1971, 1994, 1995 and 1997. “It’s still perceived as a job where you can get there,” Schemmel said.
The experts were divided on Nebraska’s geographical isolation and how much that could affect coaching success.
Nebraska’s location does force coaches to travel far and wide to recruit the talent to build a top contender. But Fox’s Davis said that’s not at all unusual for many top schools today, including Oregon, Michigan and Wisconsin. The same geographical challenges also didn’t stop Nebraska coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne from winning national titles.
However, Gerry DiNardo, a former LSU coach now working as an analyst for the Big Ten Network, said he sees Nebraska as among the most threatened of the traditional football powers because of the demographic shift of football talent to Southern states. It’s critical to hire a coach who can run a big and effective recruiting operation, he said.
“I think Nebraska is the most difficult historically elite program to keep at an elite level,” he said.
Most of the observers dismissed another barrier that’s been raised in the wake of Pelini’s firing: that the ouster of a coach who won at least nine games every year will make coaches reluctant to seek the Nebraska job. Nebraska is the kind of job that attracts coaches with equally high expectations, Schemmel said.
“That is not going to deter anyone who’s worth their salt,” he said.
Nebraska’s membership in the Big Ten — particularly in the weaker of the league’s two divisions — also should promote good candidates, the observers said. Winning a division title gives you a shot at winning a conference championship, which then becomes a key entry point into the new college football playoff system. Beginning this year, you have to make the four-team playoff to compete for a national title.
Overall, the consultants and analysts didn’t see any significant barriers to the pool of candidates at Nebraska. The job will attract hot offensive and defensive coordinators who are not yet head coaches, coaches who have built successful programs at lower levels of football and likely coaches who already have jobs within the nation’s five power football conferences.
“The right person with the right plan and the right system takes care of everything,” Davis said. “Then you’re right back in the Top 10. But you’ve got to hit it right.”
Given that Pelini’s nine wins weren’t enough, DiNardo said he thought Nebraska should pony up the millions required to hire an established coach, one with a record of success at the highest levels of college football. He said it might take $15 million in salary and buyout dollars to land such a “rock star,” but that coach could also immediately make Nebraska a championship contender.
Would there be a rock star interested in coming to Nebraska?
“I don’t know,” DiNardo said. “I would find out by asking.”
How about Troy Calhoun, HC at Air Force? Look at his resume and then consider what he been able to do at Air Force with all the restrictions he has on recruiting and the type of Offense he has to play.
I floated that name in chat the other day. When Eichorst gave his press conference on Sunday, he said that current coaches would be recruiting "on campus." Apparently Eichorst "misspoke" because the next day it was reported that Charlton Warren, secondary coach, would be making in-home visits with recruits. Warren is the former DC for Air Force. Is Warren on the road to hold the hands of recruits while he waits for his former boss to be named new coach? I know....conspiracy theory, eh? However, add to that, Calhoun runs a triple-option that is not only part of the NU glory days tradition, but better suited for the B1G Conference. Calhoun's current offense at Air Force is also top-rated in the passing game. The Falcons’ 156.1 passing efficiency ranks 10th nationally and is tops in the NCAA among teams with fewer than 200 passing attempts. Calhoun has NFL in his resume and HC experience. Class guy who runs a clean program. Maybe not a great record overall at Air Force (just over .500 in 8 seasons), but you don't exactly recruit athletes to a service academy, but rather take what is offered. This year was turn-around season for Calhoun....at 9-3 he had victories over 10-win teams at Boise State and Colorado State. Something to chew on….but Calhoun is a dark horse if anything.
Air Force lost to Craig Bohl/Wyoming but I agree, Calhoun should be considered. I don't think that he returns us to glory; but at least he's not an a$$.