Head into the weekend with a big portion of Hot Takes:
Is Nebraska in a “rebuild” mode? In Shawn Eichorst’s letter to fans, he asked for patience and support as Mike Riley “rebuilds our storied program one brick at a time”. That comment caught many fans off guard as Riley’s role at Nebraska has not been previously described in that manner. Many fans took offense at characterizing Nebraska as a rebuilding project.
First and foremost, we should acknowledge that parsing a single word from a quote, interview, or press release is a risky proposition at best. That said, “rebuild” is a poor choice of words.* For many people, “rebuild” brings visions of losing teams with absolutely no chance of winning championships. When I hear “rebuild” in reference to a sports team, I think of how my Kansas City Royals were in a rebuilding mode for the better part of 15 years, Kansas football since Mangino left, or other perennial doormats.
*Personally, I would have gone with improves, aligns, corrects, or strengthens our storied program one brick at a time. Given that this was a publicly released letter and not an off-the-cuff interview remark, I assume the use of “rebuild” was intentional, not accidental.
So is Nebraska rebuilding? Mostly no, but a little yes.
I believe the psyche of this team needs to be rebuilt. I continuously see the word “toxic” used to describe the program under Pelini. I think it is rather easy to see that not all of the players have bought in to Riley’s culture (or, they initially bought in but voided their purchase after a few losses). Between the “us against the world” bunker mentality and coaches who were critical of administrators and fans that was widely acknowledged under Pelini, this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Cleaning this up will take time. And effort. And likely, “encouraging” some players to continue their career at a different institution. The culture, my friends, is something that needs to be rebuilt.
Those who dislike the current A.D. probably already know that when Pelini was fired Eichorst said: “At the end of the day, I think we have kids in our program that are capable of winning championships.” I agree. In my opinion, Nebraska is not devoid of talent. There are high level athletes at Nebraska. There are separate discussions to be had on if that high-end talent is a) healthy enough to play, b) being coached and/or utilized correctly, or c) playing to their potential, but NU has some talent.
A key issue in this season has been the depth of talent. Without singling out a specific player or position group, I can think of some examples where the front-line starter is out (due to injury, suspension, or performance) and there is a noticeable drop-off when the backup is in the game. In short, I think Nebraska’s first string is as talented (if not more so) than any team in the division. The second team is not more talented than the rest of the division. The talent on this team does not need to be rebuilt, rather the depth needs to be restocked.
Adopt Mike Riley? Fans, are you frustrated with the performance of MIke Riley? How can you get the message across that you are unhappy?
“For Sale” signs in his yard? That’s a little outdated – plus, I’m not sure a For Sale sign in the lobby of the Embassy Suites would get your point across. Register firemikeriley.com? Sorry – somebody already beat you to that.*
*and if I’m reading the registration from whois.net correctly, firemikeriley.com was created the day Riley was announced at NU. Sheesh. You’re either very opportunistic or you have zero faith.
Sure you can voice your opinion on message boards and radio shows, but that won’t get any attention. You need something fairly original and flashy – like posting an ad on Craigslist. The ad (which has since been removed) refers to Riley as a pet. It is a healthy mix of satire and passive aggression: “He would be better off with a gentler home where less is expected of him.” Hilarious, right?
Firing a coach in his first year is such an absurd notion that it’s not worth wasting the keystrokes. It is just not going to happen. Feel free to re-read the first two sentences as necessary. Therefore, the only thing this ad accomplishes is making Riley’s tenure look even more precarious than it truly is. This story got some run nationally, and I guarantee it will come up in the living rooms of potential recruits as they tell kids to avoid a situation where the “greatest fans in college football” think their coach is a joke.
Nebraska’s greatest asset is the passion of its fans. All of the things that keep Nebraska what it was – and can be again – are directly tied to the fan base. So when one fan thinks he’s a funny guy, it hurts the reputation of those of us who stand by the program, regardless of who is in charge. If you really feel that strongly about Riley, there are ways to make your point to the decision-makers (i.e. financially) without causing damage to the program’s reputation.
Do we hear boos this year? Between the tradition of winning, and the collective class of the best fans in college football, Nebraska coaches and players rarely hear boos at home. Refs get booed. Sometimes NU’s opponent gets booed. But it’s pretty rare to hear boos directed at the guys wearing the “N”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time there was booing directed at the Huskers was in 2011 against Ohio State.*
Don’t be surprised if we hear some boos against Michigan State or when Iowa comes to town. If the Huskers get down early, struggle on offense and/or defense, or look similar to how they played against Purdue, expect the boos to rain down from a frustrated fan base not used to losing.
I do not believe in, nor condone, booing college kids. Period. If you want to argue that a coach making six figures should be booed for poor performance…well, that’s your prerogative. I’ll won’t stop you from booing, but I definitely won’t join in.
Will the goalposts survive the season? To the best of my memory (and Google abilities), the goalposts in Memorial Stadium have not come down since #3 Nebraska beat #2 Colorado in 1994. Over those 21 years, the goalposts have survived due to a combination of hubris (“we’re Nebraska, we don’t do that”) and lack of opportunities (only six wins over ranked teams at home since the 2001 OU game, and only one against a Top 10 team – #9 Michigan State in 2011).
But could that change? Michigan State comes into Lincoln ranked #6. Iowa is currently #10, and should continue to climb as the teams in front of them lose. Given the poor season NU has had, the thrill of upsetting an undefeated conference team (I initially typed “rival”, but deleted it), and the passion of Husker fans, I could see it happening. Obviously, there is the sizable hurdle of 3-6 Nebraska finding a way to knock off a Top 10 team, but should that happen, well, don’t be surprised if they come down.
The good news is, even though NU might be out of practice, the goalposts should come down fairly easily. During the BYU game they showed a shot of the North Stadium posts on HuskerVision. You could see some rust forming where the upright meets the crossbar. Twenty-one years is a long time.