Tim Beck

State of the Huskers Survey – Results and Responses

Dadgummit, Shawn Eichorst.

I worked hard to put together a comprehensive survey intended to get a true pulse of the Husker fan base on a number of hot-button topics.  I put it out there, promoted it (thanks again to 93.7 The Ticket’s Gaskins & Stephens Show for having me on last week), and many, many of you took the time to take the survey over the last week.

I spent a good chunk of time Friday and Saturday night going through the 6,000+ responses, analyzing the data, and working towards putting out the results that so many of you were excited to see.  When I went to bed early Sunday morning, I was about halfway through this post and felt confident that I would have it ready for Monday morning.

And then Eichorst goes and fires Bo Pelini.

The key question in this survey (Should Bo Pelini be fired before the end of the 2014 season?) was answered for me by the one person whose response carries all the weight.

Mr. Eichorst, I understand that you felt you had to make a change – and I’m not going to argue that you probably made the right call.  But couldn’t you have waited until Monday? State of the Huskers header

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Even with Pelini’s firing stealing some of the thunder from this, there is still a lot of good data in here.  Therefore, on with the show!

Before we dive into the questions and your responses, I would be remiss if I did not give proper thanks to everybody who completed the survey, who shared it with others via social media, and who provided constructive criticism for me.*

*The biggest thing I learned is that the Gallup folks make things look easier than they really are.  My site will not be changing from FeitCanWrite to FeitCanSurvey any time soon.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Thanks to your time and efforts, I am thrilled about the sample size of this survey.  You can skip down to the demographics questions (46 – 50) to get more details, but here are the highlights showing how diverse the respondents were:

  • Over 6,000 respondents in under a week.
  • Survey results from 49 states*, the District of Columbia, and 42 locations outside the U.S.
  • Respondents very evenly distributed across age groups 30-39 all the way to 60+.
  • A good mix of UNL alumni, former students, and off campus fans.

*Come on Huskers in New Hampshire – let’s step up our game a little bit.  That said, I’m inclined to say we had representation from all 50 states:  my first non-dorm residence in Lincoln was on New Hampshire Street.  I lived there throughout college and another four years after graduation, so I’m practically a resident of the Granite State (even if I had to use Google to learn that New Hamp is the Granite State).

I think this helps give a great cross-section of all Husker fans, which is exactly what I wanted.

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For each question, I’m going to share the following data:

  • The question that was asked
  • Each of the answer options
  • The percentage of responses each answer option received
  • The total number of responses each answer option received
  • If the question contained an “Other (please specify)” option, I’ll share some of the common responses, as well as others that stand out to me.  I will directly quote these responses.
  • Finally, I’ll provide my interpretation, comments, and other feedback.  Some of these were written before Pelini was fired, but I’ll edit as many as I can.

Also, a full PDF version of the results (including pie charts!) can be found here:  State_of_the_Husker_Results

Finally, if you want to see my responses and a brief justification for each one, you can see my completed survey here.

Let’s get started:

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1. What is the biggest issue facing the Nebraska football program?


Fresno Night Lights

Thanks for stopping by!  While I am very grateful for those who take the time to read my work, I would greatly it if you read this one on HuskerMax.com.  

Why?  As a writer for the site, I earn a fraction of a penny per page view.  And with three mouths to feed, and a poor wife who becomes a football widow 12 Saturdays a year, I need those penny parts to keep everybody happy.  

Thank you,

Feit Can Write

How to Appease Husker Fans of All Generations

Nebraska is renowned for having excellent fans who support their Cornhuskers to the end.  The sellout streak at Memorial Stadium will reach 340 by the end of the 2014 season.  But there has always been a divide among Husker fans in the stadium.  There are those fans who want games to be raucous events, and some who would prefer to go, sit, and quietly watch the game.  Typically, that latter group is labeled “blue hairs”, as they tend to be some of the older fans who have had season tickets for decades.  Over the years*, the blue hairs have been telling fans to sit down, shut up, and generally do things that one might consider counter to having a loud, intimidating environment for opposing teams.

*I’ve heard the residents of West Stadium referred to as “blue hairs” since the early 1990s.  Which means that some of the folks who used to complain about blue hairs can now be considered blue hairs themselves.  

The latest example comes to us from the Lincoln Journal Star’s Letters to the Editor page where Charley Ackerman writes to voice his displeasure with the loud volume coming from the new million dollar sound system – it is too loud for him to converse with those in his section.  Charley also is displeased by the quantity of “hip-hop hogwash”* being played from the speakers.

*Seriously, “hip-hop hogwash” might be the greatest combination of letters in the history of the English language.  I cannot adequately express how much I love that phrase.  Hip-hop hogwash.  Hip-hop hogwash.  Hip-hop hogwash.  It never gets old!

Predictably, Charley’s letter has been met with rolled eyes, Internet mockery, and suggestions that he and his fellow blue hairs stay home.  But I don’t think we need to get to that extreme.  Besides, it’s worth noting that the blue hairs – especially those in the West stadium – are often big and long-time donors, whose money is not easily replaced by young alums repaying student loans.

But on the other side, there are fans who think Nebraska is too traditional, too stuck in their ways, too willing to cater to the old farts who have sat in the same seats since LBJ was in office.  They would like to see Nebraska move onto the cutting edge – or at least keep up with other teams that are doing new and exciting things.

So how do we reconcile the wants and needs of these two very diverse sects of the same group?  Simple, we take a page from my hometown church.

The church I grew up in does two services.  The early service is the traditional one with the full scripture readings, old hymns, and beautiful old sanctuary.  The early service at Resurrection Lutheran is almost exactly the same today as it was in 1985, and there is a loyal and devoted crowd (my silver-haired mom included) who would not have it any other way.  It is familiar, it is classic, it is timeless.

The late service is the contemporary one.  It’s held in the fellowship hall and has a small band that leads newer, upbeat songs while overhead screens display scripture and images.  The contemporary service has a more laid-back, fun vibe to it and it also draws a loyal crowd.

Since Nebraska Football is often referred to as the “state religion”, let’s apply these same concepts to the Game Day Experience:

Games with 11 am kickoffs will be the “traditional service”.  The Tunnel Walk will be played, with “Sirius” as the background music.  Speaking of music, most of the in-stadium music will be provided by the Cornhusker Marching Band.  To appease our friend Charley, the speakers will be at a reasonable volume, and no hip-hop hogwash will be played during the traditional service.  (Athletic Department staff will consult with Tom Osborne to see what kind of music he enjoys).  There will be no smoke when Nebraska comes out of the tunnel, no fireworks after scores, and nobody will put up a net when a PAT or field goal is kicked – just throw the ball back down to the field, please.  The large HuskerVision screen in the south end zone will display graphics so it resembles the old First Federal Lincoln scoreboard.  Halftime refreshments will consist of non-alcoholic grape juice and a thin, stale wafer.

Nebraska will always wear their iconic uniforms (red jerseys, white pants, and the white helmet with the sans-serif N), and the congregation will be asked to wear red.  Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck will be asked to limit the number of passes called, and encouraged to run at least three fullback dives as well as an option to the short side of the field.  Prolonged standing is allowed, but will be strongly discouraged.  The wave may occur, but expect it to take several attempts to really get going.  Don’t bother trying to connect to the in-stadium WiFi, because it will be turned off.  But you can tune into Kent Pavelka and Gary Saddlemeyer’s call on KFAB.

Outside of Memorial Stadium on the University ...

Here is the church, those are the steeples…(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Games with 7 pm kickoffs will be the “contemporary service”.  The stadium speakers are cranked up so the residents of Crete can hear what is going on.  Instead of a marching band, Nebraska employs a full-time DJ who spins “hip hop, but no hogwash”.  The big screens and ribbon boards are alive with replays, stats, cat videos, and tweets from @FauxPelini scrolling continuously.  The Tunnel Walk is completely revamped with smoke, lasers, strobe lights, and a new song that gets everybody amped up.  Every game, Nebraska comes out in a new and exciting alternate uniform and helmet, raising the bar for other schools.  Beer vendors will be everywhere in the stadium.

To encourage fans to stand up, the benches in the first 50 rows will be removed.  Depending on the opponent, fans will be asked to wear black, red, or white shirts.  Students will wave towels all game long while performing more organized cheers and chants than a major league soccer team.  The opening offensive play of the second half will be decided by a Twitter poll with #DeepBall being a perennial favorite.  Before the fourth quarter, the entire stadium rocks as the DJ plays the song that puts Wisconsin’s “Jump Around” to shame.

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There.  Hopefully this will keep all of Nebraska’s passionate fans excited about coming to games in Lincoln.  More importantly, it will help make sure that folks like Charley can complain about other more pressing issues, like Beck’s play calling, the price of a slice of pizza, or the number of steps up to his seats in section 34.

NU Coaching Grades – 2013 (C)

It took a little while, but the report card is in.  I’ve graded the members of the Nebraska football coaching staff on how well they coached their positions and developed their players.  It is time to see who passed, who needs to consider summer school, and who should update their resume.  Click here to see last year’s grades.

Methodology:  Last year, my approach was rough.  While I utilized the same criteria below, there was no hard and fast rule to how the grades were issued.  Looking back, there are some grades that were tough for me to justify.  So this year, I’ll assign a letter grade (A through F) for each of my four factors and then give each coach an overall GPA (using the standard 4.0 scale).

Here are the things I’m grading the coaches on:

  • On-field performance.  Did the unit made the team better or were they a weakness?  Did they live up to the hype or a big disappointment?  Coordinators are also judged on the overall performance of their area.
  • Improvement.  Did the position group play better in 2013 than in 2012?  Better in November than September?  Or did they take a step back?
  • Positional depth.  How many players were in the mix for playing time?  When injuries occurred, was there a noticeable drop off to the backup?  I think this is a fair representation of “coaching up” the talent to a level where they can contribute and/or succeed on the field.  If a starter playing at 60% health is still better than his backup, that says something about how the coach is getting his players ready to go.  On the flip side, if a several guys are  injured and the unit plays as well as (or better than) they have been, that reflects well on a coach.  Obviously, things like injuries, suspensions, and protecting redshirts were considered, but recruiting busts do not.  In my opinion, a good coach should be able to turn most lemons into lemonade – even if it takes a lot of squeezing.
  • My gut opinion.  I was at every home game, and watched every other game.  I can’t diagram the Tampa 2, but I feel that I have a good understanding of what’s going on.

It is also important to note that recruiting is NOT included in these grades.  Why?  First and foremost, I’m not enough of a recruitnik to know who lands the 4 and 5 stars, and who might be a double agent secretly working for Wisconsin.  Also, grading how a coach recruits leads to a lot of incomplete grades – you simply cannot truly tell if a player is boon or a bust until their playing career is over.

So with the explanations and disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look at the report card, starting with the straight A student.  (All titles listed below are from huskers.com)

John Garrison – Assistant Coach/Offensive Line
Garrison was easily the star performer of the staff.  The line seemed stronger and more cohesive than 2012.  Throughout the season, the O line was a strength of the team.  The depth, as tested by the number of injuries that took out stars, starters, and key reserves, was outstanding.

While it is possible that Garrison’s grade is inflated as a result of having four seniors (and multi-year starters), I don’t think anybody would disagree that grade was earned during conference play when a starter seemed to get injured every week.

Recruiting does not factor into my grades, but having Garrison included in “top recruiter” lists cements him as the head of the class.
2013 GPA:  4.25, A+
2012 Grade:  C 

Rich Fisher – Assistant Coach/Wide Receivers 
Fisher was the valedictorian of the 2012 grades, but he slips a little bit for 2013.  Why?  Part of it was not fully meeting the high preseason expectations placed on returning starters Quincy Enunwa, Kenny Bell, and Jamal Turner along with touted freshman Jordan Westerkamp.  I’m not sure if I can truly say the receivers were top to bottom better in 2013 than 2012.  It felt like there were a few more drops than the 2012 unit.  Of course, considering there were three very different QBs throwing passes at them throughout the year, I can forgive some of those drops.

Fisher’s group has the headliners, but don’t discount the positional depth, with several guys getting decent reps.  I like that Fisher seems to get solid contributions from touted recruits and walk-ons.

2013 GPA:  3.75, B+
2012 Grade:  A

Rick Kaczenski – Assistant Coach/Defensive Line
No position group made a bigger improvement over 2012 than the defensive line.  First and foremost was the improved depth.  It felt like there were always fresh bodies able to come in.  Losing Avery Moss at the end of the season could have set up a repeat of the disastrous end to the 2012 season.  Instead, Kaz plugged in the next guy, and the drop-off was minimal.

The other key improvement was in the line’s ability to generate a pass rush.  Certainly, Randy Gregory was a key component, but the line was able to put more heat on opposing QBs even when Gregory wasn’t on the field.  Never underestimate the benefit that a pass rush has on a Pelini defense.

2013 GPA:  3.625, B+
2012 Grade:  D

Ron Brown – Assistant Coach/Running Backs 
You end up looking pretty good when you have Ameer Abdullah in your position group, and therefore Brown grades out well.  But if you look at all of the backs under Brown’s tutelage, you’ll find excellent talent.  This leads to one of my biggest gripes on Coach Brown:  I would like to see more touches for the backups (especially the dynamic Terrell Newby), but I can understand why he would be hesitant to remove his franchise player.  (And I’ll always argue that the fullbacks should get some carries).  I probably should ding Brown for the sometimes shoddy ball security, but he has enough good will built up for me to let it slide – for this year.
2013 GPA:  3.5, B+
2012 Grade:  A-

Ross Els – Assistant Coach/Linebackers 
Surprised to see Els this high?  If you take a second look above, you’ll notice that this grade is only about Ross Els – Linebackers coach.  Ross Els – Linebackers coach is a decent coach.  He lost three senior starters and opened the season with a true freshman, a guy coming off of a knee injury, and a top backup/occasional starter from 2012.  Yes, it took some time for Els to put guys in the right positions (taking the MIKE responsibilities away from David Santos and giving them to Michael Rose was a smart move) but there is absolutely no denying that the backers improved greatly as the season went on.  Going into 2014, the LB corps looks like a strength of the entire team.

I separated Els’s duties as Linebackers coach from his other roles for two reasons:  1) to help illustrate that Els has too much on his plate, and 2) to make sure Els received proper credit for the performance and growth of his position group.
2013 GPA:  3.5, B+
2012 Grade:  n/a (not graded solely as a LB coach)

Terry Joseph – Assistant Coach/Secondary 
The secondary was a strength of the defense.  Granted, for the first part of the season that was akin to saying Bo is the best coach named “Pelini” – the bar is kind of low.  The development of Corey Cooper from potential recruiting bust to budding star is a positive, as is the performances of Leroy Alexander and Stanley Jean-Baptiste.

I’m a little concerned that there seems to be more turnover in the secondary coaching job than turnovers produced by the members of the secondary, but I’m optimistic that new coach Charlton Warren can stem that.
2013 GPA:  3.5, B+
2012 Grade:  B

Joe Ganz – Graduate Assistant (Quarterbacks)
Regardless of Tim Beck’s official title, I think we can all agree that Ganz was the de facto QB coach on the 2013 squad.  Given that there were three different starting QBs in Nebraska’s last seven games, Ganz did a pretty damn good job – especially considering his true title and salary.  I’ll be interested to see how Beck handles the QBs this fall.
2013 GPA:  3.375, B
2012 Grade:  n/a

John Papuchis – Defensive Coordinator 
I wonder if Papuchis will ever get away from the stigma that Bo truly runs the defense and he is just a glorified assistant.  Regardless, his title means the responsibility falls on him, so he gets the blame for the embarrassing chunks of yardage bled out against Wyoming and UCLA as well as the credit for containing Michigan and Georgia.

The improvement from August to January was very easy to see, and overall, I felt the 2013 defense was better than the 2012 version.  As a result, his grade for on-field performance isn’t that great, but he makes up for it with improvement and depth.
2013 GPA:  3.25, B
2012 Grade:  C-

Tim Beck – Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks 

I gave Beck a lot of credit for depth on offense as getting to nine wins with a patchwork line and two backup quarterbacks was no easy feat.  That said, I think most fans (myself included) expected more from the offense – not necessarily the 50 points per game that Jamal Turner referenced in fall camp, but certainly something that could score more than 23 points at Minnesota.

As the offensive coordinator, Beck gets the bill for turnover issues that plague this team (and costs them wins).  My gut tells me that after Martinez went down Beck struggled to know how he wanted to attack defenses.  Credit is given for putting the brakes on the hurry up pace when it was obvious that the young defense was struggling.  Despite a down year, I still maintain that Beck is the best offensive coordinator Nebraska has had since Osborne retired.
2013 GPA:  3.00, B
2012 Grade:  B+

Bo Pelini – Head Coach 
The Bo blurb is tough to write.  I feel like the political reporter who will be called “too liberal” and “too conservative” by partisans – within the same article.  No matter what I write, I’m going to tick somebody off.

Since Bo is becoming a polarizing figure, I’m going to go strictly by the methodology I laid out at the top:

It is worth noting that I am not factoring the “F______ fans” audio gate into his grades.  It’s not fair to base his 2013 grade on something that happened two years ago.

  • On-field performance.  I am on record saying that 9 wins matters, but I think we all expected a better outcome to the season.  I like how the 2013 Huskers won the close games (5-0 in games decided by less than seven points), but nobody likes the manner in which they lose (average margin of defeat:  16.25 points).  Too many mental mistakes, wasted timeouts, an embarrassing punt return game, and a turnover margin that almost got him fired.
  • Improvement.  The team got better from beginning to end.  The team that beat Georgia would have beaten UCLA and Minnesota.  I also look at Bo’s off-field “improvement”.  He’s learning and improving as a coach.  I give Bo credit for his improvement in being more personable, embracing fun (his prank and Harlem Shake videos), and for his role in getting Jack Hoffman a touchdown.  That improvement may not be as fast or dramatic as we want it to be, but it is there.
  • Positional depth.  The team talent, speed, and athleticism was noticeably improved in 2013 at a variety of positions.  Anytime you lose a four year starting QB, an All-American lineman, and other contributors and avoid complete meltdown is a good thing.
  • My gut opinion.  I like Bo Pelini as a man.  I like what he stands for, and how he runs his program.  I want to believe in Bo as a coach.  I see the potential and the growth.  I see a coach who is coming into his own and truly understanding what it takes to consistently win on the highest levels.  I also see a coach who is haunted by demons, whose passions run deep and hot, and is having to play catch up from bad recruiting classes, schematic woes, and a transition to a completely different league.  My grade here would probably be higher, if not for November 29.  Against Iowa, Bo coached like somebody desperate to save his job, and acted like somebody who knew he had lost it.  The whole day left a bad taste in my mouth.  Had Eichorst pulled the trigger, I would have supported that decision.  But I will do as I did in 2003, 2007, and every other year:  support the head coach of the University of Nebraska, and wish success upon him.

2013 GPA:  3.0, C
2012 Grade:  B-

Barney Cotton – Associate Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator/Tight Ends/Offensive Line 
Barney gets a boost for having his name on the run game, as well as having a hand in the O line’s success.  Play at his core position group (tight end) was underwhelming, even when factoring in the loss of Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton as well as the injuries to Jake Long.  There was not a lot of improvement, and due to injuries, the position was not very deep.

But overall, this should be considered a good year for Barney.  He seems to have dropped his role as punching bag for the fans.  Now he is kind of a forgotten man on the staff.  Personally, I think Cotton probably being anonymous.
2013 GPA:  2.625, C+
2012 Grade:  C

James Dobson – Head Strength Coach
Dobson replaced Barney as the official Message Board Whipping Boy.  I’ve read a lot of the criticism on him, some of which comes from people who claim to understand the athletic medicine/training field who claim that Dobson’s impact borders on malpractice.

And yet….I have a hard time laying the blame for injured knees on the offensive line at his doorstep.  I’m not saying those folks are wrong, I just want to hear those claims from somebody who is more visible than a message board screen name.

Early in the season, I noted that the players appeared gassed at times during games.  That definitely falls on him.
2013 GPA:  2.375, C
2012 Grade:  B

Ross Els – Assistant Coach/Special Teams Coordinator/Recruiting Coordinator
Above, I graded Els strictly as a Linebackers coach, and I think he graded out pretty well.  Despite having “recruiting coordinator” in his title, I’m not going to grade him on that – I just don’t follow recruiting enough to give a fair and accurate grade.  That leaves us with Els’s role as Special Teams Coordinator.

Let’s begin by looking back at what I wrote a year ago:

“The kick return teams – especially punts – were dreadful for most of the conference season, costing the team acres in field position as well as several turnovers.  Special teams went from being a relative strength to a definite weakness.  It should be noted that Els also serves as Recruiting Coordinator.  I ask:  if Els spread too thin?  Would the team would be better served if another coach took over special teams?  My opinion is yes.”

Sadly, every word is still true.  Jamal Turner bumbled two punts in the opener against Wyoming, and yet it was still better than this.  There were two fake punt attempts (against UCLA and Iowa) that not only destroyed any hope of a Husker comeback, but were tragically ill-conceived (especially the one against Iowa).  Frankly, the right legs of placekicker Pat Smith and kickoff specialist Mauro Bondi are the only things keeping Ross Els – Special Teams Coordinator from a big fat F.
2013 GPA:  0.5, D-
2012 Grade:  D (for all roles)

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Here are my individual grades for each coach:

Coach On-field Performance Improvement Positional Depth Gut Opinion GPA
John Garrison A A A+ A+ 4.250
Rich Fisher B+ B+ A A 3.750
Rick Kaczenski A A B B+ 3.625
Ron Brown A A C+ B+ 3.500
Ross Els B A B+ B+ 3.500
Terry Joseph B+ B+ B+ B+ 3.500
Joe Ganz B B A B+ 3.375
John Papuchis C+ A A B 3.375
Tim Beck C+ B A C+ 3.000
Bo Pelini C+ B B+ B 3.000
Barney Cotton B C B C+ 2.625
James Dobson C C B+ C 2.375
Ross Els D F D F 0.500

Add it all up, and you get a grade point average of 3.10 on a 4.0 scale, or a respectable B average for the staff.

2013 GPA:  3.10, B

2012 GPA:  2.46, C+

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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

Husker Thoughts – Fall Camp

Football game at the University of Nebraska on...

Soon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some random thoughts on the start of Nebraska’s Football practices:

  • I may earn the scorn of the professional media types, but who really cares that Bo Pelini closed the first practices to reporters and did not make anybody available for interviews?  I get that the fine folks at the Lincoln Journal-Star, Omaha World-Herald, and other media outlets have stories to write, air time to fill, and online content needs all in a never-ending quest to feed the hunger for information in a football mad state.  I could see their outrage if Bo was known for deep, introspective answers (“Taylor looked great, those private session with Calhoun have really paid off.  The other QBs really need to up their game or they’ll be on the Brion Carnes Plan”).  But seriously, what are we missing out on?  Generic clichés and non-insightful quotes from Pelini and players?  Big whoop.  And on the off-chance that a player gives an honest answer or a non-filtered opinion?  The sound bite goes viral and is dissected, mocked, and trotted out all season long after a bad performance.  Don’t believe me?  On Monday, I listened to a 15 minute radio segment analyzing Jamal Turner’s opinion that Nebraska could average 50 points a game (their conclusion:  Turner is unrealistic).  A year ago, we all had a good laugh over Martinez’s proclamation that he wanted to complete 70% of his throws.


  • I’m a little late on this one, but there is no such thing as “too old for Fan Day”.  I don’t care if you’re 37, have no kids, and want to go to Fan Day in your Burkhead jersey.  Just because I don’t have a big desire to wait 45 minutes for Kenny Bell’s autograph, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it – especially if the autograph isn’t destined for your Husker shrine instead of eBay.  I love the fan support this team gets, and I see no need to suppress it.  That said, I do believe kids under 13 should get priority for autographs over those without kids.


  • To nobody’s surprise, Nebraska won another online vote.  Twitter reacted with the typical avalanche of snark (“It’s just a shame that the Big Ten championship game isn’t decided by an online fan vote.”).  I love how Nebraska fans dominate these online votes.  Sure, some folks may take a big vote total as another sign of how little there is to do here in flyover country  (I’m looking at you, Herbstreit), but I see it differently.  Nebraska fans have an incredible level of pride for their team.  And we take pride in that pride.  Don’t apologize for it; embrace it.  To those of  you who voted once, daily, or hundreds of times, I say “Thank you.”


  • Hey Tim Beck – They really broke your jaw in four places to cure your sleep apnea?  Did you at least try out a CPAP machine before they took a hammer to your face?  Or is your sleep apena diagnosis a convenient cover story for somebody taking a swing at you?  Surgery seems a little severe for me.

NU Coaching Grades

The fall semester is over, and it is report card time.  I’ve graded the members of the Nebraska football coaching staff on how well they coached their players and positions.  It is time to see who passed, who needs to consider summer school, and who should update their resume.

Methodology:  Much like that one English teacher you had, there is no clear formula at work, but these grades are a combination of:

  • On-field performance.  Was the position group a burden or a bright spot?  As a side note:  Coordinators were also judged on the whole of their unit.
  • Improvement.  Did the position group play better in 2012 than in 2011?  Better in November than September?  Or did they take a step back?
  • Positional depth.  How many players were in the mix for playing time?  I think this is a fair representation of “coaching up” the talent to a level where they can contribute and/or succeed on the field.  If a starter playing at 60% health is still better than the next reserve, that says something about how the coach is getting his players ready to go.  Obviously, things like injuries, suspensions, and protecting redshirts was considered, but recruiting busts do not.  In my opinion, a good coach should be able to turn lemons into lemonade – even if it takes a lot of squeezing.
  • My gut opinion.  I was at every home game, and watched every other game.  I may not know every nuance of the game, but I’d like to think I have a decent idea of what’s going on.

It is also important to note that recruiting is NOT included in these grades.  Why?  First and foremost, I’m not enough of a recruitnik to know who lands the 4 and 5 stars, and who couldn’t sell a glass of water in the desert.  Also, grading how a coach recruits leads to a lot of incomplete grades – you just cannot truly if a player is boon or a bust until their playing career is over.

Finally, while I have included some notable figures who are not full-time assistant coaches, I did not list every intern and grad assistant.  With all due respect to Travis Borchardt (Football Intern), I don’t know what duties he had, or how well he performed them.

So with the explanations and disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look at the report card.  (All titles listed below are from huskers.com)

Rich Fisher – Assistant Coach/Wide Receivers
I’ll admit it – in the past I’ve taken a swipe or two at Fisher by referring to him as the “golf coach”, and I’m guessing you probably have too.  But look at what his group accomplished:  His receivers were widely perceived as the best in the Big 10.  They caught damn near everything thrown their way – the reduction in dropped balls from 20111 was a noticeable improvement.  The group was deep – after Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa, and Jamal Turner, there were a number of other WRs who contributed (Osborne, Wullenwaber, Allen, etc).  And let’s not forget:  to a man, this group contains physical and fearless blockers – just ask Wisconsin’s Devin Smith.  Joke no more:  the “Ol’ Golf Coach” is at the head of the class.
Grade:  A

Ron Brown – Assistant Coach/Running Backs
Rex Burkhead missed most of the year with knee injuries, but the RB position barely missed a beat.  Yes, much of the credit goes to Ameer Abdullah’s talent and work ethic, but give Brown his due for the solid performance of Braylon Heard and Imani Cross.  All three of the reserves played at a high level – although I think the way carries are allocated could be improved.  Additionally, under Brown the fullback corps is as deep as it has been in years.
Grade:  A-

Tim Beck – Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
You may disagree, but I thought Beck’s offense was the main reason Nebraska won ten games.  I like the run/pass balance that Beck achieves.  The fast tempo can be a game changer – I can think of a multiple games where the quick pace wore out a defense.  When Beck is on, he calls a great game and has a number of inventive formations and play calls up his sleeve.  However, I question how much QB coaching Beck truly does; most of the stories/interviews I saw gave me the impression that Joe Ganz was acting as Martinez’s coach.  In addition, Beck still has one or two games a year where it seems like every play call is a wrong number.  And there are some fans who say he has bad habit of going to the well one too many times when a play works.  But overall, Beck is the best OC Nebraska has had since 1997.
Grade:  B+

Steve Calhoun – Private Quarterback Coach
I cannot think of anybody outside of the program who had a bigger impact on Nebraska’s season than Calhoun, who tutored Taylor Martinez on his throwing mechanics and footwork during the offseason.  We all know that Martinez is never going to be confused with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or even Colin Kaepernick, but his time with Calhoun had a definite impact.  Martinez is a much improved passer (especially when he received good protection from his line), and the improved technique made him a much better (and all conference) quarterback.
Grade:  B+

Terry Joseph – Assistant Coach/Secondary
Joseph was one of the two newbies on staff (Rick Kaczenski being the other), and I believe that Joseph had the better year, despite having a more challenging task.  Joseph is the third coach in three years for this position group, so I’ll cut him some slack if the technique was not always the greatest.  Nebraska finished in the Top 10 for Passing Defense and Pass Efficiency Defense; and did so without a consistent pass rush (outside of Eric Martin).  And the position showed good depth as several guys saw playing time, replacing Alfonzo Dennard.  I’d like to see the interceptions go up and pass interference calls go down.
Grade:  B

James Dobson – Head Football Strength Coach
Thirty years ago, few schools were doing the things that legendary strength coach Boyd Epley was doing – and it showed on the field as Nebraska regularly had a noticeable physical advantage.  Today, everybody has huge weight rooms, and their athletes undergo position-specific strength and speed training year round.  But yet, I can point to several games where Nebraska was noticeably the stronger and better conditioned team in the fourth quarter.  Don’t underestimate the role Dobson and his staff had in the multiple come from behind victories this year.  In my opinion, Dobson is a quietly underrated part of the football staff.
Grade:  B

Bo Pelini – Head Coach
Since Bo is becoming a polarizing figure, I’m going to go strictly by the methodology I laid out at the top so my biases don’t get in the way:

  • On-field performance.  A mixed bag.  The six game winning streak, the come from behind victories, and the divisional championship get muted by the two blowout losses and avalanche of yards given up in the four losses.
  • Improvement.  I’m not sure if the 2012 team was more talented than the 2011 team (my guts says no), but I have no doubt that the 2012 squad had more mental toughness, more fight, and better leadership.  However, the final two games make it hard to claim that the 2012 team was better at the end of the season than they were at the beginning.
  • Positional depth.  Another mixed bag.  Some positions seemed pretty deep (WR), while others were tissue paper thin (D-line).  I believe that if Bo got to do it over again, there would be some guys who do not redshirt.  The other thing I’ll bring up is the talent gap between the upper and underclassmen – looking at the juniors and seniors on this team (especially defensively) it was tough to find a lot of guys likely to get drafted to the NFL.  While I haven’t seen a lot from the freshmen and sophomores, I do think the talent level is improving.  Now the trick is to get them educated in the system so they can get on the field.
  • My gut opinion.  Let’s talk intangibles:  Bo’s teams stay out of jail, graduate, and win 9 or 10 games every year.  Although you wouldn’t know if from ABC/ESPN, Bo’s sideline demeanor was improved this year, nor do I recall any incident where a member of the local media got into a snit with him.  Yes, there are some puzzling mental breakdowns, but I’m not ready to jump ship on Bo just yet.  I will always contend that nine (or 10) wins is a strong standard to beat – and one that should keep a coach relatively free from public scorn.

Grade:  B-

Vince Marrow – Graduate Assistant Coach/Tight Ends
If these grades were based on value received for the money spent, Marrow would be at the head of the class.  As a Grad Assistant, Marrow made pennies compared to his colleagues, but his performance was better than most.  Of course, it sure didn’t hurt that his position contained two seasoned veterans in Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton, who each turned in solid senior seasons.  Jake Long showed some potential, but beyond that the cupboard looks rather empty for 2013.  Not that it matters to Marrow – he’s already left for his new job at Kentucky.
Grade:  C+

Barney Cotton – Associate Head Coach/Offensive Line
Old Barney is definitely a fan favorite.  A favorite whipping boy, that is.  And yes, I’ll freely admit that I’m lukewarm on his body of work at Nebraska.  But a good teacher tries to look at their students fairly.  Objectively speaking, the offensive line was better in 2012 than it was in 2011.  Better (but not great) depth, fewer (but still too many) penalties, and better run blocking (8th in the nation in rushing).

Of course, all good Husker fans like to nit-pick O Line play, so I will ding Barney for the weak play of the tackles, the inability to stop a decent pass rush (i.e. UCLA and Georgia), and his infatuation with moving guys to different positions.  Seriously Barney:  Andrew Rodriguez was becoming an above average guard, but it looks like his development has completely rebooted at tackle.  Assess your guys, get ’em lined up right, and coach ’em up.

Depending on how you view Cotton, the fact that three walk-ons started all season (and were among the best players on the line) is either a coaching success story, or a damning indictment for how Barney develops scholarship talent.  I’m a sucker for a good walk-on story, so I’ll go with the former.  But it wouldn’t be hard to convince me otherwise…
Grade:  C

John Garrison – Assistant Coach/Tight Ends
Since Garrison assists Barney Cotton with the offensive line, I feel most of what I said about Barney should apply to Garrison too.  Give him credit for the improvements (stronger run blocking, fewer false starts and holds, and more capable bodies on the field), while also holding the weaknesses (pass protection, position switching, inconsistent play) against him too.

Much like with Tim Beck coaching quarterbacks, I question how much time Garrison put in with the tight ends, as I’m pretty sure I read and heard that Vince Morrow was coaching them.  But since it is Garrison’s name on the bill, he gets the credit for the nice senior seasons put in by Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed.  Garrison’s next challenge will be to coach up their replacement.

As an aside, somebody in the athletic department should consider revising Garrison’s bio page, as it touts his work in being “able to coach (Tyler) Moore on the mental challenges that come with early playing time”.  I’m sure the staff at Florida will appreciate the work that Garrison put in.
Grade:  C

John Papuchis – Defensive Coordinator
I really struggled with this one.  Yes, Papuchis holds the title of Defensive Coordinator, but there is a wide perception/assumption that Pelini is truly the one who runs the defense.  So how much credit does JP get for the improved statistical performance?  And more importantly, how much blame does he take for the defensive debacles against UCLA, Ohio State, and Wisconsin?

My thinking is that since Papuchis does not currently coach a position group he gets full ownership of the defense.  And by pretty much any measure (statistical, talent, depth, eyeball test) the 2012 defense was not as good as the 2011 group.  The only thing keeping Papuchis from a D is the energy and enthusiasm he brings to the sideline.  I like seeing the passion, especially when it comes out as joy.
Grade:  C-

Rick Kaczenski – Assistant Coach/Defensive Line
In Nebraska’s four losses, they gave up big chunks of yards and generally looked foolish on defense.  You’ll notice that in those games the defensive line got dominated, the linebackers got tangled up, which resulted in big running lanes.

My other gripe with Kaczenski?  The lack of developed depth.  Baker Steinkuhler got hurt, Thad Randle battled injuries all year, and Chase Rome took a mini vacation from the program.  While some young guys played in September and October, by the end of the season Nebraska was lining up Cam Meredith at D Tackle.  If none of the guys who played earlier in the year were able to go (and I do not believe that all of them were injured) that is on Kaz.  Given the importance of D-Line play in Pelini’s scheme, poor play up front can (and did) have catastrophic effects.  Credit is given for converting Eric Martin from a 3rd and long blitzer to an every down defensive end.
Grade:  D

Ross Els – Assistant Coach/Linebackers
Let’s start with the linebackers:  Els entered the year with three senior starters (Will Compton, Sean Fisher, and Alonzo Whaley), the first two being returning starters.  And yet, the LB play was inconsistent.   Whaley and Fisher stood out in some games; but many other times you barely knew if they were on the field.  I know the departure of Lavonte David would make any unit look bad, but I don’t think you can say that as a whole the linebackers were better in 2012 then they were in 2011.  Extra credit is given for the contributions received from David Santos and Zaire Anderson (before injury).

But the main reason for Els’s low grade is his work as Special Teams Coordinator.  The kick return teams – especially punts – were dreadful for most of the conference season, costing the team acres in field position as well as several turnovers.  Special teams went from being a relative strength to a definite weakness.  It should be noted that Els also serves as Recruiting Coordinator.  I ask:  if Els spread too thin?  Would the team would be better served if another coach took over special teams?  My opinion is yes.
Grade:  D

Additional thoughts

As I mentioned above, there are some guys I cannot grade because I simply don’t know what their responsibilities were or how well they were carried out.  Yet, I do think it is important to acknowledge the former Huskers on the staff trying to break into coaching or administration:

  • Joe Ganz – Graduate Assistant Coach
  • T.J. Hollowell – Graduate Assistant Coach
  • Jake Wesch – Assistant Director of Football Operations
  • Brandon Rigoni – Assistant Strength Coach
  • Brenden Stai – Football Intern
  • LaTravis Washington – Football Intern

I really like how this group covers the spectrum of the last 20 years of Nebraska football.  Championships with Osborne (Stai).  The peaks and valleys of the Solich years (Hollowell).  The Callahan era (Wesch, Rigoni).  As well as the transition to Bo Pelini (Joe Ganz, LaTravis Washington).  These guys should be able to provide a good perspective to the rest of the staff – as well as the players –  on what worked, what did not, and the culture that Nebraskans hold so dear.

Add it all up, and you get a grade point average of 2.46 on a 4.0 scale (excluding Steve Calhoun), or a barely above average C+ for the staff.

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