Joseph wanted opportunity to coach at his alma mater
Story by Steve Beidick • Photos by Jeff Bundy & Huskers Illustrated Archives
The head coach at Omaha North was looking to hire an assistant who could form genuine connections with players.
He picked a guy with a short resume, but who seemed to have a love for the game – and the kids who played it. His pick was Mickey Joseph.
Herman Colvin quickly realized his instincts were correct and that bringing Joseph, the former Husker quarterback, on in 1996 to coach his quarterbacks was a good decision.
“The kids gravitated to him,” Colvin said. “He demanded a lot, but they also knew how he felt about them. The difference with Mickey is that while he was demanding, he also was respectful of the kids. You have to allow kids to have dignity.
“No person should have to prove their manhood on the football field every day of the week. They are human beings, so treat them like that. You can have high expectations and kids will respond to those expectations.”
If that coach-to-player respect wasn’t there, Colvin never would have brought Joseph into the Vikings’ program. Twenty-five seasons later, that approach is one of the big reasons Joseph is back in Nebraska.
Joseph was hired away from LSU on Dec. 3 by NU coach Scott Frost and was promptly given three titles – wide receivers coach, passing game coordinator and associate head coach. The relationships Joseph builds with his charges continues to burnish his image as one of college football’s elite assistants.
It had been five years since Joseph last played for the Huskers until the time he joined Colvin’s staff. He began his college coaching career the following season at Wayne State. But Vikings at all positions had not forgotten Joseph’s on-field accomplishments.
Joseph was one of the nation’s most prized prep recruits when he joined coach Tom Osborne’s program in 1988 out of New Orleans. He was the Gatorade National Player of the Year and a first-team Parade All-American. He picked Nebraska over Big Eight Conference rival Oklahoma.
He started nine games in his Nebraska career, rushing for 1,091 yards and 16 touchdowns while passing for 909 yards and 14 TDs. The Huskers were 39-9-1, won two Big Eight titles and played in four bowl games while Joseph was a student-athlete.
“Mickey had good coaching in that system,” Colvin said. “A lot of that carried over with the way he coached. The receivers at Nebraska will gravitate to him.”
Colvin believes this because that’s what happened at North. Joseph and longtime Vikings wide receivers coach George Anderson “worked quite well together with the receivers and quarterbacks,” he said.
Joseph had been at LSU since 2017. He began the groundwork with his new stable of receivers the first day he returned to Lincoln.
In an interview on the Husker Radio Network’s “Sports Nightly” program, Joseph talked about his initial meeting with two of Nebraska’s top returning wide receivers, Omar Manning and Xavier Betts.
He talked to them about the struggles of the 2021 season in which the Huskers finished 3-9. An important part of that talk centered on what he saw from them and other players as Nebraska lost all those games by no more than nine points.
“At the end of the day they had not given up, they’re still fighting, so that means we’re going to fight,” Joseph said. “That’s what I talked to Omar and Xavier about. These people have your back. They’re riding with you. We’re going to ride together, but we’re going to get this thing flipped. I truly believe we can do it.”
Colvin believes Joseph will be successful because he has had so many different coaching roles over the past quarter-century. Through all of those, his focus has remained player-centric.
“He’s not going to forget about the kids,” Colvin said. “Not only on the football field. You have to be involved in their lives away from football. You had to make sure they know people are looking at them whether they were in school or not. In or out of season they had to do all those things like homework.”
That goes back to what Colvin said he saw right away in Joseph’s first days at North.
“People want to know how much you care as a coach,” Colvin said. “Some of these kids had some of these issues, things like what their home life was like. For some reason he had a great understanding. He would not let that be an excuse not to succeed.
“He would tell them, ‘You will be successful in spite of these things. You’re not going to let yourself be defined by that.’ Those kids ended up having a lot of success in the classroom and on the football field.”
Joseph plans to pass that same message on to all the Huskers he works with in preparation for the 2022 season and beyond.
“New faces and new coaches may mean new life for some kids,” Joseph said. “Everybody’s on a clean slate. So, you’ll probably see some kids step up who haven’t been stepping up because they feel like, OK, the depth chart is written in sand. We can erase it.”