Coming Full Circle

BUSCH07

Bill Busch Is Back Where He Started, and It Feels Just Right as Nebraska Revamps Its Coaching Staff and Puts Him in Charge of Fixing Special Teams

Story by Jansen Coburn

In first grade, Bill Busch wrote on a piece of paper that he wanted to be a coach when he grew up.
And that figures. Bill’s father was a football coach in small towns across eastern Nebraska. They included Oakland, Spencer, Tekamah, Fullerton, Pender and Creighton.

Those towns and the ups and downs of the hundreds of players who became the charges of Ron Busch all played their own parts in the coaching petri dish that was Bill’s world growing up.

He followed his father to practices. He attended games on Friday nights, sometimes riding the team bus. He soaked up football culture from the ground up. And he was very aware the coaching road didn’t end in those small towns.

He knew that if he dreamed big, really big, the road could lead to dizzying heights.That was a lesson his father taught him.

The coaching fraternity is strong. Never stop learning. Shoot straight. Help kids. The fraternity will notice.

There’s a story in family lore that illustrates the mantra.

In the 1960s back in Spencer, a small town tucked in the rolling hills between the Niobrara River and South Dakota border in Boyd County, Ron had a player named Paul Ohri. Strong build. Good kid. Ron believed he had the makings of a good college player. Maybe even Nebraska good.

So Ron hired a man from down the road in O’Neill to drive to Spencer and film Ohri in action. Ron then mailed the reel of film to Bob Devaney. It worked. Devaney liked what he saw, and decided to come visit Ohri for himself. The perfect night would be the school’s athletic banquet. One problem: Spencer was at least a five-hour drive from Lincoln. Devaney was a busy man. So he decided to hire a pilot and take a small plane. Spencer didn’t have an airport, so the plane landed in a pasture outside of town, which worked fine as long it was daylight.

Devaney went to the banquet, met Ohri – who ended up playing on the Husker freshman
team – and spent much of the night talking football strategy with Ron as they drew up plays on the paper that covered the table tops in the school gym. Time flew by.

A grand night by all accounts.

Almost too grand.

As day turned to night, the pilot realized taking off in a pasture at midnight was not a good idea. In fact, he wasn’t going to do it. Devaney’s pilot deemed the moonlight too dim for the plane to take off. The two football minds that spent all night scheming third-and-longs into the teeth of a blitz weren’t going to be stymied by darkness.

They rallied enough banquet-goers to drive to the pasture and line the faux runway with their cars. If they all turned on their headlights, Devaney’s plane could take off from the grassy surface bathed in light.

And so it did. In one night in Spencer, on full display were examples of organization, public relations, recruiting, strategizing and just the right amount of chutzpah.

No wonder Bill wanted to be like his dad someday.

****

Ron realized as time went on his son had a mind for football. Offense, defense, special teams.

Bill always had a ball in his hands, and Ron would often find his son scratching out plays on paper.

“He was very interested in the strategy of games from a very young age,” Ron said.

Bill’s earliest and fondest memories of football came when he rode the team bus.Bill sat in the front seat alongside his dad.

He eventually played for him as a quarterback in Pender. In fact, Ron coached both his children. Daughter Tammy was on the girl’s basketball teams he coached at Pender in 1977 and 1978.

Ron realized his son might eventually become a coach while Bill was playing receiver at Nebraska Wesleyan. That’s when Bill called his dad and said he wanted to be
a college coach.

It so happened that Ron was at a coaching clinic in Lincoln and told Nebraska assistant
coach Frank Solich of Bill’s desires.

“Well, where is he?” Solich asked.

“Out at Wesleyan,” Ron replied.

“I mean now. Where is he now?” Solich responded. “He should be here networking and making all the contacts he can.”

Today, Bill says it was great advice. From then on, he went with his dad to every high school coaching clinic he could.

While working as a graduate assistant at Kearney State, Busch decided to cold-call Tom Osborne by phone to inquire about opportunities with the staff.

Osborne was not in, so Busch left his name and phone number with the receptionist. To his surprise, Osborne called back in less than an hour. Busch told Osborne he had just completed his master’s degree and wanted to get into Division I coaching. Osborne informed Busch that all their positions were full. It just so happened that Busch was going to be in town the next day, so he asked Osborne if he could stop by to talk.

The following day, Busch met with Osborne for what he remembers as a 10-minute conversation – time enough to make his case. Busch offered to work for free. Osborne politely explained there weren’t any coaching positions, but offered an opportunity for Busch to work with Dave Gillespie in recruiting. Busch jumped at the chance.

To make ends meet that first year, Busch worked at the Lincoln Racquet Club early in the morning, went to the football offices during the day and then worked at the racquet club again at night.

Eventually, then-linebackers coach Kevin Steele asked if he wanted to keep working in recruiting or be a coach. Busch said he wanted to coach. Steele said, “OK, come with me.”

That’s when Bill began coaching on defense as a volunteer. Not long after, Osborne offered an opportunity to work with the defensive coaches as a graduate assistant. It was his big break. He spent three years as a GA before moving to the same role at Wisconsin in 1994 under former Husker Barry Alvarez on a recommendation from Alvarez’s good friend Solich.

“He did a heck of a job,” Alvarez said recently when reached by phone. “I’ve followed Bill’s career and always admired him.”

****

In January, Busch was named special teams coordinator at Nebraska after spending 2021 as a defensive analyst for the Huskers. The Nebraska special teams have been much-maligned, but Busch seems particularly well-suited to put an end to those ills. And one thing is for sure, his father will be following every step Bill takes toward fixing them.

His career has had lots of stops, which in the coaching world means lots of learning and exposure to different ways of doing things. He was at Northern Arizona and New Mexico State from 1995 to 2000, coaching the secondaries. Then Utah as secondary coach from 2001 through 2003. While coaching under the fastidious Urban Meyer in 2003, Busch started to drill down on special teams, with which he was “heavily involved.”

When asked how much time he spent with Meyer working on the details, Busch said, “Lots.”

The following year, Busch was hired by Bill Callahan at Nebraska as a full-time special teams coordinator, a job he kept until 2007. In that span, he had special teams units that ranked in the top 25 nationally in net punting and punt returns as well as the 15th- and 22nd-ranked kickoff coverage units.

When Callahan was let go, Busch was off to Utah State, back to Wisconsin, then Ohio State, Rutgers and finally LSU, where he coached safeties. There, he had some of his greatest success. Maybe he received a little help from above.

One day, while mowing his lawn, Ron felt the urge to stop his mower and say a prayer.

“Dear Lord, please let me live long enough to see Bill win a national championship.”

Three years later, LSU finished 15-0 and beat Clemson to win the national title. Busch’s recruit, Joe Burrow, the Ohio State transfer who had Nebraska ties of his own, won the Heisman trophy, breaking record after record.

Working for coaches like Alvarez, Callahan, Meyer and Ed Orgeron, it was always clear that recruiting was tantamount to success in college football.

“I know this: The No. 1 thing, period, in college football – all your successes and failures rely on one thing, and that’s recruiting,” Busch said.

And, according to Busch, recruiting is all about relationships. That, it seems, is part of his fiber.

“One of Bill’s strengths is he builds a good relationship with his players,” Alvarez said. “Always communicates with his players. Good coaches do that. They care about their players and stay in touch with them.”

Said Ron: “He seems to have a very good ability to pick out the things that are important to people.”

That’s a skill he probably got from his outgoing mother, Sharon, who “makes friends very easy” and can gracefully join any conversation, Ron said.

Busch recruited three first-round draft choices to three different schools. Two were quarterbacks, both taken first overall. Alex Smith in 2005 out of Utah and Burrow in 2020 out of LSU. Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara went 19th overall to the New York Giants in 2011.

With his Nebraska roots and experience at several winning programs, it’s hard to find a better fit for the Husker coaching staff.

“This is a destination job,” he said. And one he never lost sight of. “There wasn’t a time that I didn’t have a little bit of vision of what was going on at Nebraska,” he said.

****
Ron and Bill talk nearly every day. During football season, they are in contact, discussing the games they’re watching.

“We text back and forth about what should have happened, or why didn’t that happen, all throughout the game,” Ron said. “You know, ‘What were they thinking, man?’”

Of the past 7,000 days, “We’ve probably talked 95% of them,” Bill said. “He’s my sounding board for everything.”

This just feels right. Football, said sister Tammy, binds the family together.

Always has. And will again, stronger than ever.

****

Ron realized as time went on his son had a mind for football. Offense, defense, special teams.

Bill always had a ball in his hands, and Ron would often find his son scratching out plays on paper.

“He was very interested in the strategy of games from a very young age,” Ron said.

Bill’s earliest and fondest memories of football came when he rode the team bus.Bill sat in the front seat alongside his dad.

He eventually played for him as a quarterback in Pender. In fact, Ron coached both his children. Daughter Tammy was on the girl’s basketball teams he coached at Pender in 1977 and 1978.

Ron realized his son might eventually become a coach while Bill was playing receiver at Nebraska Wesleyan. That’s when Bill called his dad and said he wanted to be
a college coach.

It so happened that Ron was at a coaching clinic in Lincoln and told Nebraska assistant
coach Frank Solich of Bill’s desires.

“Well, where is he?” Solich asked.

“Out at Wesleyan,” Ron replied.

“I mean now. Where is he now?” Solich responded. “He should be here networking and making all the contacts he can.”

Today, Bill says it was great advice. From then on, he went with his dad to every high school coaching clinic he could.

While working as a graduate assistant at Kearney State, Busch decided to cold-call Tom Osborne by phone to inquire about opportunities with the staff.

Osborne was not in, so Busch left his name and phone number with the receptionist. To his surprise, Osborne called back in less than an hour. Busch told Osborne he had just completed his master’s degree and wanted to get into Division I coaching. Osborne informed Busch that all their positions were full. It just so happened that Busch was going to be in town the next day, so he asked Osborne if he could stop by to talk.

The following day, Busch met with Osborne for what he remembers as a 10-minute conversation – time enough to make his case. Busch offered to work for free. Osborne politely explained there weren’t any coaching positions, but offered an opportunity for Busch to work with Dave Gillespie in recruiting. Busch jumped at the chance.

To make ends meet that first year, Busch worked at the Lincoln Racquet Club early in the morning, went to the football offices during the day and then worked at the racquet club again at night.

Eventually, then-linebackers coach Kevin Steele asked if he wanted to keep working in recruiting or be a coach. Busch said he wanted to coach. Steele said, “OK, come with me.”

That’s when Bill began coaching on defense as a volunteer. Not long after, Osborne offered an opportunity to work with the defensive coaches as a graduate assistant. It was his big break. He spent three years as a GA before moving to the same role at Wisconsin in 1994 under former Husker Barry Alvarez on a recommendation from Alvarez’s good friend Solich.

“He did a heck of a job,” Alvarez said recently when reached by phone. “I’ve followed Bill’s career and always admired him.”

****

In January, Busch was named special teams coordinator at Nebraska after spending 2021 as a defensive analyst for the Huskers. The Nebraska special teams have been much-maligned, but Busch seems particularly well-suited to put an end to those ills. And one thing is for sure, his father will be following every step Bill takes toward fixing them.

His career has had lots of stops, which in the coaching world means lots of learning and exposure to different ways of doing things. He was at Northern Arizona and New Mexico State from 1995 to 2000, coaching the secondaries. Then Utah as secondary coach from 2001 through 2003. While coaching under the fastidious Urban Meyer in 2003, Busch started to drill down on special teams, with which he was “heavily involved.”

When asked how much time he spent with Meyer working on the details, Busch said, “Lots.”

The following year, Busch was hired by Bill Callahan at Nebraska as a full-time special teams coordinator, a job he kept until 2007. In that span, he had special teams units that ranked in the top 25 nationally in net punting and punt returns as well as the 15th- and 22nd-ranked kickoff coverage units.

When Callahan was let go, Busch was off to Utah State, back to Wisconsin, then Ohio State, Rutgers and finally LSU, where he coached safeties. There, he had some of his greatest success. Maybe he received a little help from above.

One day, while mowing his lawn, Ron felt the urge to stop his mower and say a prayer.

“Dear Lord, please let me live long enough to see Bill win a national championship.”

Three years later, LSU finished 15-0 and beat Clemson to win the national title. Busch’s recruit, Joe Burrow, the Ohio State transfer who had Nebraska ties of his own, won the Heisman trophy, breaking record after record.

Working for coaches like Alvarez, Callahan, Meyer and Ed Orgeron, it was always clear that recruiting was tantamount to success in college football.

“I know this: The No. 1 thing, period, in college football – all your successes and failures rely on one thing, and that’s recruiting,” Busch said.

And, according to Busch, recruiting is all about relationships. That, it seems, is part of his fiber.

“One of Bill’s strengths is he builds a good relationship with his players,” Alvarez said. “Always communicates with his players. Good coaches do that. They care about their players and stay in touch with them.”

Said Ron: “He seems to have a very good ability to pick out the things that are important to people.”

That’s a skill he probably got from his outgoing mother, Sharon, who “makes friends very easy” and can gracefully join any conversation, Ron said.

Busch recruited three first-round draft choices to three different schools. Two were quarterbacks, both taken first overall. Alex Smith in 2005 out of Utah and Burrow in 2020 out of LSU. Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara went 19th overall to the New York Giants in 2011.

With his Nebraska roots and experience at several winning programs, it’s hard to find a better fit for the Husker coaching staff.

“This is a destination job,” he said. And one he never lost sight of. “There wasn’t a time that I didn’t have a little bit of vision of what was going on at Nebraska,” he said.

****
Ron and Bill talk nearly every day. During football season, they are in contact, discussing the games they’re watching.

“We text back and forth about what should have happened, or why didn’t that happen, all throughout the game,” Ron said. “You know, ‘What were they thinking, man?’”

Of the past 7,000 days, “We’ve probably talked 95% of them,” Bill said. “He’s my sounding board for everything.”

This just feels right. Football, said sister Tammy, binds the family together.

Always has. And will again, stronger than ever.

Ron holds a game ball presented to his son, Bill, after the 2005 Nebraska-Colorado game in Boulder. Bill coached the safeties and handled special teams under coach Bill Callahan at the time.

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