Dave Rimington Says the Huskers Need to Start Winning, Pronto
By Mike Malloy
The future of Husker football, global travel, what it takes to be an athletic director and too-small stadium seats.
Nebraska football legend Dave Rimington, 61, discussed those topics and more in a recent interview with Huskers Illustrated. The Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award winner recently transitioned into a part-time role with the Boomer Esiason Foundation, an organization he’s been president of since 1995. Rimington took a brief break from the foundation in the fall of 2017 to become Nebraska’s interim athletic director, but that brief stint was long enough, he assures.
When Rimington was introduced in September 2017 as the Huskers’ interim AD, he was asked if he was a candidate for the permanent job. He said “no,” but then added that when he retired in two years, he’d consider returning to Lincoln. “It’d be great to be able to come back,” he said at the time.
That retirement date wasn’t the only thing that’s changed for Rimington, who lives on Long Island, New York. He recalled a lengthy meeting he sat through with the Big Ten’s other athletic directors that made him thankful he was working on a short-term contract. The discussion was about players kneeling during the national anthem.
“I thought, ‘You gotta be kidding me. We’re spending two hours talking about this?’ You need somebody with more patience than I have,” he said. “You have to have somebody who’s more woke than me. I have a tendency to tell you how it is and not how everyone wants it to be.”
Rimington, Nebraska’s starting center from 1980 through 1982, was just as blunt about the current state of Husker football. Nebraska lost eight games in Rimington’s four years – all but one to ranked opponents – and won two bowl games and one Big Eight championship. The past four years, Nebraska has lost 29 games and hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent or played in a bowl game.
“It’s sad to see,” he said. “There have been just too many mistakes. You look at special teams last year, if they would have been special instead of what we got, we could have won four more games; at least could have gone to a bowl game.”
Rimington also lamented a lack of player development. Despite being a future All-American, Rimington saw the field for one series his freshman year.
“We were up by 40 points, so I couldn’t screw it up too badly,” he said. “I went out there for five plays, and three of them I went the wrong way.”
That reflects the problem of playing guys too early, he noted. Freshmen and sophomores must play now because there’s nobody else behind them, but those freshmen and sophomores, even if they’re physically ready, aren’t mentally so.
“A lot of players in my day didn’t touch the field, possibly, until their third year,” Rimington said. “Offensive line is a skill position. We had guys that were seasoned; they’d seen everything defensively, and they were able to pick it up.”
Rimington said he believes coach Scott Frost is capable of winning games, but winning needs to happen now.
“He’s got to win early or he won’t survive. It’s that simple, and the sad thing is, everybody knows it,” he said.
Rimington relished watching his first pro team, the Cincinnati Bengals, make a run to this year’s Super Bowl under former Nebraska quarterback Zac Taylor.
Taylor, who was born a month after the Bengals drafted Rimington, started at Nebraska in 2005 and 2006 under coach Bill Callahan. Nebraska went 17-9 those two years, losing in the 2006 Big 12 championship game to Oklahoma.
“The Callahan years are the forgotten years,” Rimington said. “Anybody who’s sat through the last few years would take that.”
During that era, Nebraska scrapped its run-heavy option attack that led it to five national championships and a perennial spot in the national rankings in favor of the more modern West Coast offense. It’s a change that still makes Rimington wince. “It made sense, probably, but it sure hasn’t turned out well for us,” he said. “We went in a direction everyone else was going, and suddenly we were recruiting against everyone else.”
How does Nebraska compete in that landscape?
“Right now, you don’t have a record to recruit on, and I’ll tell you, facilities are a dime a dozen. Everybody’s got facilities. Everybody’s got the same equipment and they’ve all got crazy strength coaches – some overachiever guy who’s screaming at you,” Rimington said. “You have to think outside the box.”
Rimington, whose No. 50 was retired by the university, still watches many Nebraska games from the comfort of his couch. (“Where there’s unlimited popcorn,” he said.) And though he’s a loyal Husker, you won’t spot him at Memorial Stadium anytime soon.
“Sitting in a seat that’s built for an 18-inch rear end, and I’ve got a 24-inch rear end; it’s not fair for me, or the person sitting next to me,” he said.
Rimington plans to travel in his newly found free time. That’s a common answer for those entering retirement, but Rimington has a plan. He’s visited 105 countries and hopes to add to that number as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic abates. He’s eyeing an African cruise, beginning in Cape Town, South Africa, with a stop in Namibia (country No. 106) and other west African nations before docking in Lisbon, Portugal.
Rimington held a youth football camp in Omaha for 20 years, but he hung up his whistle for good in 2019. The ravages of his former profession were too great.
“Offensive line’s not a longevity position,” he said. “I really couldn’t demo anymore. I could hardly get in a stance.”
Rimington had both of his knees replaced in September, but that hasn’t changed his decision.
“It’s time for the young’uns to take over,” he said.
So, too, for his current employer, named for the quarterback Rimington played with in Cincinnati. Esiason formed the foundation after son, Gunnar, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age 2. Those suffering from the condition can experience decreased lung capacity, greater vulnerability to infection, infertility, poor growth in childhood and other symptoms. Gunnar, though, has now graduated from Boston College and is pursuing a doctorate at Dartmouth. He’s married, has a child and is ready to take on an active role with the foundation.
“Everything Boomer was dreaming about his son being able to do, he’s doing it,” Rimington said.