By Steve Beideck
It was clear during Mickey Joseph’s news conference in front of about 80 media members Monday who he is worried about most in the sudden upheaval of the Husker program.
“Right now my number one focus and the staff focus is the boys,” he said. “The players. That we make sure that they are OK.”
The Huskers are 2-11 against FCS opponents since the start of the 2021 season. Each of those losses, all by nine or fewer points, has been a punch in the gut. And now the coach that recruited them is gone.
In his place is Joseph, who seemed to intuitively hit the right notes in his first meeting with the media as interim head coach.
“This is about Nebraska football. It is bigger than me or than anyone else,” he said. “I want you all to understand that. It is bigger than me or than anyone else.”
He thanked fans for sticking with the team and recognized his family for supporting him.
But he said the players come first as he shared the first menu items he has fed his charges prior to Saturday’s 11 a.m. showdown against No. 6 Oklahoma.
“Confidence and let them know that I believe in them,” he said. “Block out the noise of what everybody’s saying and come to the building every day prepared to win that practice knowing that you’re capable of getting the job done and don’t doubt yourself.
“That’s what I’m feeding them. I’m feeding them confidence.”
Two losses – by a combined six points – in the first three weeks have a way of robbing any swagger the team managed to muster in the offseason.
Preaching a fresh start and a few new ideas are just about the only things on which an interim coach can hang his hat.
“We tell them we start from scratch,” Joseph said. “We move everything to the past and we start from here. We have nine more opportunities, and we are capable of winning games, and that is why they understand the first opportunity is this weekend against OU, a really good football team.”
One structural change Joseph announced is that practices will be held on Sundays. Under former head coach Scott Frost, Sundays were the off day. For the next two-plus months, Monday will be the day the Huskers don’t practice.
Joseph’s answers to the questions he fielded Tuesday were direct and succinct. When Joseph says something, there won’t be a need to guess what he means. Athletic Director Trev Alberts alluded to that during his Sunday press conference.
“Mickey is an energetic guy,” Alberts said. “He is pretty black and white. I think he has an infectious personality. I think that is important. He had a very poignant conversation with the team (Sunday) that I thought they took really well.
“At the same time like Scott, Mickey will love them and seek to serve them.”
An immediate concern for players, coaches and fans alike is what can be done to fix a Nebraska defense that gave up 642 yards of total offense Sept. 10 in a 45-42 loss to Georgia Southern that eventually led Alberts to fire Frost the following day.
Joseph said the defense is going to “play faster” and will tackle in practice. The biggest defensive coaching change is having Erik Chinander coach the safeties and Travis Fisher coach the corners and nickels.
“If you look around the country, everybody in the country has two defensive back coaches because it is two different positions. Safeties and corners,” Joseph said. “If you look at the NFL they have two defensive back coaches. We were the only one in the country I think that had one defensive back coach.”
Joseph said that his background as primarily an offensive coach won’t hinder his ability to make suggestions for changes when the Blackshirts take the field.
“When you’re an offensive coach, you better understand defense and what it should be,” Joseph said. “And I always use my brother (Vance) for example. He was a college quarterback, but he was a defensive back in the NFL … and now he’s a defensive coordinator in the NFL.
“You have to know what’s going on on the other side of the ball. You know what it should be. It’s football, guys. It’s either fourth down or third down. It’s either two high or one high.”
On offense, Joseph, the former receivers coach, said Mike Cassano, a four-year offensive analyst at NU who had worked under Frost for seven years, will handle the day-to-day operations at receiver, “but I’ll still be involved with it.”
When asked if Cassano is now a full-time assistant, Joseph said, “Yes sir.”
Keeping a one-game-at-a-time approach is the way Joseph said is best to determine how the next nine games will turn out.
“As a coach, you have to stand up and say we’re trying to win nine games, but you’re not worried about nine games right now,” Joseph said. “We’re worried about this game, this week. So we have to take it one week at a time and we’ll see where we’re at. But this week, the most important thing is preparing to get ready for OU.”
The Letter Trev Alberts sent to season ticket holders Monday
First and foremost, thank you again for your passion and loyalty for our football program and for all Husker teams. Your support is unmatched in college athletics, and it will never be taken for granted by our athletic staff, coaches and student-athletes.
Sunday was a difficult day for Nebraska football and one that I hoped would not come. Coach Frost poured his heart and soul into our program as both a player and head coach, and I appreciate his hard work and dedication to Nebraska. Scott will always be a Husker and a Nebraskan, and I hope you join me in thanking him for his service to our program. College athletics is a bottom-line business and ultimately, we did not win enough football games, and it was necessary to move in another direction.
I appreciate Mickey Joseph’s willingness to step into the interim head coach role for the remainder of this season. Mickey and our staff will work tirelessly to serve our players and help our team improve. We still have nine opportunities ahead in the 2022 season and our players deserve the best opportunity to have a successful season.
Moving forward we will have the benefit of time to do a thorough national search for our next head coach. In large part thanks to our great fanbase, this is a special place that provides a great opportunity to build a successful program. We will find a coach that shares the values of the people of this great state – qualities such as hard work, discipline and servant leadership.
There is no doubt the circumstances are different than we expected, but this will be an exciting week in Lincoln and a great Saturday at Memorial Stadium. College football is tradition-filled, and Nebraska-Oklahoma can’t help but make you think of the great history of the sport.
In addition to welcoming our visitors from Oklahoma and Fox Big Noon Kickoff, we will also have some great celebrations on Saturday. Our 1970 and 1971 national championship teams will have a reunion on Friday night and be recognized on Saturday at the game. We will have a special recognition for Johnny Rodgers on the 50th anniversary of his Heisman Trophy, and Zach Wiegert, our newest College Football Hall of Famer, will be recognized with an On-Campus Salute.
Thanks again for your support. Go Big Red!