Tapping the Brakes On Expectations

Another Husker Reboot Needs to Be Taken Step-by-Step

Opinion • By Steve Beideck • Photos by NU Sports Information

Husker football has been in scramble mode since the final seconds of Nebraska’s seventh consecutive loss to Iowa ticked off the game clock four months ago,

Assistant coaches have been fired, new ones have been hired. Players have left, and others have come on board – some through the transfer portal with great fanfare.

Administrators have set expectations for immediate and long-term improvement. In short, the program is seemingly rebooted. There are expectations.

This is a drill Husker fans have become familiar with this century. After having just two head coaches for 35 seasons, Nebraska has had five different leaders the past 25. Nebraska also is on its fifth athletic director – sixth counting Dave Rimington’s 2017 stint as interim AD – since Bill Byrne left in 2002.

Mark Whipple, the new offensive coordinator, and Mickey Joseph, associate head coach and receivers coach, will leave their mark on a revamped Husker offense.
Mark Whipple, the new offensive coordinator, and Mickey Joseph, associate head coach and receivers coach, will leave their mark on a revamped Husker offense.

Whether you believe the problems began in 1998 (7-7), 2004 (Steve Pederson’s failed Bill Callahan experiment), 2017 (Calibraska implosion) or another subpar season (any of the last four), two-plus decades of inconsistent results have taken some of the luster off Nebraska football’s star since the program’s last national championship 25 years ago.

That’s right, there will be a reunion of the 1997 national championship team this season. It’s been a quarter-century since the Huskers were a serious contender on the national stage. Two years from now will mark the 25th anniversary of Nebraska’s last conference championship team.

The last time the 1997 champs were feted was at the Wisconsin game during the 2017 season. The energy from the pregame celebration honoring those alums quickly disappeared as the Huskers fell to the Badgers, 38-17.

In other words, there hasn’t been much to celebrate in recent campaigns. Five consecutive losing seasons, no bowl game since 2016, no bowl victory since 2015, no bowl victory in a winning season since 2013.

These sobering stats aren’t listed to make fans miserable. They’re just a reminder to keep things in perspective as the Huskers prepare for the April 9 spring game.

Through all these changes there usually has been optimism from the fan base that things were going to get better. Often those expectations have been outsized and rarely realized.

That’s why it might be best to take a more cautious approach through this spring game and the next four-plus months on what to expect from the 2022 season.

With Whipple and Joseph on board, the load is expected to be lighter on coach Scott Frost, who can now help other coaches manage their duties.
With Whipple and Joseph on board, the load is expected to be lighter on coach Scott Frost, who can now help other coaches manage their duties.

Nebraska usually seems to win the press conference and the build-up in these scenarios, and that hasn’t changed with this round of retooling the offensive staff and on-field personnel.

Husker coach Scott Frost, who enters his fifth season at Nebraska in search of his first winning season, kept things positive during his March 24 press conference.

“There have been noticeable improvements to me on some of the techniques and details and fundamentals,” Frost said. “They have been plugging guys into different spots. Every time I look up there is a left tackle playing right guard and a right guard’s playing left tackle.

“Guys need to be able to play multiple things so that when we fit it all together, we can get the best five guys out there (who) are ready to do it. I think they are getting a lot of experience with that.”

One element of the offensive overhaul that Frost is most pleased with has been accountability.

“I am happy with the leadership right now,” Frost said. “When it is a team-run team it is more powerful then when it is just coaches holding everybody accountable. We had pretty good leadership on defense last year.

“We had some leaders on offense, but they were not really vocal and that has kind of changed. I am pleased with the standard being set.”
An expected outcome of working with a new staff is an uptick in energy levels.

“There is a ton of energy from the new coaches and players,” Frost said. “There is a lot of learning, but we have seen exciting things out there. I have loved the attitudes and leadership. They are alive and working hard to get there, and that is the first step in being a good team.”

It’s well-documented that finding a new starting quarterback is a top priority in the offseason. All indications are that former Texas starter Casey Thompson will have the edge to start the season.

“I think Casey is actually doing the best at the new content because everything is new to him,” Frost said. “It is a learning process for everybody. I have been really impressed at times and watching things we need to get better at.

“Chubba (Purdy) has been limited, so we have not seen him a ton. I think all the quarterbacks in general are comfortable with the things we used to do while still figuring out some of the new things.”

Most of the “new things” Frost referred to are being implemented by Mark Whipple, the new offensive coordinator, and Mickey Joseph, associate head coach.

Frost said having experienced coaches who have led successful offenses in other conferences makes it easier for him to give up some of those offensive duties.

“(Mickey) demands a lot out of his players,” Frost said. “Having been in charge completely of the offense in years past, stepping back is a little bit easier when you have coaches (who) are holding everybody accountable and demanding a lot out of the players.”
The message from the program to the public is almost always upbeat. But no one really will know just how impactful the changes are until a few games have been played.

Predictions on who will play where, how effective the offseason moves were and whether the Huskers can post, at the minimum, a 6-6 record, will be plentiful the remainder of the spring and throughout the summer.

Until then, what is written and told is merely speculation. The schedule is set up for a potentially fast start, but that’s what’s been said about other seasons. Until some, or most, of the Big Ten West Division foes can consistently be vanquished, it’s best to keep expectations realistic.

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