The Bill Callahan Era.
Four years. Four long, frustrating, and sometimes painful years. Callahan paced the sidelines at Nebraska for four years, coaching and often losing football games.
As a little kid, I remember my father and his friends, like many in Nebraska, watch the Huskers take on Big 12 opponents such as Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas State. I also remember the group yelling at the television as all too often the Cornhuskers suffered agonizing and embarrassing losses.
When the game went south, I also heard criticism. Criticism of quarterbacks who could not make a play. Criticism of running backs who suffered from acute cases of “Butterfingers.” Most of all, I heard criticism of the man in charge of the team.
His defenses could not keep teams out of the end zone. His offenses could not keep a drive alive if their own lives depended on it. On it went, Saturday after Saturday, until his firing in 2007. All the flak he took has two roots, answering to the names of Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney.
In the 1990’s, Nebraska was a pure powerhouse of football. The Huskers, led by visionary Tom Osborne, won three national titles in 1994, 1995, and in 1997, when it split the title with Michigan. The teams Osborne put together were often times unstoppable, blowing out ranked teams by unheard of margins, like when the ’95 team beat No. 8 Kansas State 49-25. The Huskers dominated the No. 2 team in the nation, when they beat Florida in the Fiesta Bowl, 62-24.
Along with Tom Osborne’s dynasty, Bob Devaney created his own legendary legacy as the “Father of Nebraska Football.” Devaney won back to back title games in 1970 and 1971 before retiring and passing the torch to Osborne.
All this winning created a bit of a monster within the state of Nebraska after Osborne retired in 1997. When he hung up his tattered red hat after winning his final championship, Osborne named assistant coach Frank Solich his successor. Solich ended up having a solid first few years behind the wheel of the Huskers, winning the Big 12 title in 1999, and even making it to the national championship game in 2001 when Miami beat them.
However, when Solich went 7-7 in 2002, and 10-3 in 2003, Athletic Director Steve Pederson fired Solich at the conclusion of the season saying the program could not “gravitate toward mediocrity.” The decision proved disastrous for the Nebraska program and the state itself.
The following years are excruciatingly fresh in Husker fans’ minds. Callahan became coach, promising drastic changes around the program. Four years later, it became apparent the program was lost and off track. University Chancellor Harvey Perlman fired Pederson, and Tom Osborne became Athletic Director. One of his first orders of business was to fire Callahan.
To replace Callahan, Osborne handpicked Bo Pelini, LSU’s defensive coordinator at the time.
Pelini started out his first few years in office decently, winning at least nine games per season. However, he also lost four each year, some coming in the form of embarrassing blowouts. One that stood out was when the Missouri Tigers dominated the Huskers at home, 52-17.
In 2009, it appeared Pelini was about to reach the national spotlight when the Cornhuskers made it to the Big 12 championship game against Texas. The Longhorns, however, managed to get the best of the Huskers when they won the game on a controversial last second field goal.
In 2010, the Huskers managed to make it to the conference title game once again, but this time fell short to Oklahoma. The Sooners won 23-20.
Then in 2012, the Huskers managed to make it to their second conference title game under Pelini when they faced the Wisconsin Badgers, after moving to the Big Ten conference a year earlier.
The conference championship was an embarrassing meltdown on defense. The seemingly inept Husker team made the Badgers look like video game characters. Wisconsin trampled Nebraska, 70-31.
In Pelini’s final season, he suffered a loss to Michigan State, and another to Minnesota. This would also be his last blowout of his tenure at Nebraska when the Badgers beat the Huskers 59-24. Nebraska will play in a bowl game this season, but not with Pelini on the sidelines. Pelini was fired by Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst on November 30th, two days after his final victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Many disagree with Pelini’s firing. He won at least nine games a season and never lost more than four.
“How could Eigchorst fire a coach who wins at least nine games a season?” some fans ask.
Pelini, in his tenure at Nebraska, was good, which led to him being fired. Being good, not great, does not fly at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. The bar was set for Bo Pelini in 1994 and will not be lowered for anyone.
The other blemish on the image of Pelini was his persona. During many a game, the cameras often would zoom in on Pelini yelling, red in the face, at a player or official. Oftentimes, the antics would continue for the entire game. It wasn’t hard to read his lips and figure out he wasn’t happy. Furthermore, a controversial recording surfaced on Deadspin, in which Pelini was heard cursing Nebraska fans after a comeback win over Ohio State.
Finally, Pelini could not win the games which actually mattered. Against Top 25 teams, Nebraska was 5-18 in seven years. All three of Nebraska’s losses this year came against teams ranked in the Top 25, including the embarrassing loss against Wisconsin when Melvin Gordon set the NCAA single game rushing record with 408 yards. The record had stood previously for 15 years, when LaDanian Tomlinson rushed for 406 at TCU.
All in all, the tenure of Bo Pelini failed to bring any major achievement to the University of Nebraska. Frankly, all he has to show for seven years at Nebraska is a 67-27 record, which sounds like the score of one of his games against Wisconsin.