Tuesdays with Gorney: No easy answers for Nebraska
There is a lot to consider when it comes to the Nebraska coaching search and the future of one of the proudest programs in the country. Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney offers his thoughts in today’s Tuesdays with Gorney:
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How Nebraska fixes its football program and gets back on track to being nationally relevant might not have a single answer and is a matter of debate, but fans must accept this immutable fact: It’s going to be very challenging because college football has become even more difficult to breach the highest ranks, but it is possible.
The Scott Frost Experiment was an extraordinary failure. Let’s not rehash all that went wrong because, honestly, we don’t have that kind of time. Mike Riley was a nice guy and probably would have won a decent amount of games but that was not the answer, either, to become contenders again.
Bo Pelini won either nine or 10 games every single year he was in Lincoln and that level of success is the model the Huskers need moving forward but he was also distasteful to many power brokers there and understandably so.
Cursing out the fans and media in a die-hard college town won’t keep you there very long. Still, if you want to win in today’s game at the highest level – and bring in someone like Urban Meyer to do it – squeaky clean isn’t going to happen. Ever hear some of those Bill O’Brien rants? To raise the trophy sometimes you have to put down the pearls.
Hiring the right coach is clearly important. Maybe more crucial is hiring the right coach with the proper recruiting philosophy.
From the 1994 Nebraska national title team, 29 players went on to the NFL. The Huskers currently have only 18 former players right now in the league. Enough elite talent has not come through the program in recent years – or it hasn’t been developed – to compete at the highest level.
Recruiting the Midwest is important, crucial even, for linemen and power up front on both sides of the ball. But Nebraska needs to hit Texas hard, hit Louisiana hard, especially if interim coach Mickey Joseph is retained on the new staff, as five of the 18 current pros are from those two states.
Nebraska doesn’t need sideshows like Calibraska. Did we really think Keyshawn Johnson Jr. was the savior? Please. It needs to get into California for speed and playmakers. While Lincoln Riley will be able to scoop up who he wants at USC and Alabama and other national powers will have their pick, too, there is plenty of talent in the West looking for a home. Get them on campus to see a jam-packed stadium, not a half-filled Rose Bowl.
Let’s not forget in those Nebraska championship years, quarterback Tommie Frazier was from Florida. Running back Lawrence Phillips was from California. Aaron Graham was from Texas. A lot of the muscle up front was homegrown and that doesn’t need to change – just look at Iowa, Wisconsin and others.
From a financial standpoint, joining the Big Ten has been a positive. From a win-loss perspective, no way. Nebraska has played 11 full seasons in the Big Ten and has a winning conference record in only five of them. All but one came under Pelini, none under Frost.
Nebraska is 44-49 in conference play since joining the conference. In that same stretch, Ohio State has won 81 games, Wisconsin 66 and Iowa 57. Looking back, Nebraska had only six losing seasons from 1958 until joining the Big Ten. It is the Huskers’ reality of playing a brutal Big Ten schedule but something that needs to be rectified by the new staff.
Two other massive changes in the college football landscape that should be completely exploited for the Huskers to become relevant again. These are the obvious ones: Transfer portal and NIL.
Nebraska is already utilizing the portal well as quarterback Casey Thompson came from Texas, leading rusher Anthony Grant from Florida State and leading receiver Trey Palmer from LSU along with Arizona State transfer Tommi Hill and TCU transfer Ochaun Mathis among others on defense. Keep leaning into that, the portal can transform a roster overnight where developing high school players could take years. More portal.
And NIL. Nebraska needs to take full advantage. Texas A&M loaded up huge on the defensive side of the ball in the 2022 class with five- and high-four-star recruits with the help of NIL. Louisville is getting some of the best players in the country this recruiting cycle because of it.
Nebraska fans are so loyal, so die-hard and so desperate to taste high-level success again that the coffers should be overflowing with money. Embrace it. NIL has forever changed recruiting and either you jump on the bus or you will get run over by it.
There’s no secret formula to this. There are opportunities ahead for Nebraska to excel and rejoin national relevancy but be clear-eyed, too, that there are significant roadblocks and hurdles to overcome.
Here’s the rough draft: Stay home for linemen, go south and west for skill players, spot recruit elsewhere. Be able to stomach a coach that isn’t a saint but don’t sell your soul. Schedule non-conference cupcakes because the Big Ten is brutal enough. Have a staff member live in the transfer portal and utilize it incessantly since the best players make the best coaches. And pony up the NIL dollars because it’s changed recruiting.
National championships might not be right around the corner but the college football landscape has drastically changed in recent years. Nebraska has its chance to get it right, and leave the emptiness of losing and decline for something much more exciting and enlivening.
But it won’t be easy.