By most accounts, it was a shock Pelini was let go -- had winning records, bowl appearances, strong recruiting; but what ultimately led to his termination when the program seemed on the right long-term path? Was it Osborne who had the final say or as simple a decision as just not enough progress toward Nebraska's expectations?
Husker Mike: Osborne had absolutely no say; in fact, he cast a wee bit of shade on the decision. Osborne retired as athletic director in 2013. To me, the decision by the new athletic director to dismiss Pelini was based on two things: getting embarrassed by Wisconsin and getting terse with the news media.
Cobcast Ryan: I wouldn't say "strong" recruiting.I also wouldn't brag about the Holiday bowl either. I agree with Mike. Wisconsin and his attitude were the biggies. Speaking of attitude... we should revisit this in a few years and see how ol' Harbaugh's ‘tude is doing. You may have your very own Pelini on your hands.
Jon: It wasn't that shocking to me. I was at Madison. I turned to a couple friends after the game and said "Someone has to be fired" because you can't keep doing the same things - getting blown out on defense when you're supposedly a defensive guru - and expect to not have to make changes. Pelini was pig-headed, blamed everyone else for his problems and always had an excuse.
Ranchbabe: It was not much of a shock if you sat through mind-numbing repeats of Melvin Gordon blowing through the defense, or if you saw the coach who was coming unglued against Iowa in 2013, swiping his hat at refs and daring his boss to fire him in the post-game presser. I was a pretty big Pelini supporter and really hoped he would make the changes needed (upgrading some assistants and better recruiting among others) but he did not. I was actually quite surprised he was brought back in 2014. Even though Pelini-bashing is quite fashionable in some quarters of Nebraska fandom, he definitely rescued the program from its depths in 2007 and deserves credit for running a [generally] clean program that held its own academically. That said, it was time to move on. Pelini wanted to succeed, he just either could not or would not do what was needed to get to the next level.
Paul: It was a surprise...not a shock. I had been saying for quite a while that Nebraska under Pelini was suffering from a mental shortfall in the game. Something wasn't right in the players' and coaches' mental preparation for games. I think that played out in public after the firing when an obscenity-laced monologue was taped and released following a meeting between Pelini and players after he was fired. There was a culture of "Nebraska football versus the world" that pulled the player's together for 9 wins, but failed to develop or encourage the kind of mental toughness and flexibility to deal with real on-field adversity. And that was the fatal flaw in Pelini's plan.
Andy Ketterson: It was only a shock outside of Nebraska. Here in the state, the biggest shock was that he was retained for one more season - the most shocked being Pelini himself as anyone who saw his "F*** everyone!" Iowa post-loss presser would attest. He thought his ass was headed out the door as much as anyone.
To his credit, he honestly did try to smooth some of the rough edges before/during the 2014-15 season. And things seemed to be working. Until the Wisconsin game. I think most could even pinpoint the moment - things were going well, Daniel Davie blew an assignment, Pelini lost his s**t, kept on losing it, the sphincters collectively tightened and the Huskers got trucked. Again. Blowing a 21-7 halftime lead to Minnesota probably sealed it, but 9-win seasons aside, that Wisconsin game was just one beatdown too many.
Osborne hasn't had the final say for a couple years. If anything, he might have bought Pelini one more season.
Cobby: THE ONLY SHOCK REALLY WAS THE FACT THAT HIS FORMER HOUSE HAD SO MUCH SHAG CARPETING. I MEAN, WHY DID HE TAKE THE FRIDGE? WHAT DID THE FRIDGE KNOW AND WHEN DID IT KNOW IT?
Now both Michigan and Nebraska are entering 2015 with a new coach. What does Riley have to do in year one to prove he's the right hire? What's the feeling around Lincoln as to how he can outmaneuver Harbaugh -- and for that matter Meyer, Dantonio, Franklin, et al -- to grab some early success?
Cobcast Ryan: It's simple. He has to win the games he's supposed to and not get blown out by the teams he's not supposed to beat. Beating Wisconsin would be a bonus. As far as coaches from other schools go, I think everyone should just stay in their lane and keep their eyes on the road. From a fan's standpoint, I don't care what Harbaugh, Meyer or Franklin are doing. I don't want the team to care either. As far as Dantonio goes, I'm pretty sure he's been dead for like 3 years and they are just Weekend-At-Bernie's-ing him at this point.
Jon: Win nine games. Does he really have to do that? No, but it'd be nice just so we wouldn't have to hear from that one asshole friend of ours that wants to be right more than he wants our team to win. Outmaneuver other coaches... well, his team doesn't play against any of those guys early on, really except Dantonio.
Ranchbabe: Riley has to win a lot. He has to show improvement and not make the same mistakes over and over and over again (as in Wisconsin 2011, Wisconsin 2012 B1G CCG, and Wisconsin 2014). He has to recruit with the big boys and develop under-the-radar and walk-on talent to fill the gaps. Nebraska fans want to read about how much other teams hate to play the Huskers. Even if the other team wins, we want to hear about how much they do not want to face such a physical, hard-hitting team again (a reference to the Osborne era). He has to make Nebraska fans believe that hardware (championships) are in reach most every year and collect some of that hardware every few years. He has to win the games he is supposed to win, upset a few top teams, and not get blown out. He has to be the face and spokesperson for a program that is essentially the face of a state. Didn't you read the job description?!?
Paul: Thankfully, he doesn't have to outmaneuver Harbaugh until what, 2018? Same with matching wits with the Dark Lord of the Underworld himself. So there's that at least. Nebraska has played surprisingly well against MSU since 2011 as well, so I'm not willing to write that game off as a loss yet either. Nebraska has the talent to go 11-1 this year, and the potential to go 7-5. It's going to be that kind of year.
Andy Ketterson: This year, I think people will be happy as long as he doesn't backslide under 9 wins - and with this year's miserable schedule, winning less than 9 will be hard. I mean, people are seriously referring to Miami and BYU as tough games and neither is in the top 40.
The feeling on Riley is split. There is the camp that, ahem, strongly questions this hire, but prays that it works out despite his lack of success the last five years or so. (Full disclosure - I'm in that camp.) The other camp thinks it's 2009 and we're getting the guy who was cresting the wave of success during Oregon St.'s most successful stretch. That camp gets really mad when we bring up post-2009. They talk about USC wanting him...even though a) that was 2010 and b) everyone, including Riley and except Lane Kiffin, didn't want to touch that hot Trojan mess with Ron Jeremy's d-...well, you get what I mean.
Husker Mike: I'm also in the former camp. This year, get this team to a bowl game and look like he has a clue what he's doing out there. (Waves at Bill Callahan.) I'm on record as predicting 7-5, but it doesn't take much to turn some of those L's into W's with this schedule.
Cobby: HOW DO YOU MEAN OUTMANEUVER? I MEAN, RILEY RIDES A BIKE AND DRIVES A PRIUS TO WORK. IF HARBAUGH CAN'T GET A TRUCK AROUND HIM ON THE WAY TO WORK, WHO'S DRIVING ABILITIES ARE WE REALLY QUESTIONING HERE?
Have you seen Jim Harbaugh say or do anything that Riley hasn't that might calm the fanbase?
Cobcast Ryan: Riley has kept his shirt on, so I think that has worked in his favor. On the other hand Harbaugh's physique has calmed the boosters by showing he's not a threat to their marriages.
Ranchbabe: Do? I guess the major thing Harbaugh has done is win a lot of games. Comparing Harbaugh's record to Riley's as a head coach looks like a non-starter (in favor of Harbaugh, just in case you had to wonder). Also, why has no one asked who was Riley's quarterback at the San Diego Chargers during his disastrous tenure there as head coach? Not terribly relevant, but this was my shortest answer, so it got added here.
Cobby: IT DEPENDS, IS COLIN COWHERD ALUMNI? IF NOT, YOU'RE GOLDEN AND NO ONE HAS IT BETTER THAN YOU. NOOOOOOOOOOOO ONEEEEEE!
Andy Ketterson: Harbaugh calms things?
Husker Mike: Mike Riley is the guy that everybody loves; he's nice to anybody and everybody. He's bought a ton of goodwill that will last him about 45 seconds after the first game that he loses that he shouldn't have lost.
Tommy Armstrong is back, Amir Abdullah is not. Any playmakers emerge out of spring ball that might avoid Armstrong having to carry the offense? What's the potential based on Riley's track record of QB/offense development?
Cobcast Ryan: Fear DPE. He is going to hurt people's feelings.
Ranchbabe: If Riley/Langsdorf can coax even a small improvement in accuracy out of Tommy Armstrong, I think the wideouts might have a really fun season. Westerkamp can do things like this and freshman sensation De'Mornay Pierson-El (DPE) evolved from dangerous punt returner to legitimate receiving threat. He is absolutely perfect for the Riley jet sweep. Senior Jamal Turner has been derailed by injuries and has never quite lived up to his potential after tantalizing Nebraska fans with spring game heroics as a freshman. It is now or never for him. Behind them, there is talent, size and speed, but guys that have never managed to stay healthy long enough to make their mark (or are just arriving on campus). This could be one of the deepest and most talented groups on the team.
I am hoping for some steps forward from the OL, Alex Lewis is the leader there. There is supposedly talent in the trenches (based on recruiting stars), but Husker fans have been underwhelmed by penalties and guys getting pushed around by opposing D-lineman. Much of that has been laid at the feet of the previous coaches (we had around eight offensive line coaches every year - or so it seemed) and strength/conditioning (Vanderbilt's problem now). If these guys can give Tommy just a little more time or give any of our plethora of "good enough" RB's a crease, the offense should be fine. Oh, and our new S&C coach can totally beat up your new S&C coach (proof).
Paul: DeMornay Pierson-El might be the most exciting player to walk onto the field at Nebraska in years. He's a legit All-American candidate as a returner and a receiver.
Husker Mike: The MVP on offense in the spring game was punter Sam Foltz, sad to say. Needless to say, this offense was still a work-in-progress in the spring.
Andy Ketterson: There's a lot of potential at the skill positions and it better transfer to usable talent in a hurry. I simply can't afford the drinking habit that regularly hearing "Tommy Armstrong" and "carry the offense" in the same sentence would require.
Does his system on both offense and defense fit the current roster for the most part or is this going to be a bridge year?
Husker Mike: Bridge year. Tommy Armstrong does not fit the pro-style offense that Riley ran previously, and the defense was built to stop the passing game with nickel and dime alignments. Nebraska is perilously short handed at linebacker, and new defensive coordinator Mark Banker prefers to keep three in the game.
Cobcast Ryan: Bridge Year. However, talent is talent and a good staff can overcome. Our offense is potent. Westerkamp, Turner, DPE, Armstrong and people shouldn't sleep on Newby or Cross either. Plus we don't have the hardest schedule. I think Husker fans should hold onto their butts because it should be an exciting year.
Ranchbabe: What Mike and Ryan said. Tommy is not a prototypical Riley quarterback, but the kid has abilities this staff says they will not ignore (zone read/running). Behind Tommy are two redshirt freshman who have moved past older players on the depth chart. One, Zach Darlington, was a top tOSU target before committing to Nebraska (and then suffering serious concussions during his senior year, putting his football future in doubt). He has been cleared by people smarter than me, so I assume he is recovered. Riley is purging the depth chart here quickly (Former Elite 11 QB Stanton transferred and last year's backup is rumored to no longer be on scholarship) and has two of "his" guys coming for 2016. On defense, it will be a dental-floss-reinforced bridge at linebacker until they can get their roster numbers up. They brought in 4 scholarship and three walk-on LBs for 2015. This is big because we only have three on the roster with significant game experience. Two of those three have flashed All-B1G potential, but they need to stay healthy AND adjust to a new scheme that is the polar opposite of the previous one (OK, that last part might be a good thing).
Andy Ketterson: I guess we'll find out. Good coaches in new jobs don't pound square pegs in round holes. They find a way to make it work while transitioning in the guys they want.
With recruiting, has he nabbed any intriguing guys on the shortened calendar the way Harbaugh did or were things mostly intact despite the coaching change?
Cobcast Ryan: Dicaprio Bootle seemed to come out of nowhere. He had zero stars but ran 4.34 40 (I believe thats what it was) after his first try which was a 4.44 40. He also has a 4.4 GPA. I'm a big fan of the number 4 also, so this was super intriguing to me.
Ranchbabe: Bootle is part of the 2016 class. For 2015, keeping the Davis twins was job #1. Mission accomplished. (Google ‘Davis Twins backflip' if you want to see defensive tackles doing standing backflips - do it!). He brought a couple Oregon State recruits, including a tight end. Nebraska fans had to look up the rule book to learn that "tight ends" are indeed allowed to catch passes after the past couple years of #RogueBeck. He also scoured the country for linebackers and DEs. One early enrollee, LB Dedrick Young, seems to be the guy they are hoping will contribute immediately. His real recruiting splash has been in working on 2016 and 2017 (gasp) classes. WE CAN HAZ COMMITMENTS IN JUNE! Who knew? This staff is organized and isn't afraid to go toe-to-toe with anyone. Plus, we get to laugh at Arizona State automatically offering (within a few hours) every kid that gets a Nebraska offer.
Brian: Matt Snyder and Daishon Neal says hello. But, seriously, the fact that Nebraska should sign 2 Quarterbacks that can literally come into camp in ‘16 and be legit threats to start from day 1 should tell you about things like QB recruiting and development. The ‘15 QB that Tim Beck and Bo Pelini kept with? He is currently on the roster with North Texas. As a Tight End. Which he played while being stuck on his HS's JV team last year.
Andy Ketterson: As far as the 2015 class, the best thing he did was keep most of the big names committed. If he can close on Jordan Stevenson falling into our lap, then so much the better.
On a scale of "Hoke-level bottom that leaves no choice" to "Meyer-level of surprise national title", what's going to keep Riley around longer than Pelini? What're some marks of progress you're hoping to see?
Cobcast Ryan: Winning 9 games or more. Also, not calling the AD a
c*nt upstanding citizen.
Paul: As long as he doesn't change his name to Bo Pelini, he'll get at least four years from Shawn Eichorst. Fans, however, won't be so generous. I think NU needs to be in the B1G Championship Game this year or next, and win in it by 2017 or Husker fans will begin sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches.
Ranchbabe: Hardware. Championships. Nebraska expects to be in the hunt for those, maybe not in Year 1 of Riley but definitely by Year 3. Pelni was not fired because he was a jerk (although that certainly made it easy). He was fired because he got embarrassed in critical games and did not appear to have a plan that would get him past that.
Husker Mike: Riley has to win the west every other year on average and get to a bowl game every season.
Brian: Keeping what Bo did substainable, with the fact that he's not going to have one big blow-up come to light every year (Deadspin tape, HS tape, Texas A&M embarrassment, etc...) No matter what though, Riley doesn't have a whole long time at Lincoln due to age and such. He just turned 62 in July, so the thought is that he's going to be not at Nebraska more than, say, 6-8 years max.
Andy Ketterson: If he reaches the level of 2009-10 Pelini and stay there (10 wins, close losses, cusp of BCS), he can hang around for years. Yes, there will be some griping if he can't get that conference championship or BCS bowl, but 9+ wins and competitive will keep him employed.
If he starts with and maintains a 2011-14 Pelini level (9+ wins but an embarrassment or two every year), the clock will start after year 2 or 3, but he might make it 4-5 years based on his demeanor.
If he is still only winning 7-8 games a year or less after year one, he won't make it past three. Some nonsense is just unacceptable.
Beer question: What Nebraska microbrews are getting you guys through this final month+ to the start of a new season and era?
Cobcast Ryan: I'm taking a year off from drinking, so... I would like to take this moment to say that we would have kicked your ass in ‘97. Like, seriously kicked it. If your ass was Iraq, our foot would have been "Shock and Awe". We would have kicked it so hard that the taliban would have easily invaded Ann Harbor and your economy would never have recovered. That's how bad we would have kicked your ass. If your ass was Ivan Drago, our foot would have been Rocky, If your ass was Mustafa, our foot would have been a herd of buffalo (or whatever it was that trampled him to death.) Cool, I'm glad that's settled.
Paul: Nebraska has microbrews? Really? You mean I don't have to drive to Michigan for good beer?
Ranchbabe: So many choices. I am up in a corner of the state where I cannot get many of the Omaha/Lincoln brews but am enjoying a nice Nut Brown Ale from Nebraska Brewing as I type. I can usually get Empyrean (Burning Skye Scottish Ale - mmmmmm). I REALLY wish I could get Thunderhead at our local stores - Jalapeno Wheat sounds heavenly. I stock up on Zip Line any time I make it down to Lincoln. We have a couple of beer experts on staff (Salt Creek and Ty). Ty has done a series of Nebraska brewery profiles. http://www.cornnation.com/beer-brewing-other-libations
Cobby: HOLY SHIT, WHAT CAN'T YOU DRINK? FALSTAFF, SCHILTZ, AND OUR FAVORITE OF ALL TIME, PABST BLUE RIBBON. DOLLAR A CAN ON SELECT NIGHTS AT BUZZARD BILLY'S. THROW SOME TOMATO JUICE IN THERE AND YOU'RE A FULL BLOODED NEBRASKAN.
Andy Ketterson: My favorite microbrew is a lively dark ale with no head and a 92 proof called Sailor Jerry rum. It gets me through all the seasons of the year.
Thanks, Corn Nation Crew!