History says the Nebraska Cornhuskers are part of college football royalty. Current circumstances suggest this is a program in a serious need of a shot in the arm, reeling after some bad losses this season and with a future that few are seeing a clear path back to the top of the college football mountain.
If these were going to be the results, why was the change even made? Or so some of the Husker-based narrative goes.
Mike Riley was brought in to overhaul, change and ultimately get Nebraska back to the top of the mountain. However, he’s hit a major roadblock in starting that process, with a team sitting with five losses and just one win in Big Ten play.
Given the early returns, fans have rightfully grumbled (and some have downright never gotten on the Riley bandwagon). But, the biggest question at hand is just how does the Huskers program get back to the top so many in the fanbase seek out every season?
We’ve got a few suggestions for the administration, fans and everything in between. Here is our blueprint to getting back to the top. Consider this our blueprint to Nebraska getting back to the top.
Fans need to get on board with Mike Riley’s plan
Mike Riley’s hire last December was certainly a shock move, as he was seen as a potential lifer at Oregon State. Instead, it set in place a series of moves that affected two Big Ten West division teams and set the Huskers fanbase on fire.
Some got on board, looking forward to a culture change that Riley would bring. Others were never convinced that a guy who wasn’t a Husker could get the job done and there have been no shortage of 140-word critics on a daily or weekly basis.
Bring in Frost already and let's start this over #FireRiley
— Trevor Morris (@Trevor_Morris) October 24, 2015
— Scott (@scootrdud) October 24, 2015
— Kyle LaCroix (@klacroix07) October 24, 2015
— George Amaya (@cornhusker95) October 24, 2015
After all, if nine wins weren’t good enough for Bo Pelini to keep his job, how is a potential losing season worth support?
It’s a fair question, but it’s also a false premise. Again, it has a lot to do with the fans realizing what this program is in the 21st century, but there are other factors at play.
Riley or Pelini, no way this team was a nine-game winner going in to the season. Was there a star running back in waiting? Nope. Was there a star-studded front seven in place on defense? Nope. Was there a passing quarterback with experience on the roster? Nope.
Instead, Riley came in and did what any good coach needs to do in building a foundation — he cleaned the program of all the dead weight. That’s to say, the bad actors and the malcontents found themselves out of a Huskers uniform. Some of those players could’ve been big contributors, but were not conducive to the culture Riley is building.
Think of it as short-term pain for the long-term gain. In a society that is all about instant gratification, there’s no substitute to doing things the right way and that brings us to the next point…
It’s time to start living in the reality of where this program is
1999 seems like a lifetime ago…and for the youngest students and players at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1999 was indeed a lifetime ago — as in they have no real memory of that year or what the Huskers accomplished.
That’s a reality check for you.
It also should serve as a wake up call to the fanbase to stop living in the past. There’s a difference between revering the glory days and being stuck in those days. Looking back to how the Huskers did it as they won national championships is fine, but comparing teams from the 50’s, 70’s or even the 90’s to today is an exercise in futility. The reality is that today’s college football landscape is 1000-times different from any of those eras.
Don’t get me wrong, expectations are great, and expecting winning football is important — I’m not suggesting to let go of all expectations of excellence.
However, for a big segment of the Huskers fanbase, they are living in the past and not the reality of today’s Huskers program. They also aren’t recognizing just how beaten down this program was under Bo Pelini, especially heading in to this season.
What exactly did Mike Riley inherit in the Huskers football program? He inherited a quarterback who is better as a leader than a passer, no star at running back, not much outside of two good wide receivers and a defense that has not lived up to the “Blackshirts” nickname for the better part of a decade (and I’m being kind).
Would Nick Saban, Pete Carroll or Urban Meyer have been able to take this program and make it an instant Big Ten or national championship contender? Highly unlikely at best.
That’s not to disparage the guys on this team in the least. No one is questioning the effort, but there’s a difference between all-out effort and having the collection of talent it takes to get to the top of the mountain.
There is talent on this team, with names like Jordan Westerkamp and De’Mornay Pierson-El at wide receiver and some nice parts along the defensive line. However, we’ve seen the lack of depth at an alarming rate so far this season. An injury to Pierson-El showcased a severe lack of depth at wide receiver and a ton of offseason dismissals due to academics, arrests and a lack of fit with Riley didn’t help.
So, it may be time for some inside the Husker Nation to take a hard look through the Red-and-White colored glasses and admit that this is a shadow of the teams that competed for even conference championships.
Make Nebraska “Cool” again…or for once?
Here’s a reality that everyone should be able to agree upon — Lincoln, Neb. was never and will never be a cool place. So, how did the Huskers build a nationally relevant program for multiple generations? It did so in the past by being timeless. It did so by being classic and it did so by also finding a way to fit in with the times that were in college football.
Right now? This program is not the “cool” program, let alone competing for the “sexy” title that Oregon currently holds and Maryland could with the help of Under Armour’s money. Heck, its ties to the past aren’t working and that’s what happens when
However, there’s a way to put lipstick on the pig that is Nebraska’s classic look and lack of interesting things to sell around Lincoln. Every school lacks something, whether its winning tradition, football facilities of the 21st century or alumni that care about being part of the program.
Nebraska has all of that to sell and much more. There’s a difference between selling all of those things and doing it in a way that makes it cool to want to play for the Huskers again.
One way is to do it is by finding a way to make marquee NFL talent a vocal marketing tool on a weekly basis. Not only does saying the words “Nebraska” or “Huskers” as lineups are called help, but having some of the big-named NFL talent out of your school out there selling the program in interviews and clothing and such really help.
Look to the East and what the folks in Madison have been able to do by wrapping their arms around some of the most marketable names in the NFL — J.J. Watt and Russell Wilson. The former hypes the Badgers at every chance and the latter, well, you wouldn’t know he played anywhere else in college by listening to Wilson speak on his college experience.
Of course, that also requires sellable talent in the NFL and Nebraska doesn’t exactly have that today. It could if Ameer Abdullah emerges, but Ndamukong Suh isn’t exactly the poster child for what you want to sell to recruits and parents of recruits these days.
But, alumni making it big at the next level is but one part of the equation.
There are two other parts to it all…one is to share Riley’s vision and start winning football games with that vision. It make take time for this part to come together, but if the Huskers are winning championships or competing for them on a year-to-year basis that is free marketing to recruits to say the least.
Lastly, it is time to sit the folks at adidas down and have a frank discussion. Seriously, what is that uniform supplier doing to the Huskers? I get trying to get in the fray with all the alternate jersey looks, but the all-black look is super played out and what was put out there last weekend was A-W-F-U-L. It wasn’t the first time adidas swung and missed, doing so back in 2012 with these terrible uniforms for the “unrivaled” game with Wisconsin:
Adidas has a major opportunity with Nebraska, it can thread the needle between the classic look and finding something that works in today’s flashier world. If adidas can’t step its game up, then it is time for it to go.
It may bother some fans, but the reality is jerseys and cool-looking things mean a lot to this younger generation. Having some look or mark that works in the 21st century is a huge help to opening doors to players that may never consider Nebraska.
This is where the administration comes in, and it has failed over the past three years. Time for everyone in the AD’s office and those at adidas to put there collective heads together and make the Huskers a “cool” place for the Midwest, because no such place currently exists.
Have a plan in place to replace Riley
For all that are calling for Riley to go today or yesterday, this must be music to your ears. However, I’m not talking about today, yesterday or even tomorrow. Instead, I’m saying that AD Shawn Eichorst, who’s stamp is all over this hire, needs to have a plan in place for the long-term replacement of Riley.
The cold,hard fact is that Riley is 65 years old and this is going to be his last head coaching job for better or worse. Just how long in to the future will that retirement D-Day be? No one but Riley knows it, but there’s hardly a question that he is close to that day right now.
Nebraska’s hope has to be that Riley gets this program back to the top of the mountain and can hand it off to a successor that keeps the ball rolling like it did all those times before in Lincoln.
Of course, if things go bad with the Riley era, Eichorst may be out of a job before Riley is gone and all of this will be a moot point. Yet, preparing for failure shouldn’t be in Eichorst’s vocabulary.
Instead, he needs to be preparing to find the right person to groom and or know from outside of the program that will be ready to take this righted ship and not screw it up going forward.
These ideas and suggestions are hard to swallow for some, and others may downright hate them — but they are the truth.
In fact, there are likely more ideas needed and I’m sure thought of inside the Huskers athletic department. Ultimately though, it is all going to take time and patience for Riley and the athletic department to get this ship righted.
Nebraska has hit rock bottom, and Riley was hired to be the man to pick them back up off the floor. Doing that is a rung-by-rung approach, so let’s see if the Huskers do as we suggest and Riley gets the job done in the long-run.