Fiutak: Pelini Fired? Be Careful, Nebraska

Fiutak: Pelini Fired? Be Careful, Nebraska. Bo Pelini was fired, but the storied program might be chasing a myth.

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Congratulations, Nebraska. You’ve now officially become the toughest coaching job in all of college football.

Bo Pelini was fired after seven very, very, very good seasons, but without a truly great one. All he did was win at least nine games every year, and this season, could be a ten-win team if it comes up with a bowl victory. If Will Muschamp was fired at Florida because he “didn’t win enough games,” and Brady Hoke is about to be canned at Michigan for not being able to restore the glory, then what does it say for a head coach who has his team in the hunt for division and conference titles each and every year, but is fired anyway?

Not only did Pelini field winning teams at a high level every season, but he won four bowl games in seven tries, came within a bomb of a field goal from winning the 2009 Big 12 championship and keeping Texas from playing for the national title, and won or came in second for division titles in six of his seven years.

Nebraska is now asking for a head coach to win championships in a new era each and every year, and under changed circumstances from 15 years ago. Good luck.

Nebraska wants more. It wants to be more. It wants the direction to be different and ten-to-12-win seasons as the norm – nine wins isn’t good enough around there. However, the last time the program tried to make a sharp left turn, Bill Callahan came in and bad things happened. So now, Nebraska dumps its serviceable and above-average coach in the hopes of something much bigger and better, but that’s also taking a big risk.

There’s one school of thought that all you can reasonably ask for is to be very good each and every year, and then at some point you’ll get a Vince Young or a Tommie Frazier or a Danny Wuerffel or a Cam Newton and everything will come together in one or two magical campaigns. On the other side, Pelini hasn’t shown enough in the really big games to think that it could happen.

But it’s a fair criticism – he didn’t get Nebraska over the hump, and it might not seem like the direction is pointing towards possibly becoming a superpower of superpowers again. Fine, so he didn’t win enough really, really big games. You know who also didn’t win enough really, really big games for the longest time?

Tom Osborne.

Nebraska is chasing myth and a time that won’t exist again.

Before the program sold out to get a slew of questionable characters to create the dominant 1994 and 1995 national titles, it was a completely different narrative under the legendary Nebraska head man.

Following the great Bob Devaney, Osborne kept the Big Red Machine rolling with great year after great year, but all he had to do was win one really massive game each year against Oklahoma, roll through the rest of the mediocre Big 8, and go to a bowl. However, the problem was that he didn’t get the job done early on against the Sooners, losing five straight before finally getting a win in 1978 – handing OU its only loss of the year – but dropping the rematch later that season in the 1979 Orange Bowl.

1979 vs. Oklahoma. Loss. 1980. Loss. So imagine if a Michigan coach lost to Ohio State eight times in nine tries, or if Auburn lost to Alabama every year for eight years.

But then Osborne got past Oklahoma, and then he couldn’t win bowl games, losing seven straight from the 1988 Fiesta Bowl to the 1994 Orange before it all worked with juggernauts that rolled through 1994 and 1995 and were consistently great up until 2001.

It’s a new era and a new time from 14 years ago – the last time Nebraska played for the national championship – and it’s way, way past Osborne’s time when the program could pluck guys off the farm, beef them up, get a few superstar skill guys from New Jersey, Florida and Texas, and rock and roll. Recruiting is a different animal now, and creating consistent dominance is next to impossible, even for the superpowers.

Ask Texas, Michigan and Florida how tough it is to win nine or more games each and every year. Bob Stoops has been one of the elite coaches in the sport since the 1990s, and yet he has just one national title in 2000. Ohio State has Urban Meyer and a slew of five-star, NFL talents, and it has to hold hat in hand to beg the playoff committee to think about a top four spot. Georgia has never gotten there under Mark Richt, USC is rebuilding, and the SEC as a conference could have a hard time getting a team into the playoff if Missouri beats Alabama.

Being a college football powerhouse of powerhouses is hard.

Who do you want to be, Nebraska? Wisconsin? How many national titles has it played in during its phenomenal run? Are Big Ten championships enough, or are you trying to be Alabama or Florida State, but without the recruiting base?

So be prepared, Nebraska. It’s okay to want more. It’s okay to want to do everything possible to become a Big Ten superpower and shoot for national titles.

You don’t have Bo Pelini to kick around anymore.

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