"We had a lot of fun every day," said McCarney, who moved on to Iowa State after the 1994 season. "It was kind of like Kirk Ferentz and myself, in that we were offensive and defensive line coaches together. You compete every day out there in practice, and then go recruit together. You enjoy the great times together.
"There wasn't anybody I enjoyed going on the road more to recruit with than Bill Callahan. Maybe it's the Irish in both of us. We enjoyed a lot of great times together. When you do the things that we did under Barry Alvarez's leadership up there and the program he built – those are some things we'll always be real proud of."
McCarney will also welcome another pair of former Wisconsin aides to town, including one that spent three seasons as an assistant coach at ISU.
First-year Husker defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove also spent five years with McCarney in Madison, while Nebraska offensive coordinator Jay Norvell spent six before coming to Ames as a part of his first coaching staff.
"Bill Callahan, Kevin Cosgrove, and Jay Norvell – you talk about being in the trenches together," McCarney said. "When you go from 1-and-10 to 10-and-1 and do it the hard way and right way, you develop strong bonds, relationships, trust, and faith."
The Cyclone head coach admits that he had mixed feelings about the events of a year ago at Nebraska, which saw Frank Solich dismissed and Callahan hired less than a month before national signing day.
"I knew Billy would be very successful at Nebraska, but Frank Solich is also a real good friend of mine," McCarney said. "I didn't like to see what happened to him after winning 10 games, but those things happen in this profession and sometimes you can't figure them out. But Bill Callahan had nothing to do with that decision. He got an opportunity at one of the great schools in the history of college football. I knew he would be a heck of a choice."
In another reunion of sorts, first-year Cyclone offensive coordinator Barney Cotton goes up against his alma mater and former employer. He spent just one season in Lincoln doubling as the coordinator and line coach before being dismissed along with Solich.
Cotton declined to speak with reporters on Tuesday, and will put all of his focus on preparing his offense for Saturday's game. Either way, McCarney said this weekend's game is more about two Big 12 North Rivals than an individual seeking revenge against a former team.
"His focus is real good," McCarney said of Cotton. "It's not about Barney Cotton versus Nebraska. This is about Iowa State doing some things this week and hopefully in the last three weeks that no one in America even dreamed we could get done.
"That's what is out there, and it's more important than talking about those ‘son of a guns that let me go, fired me, and I'm getting back at them.' I don't sense that. Barney hasn't said that to me or the players. His preparation is very normal, but I'm sure his emotions and motor will be running high on Saturday."
Cotton likely won't contribute much in the way of schematics, as the Huskers' offensive and defensive systems have changed with a new coaching staff. But he can provide some individual scouting reports on players.
"It's no different than when I left Iowa and went to Wisconsin," McCarney said. "It's no different than when somebody leaves one school and goes to another. It's a small, close fraternity of coaches in college football. Many coaches coach together and against each other many times.
"It's way overrated, as far as gameday and being able to effect the outcome of a game. What you do get is better insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the players they coached. The rest of it is real overrated."
Huskers playing more to their strength?
Callahan wasted no time introducing the West Coast offense to the Husker faithful, and stayed with it throughout much of the season. Quarterback Joe Dailey set school records with 342 passing yards and five touchdowns against Baylor Oct. 16, and has already thrown for 1,416 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
However, in recent weeks, Nebraska has gone back to its old ways. That means featuring tailback Cory Ross, who rushed for 194 yards and two touchdowns against Missouri. Even though the Huskers wanted to become a pass-first offense this season, they still have managed to rank 24th nationally in rush offense at 184.5 yards per game.
"They've had one of the great rush offenses in America for decades, and are doing a real good job of running the football right now," McCarney said. "In the West Coast offense, the heart of it still has to be a good running game. They're sure doing a lot of that recently."
Another factor that may keep Nebraska grounded the rest of this season is the loss of pass-catching tight end Matt Herian. The returning All-Big 12 player suffered a fractured left leg against Missouri. He had been leading the team with 24 catches prior to the injury.
"He is a tremendous football player," McCarney said. "It was a real serious, ugly injury. He is clearly one of their better players on offense, and it happens. You hate to see it. But Nebraska is one of those teams that seems to put out five-deeps, where a lot of us put out two-deeps. They've never had a problem with a shortage of players."
Too early for bowl talk
After getting back-to-back conference victories over Kansas and Baylor, the Cyclones need just two wins in their final three games to become bowl eligible for the fourth time in five seasons under McCarney. But any talk of the postseason was squashed by McCarney, who said his team needs to worry about the task at hand.
"We haven't talked about it," he said. "They can read newspapers and hear the radio and TV, but I just don't think we're mature enough, smart enough, or can handle all that stuff right now.
"If they're thinking of anything but beating a team that has physically beaten up Iowa State through the last 30 years, then we're probably going after it thinking about too much. We need to continue our improvement and go to 4-and-1 at home this year."