About a year ago when Steve Pederson arrived on campus at Nebraska, it was a homecoming for him. It was a welcome home for the new A.D. as well, the athletic dept. getting back one of it's own and the state of Nebraska yet again reeling back in another native to help solidify the football program a little more.
Much of the continuity that has defined the Huskers over most of it's success in the modern-era has gone hand-in-hand with this feeling of stability that comes from having players or coaches with some undeniable tie to the Cornhusker state.
Whether they played here, coached here, was born here, being that "Nebraska guy" always offered people comfort that regardless of success, loyalty would be the final defining factor for a program that literally seethed that from the top of the dept. order to the fan base itself that through every slight change has stayed the most loyal of all.
Steve Pederson's arrival was appropriate in so many ways for those loyal followers of the Big Red. He was born in Nebraska, raised in Nebraska and even worked in the athletic dept. of the program most fans follow with this unmatched fervor. His success at Pittsburgh would have made him only a decent choice, but the fact that he was a "Nebraska guy" turned a candidate for a job into the only one that would realistically be considered.
He was perfect for the job.
It wasn't a heroes welcome mind you as though the greeting was warm, the welcoming back of one of their own certainly a pleasant occurrence to all the Red Clad Lunatics abroad, the day Pederson took the job, he went from one seen fondly for his history as to one now scrutinized for the future he was expected to make and to help bring back what most Nebraskans feel is their identity, a football program amongst the elite.
The NU football program two years ago was anything but. Under Frank Solich in his fifth year at the helm after replacing the legendary, Tom Osborne, Nebraska fell to depths not seen by any that ranged in the 30s chronologically and that couldn't even be remembered by anyone that wasn't at least half a century old. For most Nebraska fans, the bottom had been seen for the first time in their lives.
Heads would have to roll.
Bill Byrne, the A.D. at the time was renowned for his hiring of coaches. Point of fact, Byrne was renowned for much of what he did for the University of Nebraska, but ironically enough, little of that had to do with football.
It would and should be considered a shame that for a man that did what any good athletic director should do in making sure the entirety of success of a program is addressed rather than so much focus only being regarded to one sport, Byrne would ultimately be considered a failure because the ‘holy grail' of NU spilled to the point of almost being empty and it happened on his watch.
Enter Steve Pederson.
A native of Nebraska with a solid work history and a recent and dramatic success as an A.D. at the University of Pittsburgh, this was the guy that would bring back to NU fans what NU fans cared about the most. There was that oh-so-typical comfort level the locals had with Pederson, because he fit what fans linked mostly to the success of their programs over the years. Loyalty, continuity and familiarity with the "Nebraska way" of getting things done.
Though it's well-known, it should be reiterated that Pederson wasn't brought back because he could do wonders for the women's bowling team. He wasn't brought back to bring more respect to the perennial powerhouse but forever underappreciated Volleyball team of Nebraska. He was brought back to save the Nebraska football program before there was nothing left to save.
Step one, fire Frank Solich.
Nebraska came back to prominence, though mild in comparison to the achievements of the recent past of the Husker program. It was still markedly better than a season of losing as many as you won. While it did happen under Pederson, it was obvious that he had little to do with what the football team achieved.
One of the best defenses in the country led by new defensive coordinator, Bo Pelini along with the typical contingent of ‘Nebraska guys' in Marvin Sanders, Jimmy Williams and Jeff Jamrog, Nebraska regained some of their identity this last season.
And, while the season prior was about losing nearly every positive streak that the Huskers had put together over the years, this Nebraska team was able to get back albeit non-consecutively to one of it's trademarks, the infamous 9-win season.
Some say that should have saved Frank Solich from losing his job, the team still having a chance to hit the double-digit marks in wins. As quickly as the confidence was rekindled in the former NU fullback though, especially after a resounding win in Boulder against the Buffaloes, that was just as quickly replaced with shock, Solich fired immediately after.
Most of the year, there was some speculation about what Pederson would do concerning the staff as a whole and if Solich would indeed be relieved. After a humiliating loss to Texas and an even more humbling experience at home against Kansas State, the head coach's fate seemed etched in stone. The victory at Boulder did save him though, but that was just a factor in why Solich turned from would-be villain into a hero, albeit mostly in a sympathetic tone. The other factor was an article that would put Steve Pederson behind an eight-ball where he's still residing to this day.
The Lincoln Journal Star article that spoke of boosters calling out the A.D. for trying to secretly oust the current head coach. An article that painted Pederson as little more than a yes-man for the people with the right amount of money having his strings pulled to pull the strings on NU's current leader.
The motives behind why the article was even printed have been speculated upon openly and no doubt in conversations about and with the Lincoln Paper. What it did do though is paint Pederson as the Villain, Solich the victim and now his so-called inadequacies all forgotten because ‘the man' was out to get him.
So suddenly and even shockingly did all this take place including the appointment of the only non-Nebraska guy as the interim head coach, this was most assuredly a very calculated plan by Pederson, something he had apparently done plenty of on his plane right back to Lincoln.
Pederson admitted that even before he took the job as the A.D. of Nebraska, he might have been formulating a strategy even then. And, on the flight to Lincoln to accept the job, he doodled, drew and composed in his mind a template for the future.
Surely with the abrupt and decisive removal of Frank Solich, somewhere amidst the cocktail napkins, there strewn in with the sketches of facility upgrades had to be something about NU's future coach. Nobody would have believed that you could remove someone with a 9-3 record and not have an immediate plan ready to put into action.
As I write this, all Husker fans sit in waiting. As this is being typed, recruiting hangs on the edge of an abyss. While there is a bowl game yet to be played, the conjecture, speculation and pondering point to one simple question that resounds from one border of Nebraska to the other.
What in the hell is going on?
In somewhat of an ironic twist, the Lincoln Journal Star recently put out yet another article on the current Nebraska A.D. This piece though was one that recalled his work history, regaled his achievements throughout and had more than a few quotes from those he's worked with and for about how his apparent vanity was actually a vision waiting to happen.
It was that vision that propelled "Pitt" from virtual athletic obscurity into the prominence of a program reborn. A nearly 100 million dollar facility, the overall improvements in records of teams nearly across the board and many of his personnel decisions turning to be just what the program needed to get thrust back into the right direction.
While I would personally agree that Pederson's work history is indeed impressive and there's no reason that anyone should believe that he wouldn't have equal success here, but if his success were equal rather than proportionate, Pederson would be a failure in the end.
This isn't Pittsburgh.
In every job that Pederson has held prior to this aside from being the A.D. at Pittsburgh, he wasn't asked to take hold of an entire program and put it back on track. And, even at Pittsburgh, while the demands were great, in comparison to the job he holds right now, that's about the only thing that is the same. Pederson even admitted that when he took over at Pitt, there were no expectations. At Nebraska, there's really only one.
Be the best. Anything else, you are just wasting everyone's time.
That's a ton of pressure, but for someone that considers this state their home, pressure is a word that is woefully inadequate. It's not pressure. It's an absolute idea that you don't have the choice to succeed or not, you simply do. As a native of Nebraska, taking over the Nebraska program and at a time where it's most followed sport is in it's most tumultuous time in decades, you can't come in with a notion of how you might bring the program back, you come in with a plan to bring them back and all that way back to boot.
Failure is not an option.
The perceived methodology of one, Steve Pederson since the firing of Frank Solich is one of ‘it's my way and I don't have to tell you anything about it'. While the distancing of himself from everyone else throughout this process would seem consistent with what Pederson did at Pittsburgh, it's not Pennsylvanians he's ignoring now, it's Nebraskans, one he's very much himself.
He doesn't tell the fans anything. He doesn't tell the coaches anything and the players are likewise left in the dark. In fact, it would seem that outside of possibly, NU Chancellor, Harvey Perlman, there is noone that knows a thing about what's happening at NU right now.
It's not a secret that Pederson doesn't come across as overly personable. It's not a major headline that what's most noticeable of him during his tenure at Nebraska have been his typically politically drenched diatribes. But, to keep what he has dubbed the "Husker Nation" in the dark at a time where ANY idea of what is going on during this process would help immeasurably, it comes off as more than a bit rude. Perhaps, even arrogant.
Is he above the ‘average' fan to such a degree that they don't deserve to know what's happening within his inner-circle of information? Does his vanity spread so far as to say that not even players, coaches or those subordinates within his own dept. aren't allowed to know what only he is privy to?
Such has been speculated on in that there is a belief that because he had this idea of it's his way or no way, that when the process does finally come to an end, there's one person he wants to give credit for making the potential success happen..........himself.
Of course, to be fair and taking into account his already proven methodology, while Pederson may have had a plan, it wasn't one which most people prepared for. In fact, as an A.D., Pederson has gone against the grain more than with the perceived ‘status quo' because he knew that to achieve maximum results, some very hard decisions had to be made. Decisions that would leave many unsettled and unhappy. Well, for awhile.
That ‘while' existed at Pitt, but comparatively, the speculation, publicity and attention would hardly be comparable at all. That is Pittsburgh, this is Nebraska. Scrutiny at a local level in Pennsylvania turns into national criticism in Lincoln. Achievements aren't measured in victories, they're measured in titles. And no fans follow their college team like NU fans follow the Big Red.
This duration of uncertainty has prompted to create certainty in some minds that Pederson dropped the ball. Whereas he should have had a plan or was at least thought to, now he's just scrambling, trying to find the golden goose. Because of the lack of information, people have created their own, Nebraska's future coach being anyone from Utah's, Urban Meyer to the ex-Florida Gator and current Washington Redskin coach, Steve Spurrier. Ironically, in a time where nothing is being said, it's a time where people are saying the most and not much of it is good.
For myself, I find in what to me is in it's own way an ironical conundrum. The longer this takes, the more uncertainty there is, hence the more uncomfortable people become. As you would assume though seeing as how recruiting seems to hang on the very decision Steve Pederson is about to make, anyone but Bo Pelini seemingly certain to destroy the prep-class all but completely.
Believe it or not though, I am actually going to go the opposite way, because if you do look at what Pederson has done and the absoluteness of the success he has had, only a complete fool would do what he has done and not have that goose sitting in the closet to introduce to the rabid red fans of NU.
Yes, it's fairly shaky logic, but as any sports fan, much of what you believe prior to any game in spite of your almost obsessive knowledge of depth charts, injuries, stats and strengths of schedule, there must always come some faith.
And, that faith in Nebraska when Nebraska was usually at it's best was in that continuity and the strength of the belief of mostly ‘Nebraska guys' taking NU all the way home.
In my own mind-set trying to decide between vanity and vision, I'll reluctantly and perhaps somewhat grudgingly admit that Pederson has shown more of the latter, at least from what he's done in the past.
For NU's future, I'll believe and of course, hope that a perceived Vanity is indeed Vision, that a picture of NU's future turns into a portrait and try to think of the only thing that can keep me from thinking too much.
Steve Pederson knows what he is doing.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619