The Flight to the Future?

You had to figure it would be getting crazy after Athletic Director Tom Osborne officially announced the firing of Head Coach Bill Callahan. But yesterday we saw just how crazy things can be.

I have to admit that before today, I might have heard of flightaware.com, but probably paid it little mind to the point it didn't even register when someone had posted on one of our message boards a flight plan of a plane which was taking a curious route. 

Actually, the curiousness starts with the jet itself, a twin-engine Cessna owned by Norfolk Iron & Metal, a prominent booster of the Husker Athletic Program. 

Then there's the route: 

The jet started at its home base of Karl Stefan Airport , located in Norfolk , NE , and it departed for Lincoln at 12:11 P.M. CST, arriving at 12:27 P.M. CST. 

And after reportedly picking up Athletic Director Tom Osborne and University of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman , the 2005 Cessna 525B left Lincoln at 1:14 P.M and arrived at Baton Rouge Metro Airport at 3:10 P.M. 

This is where the A.D. and Chancellor reportedly picked up LSU Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini, after which they once again hit the airstrip in the eight-seat private plane, departing at 5:35 P.M., touching down at Fulton County Airport in Atlanta , Georgia . 

This just happens to be the home base of Baker-Parker and Associates, the private search firm the Lincoln Journal Star originally identified as the firm the University of Nebraska has been using to aid in the search for a new coach. 

This is all gloriously interesting, isn't it? 

It's not just interesting that we, that being you and I, are sitting here actually watching a real-time map of a plane made out of pixels, cross this generated landscape, actually gripped by the drama of the displayed seconds counting down to landing. 

It's just as interesting that there is a site which gives us that kind of information. I tell you, there's nothing I love more than this wonderfully obvious tactic which has to be akin to what a stalker might do, and not only is it legal, but because we live in a vacuum we call Husker Nation, this is considered absolutely normal operating procedure. 

I know this has Bo written all over it, and it would seem that we are all just waiting for the official announcement and after a period of time where the official process has run its course, for Pelini to be penciled back in, this time as the permanent Head Coach, as opposed to the interim status he had following the 2003 regular season. 

And for the record, I'd agree. 

Pelini argues with line judge during 2003 Alamo, Pelini's one game experience
as the Husker Head Coach

While it's never good in this business to get ahead of yourself, start counting the chickens and all that, my mind is already looking at just what Pelini is going to do in regard to his assistants. 

You know, those guys who technically don't have jobs, but are still trying to recruit as if they do, but have less footing to recruit on right now than they did just 48 hours ago, because their contract was tied to a head coach who is no longer around. 

Keeping them on was the smart thing to do, though, because some of them might actually work out for the future under a new head coach and Tom Osborne is the type who gave the entire staff a chance to prove itself during the season, and he's going to let them prove they still want a job. 

Or at least, A job..somewhere. 

If you really want a job, you are going to go above and beyond to try and make sure you are noticed so that those who have the power to grant you that job, feel that you do indeed want it, badly. While Osborne can't say one way or the other that such-and-such coach will keep his job, it wouldn't be out of line to recommend a coach or two before the new head coach actually brings each in for the obligatory interview. 

I say "obligatory", because that's kind of what Pelini got from former Athletic Director Steve Pederson, when it came around time to hire a new head coach. But it was pretty obvious that Pelini wasn't in the running for the job. It was just that interview you do so that you can say you did it. 

Well, as an assistant coach right now, you are asked to recruit even though you know there's nothing you can tell a recruit now that you couldn't tell them a couple of days ago. You are giving the same message as then: 

I'm here, but I don't know if I will be here in the future. But Nebraska is a great place to be. 

Only this time around, you technically don't even have a job. 

Don't think for a second that Osborne isn't fully aware of this. That's why we are tracking a flight from Norfolk-to-Lincoln-to-Baton Rouge-to-Atlanta right now. This thing is going to get wiped out and done with before you can even start pondering the already short list of candidates. 

Oh yes, the short list of candidates. 

Turner Gill
Jim Grobe
Frank Solich
Bo Pelini 

Maybe more 

Two former Huskers and one a prominent and successful head coach in the ACC ( Wake Forest ). Not bad. Not exactly mind-blowing, but not bad. 

Gill was an icon at Nebraska , both as a player and QB Coach. Frank Solich is another icon, both as a player and a RB Coach. And he did get Nebraska to a national title game in 2001. As for Grobe, he won an ACC title last year with the Demon Deacons. 

But with Pelini, you may not have someone who has head coaching experience, but you have someone who has proven that he brings to a team and in a very short time, what this current team sorely needs: 

Passion 

In the season prior to Pelini taking over Nebraska 's defense in 2003, they were pretty pedestrian, the highest ranking they could boast being 27th out of 117 teams, that in the category of pass efficiency defense. In that same category, the year Pelini had that defense to himself, they ranked No. 1. 

In addition, 27th was that defense's best ranking in all the major defensive categories. 24th was the worst ranking Pelini's defense had in any of the categories. This is how his defense stacked up that year: 

2003
Rush: 119.3 yards allowed per game (24th in the country out of 117 teams)
Pass: 177.85 yards allowed per game (11th)
Pass Efficiency: 88.66 (1st)
Scoring: 14.5 points allowed per game (2nd)
Total: 297.15 yards allowed per game (11th)
Fumbles Recovered: 15 (17th)
Interceptions: 32 (1st

It speaks for itself, but if you want more proof, the year AFTER Pelini was gone, this is how the defense fared:

2004
Rush: 104.0 yards allowed per game (11th in the country out of 117 teams)
Pass: 267.64 yards allowed per game (110th)
Pass Efficiency: 118.91 (48th)
Scoring: 27.1 points allowed per game (71st)
Total: 371.64 yards allowed per game (56th)
Fumbles Recovered: 7 (87th)
Interceptions: 14 (34th

And do I really need to post the defensive statistics from THIS season? 

Didn't think so. 

It's not to say that coaches prior to Pelini and those who followed, didn't believe in the players they had. It's probably not accurate to assume that any one of them or even all, didn't have a good idea of what they were doing as coaches.

But there's something about those wonderful intangibles. It's about more than Xs and Os. It's about more than scheming, how many practice stations you run or even how many "stars" you have on the team. 

In 2004 when the Husker secondary was swiss cheese-like in its ability to stop the pass, that was with two players (Fabian Washington and Josh Bullocks) who would go in the first and second around of the NFL Draft, respectively. Pelini didn't have a player on his 2003 team who got picked in the subsequent Draft until round number four. 

One player who Pelini had for just one year, felt that Pelini knew how to get everyone's attention. "There was no need for him to get our respect. He already had it," Ruud told the Lincoln Journal Star's Brian Christopherson. "He's a natural leader. Obviously, he was with the defense more than the offense. But the offensive guys knew he could do it. It didn't take much for him to get our attention." 

Anyone ever thought that the Husker defense lacked a little attention during the 2007 campaign? Like maybe, as in attention span

Pelini has been regarded as fiery. If you are losing they call it hotheaded, a label the former Husker D.C. got after he gave then Kansas State Head Coach Bill Snyder a verbal lashing after the Wildcats dispatched the Huskers in Lincoln , 38-9. 

In the same breath, though, Pelini's fiery nature has been labeled as passion, enthusiasm or just a flat out love for the game. 

It's like that you know; if you are winning, some of the most annoying things are acceptable and when you are losing, some of the most seemingly benign become these unforgivable transgressions or at least, just something to complain about. 

What Pelini never lacked was the ability to get this players' attention. He never wavered in his ability to get them to play above and beyond the whistle. And he may not have had the most talented defense in his one year at Nebraska , but I doubt you would have assumed of any other defense that they were more aggressive, more intense and just showed that "heart" which seems to come into question when you are giving up over 60 and even 70 points in a game. 

I am not Nostrodamus, nor do I want to be. He dressed weird and "When the litters are overturned by the whirlwind", something he wrote in one of his prophecies, means exactly what?

Pelini at a press conference at
Nebraska in 2003
Either way… 

I can't predict the future, but as I am looking at things, and after watching this team for the last four years, I am of the opinion that great thinking-coaches are good. I think coaches who recruit like machines are pretty good, too. But at this point I'd opt for a coach who can do what I think any head coach shoulddo:

Surround himself with good assistants, be a good closer in recruiting and be someone who can motivate the entire team. 

Pelini has already proven he has some of that, and I think he'll have ample opportunity to prove he can accomplish the rest. 

That's why when I get up and check out flightaware.com, I'll already know what the route back from Atlanta will be. And I think it's pretty safe to assume that when the private jet lands in Lincoln , it will only have the people on it who got on it in Lincoln , originally. 

But I figure that's when we will have the real calm before the storm. No more flight tracking (thank goodness) and not a lot more speculation. 

Just waiting…for Pelini to become the head coach once again.

generated aerial map courtesy of FlightAware


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