X-Tra Points - A Fan's View

There are going to be a lot of challenges when it comes to taking perhaps a struggling team and turning them into a conference contender but that is precisely the challenge Bo Pelini and company has. We give you a look at a fan's view of those people who will have the most to do with Nebraska's potential success and just what kind of success they should have in their first year at Nebraska.

In my previous articles, I addressed the fans, the players, and the media.  What have I missed?

 

You're absolutely right.  Coaches 

 

X takes the square!

 

Without further ado, here is my own fanboy assessment of each coach on the 2008 Nebraska Football Coaching Staff.  I will try my best to address both the positives and concerns of each one.  Some of the questions in this analysis will be answered very shortly into the season, but others may take just a little bit longer.  When will we know?  I'm not sure, but I can't wait to find out!

 

So go ahead and get yourself a refill of your favorite carbonated, brewed, or distilled beverage,  push your keyboard back, and enjoy this week's edition of X-Tra Points!

 

 

Offense

 

Coach Tim Beck, Running Backs Coach

 

Coach Beck was the final cog in the machine as he filled the last vacancy on the Husker coaching staff.  Coach Beck comes to Nebraska after three years on the staff with Mark Mangino at Kansas.  Previously, he was a highly successful High School Head Coach at both Summit High in Mansfield, Texas and R. L. Turner High in Carrollton, Texas.

 

The Strengths:  Coach Beck has strong ties with the Pelini family.  He graduated Cardinal Mooney High in Youngstown, Ohio – the very same school both Coaches Bo and Carl Pelini attended.  Coach Beck has had plenty of coaching success on a grand scale.  He was part of a successful turnaround at the University of Kansas, which recently had the crowning achievement of a victory against Virginia Tech in this year's Orange Bowl.

 

He is highly regarded for his recruiting prowess.  As a former high school Head Coach in the recruiting hot bed of Texas, he knows where to find top high school talent.  This is where Coach Beck may make the biggest impact of all.  With Coach Pelini's emphasis on a more balanced offense and the running game, Coach Beck should have little difficulty recruiting the wealth of high school talent available in Texas.

 

The Challenges:  At Kansas, Coach Beck was the receivers coach and passing coordinator.  Now, he is the running back coach at a school that is arguably the best known for -- among other positions -- running backs.  How quickly will he be able to fit in with the rest of the offensive coaches?  Does he have the experience to teach the running backs the proper techniques needed to succeed in the Big XII?  He's a top flight recruiter, but can he convince potential RB recruits to play for him at Nebraska? 

 

Coach Tim Beck is a proven coach with results on many different levels of coaching.  Now that he is a member of the Nebraska coaching staff, only the sky is the limit.  With his recruiting skills combined with the changes planned by Coach Pelini and the rest of the coaching staff, they have all the tools needed to lead the Cornhuskers to future success.

 

 

 

Coach Shawn Watson, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks

 

Coach Watson is one of the two returning coaches from the previous year's staff.  He enters his third season as a Husker coach, and his second as the Offensive Coordinator and QB coach. In his first year as a Husker, he was the Tight Ends coach as well as the recruiting coordinator.  Prior to that, he spent five years as the offensive coordinator for the Colorado Buffaloes.

 

The Strengths:  This is a classic example of the popular colloquialism, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Despite the pressure to continually score to compensate for a very porous defense, the Offensive production last year was quite good.  Last season, Nebraska finished 8th in the nation in Passing Offense averaging 324 yards per game, and ranked 9th in the nation in total offense at over 470 yards per game. It's difficult to argue against those statistics, as they reflect the best offensive season totals Nebraska has enjoyed since 1997.

 

The Challenges:  Keeping continuity can be a good thing, but developing a working relationship with the new coaching staff is a concern as well.  How well Coach Watson gels with Coach Pelini and the other newly appointed offensive coaches remains to be seen.  Although Coach Pelini has stated that fixing things on defense is his top priority, he will eventually turn his attention back towards the offense.  Will Pelini keep the status quo, or stir things up if he believes changes are necessary? 

 

 

Of all the coaching changes on the offensive side, the status quo at Offensive Coordinator presents the fewest question marks.  Coach Watson is a known commodity.  He has remained as the primary cornerstone from last season's offensive successes. Now that Watson has gained full control of the play calling duties, he will now be able to add his own simple flavor to the West Coast offense. By keeping Coach Watson on board, the current players won't have to learn a new offense from scratch.  This continuity on the offense will help keep current recruits on board, as well as attract new recruits to a storied football program.  There is little doubt that Coach Watson now has the capability as well as the tools he needs to improve on last year's successes.

 

 

Coach Ron Brown – Tight Ends Coach

 

Another former coach has returned home to Nebraska.  Coach Brown has once again reassumed the role of Tight Ends Coach for the Huskers.  He previously served as the TE/Receivers coach for numerous years under both Coach Osborne and Coach Solich.

 

The Strengths:   Coach Brown has the most tenure as a Husker coach –17 years of experience at his position here at Nebraska coaching both Tight Ends and Receivers.  Most of his players were never known as ‘big time' receivers, but they were well known nationwide for one thing – downfield blocking.  His receivers and tight ends throwing key blocks lead Nebraska to multiple rushing titles in the past.  This should help the current offense rush the ball more effectively, and eventually turn the offense into a more balanced attack.

 

The Challenges:  Coach Brown has been away from the game and out of coaching for the past four years.  Has this time away hurt his capability or his credibility?  A lot can (and does) happen in four years – has Coach Brown kept up with the changes?  Will he be able to work well with Coach Watson?  Will he be able to increase the production at the TE position?

 

Coach Brown has a proven track record at Nebraska.  A number of his players he coached have had great success at Nebraska, and 12 of them were drafted into the NFL.  Yes, many coaches do things with more flash and style, but Coach Brown has always emphasized the end results.  Not only does he develop the player while on the field, he helps develop the player for his time off the field as well.  Quality leadership -- that is something that can't be measured.

 

 

Coach Barney Cotton – Associate Head Coach/Offensive Line

 

He's back!  Coach Barney Cotton has returned to his alma mater to coach the offensive line for Nebraska.  In addition, Coach Pelini has bestowed him the title of ‘Associate Head Coach' to add to his list of responsibilities. Coach Cotton's ‘original' return to Nebraska was after a six year stint (1997 – 2002) at New Mexico State as the Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach.  He returned to Nebraska in 2003 as the Offensive Coordinator/OL coach to lead the Huskers to a 10-3 record and an Alamo Bowl victory over Michigan State. After Coach Solich and his staff was ‘let go', Coach Cotton served the next 3 years on the Iowa State staff as the Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach and helped lead Iowa State to the most success they've had in years.

 

The Strengths:  Once a card carrying member of ‘The Pipeline', Coach Cotton returns to coach (yet again!) the OL at Nebraska. He still has the same fire now that he had as a player while learning the trade from one of the best OL coaches ever in Milt Tenopir.  He inherits a load of talent to work with.  There are many returning OL players with both talent and experience ….it only needs to be developed. 

 

This time around, he's not saddled with the play-calling responsibilities.  But, he has a wealth of experience as an Offensive Coordinator to lean on while assisting Coach Watson in fielding a more balanced offensive attack.  Coach Cotton has been successful in running offenses before, his knowledge may be crucial in helping to make a good offense even better.

 

The Challenges:  Yes, we know can coach, but can he recruit?  During the last recruiting season, two top OL recruits (Robinson, Givens) escaped the clutches of Nebraska and committed to other schools after Cotton was officially made the new Offensive Line coach.  Will this become a trend, or will Coach Cotton staunch the bleeding by recruiting more talent to the fold?  This may be a cause for concern.

 

Coach Cotton's return to Nebraska proves that sometimes, opportunity does knock twice.  His return may be seen by most as a return to returning ‘the Pipeline' to its former glory.  Cotton has strong ties to the program as a former player, and for a second time, as a coach.  When combined with a supportive coaching staff, as well as the caliber of players needed to develop new OL talent, the potential is there for Coach Cotton to return the Nebraska Offensive Line back among the best in the Nation.

 

 

Coach Ted Gilmore – Assistant Head Coach/Wide Receivers/Recruiting Coordinator

 

One of only two holdovers from the previous coaching staff, Coach Gilmore returns for his fourth season as Receivers Coach on the Nebraska Staff.  This will be his second season as the Recruiting Coordinator, but his First as the Assistant Head Coach under Coach Bo Pelini. 

 

The Strengths:  Under Coach Gilmore's tenure the passing game for Nebraska has set numerous receiving records for receptions and yardage.  Coach Gilmore was instrumental in Nebraska's offense finishing 8th in the nation in passing yards as well as 11th in total offense in 2007.  Gilmore has transformed the WR position into a viable weapon on the Nebraska Offense.  As evidence, last season's seniors Terrence Nunn (2nd) and Maurice Purify (5th) finished their careers among the best receivers in Nebraska history.  Nate Swift returns for his senior season next year already as the 4th all-time receiver.  That's no small accomplishment!

 

The Challenges:  We know that Gilmore can coach, but due to the staff changes, recruiting is once again on the hot seat.  Retaining Coach Gilmore as the recruiting coordinator helps smooth the transition somewhat. But will he be able to help land the ‘big fish' then keep the potential wavering verbal commits in the fold?  It's critical to the success of the recruiting coordinator not only to get recruits to visit and commit, but stay committed.   It's evident that potential recruits are won or lost by the relationships between coaches and recruits.   Will Coach Gilmore be able to establish and maintain those relationships? 

 

Coach Gilmore has returned to be a key cog in Nebraska's coaching staff.  He obviously has the talent and skills needed to teach the WR position, as evident by his player's performances. He was a strong recruiter in the past, and now he's the recruiting coordinator on a new staff.  Coach Pelini obviously saw something he liked -- not only did he retain Coach Gilmore on the coaching staff, but he named him the Assistant Head Coach.  That speaks volumes not only for his past performance, but for his future potential as well.

 

Defense

 

Coach Carl Pelini – Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line

 

Yes, I know what you are thinking, and you're right -- they're related in more ways than one.   Head Coach Bo Pelini hired his older sibling Carl to coach the Defensive Ends as well as assume the title of Defensive Coordinator for the Blackshirt defense.  Coach C. Pelini established his Husker ties as a Graduate Assistant under Defensive Coordinator Bo for the Husker Defense back in 2003. In 2004, he took the Defensive Coordinator position at Minnesota State under Jeff Jamrog.  Finally in 2005, he joined Frank Solich's staff at Ohio U. as the Defensive Line Coach.

 

 

The Strengths:  Coach Pelini's Husker ties are apparent.  He has spent time with the Nebraska coaching staff before, as well as with former Husker coaches Jamrog and Solich.  The familiarity that Carl and Bo have with each other stemming from their days as Cornhuskers in 2003 will ease their transition back to Nebraska.   That familiarity with each other should help Coach C. Pelini in his role as defensive coordinator.  Coach Bo Pelini knows defense.  Having the opportunity to be groomed for the defensive coordinator position by one of the best in the business should make Coach Carl Pelini's job that much easier.

 

 

The Challenges:  Coach C. Pelini isn't one of the ‘big-name' position coaches that are on everyone's list.  Along with the other new coaching hires on the staff, it remains to be seen if he can ‘coach up' the current talent as well as recruit the new talent needed to bring the Blackshirt defense back to prominence.   At first, Coach B. Pelini will be the de facto Defensive Coordinator calling the plays, with Coach C. Pelini eventually taking over.  How quickly Coach C. Pelini takes full reigns of the defense is crucial, so that Coach Bo Pelini can concentrate on the entire team, instead on focusing too much time on just one side. 

 

Whether or not Coach Carl Pelini begins his term as the Defensive Coordinator in name or in spirit, he has the experience, the supporting staff, and the players to succeed yet again in Nebraska.  The only question still to be answered:  how will he measure up?  One thing is certain - when compared to the performance of the previous Defensive coaching staff which led the Blackshirt defense to 112th out of 119 teams in total defense; anything would be considered a major improvement.  Both Bo and Carl have led the Nebraska Defense to success before, and they are more than capable of leading the Blackshirts back to prominence again.

 

 

 

Marvin Sanders – Defensive Secondary Coach

 

Coach Marvin Sanders returns to the Cornhusker coaching staff from his brief hiatus away from coaching last year. As a former varsity athlete playing for the Husker Defense in the late 1980's, he returned to his alma mater in 2003 to lead the Blackshirt defense to huge success as the Defensive Backs coach.  After the upheaval of the coaching staff at the end of that season, he quickly landed a coaching job at the University of North Carolina as the Defensive Coordinator for the next three seasons.

 

The Strengths:  Coach Sanders clearly has the strong ties to the University of Nebraska, not only as a coach, but as a former player as well.  He returns to work under Coach Pelini yet again – he was Bo's first choice to be the Secondary Coach.

 

This coaching combination has known success before - in their one season together, the Blackshirt defense had 47 takeaways, led the nation in pass-efficiency defense, as well as establishing a school-record 32 interceptions!  They were instrumental in guiding the Blackshirts return to success in 2003, only to be dismissed following the departure of Solich at the end of the season.  Now, both coaches return to Nebraska to prove they can return the Blackshirts defense to their former glory.

 

The Challenges:  It seems like Bo is turning the clock back to 2003, by rehiring yet another of the former coaches of Solich's defensive staff.  Is he the best choice for the job?  Was there any consideration for any fast-burning position coach from one of the ‘big name' schools?  Coach Sanders was only known as Marvin Sanders last year -- he was out of coaching all of last season.

 

Back in 2003, the recruiting successes were few and far between. This is one of the reasons (or, excuses) why the former Athletic Director Pederson chose to replace nearly everyone the last time coaching changes were made.  Can Coach Sanders recruit the top talent in the nation?  We shall see.

 

Coach Sanders has coached the Blackshirt defensive backs to great success in the past, and the 2003 defensive statistics bear that out. Coach Pelini presented him the opportunity to have the chance to return to his home state to repeat their former success.  They are familiar with each other as coaches and friends, both on the field and off.  There will certainly be a lot of room for improvement over the previous four years.  Coach Sanders is primed for success and he will help lead the Husker defense back to where it belongs. 

 

Coach John Papuchis – Defensive Ends

 

John Papuchis is a young 29 year old first time coach that Pelini hired away from LSU to coach Defensive Ends at Nebraska.  Papuchis has spent the past 4 years as a defensive intern for the top ranked LSU Defense; Papuchis is a Virginia Tech grad who also spent time with the Kansas Jayhawk football program.

 

The Strengths:  If there is one thing Bo Pelini is known for, it is his hard-nosed defense.  Remember, last year's lack of defensive performance is one of the motivating factors which drove the complete overhaul on the defensive coaching staff.  To rejuvenate the lackluster defense, Bo needs a position coach that: a) knows his defensive system and, b) knows how to teach the techniques and playing style to fit within that same system. Who better than Papuchis, who has already served as an assistant to Bo during his tenure at LSU.  Papuchis may not be a well known ‘name' position coach to anyone outside of Louisiana, but he IS very well known to Bo. With Papuchis' help, the LSU defense was ranked third nationally in total defense the past three seasons.  That speaks for itself!

 

The Challenges:  Carriker.  Moore. Wistrom. Vanden Bosch. Rucker. Smith. Kelsay. Tomich.  Yes, those are impressive Defensive Ends, who played for equally impressive Blackshirt defenses.  

 

Now, THAT is a high standard to meet, for anyone, regardless of their coaching experience.  Will Coach Papuchis be able to coach the current defensive ends on the roster to play at a higher level?  Will he also be able to recruit new players to match the talent this team once had?  As it is for any first time coach, there is very little experience there to measure -- and Nebraska is certainly one big yardstick to be measured by.

 

Coach Papuchis was hand selected by Bo Pelini over many other available prospects to coach one of the most esteemed positions on the Nebraska Blackshirt defense.  Papuchis has had great results during his time with Pelini at LSU.  Now he has the chance to do the same thing at Nebraska…but now on a full-time basis.  A famous Nike commercial tag line has been reconfigured by many Husker fans since Pelini first joined the staff back in 2003:  "Bo knows Defense".  To know the defense, he must know the players, and he must know the coaches.  He knows Papuchis, and Papuchis knows the challenges ahead.  What do we know?  I know we'll find out soon enough!

 

Mike Ekeler, Linebacker Coach

 

Another hire on the newly revamped coaching staff is Mike Ekeler, who takes over as the linebackers coach for the Blackshirts.  He follows Coach Pelini from LSU, back home to his native state of Nebraska.  At LSU, Coach Ekeler served the past three years as a Graduate Assistant and Intern working with Coach Pelini.  He was also worked with Pelini during his tenure at Oklahoma as a Graduate Assistant. Ekeler also has experience as a defensive coordinator at Minnesota State serving under Jeff Jamrog, who is now the new Assistant Athletic Director for Football Operations at Nebraska.

 

The Strengths:  Ekeler is very familiar with how the linebacker position is played in the Big XII.  Ekeler himself was a linebacker and special teams player who walked on at Kansas State and became a 4 year letterman.   He quickly earned a reputation as a fiery player on the field.  As proof of this, he was awarded KSU's Paul Coffman Award, which is awarded for outstanding leadership and positive attitude.  Those attributes will translate well here at Nebraska!  Yes, he brings to Nebraska much needed leadership, a high motor, and a fiery attitude – three things which were sorely lacking with the Blackshirts last year. 

 

Coach Ekeler knows from experience with Pelini what is expected at the LB position, and he is already familiar with the system that Pelini likes to run on defense.  These are two critical areas that help spell success as a position coach.  There is no learning curve that one might expect as a newly hired position coach.  Ekeler has the experience, and now he has the title of Coach to go with it.

 

Ekeler's experience as a former player should make it easier for the linebackers to connect with him.  He's still young, and it wasn't very long ago when he had on the pads.  He can still relate to the day to day struggles of being a player while on and off the field. The players should easily relate to him as a coach who has ‘played the game' and knows what the LB position demands.  He didn't learn his skills playing video games….he played the real thing at a Big XII school.  He's been there before, and he'll help them understand what he wants to see on the field.

 

Good coaching was sorely lacking on the defensive side of the ball last year.  Coach Ekeler has a great opportunity to prove his worth.  He will need to use all these attributes to direct a young LB squad who lost a lot of experience due to graduation this year.

 

The Challenges:  For starters, this is his first full time coaching job.  Coaching the famed Blackshirts at the University of Nebraska.

 

Pressure?  Yeah, I would think so.

 

And with that pressure goes all the responsibilities of game preparation, practice, and recruiting.  Ekeler hasn't hit the recruiting trail before, but he'll need to hit the ground running.  He'll need to assist the other coaches in identifying talent, and convincing the recruit that Nebraska is where they want to be.  The jury is still out on how successful he will be.  This may easily turn out to be a trial by fire.

 

Coach Ekeler is a heralded former player with tons of experience, who now becomes a new coach with limited experience. The potential is there.  He's been hired by one of the most dynamic defensive coordinators around in Coach Pelini.  He's been associated with the top programs of the new century at both Oklahoma and LSU.  And now, he's on the staff of a team that sorely needs good coaching, motivation, and inspiration.  Coach Ekeler may be a raw talent, but he's got all the tools as well as the players to get the job done. 

 

________________________________________________________________

 

I'd like to also take this time to pay respect to one of the greatest sportswriters in my lifetime.  You may not remember his name, but he is the one who coined the phrase:

 

"The opera ain't over ‘til the fat lady sings!"

 

A sportswriter's  icon from South Texas, he was humorous and brutally honest, both on the printed page and over the airwaves.   One of the nation's finest sports journalists, Dan Cook, passed away recently at the age of 81.

 

And if you listen very closely, you'll notice that a portly woman has finished singing a requiem.

 

You'll be deeply missed, Dan.

 

 

 

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