The new face of Nebraska Football

I wasn't alive in 1962, so you will have to forgive me as I refer to this as the most epic change in Husker coaching history. Yes, I know I can pick up a history book and see, but while I have drawn breath, this is as big as it has ever gotten. My life has been nothing but 9 win seasons mostly, so last year was a bit of a change. Well, this year, things have changed even more and as everyone holds their breath, they wonder if it will be for the better. It's the new face of Nebraska football.

Tim Albin as running back's coach and passing coordinator. Barney Cotton as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Bo Pelini as defensive coordinator. Scott Downing as tight end's coach and special team's coach on the offensive side of the ball. Marvin Sanders as secondary coach. Dave Gillespie in charge of football operations. Jeff Jamrog as Front Four coach and special teams coordinator and Turner Gill as Assistant Head Coach and QB coach.

Where it might have taken forty years prior to this to take up an entire paragraph with the coaching changes that have taken place at Nebraska, coach Frank Solich did it in about three months. He changed the face of Nebraska football, perhaps forever.

Right now, I share the same thought as many others do. "When is the Spring Game." Well, I do to an extent. Part of me doesn't care, because I know that whatever we see in the Spring Game, you are likely to see nothing even close come the start of the fall and beyond. The Spring Game will simply be an evaluation of sorts, initially taking talent, speed and ability into account along with heart and desire.

It all comes back to those judging those qualities though and for me, there has to be a certain excitement from not knowing more than what I think I know.

Scott Downing comes off as perhaps the most reserved in demeanor. Intelligent, knowledgeable on offensive schemes and a Purdue Pedigree of sorts that lets you know he knows something about passing the ball. Downey himself as he was at the podium for his "acceptance speech" stated that he just came from a school that "shamelessly passed the ball 83 times in a single game". The chances of that happening at NU are about as likely as that of Frank Solich talking for more than five minutes without saying "in terms of", "tremendous" or "on that end of it". But, it does open the door for some intriguing possibilities.

In stark contrast to Downing was Tim Albin who's energy was almost seething as he appeared quite ready to hit the field today, game-planning, watching film, evaluating and basically motivating his new group of backs to "be all they can be" or maybe just "hold onto the damn ball". Either way, he exuded the kind of energy that when focused usually finds itself going in positive directions and with Albin's noted offensive mind, his addition to passing coordinator is also a definite plus.

One question though. What is a passing coordinator? A friend and I were talking about this and surmised that it would be a person responsible for establishing routes within the context of the offensive system established by new offensive coordinator, Barney Cotton. While coach Ron Brown is teaching receivers how to be great receivers, it's Albin telling them where they should be and when. Again, in reference to his noted prowess at scheming offensively, this could make for a receiving core with an extremely different look come next season.

Marvin Sanders was actually exactly what I expected. He stated in simplistic terms why he was at Nebraska instead of in St. Louis with the Rams. He talked about his motivation behind "coming home" and of course, he talked about his role in as he said, bringing back Nebraska to where it was when it was playing for a national title. His confidence was obvious. As with every coach I heard speak, there's an honesty in how they speak and relate to people that just let you know that whether you believe in their ability or not, you have to believe in their intent and if Sanders has his way, NU's secondary will no longer be the whipping boy of the better passing teams around.

Speaking of intent, if there is one coach amidst all the coaches where you didn't have to ask twice what it was, it was Bo Pelini. I give him the award for saying the most in the fewest words possible out of all the lucky contestants on the podium that day. He's very direct, pretty darn short (in his answers) and when you ask him to analyze this or that, he gives a simple but confident shrug, stares you in the eye and says in no certain terms, "I know what it takes to play great defense." You know what? I don't know what it is, but this guy just invokes confidence and you don't need to see him on the field to realize just how intense this guy can be. You can see it in his eyes. He's definitely one of those action speak louder than words kind of guys and how ironic from where NU was not so long ago.

Before Pelini, it was a very technical response, a conversation about coverages, schemes, positions, execution and a long drawn out recital that summed up basically a Solichism, "we didn't get it done." I think that you can expect something completely opposite from one Bo Pelini as if his defense didn't get it done, you won't have to ask, you'll just have to look in his eyes and that will pretty much write the story for you.

The last of the new hires was a man of stature and I do mean stature. Coach Solich could have just as easily spouted off as Michael Buffer, "Standing at 6'5", weighing in at 260 lbs. (or something like that), the mountain from Mexico, Barney "I'm not purple" Cotton."

Ok, maybe not.

You know, just a little flashback here. I remember interviews with Charlie McBride. If you didn't know any better, he came off pretty calm and heck, just a nice loveable kind of guy that knew football head to toe. Of course, you then see him on the sidelines after one of his guys just had a brain cramp and if it's not that stare you get, it's as one former player told me, "Charlie giving it to you for five minutes and he didn't say the same swear word twice."

Cotton strikes me as being possibly like that. He's very astute in what to say and how to say it as you would expect, but having not seen his demeanor on the sidelines, I can only speculate, but I can see myself expecting maybe a stare and possibly a little "talking to" now and then and besides, he's just as big of some of the "bigguns" he's going to be coaching. As a coach, that would have to feel pretty good. He just strikes me as a "fire and ice" kind of guy that depending on who you are and what role you have in his face being up or down, that's which side you get.

Outside of my own personal musings on some psychological level, I had to say that all this in the end looked like a jigsaw puzzle finally pieced together by Solich. Though Pelini said he was still tearing around on the idea of hiring a LB coach or doing it himself, this picture is all but complete.

And like any good puzzle, there's this neat little picture that appears as you snap those final pieces in place.

The only question now is, what is this a picture of?

The biggest question from most people isn't whether NU will be successful in getting back to their winning ways, but exactly how it's going to be done. Cotton's philosophy on first down isn't run left, run right, run middle or option however, he's got some passes mixed in there as well. Downing comes from a rigid passing-oriented offense and will be coaching the tight ends in the finer aspect not of just drive blocking, but how to defend the game through the air as well. Tim Albin was put in place not just for the running backs, but as a passing coordinator as well.

Now, don't start screaming names like Coryell or even terms like "Fun N' Gun", because that's going to happen at NU and the next day, I am going to shoot myself. This is a "purist's" state that is home to a very midwestern philosophy of playing football and basically, that's completely in your face.

That's not going to change.

What will change is teams being able to stack nine in the box because they know what NU is going to do. What should change is you at home not being able to predict NU's plays with 90 percent accuracy while the contest is going on and you aren't even watching the game. Nope, you are going to have to actually guess, sit back and think before it's snapped, "damn, I should have said this."

It will be an offense about doing things when you want do to them, not when you have to. Neat concept, eh?

And it's about defense and who's to say that Pelini won't bring back that "edge" where "blackshirts" meant , well, exactly what it's supposed to mean. Teams didn't scoff when they played them or laughed at the image the defense represented. They might not have feared them, but you can bet quarterbacks weren't exactly happy to know that either they were heading into the "Sea of Red" or that it was coming to them, because the blackshirts were not far behind. It's about years where Nebraska faced the likes of a Huard, Manning and Wuerffel and each left with bruised bodies and egos to match. It's just about domination.

Yeah, ok, this is all speculation and one man's dream of an NU team that not only regains the potency of team's past, but the pure-unadulterated pissed off aggression of players prior. Guys that would just as soon as hit you as help you, kick you down before helping you up and when someone said "smashmouth", they simply wanted to know who.

I once wrote a piece titled simply, "And". It was a piece about intensity and the point of reference current players had. It's not that they weren't intense, but were they the fanatical almost maniacal types like Jason Peter, who was never shy in showing his emotion? Did they have that type of face to put to how the game used to be played when NU was all but unbeatable?

With all the changes that have taken place and all the new people, within these newly placed coaches, they might see that face again. This is the new face of Nebraska, but most are hoping that it resembles a face seen not so very long ago.

Steve Ryan can be reached at or 402-730-5619

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