If there is one thing I have gotten used to seeing around the Cornhusker state is high expectations behind what the football team should do during whatever season. I have found that not even this season last year could thwart that mind-set, fans still expecting a lot and for no better reason than this is Nebraska and winning is what Nebraska does best.
Not last season though. In what can be called a shock of a lifetime to those not old enough to recall the pre-Devaney days, last season was the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the winter of 1983 or any other event so seemingly unique, that it prompted people actually calling it something akin to the aforementioned natural disasters.
That's life in Nebraska. A permanent state of denial, forty years in the making that absolutely, positively tells fans that failure is impossible, but in the event of this thing we can only call an "Act of God", Husker fans find themselves un-phased, willing only to accept nothing but the best, again.
What do YOU expect though?
You find yourself tugging between hope and realization. You find yourself wondering just what "realistic" means. What can you possibly expect of a team that has so many new faces on the sidelines and unknown faces, taking the place of those that have graduated and moved on?
Some would say that there are two schools of thought here, "good" and "bad". There is no in-between. For me, I would say there are about 200 schools of thought as you can find easily that many possible scenarios that could develop out of all these new and unknown factors.
If you believe that the defense couldn't get any worse than it did last year, the injection of new faces and attitudes finds you nothing but optimistic about what the "blackshirts" will do this year. No more belief that senioritis ruled the land and that the best player would indeed be THE players on the field.
"Out of position" would be an aberration instead of a weekly excuse. "I didn't expect that" would indicate the extra-intense level of play of NU's own defense, rather than anything the other team's offense did.
Goals by the defense would be something that started with the coaches, rather than coaches putting on the players themselves to make their own.
You could sum it all up as Bo Pelini would, saying "I just want to see good defense" and without knowing as Pelini does just what it takes to have that, you look at Pelini's line of education learning from the likes of Siefert and Carroll and smile, hoping that translates to NU.
If you believe the problem was the offense, the introduction of Cotton and his slightly more versatile way of thinking along with his experience on the offensive line as a breath of fresh air and a chance to equalize what Nebraska experienced last year and that is, everyone figuring NU's offense out.
For me, I am going to put this as candidly as I can in what I believe and you can fire up those e-mails now as I am sure I will get some flack for this.
NU had absolutely, positively no identity last year. None. They didn't know who they were anymore than they knew what the other team was going to do on any given play. And, it started with the coaches.
Each coach might have been fully able to do their jobs, but you can count the times on one hand where they all seemed to be on the same page. Offense doing their thing, defense doing their thing and each hardly complimenting the other.
During every weekend where each game was a war, the myriad battles taking place on the sidelines seemed to take over and make each game degraded because of it.
Players are always to blame for execution, because you can isolate times where this guy or that guy didn't tackle, block, pursue or execute a certain play the way it was drawn out. And though you can take each player to task for their lack of efficiency, it all does come back to the coaches in the end.
Let's face it. If my argument was so far off, we wouldn't have seen the wholesale changes on the team that we did, unless of course you are of the belief that coach Solich did what he did to save his own bacon and this was all some "kneejerk" move. Personally, I am not amongst those sharing that particular mentality.
At a level of play where players are already expected to be amongst the "elite", what they do on the field in regards to emotion, heart, enthusiasm and tenacity, that shouldn't be a question. They are Division 1-A players, playing at one of the most storied winning traditions in the country. Every single one of these guys should be "on fire" from the moment they get on campus.
Based on that belief, how they put that together, that's the thing that matters in the end, so what you expect is all that "go get it" attitude that they should have had already coming, added to the tools the coaches gave them to play big-time football in big-time fashion for yes, big-time results.
What they got and what the NU fans ultimately got was a big-time disaster.
Here's my biggest reason why and this falls back to expectations and honestly, it's probably the most unrealistic expectation of all. Coaching continuity. When you are replacing a coaching staff with the tenure the likes of McBride, Osborne, Young, Tenopir and Darlington, not to mention standout coaches and recruiters like Samuel and Steele, well, every single guy that comes in to replace them isn't going to be automatically good, instantly experienced and ultimately, qualified for that position or even, that school.
Sometimes, unity takes time and yes, the right people.
Take a look at any All-Star squad put together at the end or in the middle of a season, for basically any sport. There, you have the best of the best, the elite, the cream of the crop, but what you probably don't have is a good team. Individually, each is amongst the best at their position, but collectively, it comes down to how they play the game, what each does best and how it compliments others and how all are worked into a particular system to work as a group, rather than a group of individuals.
Nelson Barnes might turn out to be a darn good coach, Craig Bohl might end up being a good head coach. Darlington could have some major success at Marshall. Nothing of what happened should diminish each as a coach, just the overall continuity that was created with all of them together.
There was none or at least, didn't appear to be.
Coach Solich could and will continue to be questioned for a variety of things, but one thing he should never be questioned about is how he managed to work coaches together, because sometimes, it just isn't happening.
For Osborne, there was time and with so many older coaches at the helm, newer coaches coming in had an easy time figuring out how to work into this system. They not only had good examples, but a very firm base of how things were done.
When Solich took over, that base was shaken and some coaches might have discovered that the foundation of what NU was, simply didn't exist anymore. The older guys gone, the continuity a thing of the past and some starting doing their own thing.
That led to individuality that might have translated on the field at a variety of times, because of the coaches aren't on the same page, you can't expect the players to be.
Now, a whole new staff of coaches and expectations are about records, about re-gaining some streaks and re-affirming Nebraska's successful ways. I think it should start with coaches finding the same book, the same page and going from there.
I know. This is an old story, old speculation and some speculation that has been thrown around ad-nauseam. With Spring ball coming though, I may just be doing this to bring myself a little comfort in believing that the players to "get it done" are there, my belief or hope lies not in certain coaches' ability, but all of them together.
Bo Pelini is great. Marvin Sanders is great. Barney Cotton is great and so on and so forth. Each coaches' ability again, that's not the question here. Will the staff truly "gel" over this off-season, before the real season begins?
Expectations are usually about what will be better. At Nebraska, that's certainly the case and after last year, it's almost in desperation. They look at the hopeful performances of Thomas, Bingham, Kabongo, Incognito and Horne. Better defense, more heart, more big plays and a re-instillation of the dominance from before.
Whether you blamed the coaches or not for last year, it's going to start with them this year. There's simply no way around it. Sure, they all want to win and yes, they all want Nebraska to return to the top. All coaches want that though. All coaches try for that, but how, if everyone is on the same page for Nebraska, your expectations can grow and you won't have to worry about it being construed as "cautious optimism". It will be legit.
You can bet that the coaches will be working just as hard to get better together as they are to get their respective units improved and should that prove to be the case, your expectations will find themselves with much more than a "realistic" perception.
Expectations though, like goals are a matter of where it starts determining where it finishes. Regardless of what side of the ball, the system used or philosophies, that melding of individual ways into a team concept, that defines success in the ultimate team sport.
So, regardless of your personal expectations of what a player does or will do, what the defense can do or will accomplish start with the coaches and expect first what will ultimately decide NU's fate this year and for years to come. Coaches come together, team responds likewise and the rest, well, Nebraska is back to being Nebraska.
Sound easy? If it was, Nebraska fans wouldn't be lamenting over 40 years seemingly lost, rather reminiscing over what occurred in those 40 years of winning.
I guess that in the end, the expectations will never really change, but what most certainly has for some is the true understanding of what it takes to get there.
But, don't blame us for not realizing that. We're Husker fans.
What do you expect?
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619