Wednesday, November 07, 2007

NU Review:Kansas 76, Nebraska 39

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Sam Keller came to Nebraska after losing his starting job at Arizona State. He toiled for a year on the scout team, learning Bill Callahan's complicated west coast offense and earning the respect of his teammates. He won the starting job this year and was ready to take the reins and unleash the full power of Nebraska's new offense.

He was supposed to lead NU to glory. He was supposed to compete on a national stage, win big games, and prepare himself to be Callahan's first protege to go into the NFL.

Instead, he was the stoic leader expressing faith in his teammates as everything unraveled. He watched as his friends on defense got torched time and time again. And his college career ended on the sidelines in Austin, Texas, in tears and a shoulder sling as Nebraska's hope for a victory faded away in Jamaal Charles' wake.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Bo Ruud was the last in a line of a great 'Husker family. He was supposed to carry the torch of Blackshirt glory. He was supposed to lead his teammates on defense to a signature win, to a conference title, and to national relevance.

Instead, he lost his starting job, executing a flawed game plan week after week and watching as his beloved Blackshirts being humiliated again and again. He will end the season hurt, beaten, and a member of the worst Nebraska defensive squad in a century.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Bill Callahan came to Lincoln with big shoes to fill and a lot of people expecting him to fail. He had nothing to do with Steve Pederson's ham-handed firing of Frank Solich, but he bore the resentment of the 'Husker faithful who felt Solich was wronged.

He brought with him a finesse-based offense that required a complete change in the mindset of Nebraska football. He also brought a confidence that his scheme would be successful in Lincoln. Unfortunately, the line between confidence and arrogance is a thin one. Time and time again, Callahan showed he would keep hammering at his game plan regardless of the outcome.

Callahan also demonstrated a remarkable inability to develop his own talent. Players under Callahan got worse each year in the system. Playmaking athletes languished on the bench while less talented players saw the field - because they understood his system.

But the limitations of the system proved costly. As proved by the one-dimensional offensive productions of the Callahan era, even an eight pound playbook can result in a predictable offense.

To make his problem worse, Callahan demonstrated a tin ear to the needs of his fan base. Much like his boss, Steve Pederson, Callahan created a culture of arrogance in his system and his coaches. Whether he was unable or unwilling to say the things Nebraska fans wanted him to say, we will never know. Callahan was dealt a tough hand in being the guy to replace the Osborne-Devaney era. But he did himself no favors with his inability to connect with Nebraska fans, particularly this season.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Steve Pederson returned to Lincoln as the native son, the Nebraska boy coming home to bring 'Husker athletics to glory. He brought with him a successful resume from the University of Pittsburgh, including a new football stadium and the creation of a nationally-competitive men's basketball program.

He was supposed to have 'Husker lore in his blood. He was supposed to understand "the Nebraska way." He was supposed to be the one, like Nixon going to China, that would be able to bring a conservative fan base into the new millenium.

Instead, he created a culture of arrogance. He knew he was doing the right thing for NU. He believed that any honest discussion about his performance was dissention, and distraction, and harmful. And he believed that if he just told people to trust him and that everything was going great, that the dissent would fall away.

It didn't. And the more people saw through his Cheshire Cat smile and sunshine-pumping speeches, the more he dug in and refused to level with Nebraska fans. A downward spiral commenced, culimnating in a poisonous work environment, an alienation of the big-money "boosters of substance," and ultimately his dismissal.

And the Nebraska boy, the prodigal son returned, left the University of Nebraska in disgrace, chased by television cameras and fans cheering his dismissal.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

In 1997, when Tom Osborne retired, Nebraska was the premier college football program in the country. Only ten years ago, Nebraska stood on the mountaintop, with a stadium renovation completed, national glory, and a future of dominance lying before them.

One short decade later, Nebraska is mired in its' worst season since 1963. Fifteen minutes after the Colorado game, Nebraska will be looking for its' third head coach in five years. Nebraska will miss its' second bowl game in three years, and have its' second losing season in five years. Nebraska fans will watch as Kansas and Missouri - Nebraska's perennial whipping boys - play for a division title and a chance at a national championship.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

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