Something Had To Give

By Carolyn Braff - October 15, 2007

Thus far, it has been an abysmal year for Nebraska football and on Monday, the school decided to do something about it. On Monday, Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson was fired, a perhaps knee-jerk reaction to Nebraska's worst home loss in 50 years, a 45-14 thumping Oklahoma State delivered to Nebraska on Saturday.

Yes, Pederson handsomely extended head coach Bill Callahan's contract prior to the beginning of this downward-spiraling season, but shouldn't the coach be blamed for his abomination, and not the athletic director?

The easy answer to that question is yes, but halfway through a football season, when trying to send a message, it's easier to fire a higher-up than it is to can the coach. He will still get the message, but gameday preparations can continue as scheduled, without the messiness of putting in an interim head coach and disrupting an already disrupted football season.

Effectively, the Nebraska administration just held a clinic in how to fire a coach without actually firing him. School to Callahan: prepare to pack your bags.

Why do it today? An easy explanation can be found among the crowd in Memorial Stadium. Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne and members of the 1997 national title team were at Saturday's game to witness a caliber of Cornhusker play that had little to nothing in common with that championship group of a decade ago. Their criticism undoubtedly weighs far heavier upon the school administration than that of your average run-of-the-mill fan, so Saturday's attendance list might have had something to do with it.

The combined score of the Huskers' past two games, 86-20 in favor of the opponents, probably has more to do with it.

Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman put out a news release on Monday explaining his move:

"We are, of course, disappointed about the progress in our football program. Steve has done many positive things for Husker athletics during his tenure, but I think only new leadership can objectively assess the state of our program and make the decisions necessary to move us forward."

Perlman pointed to a decline in morale surrounding Cornhusker football and after the departure of major fundraiser Paul Meyers and several others, Perlman is worried (and rightly so) about keeping people around who can help the program get back on its feet after this abomination of a season is over. And thankfully, it will eventually be over.

The famed Blackshirt defense, the calling card of Nebraska for so many seasons, is nowhere to be found in 2007. For the first time in the 118-year history of the program, the Huskers have allowed at least 40 points four times this season, and nine times in Callahan's tenure as coach.

The once-proud Nebraska defense currently ranks 104th in the nation, just ahead of FIU.

Perhaps the less political, more logical move would have been to fire the coach, the man more directly responsible for Nebraska's output (or lack thereof). No announcement has been made as of yet about what will become of Callahan, but suffice it to say that despite the still-drying ink on that five-year contract sitting on his desk, the scrutiny surrounding Callahan will only intensify if he does not do something about this team, and fast.

In his four seasons in charge of the program, Callahan has led Nebraska to a 26-18 record, including a 9-5 finish last year that saw Nebraska win the Big 12 North before falling to Auburn in the Cotton Bowl. But in those four seasons, the Huskers are a pedestrian 14-14 in the Big 12, and a sorry 0-6 against teams ranked in the Top 10.

Whoever Nebraska brings in as its next AD will have some big leadership decisions to make at the end of this season, but a clear message has been sent to Coach Callahan - start winning, or you're next.

But beware - winning at this point probably won't save you, either.

Posted by Carolyn Braff at 04:39 PM on October 15, 2007
Comments (4)


Carolyn - you may not realize it, but this decision goes much deeper than a dismal football season. Under Peterson, several key, quality athletic department employees have departed. Peterson also did little to embrace the common fan, focusing much more on those large donation supporters. There needed to be a balance under his leadership - and there wasn't.


This HAD to happen. No Nebraska fan with red blood in his veins could blindly stand by with what was happening to the program. This was truly becoming an abomination.

When I went up to cover the USC-Nebraska game last month, the fans' malaise over the Husker coaches and administration had grown to the tipping point. Big Red fans knew this team was still being pushed around on the field and their feelings were still being pushed around by the people in charge. That's what made this situation worse than the Solich days.

The last straw for the Pederson-Callahan combo would've been for NU's remarkable sell-out streak to come to an end. And given the recent results of this tenure, it was bound to happen if things continued as they were. Talking to some of my friends and relatives in Nebraska, they've been saying that the stands have been half-empty for most of every second half this season. Nebraska fans may be the best in the country, but they've got their limits.

To me, this is a great example of how nobody should be above reproach. Pederson did the ole "go-it-alone" in hiring Callahan, so this program's change of direction was his baby. But then Pederson had the temerity to give Callahan what amounts to a "You're doin' a heckuva job Brownie" with that contract extension before the USC game. THIS really had Husker fans dander up.

So this firing of Pederson is like seeing a renegade with an exploding ego get shot down. But it was also something the Cornhusker state really needed. It was getting way too out of hand.


What Peterson did to Husker football, would be like going to Mt. Rushmore and blasting off a president's face to add your own. He took our football tradition and tried to change it into his legacy. His arrogance (and intolerance of the common fan) got him what he deserved, but it took too long. Perlman defended Peterson for too long, he should be held responsible. Today's action wasn't about the last two losses, that correction will come at the end of the season.

Please do not think that the past two losses were the reason SP was shown the door. Nebraskans are far less concerned with wins and losses than we are about how the business at hand is taken care of, i.e. effort, integrity in the way one does his/her work, passion, concern for neighbor, etc, etc.

SP has done just about all he can do to ruin the reputation, culture and morale of our once great athletic department. Our entire athletic department used to be like an extended family to so many people, much like one who is a regular at a local mom and pop restaurant. Now imagine that mom and pop diner getting a new owner who decides that he no longer wants the same type of customer. He might change the menu, run off the old staff and start giving the old customers a fake smile, a cold shoulder, but still expect those customers to pay the bill and frequent the joint.

Maybe a bad example, but the bottom line is that we expect things to be done with the utmost integrity and treating people in a fair manner is one of those things that Nebraskans hold dear to our hearts. A hand shake is far more important than a contract.

When you decide to change a culture that the entire state was fully behind, you'd better at least win football games. The combination of a ruined culture, a non-welcoming attitude towards past coaches, players and all fans, along with four seasons of sub-par performance on the football field is what led to this. It is time to get back to doing things the Nebraska way.

I hope this makes sense to you. Nice blog, but I just couldn't sit back and allow you to think that this was a result of the past two games. It is far deeper.

Keep up the good work.

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