Tuesday I posed this hypothetical poll question on Twitter:
It’s the last week of November 2007. Harvey Perlman and Tom Osborne have asked you to tag along with them as they interview candidates to replace Bill Callahan.
In Baton Rouge, La., you interview Bo Pelini. You ask him, “What will you have accomplished in five years?” He explains in detail, game-by-game, good and bad, everything that has happened from 2008-12.
You walk out of the interview. Osborne and Perlman look at you and ask, “What do you think? Should we hire him?”
What would you say: Yes or No.
Most readers took the exercise as it was intended: a twist on the popular discussion of Bo’s job performance. Some readers accused me of trying to drive Pelini out of town. I can’t change your minds, but I will say I don’t think Bo should be fired. I said so in my Sunday column.
However, this is a different question, something that not only examines the public approval of Pelini, but also what reasonable expectations are at Nebraska.
So “Should we hire him?”
As of midnight, the scoreboard looked like this:
Hire him: 64 votes
Don’t hire him: 53 votes.
Here are some excerpts from Twitter voters (pardon the grammatical errors):
From Zach: “Tough, but yeah, I think you have to. Guarantee yourself nine wins for 5 years? That’s pretty solid.”
From Charles: “Does Osborne and Perlman believe that winning a championship (Big 12 or 10) within that 5 year period is not important or getting to a BCS bowl? That would be the only way for them to respond with a yes answer, if asked the question. “
From Doug: “Hire him. Getting to 3 Conf Championship games, having 9- 10 win seasons, building consistency, sounds good after Callahan”
From Michael: “I’d say, ‘You ever hear of this Chip Kelly guy?’”
From Randy: “No. His best defenses have been with players he didn’t personally recruit. Suh etc. Can they develop high level recruits.”
From Paul: “absolutely!! Bo’s name gets mentioned nearly everytime an opening comes up. There is a reason why it does. Neb. is lucky to have him!!”
From Jason: “No. We should not hire him. No conference titles in 5 seasons is unacceptable.”
From Jared: “Yes! We hire him in a second. Nebraska fans need a dose of PERSPECTIVE. 9 wins every season in a major BCS conference!”
From Curt: “yes. 10 wins a year. 3 title shots. PLUS a move to the Big Ten. Wish people would quit acting like this was a 6-6 team.”
From Scott: “I would say no, keep looking. The wins are bloated by lots of bad non-con games on the schedule.”
From Hadley: “yes but could I follow up with a ‘can we please eliminate the embarrassing TV blowout losses along the way?’”
From Todd: “We may need to make another change in 3 – 5 years if we can’t get over this hump right now and win a conf. title … but in 2007 I would take 9 – 10 wins every year for 5 years.”
From Patrick: “no we should not. We need to hire someone with head coach experience.”
From Phil: “It’s a yes. I don’t think Turner was ready, and the other candidates weren’t anything to write home about.”
And here’s my favorite response, from Joseph: “I would hire him based on all that. But I would want to ask him one question, ‘After the Big Ten Championship blowout, what would you do next?’”
>> My opinion? In October, I spelled out my expectations for the Huskers. Be a top-15 program. Finish in the Top 25 almost every year. Finish in the Top 10 approximately every other year. Bo did an impressive job the first 2 1/2 years. But the past 2 1/2 years have been disappointing.
So I would vote no.
That’s not the same thing as saying “Fire him.” Terminating him after a 10-3 season is absurd. It destabilizes the program. It hurts the pocketbook. And it turns off attractive candidates. Just ask Steve Pederson. Nebraska must stand by Bo, give him the resources he needs and hope he makes the necessary changes.
>> Of those who said, “Yes, hire him,” the overwhelming No. 1 reason was Nebraska’s new streak of nine wins. As Ryan from Columbus wrote, “Perhaps you would like to name the teams that have a minimum of 9 wins over the last 5 years. I believe they are Alabama, Oregon, Boise State, Nebraska.”
That’s impressive, they said, especially considering where Callahan left the program.
I buy pieces of that argument. Consistency is commendable; there’s something to be said for a coach who avoids “bad” seasons. But I don’t believe 2007 was an accurate depiction of the state of the program. There was talent here; it just had to be tapped. So it was a quicker rebuild than the average 5-7 team.
My rebuttal, however, centers on the nine-win benchmark so many fans cling to. It’s a remnant of the Osborne era.
Back then, it represented Nebraska’s remarkable consistency. In the 70s, 80s and most of the 90s, there were 12 games in a season, counting the bowls. Now there are 14 games in a full season (if you make the conference championship game).
In 1992, 21 college football teams won nine games. Only 10 teams won 10-plus games.
In 2012, 33 teams have at least nine wins — and we haven’t even played the bowl games. 22 teams have 10-plus wins.
Yes, Nebraska is one of only four teams (Alabama, Boise State, Oregon) to win nine games the past five years. But it’s sort of like saying Georgia Tech is one of only five schools to go to 15 straight bowl games (that’s true).
Look at the final AP rankings for ‘Bama, Boise and Oregon since ’08:
Alabama: 6, 1, 10, 1, 2 (currently)
Boise: 11, 4, 9, 8, 19
Oregon: 10, 11, 3, 4, 4
Cumulatively, those schools have had one finish outside the top-11. One.
Nebraska’s best finish is 14th. And if the Huskers lose the bowl game, this will likely be the third time in five years NU finishes out of the
Top 25 Top 20. You know how many times Osborne did that? Zero.
Nebraska has a longer streak of nine wins than Wisconsin, which had a 7-6 season in 2008 and are 8-5 this year. But would you really rather be Nebraska over the past five years? Of course not. The Badgers have won three straight Big Ten titles! They have two 11-win seasons and two Top-10 finishes. I’ll take the occasional valley if it means you actually climb the mountain.
There is a legitimate argument for patience with Bo Pelini. It includes the high-character kids he’s recruited. It includes the inherent challenges Nebraska (and other northern schools) face in recruiting. It includes the swiftness with which he turned around the program. It includes inheriting Callahan’s offensive coordinator, which set back his offensive vision three years.
It includes a soft 2013 schedule and a ton of returning offensive talent. It includes the ridiculous cost of firing coaches — and how you better be confident the replacement will be more successful. It might even include the unquantifiable notion that he’s growing into the job.
But please, don’t give me nine wins.
>> Speaking of streaks, Nebraska — even with all its remarkable tradition — has endured some painful ones over the years:
6 — losses to Oklahoma (1972-77)
7 — losses in bowl games (1988-94)
6 — losses to Texas (2002-2010)
The new streak that’s becoming a nuisance is conference championship losses. It stands currently at four.
In 2006, the Huskers finished their last seven drives of the game in Oklahoma territory. Those drives produced a grand total of 0 points.
In ’09, they were one point — and one second — from beating undefeated Texas.
In ’10, they blew a 17-0 lead to OU.
Saturday’s defeat is painful for a different reason. Nebraska gave up 70 points. The Huskers seemingly had everything in their favor and still couldn’t get it done. The next Big Ten championship opponent (whenever that day comes) is likely to be Urban Meyer and Ohio State. It’s only gonna get harder.
>> One guy Nebraska won’t see anymore is Bret Bielema. I gotta be honest, I thought Bielema had a great gig. And I think Wisconsin is a more stable job and an easier place to win a conference championship. But the SEC is prestigious right now. Coaches desperately want a piece of it, even if it’s the eighth- or ninth-best job in the conference.
Still, there must be something else. Bielema only got a $600,000 salary bump. He has to pay a $1 million buyout to Wisconsin. Something doesn’t add up. Why wasn’t he happy in Madison?
>> Who’s next for Wisconsin? Dave Doeren? Paul Chryst? Darrell Bevell? I don’t expect a sexy name, but the Badgers are on solid enough ground to make a smooth transition. It will be interesting, though, to see if the offense changes. That downfield running game is UW’s identity, but Bielema had a hard time recruiting quarterbacks. In this era, you really need a dual-threat.
>> Is Gus Malzahn strong enough to change Auburn? Good detail on AU’s dances with Kirby Smart and Bobby Petrino.
>> Bielema. Malzahn. Charlie Strong perhaps at Tennessee? As good as those names sound, two of the three will likely be fired within five years. Each program expects, at minimum, a .500 conference record. And with Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, there simply aren’t enough wins available to keep every school happy.
>> Back to Bo for a moment. This was one more popular reason to “hire him.” Look at the 2007 BCS-level coaching changes and how few are winning at the school that hired them: Mike Sherman, Rick Neuheisel, Houston Nutt, Rich Rodriguez, Bill Stewart, Paul Johnson, Bobby Petrino.
As one emailer noted, would NU have been better off hiring Turner Gill or Jim Grobe? It’s a fair point.
My guess is some guys who waited another year or two for their big break (Chip Kelly, Brian Kelly, Brady Hoke) would’ve picked up the phone had Nebraska called. That doesn’t, however, mean they would’ve necessarily been better fits for NU.
>> Four unforgettable days at Northern Illinois. Great stuff from Dan Wetzel.
>> Bruce Feldman profiles The Scoop Brothers, one of whom runs the site that reported Arkansas’s interest in Bo Pelini Tuesday. Fascinating.
>> Which college football programs got the least bang for their buck this year? Kansas, Auburn and Iowa. The Rutgers coach, meanwhile, deserves a raise.
>> This is brilliant: Joe Posnanski charts the “exhilaration gap” between watching specific sports on TV and watching them in person. Hockey is No. 1. Golf is last. Football is toward the bottom, too.
>> Nebraska-Creighton, tomorrow night at Devaney. Before the season, I expected a Bluejay blowout. Now, amazingly, the teams have the same number of losses. Who would’ve predicted that? I still think CU wins comfortably — how does Nebraska guard McDermott? — but I’ll be surprised if NU isn’t competitive. Either way, it’s a great showcase for basketball in our state. I’ll have a full report in Friday’s Chatter.
>> Finally, Gabrielle Ludwig is a 50-year-old junior-college basketball player in California. The last time she played a competitive game was 1980 when she was still a man.