In December 1997, six days before Tom Osborne stunned Nebraska by announcing his retirement — I listened to the press conference on a radio in the Columbus High weight room … finally, I had a good excuse not to lift — the University of Texas announced its new football coach
Sixteen years later, Brown is walking away (with a nudge from his bosses, of course). He won a bunch of games at UT and had seven Top-10 seasons, but his two conference championships is only one more than Nebraska during that span. The nation viewed him as a bit of an underachiever, but for Husker fans, his program was Darth Vader.
It started in ’98 when Brown ruined Nebraska’s seven-year home winning streak. It continued in ’99 when he handed NU its only loss. And 2002, when Nebraska’s potential season-saving upset went awry in the north end zone. And ’03, when Vince Young humbled Bo Pelini’s rebuilt defense. And ’06, when the Huskers fumbled away another big upset. And ’07, when Jamaal Charles ran for 200 yards in the fourth quarter! And ’09, the biggest gut punch of all. And 2010, when Nebraska finally had the far-superior team (No. 5 in the country!) and choked.
Which brings me to today’s random list — the biggest coaching villains in Husker history. Here’s my top 5.
5) Jimmy Johnson. It’s a wild card, I know. And he only beat Nebraska once, after the ’88 season. But Johnson’s accomplishments at Miami in five years represented the changing of an era in college football. From north to south. From running to passing. From humility to brashness. Watching Johnson build the ‘Canes into a perennial power, you just knew Nebraska’s old ways weren’t gonna be good enough.
4) Bill Snyder. He only beat Nebraska five times — 1998, 2000, ’02, ’03 and ’04. But Snyder’s upstart program always rubbed Husker fans the wrong way. Bonus points for running up the score on NU in ’02 and ’03.
3) Mack Brown. NU went 1-8 against him. ‘Nough said.
2) Bill McCartney. Colorado didn’t just threaten Nebraska’s football dominance of the northern plains. It attacked Nebraska’s way of life. The road trips to Boulder in the late-80s and early-90s felt like playing in Moscow. And McCartney fueled the hate, which reached a Rocky Mountain peak after Sal Aunese died in 1989. For a few years there, it was ugly.
1) Barry Switzer. Don’t let Nebraska’s love affair with Switzer the past 10-20 years conceal the truth. The man was despised (and feared) in the 70s and 80s. His style stood in stunning contrast to Tom Osborne. His success trumped Osborne’s. And his late-game heroics were infuriating for Husker fans who waited 364 days for a chance to beat OU, then had to wait 364 more.
>> Texas is the No. 1 job in the country. And I’m not sure No. 2 is close. In other words, this is the day Bob Stoops has dreaded. His arch-rival is about to upgrade.
The politics in Austin are a headache — any coach who thinks it’s a pain dealing with his fans and boosters should walk a day in burnt orange — but the reward is considerable. Texas is the flagship institution in the biggest, richest football-loving state in the country.
Sometimes a coveted job opens and we realize it’s not that coveted after all (Tennessee and USC come to mind). But I’ll be stunned if Texas settles for a guy like Steve Sarkisian. The boosters haven’t had a coaching search in 16 years. They’ll want to chase a few big fish, even if it’s just for fun.
Who gets the job? I’ll pick Mora, who’s proven his chops the past two years at UCLA.
>> What makes the Texas opening so fascinating isn’t just “who gets it,” but the dominoes that fall behind it.
Last week, Will Leitch of Sports On Earth ranked the top 25 coaching jobs in the country. His top 10 was nearly identical to a list I did a year ago. But whereas I ranked Nebraska 17th, Leitch said the Husker job is No. 12. Ahead of Oklahoma, Auburn and Texas A&M.
“Not the job its fans think it is, but if you don’t curse out the whole town on a hot mic, they might come to really love you.”
One thing to note in Leitch’s short analysis: He suggests Husker fans think it should be higher than 12th. Which is totally wrong. Why national commentators can’t figure this out, I have no clue. Nebraska fans don’t think it’s 1995 anymore. They don’t think Nebraska should win a national championship every five years. They do think Nebraska should finish in the Top 10 — oh I don’t know — once a decade.
If anything, the expectations at Nebraska are too low. A large swath of the fan base is satisfied with 9-4 and a solid GPA because, hey, it’s better than Bill Callahan did.
>> Bill O’Brien came back to Penn State for a second season largely, I believe, because he felt indebted to the university and the players. Hard to leave after only one year. But now that the NCAA has softened sanctions against Penn State, I expect O’Brien to jump to the NFL next month.
>> Would you like a $4 ticket to see Minnesota-Syracuse? Bowl tickets are going for dirt cheap in some places, including Atlanta for Johnny Manziel’s (likely) last game.
>> “I’m not required to speak to the media after the game.” That’s how Bill Callahan responded to an interview request following Sunday’s debacle at Cowboys Stadium, in which he abandoned the running game in the second half. That’s accountability, huh. Few things in sports give me more joy than watching the Cowboys lose.
>> Peyton Manning is Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year for 2013. The fascination with the 37-year-old Manning, who’s on the verge of breaking Tom Brady’s record for touchdown passes in a season, may be at an all-time high. It’s borderline Favre-ian.
>> Joe Posnanski looks at NFL scoring. For the second straight weekend, the league broke a record for points.
>> The Sports Illustrated story of Sandy Hook student, Jack Pinto, killed a year ago, is heartbreaking.
>> Interesting quote in Richard Deitsch’s media column (via CNN), regarding Charles Barkley’s relationship with Michael Jordan:
“You know, Michael is somebody I really like as a person, and for some reason we just hit it off,” Barkley said. “It’s frustrating for me right now because we’re not where we used to be. You know, I think he took some things I said about the Bobcats personally, and it’s put a wedge between our friendship, and that’s been disheartening for me — very disheartening. ‘Cause one minute we’re close and now — it’s strained.”
>> Two straight years in which the Heisman Trophy winner is a redshirt freshman quarterback. Obviously, that means your 2014 winner is …