Pick of the Litter: The Secret to Bluebloods remaining Bluebloods

Some of the greatest coaches in the history of college football — including our own Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne — have prowled the sidelines of Lincoln, Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium.  In addition to the Bobfather and Saint Tom, the all-star line-up includes the likes of Bear Bryant, Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, Barry Switzer, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Bill Snyder, Lou Holtz, Pete Carroll, Jimmy Johnson, Bob Stoops, Johnny Majors, Mack Brown, Hayden Fry,  and Earle Bruce.  The lion’s share of these men coached at, or ended up coaching at, one of college football’s elite “Blueblood” programs.  The reason shouldn’t come as a surprise.  When all is said and done, it’s college football’s Blueblood programs who have the resources, the traditions, the fan base, the stadium, the history, the national media attention – and yes, the money – to attract the very best in the profession to coach at their schools.

So why in the world did it take Nebraska twenty years to figure this out??!?!?!?

Nebraska is one of college football’s certified “Bluebloods.”  Not only is the program one of the winningest programs in college football history, it dominated the sport for four decades beginning in 1962.  Nebraska has always had the resources and the money to attract the very best.  So why in the world were we looking at Frank Solich, Bill Callahan, Bo Pelini, and Mike Riley instead of coaches like Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, Gary Patterson, and Scott Frost?

The answer, in a nutshell, is that the Powers-that-Be felt that our Program was SO SPECIAL and SO UNIQUE that we didn’t need to play the ‘hire the best coach we can get’ game.  Instead we gambled on the program taking a decent coach and making him great.  Who does this??!?!

Initially the feeling was the ‘Nebraska Way’ program was so strong and so established, that any competent coach – particularly a loyal assistant – could keep the Big Red Machine humming along at a high level.  When that didn’t work out, we thought an NFL offensive guru who’d become a recruiting Pied Piper was the answer.  Then it was a ‘tough as nails,’ Old School defensive coach.  When that didn’t work, we went with a veteran coach of a middling program that was on a six-game losing streak.  But hey, who knows what this Oregon State coach might do given Nebraska’s resources!!!

Regardless of the relative merits of the coaches we did hire, the undeniable truth of that matter is that none of them would ever have been considered “one of the best in the business.”  For a variety of reasons, the Nebraska leadership felt we could take an above-average coach and “develop him into a superstar” given Nebraska’s resources and elite status.  Again, who does that??!!?!  Nebraska’s leadership chose to hire head coaches as if the university had a middling football program instead of one of the nation’s traditional powerhouses.

History has shown us time and time again that you can’t keep a Blueblood program down.  While all Bluebloods experience some down turns, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll return to national prominence.  But as the university’s leadership continued to make questionable hiring decisions and our championship drought continued to grow and grow…and sigh, GROW, it was starting to look like perhaps Nebraska could, in fact, squander its storied status and become ‘another Minnesota.’  In fact, it has become commonplace for national pundits to ignore our leadership problems and point to Nebraska’s distance from the nation’s recruiting hotbeds as a sign that the Huskers would never again become a power player in the sport.

Even though Nebraska FINALLY got its act together by firing ‘Silent Shawn’ Eichorst last September and hiring Bill Moos, it still didn’t guarantee that an honest-to-goodness ‘homerun hire’ would come about at the end of the season.   Whether you’re Nebraska, Florida, Michigan, or Ohio State, when the time comes to hire a new head coach, there’s never a guarantee that The Perfect Choice is going to be available.  All of the elite programs who typically have the so-called, ‘pick of the litter’ are at the mercy of the marketplace.  Great hires depend a huge amount on the right timing and circumstances:  Who’s available and what other elite schools are playing the ‘homerun coaching hire’ game along with you? 

I believe it was nothing short of divine intervention that put the nation’s hottest young coach in Nebraska’s lap.  The moon and the stars had to align for Nebraska to experience its worst season in nearly 60 years at the exact, same time that Native Son, Scott Frost, coached his team to a miracle, undefeated season.  It was truly the stuff of fairy tales.

Given Frost’s extensive coaching experience, his high level of success, and the recognition of his peers, many Husker fans were absolutely beside themselves that he wasn’t considered for the job three years ago.   But truth be told, that additional three year wait was the very best thing that could have ever happened for Nebraska and for Scott Frost.  Frost had the opportunity to grow and develop as a first-time college head coach away from the intense spotlight he’d have faced inside the Nebraska fishbowl.  And Nebraska is the beneficiary of an experienced – and much better – head coach with a much tighter team of assistant coaches than would have been the case three years earlier.

As we’ve seen in recent years, talk is cheap so the jury will be out on Scott Frost and his coaching staff until he has two or three seasons at the Husker Helm under his belt.  But all the early signs, internally within the program and externally, are pointing in the right direction.

Isn’t it funny how often things tend to work out when you go out and make a conscious effort to hire “the pick of the litter?”   

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