Sticking Through a Slump

At the midpoint of the 2012 season, the outcome is still unknown. Mathematically, the Huskers could still go 12-2 with a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl victory. By that same logic, a 4-8 season is also possible. The likeliest scenario is probably somewhere in between those two extremes. If the season were to end with eight to ten wins and four or five losses, there would likely be a fair amount of grousing from NU fans. There are those who believe that by now in this, his fifth season, Pelini should have Nebraska back in the top ten and playing in a BCS bowl. If that doesn't happen, the talk may grow about casting him aside. How wise would that be?


Season Five

Going back to Bob Devaney, every Nebraska head coach has showed some regression around season five (give or take a year). Devaney had immediate success, going 9-2 or 10-1 in each of his first five seasons and winning the Big Eight four times. He even played for a national championship in his fourth year. Then in seasons six and seven the program took a huge step backward with back-to-back 6-4 seasons. Petitions circulated to fire the coaching staff. By then, Devaney was Athletic Director and opted not to fire himself. That proved to be a good decision as his teams would lose only four games over the next four years and won two national championships.

Osborne's slump was milder. The 9-3-1 record he compiled in his fourth season as head coach was the worst of his career as was the fourth-place conference finish. The fifth season didn't start much better as he lost a home opener to unranked Washington State and his team dropped to 4-2 after a home loss to Iowa State. The team rallied to win five of six with a narrow victory in the Liberty Bowl. Osborne was told by a booster that had he lost the bowl game, he would have been fired. That nearly drove him to accept a job coaching Colorado.  A year later, Osborne scored his first victory over Oklahoma and his first Orange Bowl trip. His program improved from there and by the time he retired he had won three national championships and thirteen conference championships.

Frank Solich won 42 games over his first four seasons, won a Big 12 championship and had taken the Huskers to a national championship game. In his fifth season, NU had its worst finish in forty years at 7-7. Still, a year later his squad had improved to 9-3 when he was fired before the bowl game by Athletic Director Steve Pederson. Solich went on to become the head coach at Ohio University, where he has the highest winning percentage of any coach at the school since the 1940's. He took the school to their first bowl since the 1960's. His fourth year at the school was a bad season, but the school retained him and he won 27 games in the next three seasons. His team now sits 6-0 with the toughest part of the schedule behind it.

Bill Callahan came in and had seasons of 5-6, 8-4, and 9-5. After a division title in his third season, the team regressed to 5-7 the following year and he was fired.

Pelini instantly boosted Nebraska from a 5-7 season (the worst since before Devaney arrived) to 9-4. The next two seasons each brought ten wins and division titles. Last year, after navigating a conference change and an offensive coordinator switch, his team finished 9-4. This season, his team stands at 4-2 with a new defensive coordinator and two new defensive assistants. Phil Steele is still projecting the Huskers to go to the Rose Bowl. Athlon projects NU to play again in the Capital One Bowl. A number of preseason projections had the Big Red playing in the Outback Bowl, which would be in line with an 8 or 9 win season.

Why the Slumps?

Transitions aren't easy. Bo Pelini's class of fifth year seniors are players recruited hastily in 2008 that redshirted. Probably half of that class would look different it not for the late season coaching change. With the exception of Devaney, coaching transitions could do a lot to explain the season five slumps. Mark Mangino slumped in his fifth year at Kansas. In year six, his team was 12-1 with an Orange Bowl victory. Gary Pinkel had a slump in his fourth season at Missouri before becoming a true contender in his division in the years that followed.

Stay the Course

Time and again, teams have been rewarded for sticking with coaches that have experienced slumps around year five. Hopefully, the remainder of the season plays out as Phil Steele predicts and this becomes a moot point. But if the season does end at 8-5, it's not time to break out the torches and show up on Pelini's lawn. Instead, it's time to continue to support a program that may still be on the verge of the kind of major turnaround seen on the heels of these slumps.

They say you can schedule more wins than you can coach. In 2013, the schedule gets a lot easier with Wisconsin and Ohio State rotating off for Purdue and Illinois. UCLA must come to Lincoln. Taylor Martinez will be a senior and if he spends another offseason polishing his game, imagine how good the offense that still features Martinez, Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell could become. If the defense continues to struggle in 2012, you might expect some improvement if for no other reason than regression to the mean.  There are a lot of reasons to think 2013 could be Pelini's best season yet. 

The sky isn't falling, it just might be darkest before the dawn of a new era of prosperity under Pelini.

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Comments 29 comments so far

My thoughts exactly. This year we may take some lumps and with the easier sched next year it will be put up or shut up time for Pelini. The recruiting reflects those early years and hopefully Pelini takes this as a sign that it is important all be it not all important. I think if Neb goes 1-1 the next two games we could win out in Nov as all those teams pose a match up advantage for NU.

Bob Devaney’s losses (slump)
6th year:
Kansas       0-10
Colorado   16-21
Missouri   17-10
Oklahoma   14-21
7th year:
Kansas   13-23
Missouri   14-16
Kansas St   0-12
Oklahoma   0-47
Bob Devaney’s teams were not ranked 1st in the conference in only 3 of his years

Tom Osborne’s Losses (slump)
4th year: 1976 Ended the season ranked #7 and #9(AP)
Missouri   24-34
Iowa St   28-37 (Ended the season #19)
Oklahoma   17-20
Osborne’s 4th year he beat #9 Texas Tech in the Blue Bonnet Bowl 27-24

5th year: 1977 Ended the season ranked #10 and #12(AP)
Washington St   10-19
(FYI -That Washington St team was coached by first year coach, Mike Leach.)
Iowa St     21-24
Oklahoma   7-38
Osborne’s 5th year he beat #14 North Carolina 21-17 in the Liberty Bowl

Still think they are comparable slumps???

My point above was that when Nebraska did lose during their slump years it was still a close game.  The exception being against Oklahoma for 1 game each coach.  Sorry for the bad grammar.  It’s way too early in the A.M.

HF1: Oklahoma ~ Ohio State?  The rest ~Northwestern?  I think OU back then may have been slightly better thatn Ohio State now, but I also think Norhtwestern now may be slightly better than most of the Big 8 back then.  So yes, it’s comparable.

Talk of “slumps” is too general, as is simply analyzing the record at the end of a particular season.  Imagine a season in which Nebraska finished 7-5, having lost to Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin and UCLA.  Each of the seven wins was a blowout in NU’s favor, including a win over Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.  In no loss did NU give up more than 26 points, and each loss was decided by three or fewer points.  Two of the games went into overtime.  Further, suppose in each game Nebraska committed three or fewer penalties, and averaged less than a turnover per game.  No one would be happy with the final record, but Nebraska played sound football and each game was compteitive.  Bad record, but bad season?  The point reiterates what Osborne said at the presser announcing Callahan’s dismissal…its not just about losing, its how you lose.  Last year, and so far this year, we’re losing ugly and doing a lot to beat ourselves.  Those are two factors that could, and perhaps should, get a coach fired.  The trajectory of the program is the decisive factor.

sec h usker has it right.  The one big difference in the slumps of prior coaches and Pelini are the huge blowouts.  This team always seems to have a defense that misreads plays and can’t tackle in big games. Pelini was hired to fix the defense and it seems he is having a hard time doing that. In order to not lose at least 4 games next year he needs to find a real defensive coordinator and not somebody with no prior experience (Papuchis).

I agree that the trajectory of the program should be included in any discussion of retaining a coach but first and foremost, decisions should be made regarding the education of the players, something Nebraska is good at, as well as the integrity of the program, which is impeccable.

At some point, we’re all going to have to take a step back and see just how good we have things and how damned spoiled we are.

Of course there is room for improvement, isconsin left Lincoln without a “W” and we left Lincoln without a “D” but I’m guessing that there are at least 100 other programs that would line up to trade places.



Want to know why the defense is so bad?  Look no further than this: “a new defensive coordinator and two new defensive assistants.”

Same reason that Wisconsin took such a large step back.

Also see recruiting in year 1 and to a lesser extent year 2.  I do believe that recruiting is being addressed and has been improving albit slower then we would like.  It isn’t easy to recruit to NE and we don’t have many of the built in advantages that we had in the past.

I, personally, am rooting for Pelini.  As far as the remainder of this season, I don’t see NU winning the conference, let alone Legends division.  It’s cliche, but defense wins championships and the Blackshirts are simply not good.  Some of it might be scheme, but I don’t see any difference makers on that side of the ball.  Not enough turnovers created by that unit.

I think there is another factor that should be considered:  moving to the Big 10.  Pelini had been recruiting to defend Big 12 teams.  The conference move didn’t have tons of lead time associated with it.  So three years of recruits were for a different defensive look than what you need to be successful in Big 10 ball games.  The 2012 recruits (our true freshmen) are the first recruits to the new conference requirements.  I think a little patience is in order.  Having said that, I am just as impatient and demanding frustrated as anyone else.  But, a little time will solve quite a few of our current deficiencies.  Just not this season.

Stay the course
Build the Force!
Don’t be a Weeny,
Stick with Pelini!

What the hell ever happened to the Blackshirts? When did
they go away?....When we got a Defense Guru for a coach?

Good article!

I would like to see this team develop under Pelini. I think he really cut himself short by hiring JP and some of these other ass.cordinators. Taking a step or two back every time he hires these un experienced coaches.

I personnally think Coach K and Joseph were goodhires, not so sure promoting Pap all the way to D Coord was the right thing to do, but then we wouldn’t have Coach K.  I think fear of Braxton got to us too much, we came out aggressive and it worked, he burns us once and we get timid—wrong reaction.  Yes, guaranteed he’s going to burn us once in awhile, but if we had stopped 25-50% of their drives (and had fewer turnovers) we would have won.


You can say we are still adjusting to the B1G, but look at the spread offenses we shut down in the Big 12.. Okl State.. Texas.. Texas Tech.. K State.. we ran the peso to handle those type of offenses.

Then we move to the B1G and it’s “we need bigger linebackers for B1G football” and everything has to change to defend B1G teams.

But what beats us? Spread offenses.


comparing scores from one decade to the next is like comparing apples and oranges… offense where no where near they were then… i just don’t want to see another bill callahan incident… i did not watch a husker game for 5 years until the last game of the bill tenure because i know if he lost he was gone. as a former coach, coaching is always evolving and eventually Bo will find the right formula… i like many others get emotionaly involved in the game and get upset when they loose but they play the game with character and effort… and as long as they do that they will be on the right path to winning. soory about the spelling and grammer but im at work and i have to type fast.

I agree we can’t compare teams by decades or even a year or two in the past.  Bo still knows defense.  These seniors and redshirt seniors are the recruits from the first recruiting class which was hastily put together after the Calihan experiment and the second one as a first time head coach.  I heard Bo on the radio this week say they were looking to recruit more speed on defense which i think is desperately lacking.  No offense to will Compton or Alfonzo Whaley they are both good players but they look slow.  I like our linebackers for the future they all have speed to burn.  Our secondary is still young and inexperienced.

Accountability needs to start somewhere!

5 years and 3 mil a year later I think the Head Coach is a good starting point!

But - your point is valid.  We definitely weren’t running the peso on Saturday, either.

What I don’t get is why not run the peso against OSU/Mich/NW?

Then do your stupid 2 gap stuff against the pro-style offenses. Game plan to stop your opponents, isn’t that what coaches do?

The most frustrating thing to me is we have a dual-threat QB! We see what teams do to stop him (8-9 in the box) yet when we face dual-threat QB’s we act like we have never seen one.

Thank You “But”.  Finally someone locked on to the major point of failure that our defense is experiencing!!!  The Blackshirts and their coaches are acting like we have a team full of the Peter’s brothers playing side by side with Suh and Grant Wistrom.  Wake up fella’s!!! We can’t go man to man with the talent we currently have and expect to do anything but watch a dual threat QB trot right past us. Our D line looks like they are constantly being beat by the O line and they have no “spark” to fight the block off.  Do what are adversaries are doing to stop us…. “Stock the Box” and shut him down!!!  it worked in the first Qtr but then we got a case of amnesia…....?  Maybe Coach P should assign one of his defensive coaches to watch TV and call in the other teams successful D schemes to our coaches in the box…........  It might work ya know??

Osborne’s ‘76 season, they were also a pre-season no. 1 rank, in at least one of the polls. I think it was the Astro Blue Bonnet, when afterward, he found out about the “better win” diktat. While ‘77 started out tough, they had a huge win over ‘Bama, in which Osborne beat the “Son a Buck.”
With the likelihood that Nebraska doesn’t win the conference, I’ll be most concerned about how recruiting finishes out. Do they keep Johnny Stanton, for example. Been a while, since the last verbal.
Steve mentions Phil Steele. Steele has an expression for schools who let a coach go, way too soon. “Baylored” themselves.
Osborne having Devaney’s genuine support, was the biggest factor, for future stability and more distant success.
Solich lost all pretense of support, at some point after ‘01 Colorado and the Rose bowl, not to mention ‘02.
There was hostility toward Callahan, the minute he accepted the job.
However talented and qualified the new AD is, there’s the possibility of that department going “corporate” again, after Osborne’s retirement.
Pelini deserves, needs, the same support that Osborne had, in his early career and what Solich should’ve had, especially after the rebound season of ‘03.
Let’s not get hysterical, about this. Prospective coaches around the country knew a good man got fired, at the end of the ‘03 season. It was a gross injustice that didn’t go unnoticed. Top coaches saw a situation that stretched well beyond realistic expectations. And who were they, to fulfil that?

You want to know the main difference between Osborn and Pelini?Osborn earned the respect of his players, Pelini tries to bully respect from his players. From grabbing the players face-mask on national tv to beratting them in front of the home as well as the away crowds. I see people saying Pelini does not have the talent Dr. Tom had. Well duh if you were a 4 or 5 star recruit would you want your face splashed all over the media getting your rear end chewed out. I am not for coddling these kids but my opion is Pelini has completly lost this d-fence, and the reason being when Bo has his famous sideline blow-ups it is always the d-fence on the receiving end. Martinez or any other offensive player turns the ball over, misses a block,drops a pass, or whatever Bo gives them a pat on the back and says we’ll get-em next possession. My very humble opion is against OSU the defense finally got tired of his crap and gave Bo the message by quitting on him. I don’t think you can ever convince me that any defence with its heart in the game can not get a single stop in 8 possesions I call BS they quit on this guy.

Anybody who can’t spell Tom Osborne’s name correctly should be discounted, no matter how long, point-filled or passionate the post is. I am looking at you AZHusker.

Spelling aside Jim, the best football coach I had would grab the cage on my helmet and yell into my face.  He ended up being my favorite coach I ever had.

Moot point but spelling can be oVer r8ted. 

I just hope the team does well.

I am rooting for pelini all the way.  I hope he gets this team fighting for entire games as opposed to single quarters.  The only way I would ever be ok with a coaching change, is if we went after john gruden.  Just a thought.

Osborne there fixed Dick I mean Jim

Matt…well, then wer’re stuck with Pelini…no way Gruden even considers a job at NU.  Why would he?  He has no connections here, and the climate isn’t the most inviting.  I think he would be willing to coach a college team…most likely Tennessee (he was a ga there many years ago and is married to a former Vol cheerleader), but they’d have to pay about $5 million to get him out of the ESPN booth.

More like Pelini is stuck with us.  Good lord there are a bunch of whiners out there.  Let the guy do his job.  Besides, I don’t want another NFL coach coming in here looking at this job like it is some kind of retirement package.  Pelini is young, fill of spirit.  Now it’s just a matter of a few adjustments here and there. 

Try to remember, that though these athletes we have now were his first recruiting class, he recruited them for what he thought were going to be big 12 games.  Not big 10 games.  New and incoming freshmen like Imani Cross are a good example of how there has been a needed shift in how we are recruiting.

We still have athletes from Texas, California, and Florida wanting to play here.  It’s just a matter of focus.

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