Nebraska Football my thoughts.......
posted on: https://www.facebook.com/scottshanle/timeline
After an evening of thought I decided to put my thoughts to paper regarding the University of Nebraska and the Bo Pelini ending. I know many people will find things to disagree with me about but this was not intended to provoke debate or anything of that nature. This is simply how I feel and how I felt watching Nebraska football over the last few years . My former teammate, Adam Carriker, inspired me to write this out after I read a Facebook post he put out shortly after the firing of coach Pelini. This is not something I have ever done but in light of the current circumstances surrounding Nebraska football I figured I would give it a shot.
Born and Raised in Nebraska
I grew up on a farm, and later, a small town in Nebraska. I can remember from around the age of 6 years old becoming obsessed with Nebraska football mainly because my friends I played with were Husker fans. My father was a farmer not a sports guy. He grew up on a farm and didn't play sports so it was nothing that he pushed or cultivated in our household. I can remember my Saturdays most of the time being spent on a tractor and listening to Nebraska games and post game interviews. Whenever they were on TV I was right there watching. To this day I can recite the players who wore that N on their helmet from All Americans to the walk on guys who fought their way and earned a spot and the right to be on the field at memorial stadium. I would carry my Nebraska football with the Herbie Husker emblem on everywhere I went on the farm even though it got in the way of chores (sorry dad I had a plan haha). That ball was thrown off a barn or thrown as far and high as I could to go track it down and I would envision I just made the game winning catch in front of the sea of red or the orange bowl to win the national championship. I was always thinking Nebraska football to point maybe obsessed but no doubt passionate. I would look through the media guides and read guys bios, where they were from, how big of a school did they go to, what was their height,weight,and speed to see just how big and fast I would have to be to live the dream. The guys on the roster from small town Nebraska gave me hope that I could do it if they could do it. Its important to remember Nebraska had not won a national championship since the early 70's at that time so I was envisioning helping Nebraska win a national championship for first time in almost 20 years. I didn't want to play for Nebraska because they won a national championship every year I wanted to play for Nebraska for one reason only, coach Tom Osborne and his program. Coach Osborne was a soft spoken and respectful guy who got the most out of his players and I wanted to be part of that more than just winning 9 games every year. The program was first class not because of championships won but because of him,his staff, and their relationship with the state of Nebraska. When Nebraska finally broke thru and won the national championship in 1994 I was as happy for coach Osborne as the team. When you treat people right and with respect you tend to have support and people pulling for you. I played running back and linebacker in 8 man football during high school so recruiters weren't beating down my door. I received letters from Nebraska, Iowa st, Kansas st, Colorado st, Missouri, and actually received my first scholarship offer from Kansas. I took the visit and knew as soon as they walked me directly to the Allen fieldhouse, where they played basketball, this wasn't an option! I didnt want to go to a school where expectations were so low that people got excited if you just won "some games". I want to compete with some of the best and play against the best because that's what competition is all about. Along with that I knew there would be pressure to live up to lofty standards set by many before me and I was OK with that. I would end up walking on at Nebraska and earning a scholarship after 8 months on campus and started my last 3 years at outside linebacker. My career was a roller coaster of highs and lows on the field. We were one win shy of being in the 1999 national championship game and to this day I believe we were the best team in the country that year. We throttled a talented and defending national championship Tennessee team in the fiesta bowl in coach Frank Solich's second season after taking over for coach Osborne. We would end up playing in the Rose Bowl against Miami for the national championship two years later and got beat by a much more talented Miami team that we simply could not match up with. My senior year was a 7-7 year and that was something no one ever imagined would or could happen at Nebraska. It's because of this year I can talk with more credibility as to what went on with media or fan scrutiny that this group felt like they were under in the Bo era. I saw player interviews where they talked about the program and expectations can be too much or can wear on a player and winning 9 games is better than most programs do. Well I'm here to tell you that as a competitor you don't go to those places where winning is just good enough! You chose Nebraska to play in big games and hopefully win championships. Our 2002 team didn't blame we took responsibility and said man everyone is right we aren't playing up to the expectations that others before us help set. We never felt like poor me. Instead we always had a feeling of we are letting people down before us that shed blood, sweat, and tears to get this program sustained credibility. It's called culture and tradition and many guys before us worked their tails off to get it to the level and is why it was hard for our team. We never accepted losing or had moral victories. To our coaches credit they never talked about the pressure or brought up the media or tried to portray to us "it's us against everyone else" or made us think fans and media were out to get us. We were bringing on the the scrutiny with our poor play. We took responsibility as coaches and players! We tried to solve the problems we just weren't as talented as the teams before us plain and simple.
The Pelini Era
I like many Husker fans were excited when Nebraska moved on from Bill Callahan. THe program and culture had changed dramatically and it wasn't entirely his fault. He had no clue what the “Nebraska way” was. The blueprint had been set and placed in front of him and he ignored it and thought another way would work...it didnt. I thought Bo Pelini was the right hire at that time mainly because he had been there before for one year in 2003 and saw what the expectation level was and just how things operated. In addition he brought a toughness that the program was lacking under Callahan and Cosgrove. I am thankful to Bo what he accomplished especially early on in his tenure because the program was spiraling downward. I was so sick of losing under Callahan and getting embarrassed by programs like Kansas that the measuring stick for me became a "just win" type of mindset while ignoring the profanity laced sideline show that would eventually become hazardous to our program. Once I stepped back from this starvation for getting back to winning i realized every time Nebraska plays on tv THE University of Nebraska is represented on tv. Unfortunately we were gaining more attention for the sideline show than anything on the field. The Bill Callahan era ending was so abysmal that part of me feels like I sold my soul for a "just win baby" mindset and that didn't last long. I realized the Nebraska child still was inside me and remembering what made me love Nebraska such as respect,character, and attitude. I had a more worldly view than a lot of people in regards to the perception of our program. At the time I played in the NFL and we always gather around the tv and watch games together and talk about one another's programs good and bad. Guys from all over the country and different programs assembled and talked college football. It got to the point where after a big loss the first thing said to me was " man what's wrong with your head coach why is he so angry all the time? I can't believe the university puts up with that". That's a natural response after a team loses but it eventually got to the point where people would start to say the same thing to me even after a win! The focus of Nebraska football was no longer on the "N" on the helmet or the kids but on the face of the coach spitting out f-bombs and swinging hats at referees like a toddler who left the store without a toy. I supported the kids but wearing my Nebraska gear would automatically bring up the Bo Pelini conversation....i was tired of it. While I played professionally I didn't have the time to immerse myself in Nebraska football besides watching games on Saturday. After I retired and had time to watch and track in more detail these past 2 seasons it was obvious I could not back this coach anymore. Sideline actions aside, a leaked tape dissing the fan base and daring the university to fire you will not rally anyone. It was at that moment I heard the first leaked audio tape I knew where Bo Pelini stood. I couldn't and wouldn't stand by him. The quote "let's see where this program is without me" made me laugh. Well Bo I would say the program was built up just fine without you and actually was built up too much for you. Nebraska was classy you were not.Nebraska was respectful and you were not. It was hard because many players I love and respect really like Bo so I bit my tongue and didn't say much. It was obvious to me the pressure was too great for him. He is a defensive coordinator and not a head coach and there's nothing wrong with that. Most of life is knowing who you are and not trying to be something you are not. I find it hard to believe when someone takes a job at Nebraska you don't know the expectations are high! When it came to games I was frustrated like everyone else with the occasional blown out in big games on national tv because it's the best exposure you can get for recruiting. Not only was Nebraska getting blown out by teams with equal talent but more importantly we were coming off as a place with no composure and class. When I say "our program" it's not the university of Bo Pelini and that's how it felt at times. We win as a program and lose as a program. No one is bigger than the program and with the second audio released it sounded like he didn't get that. No one is there to pat anyone on the back on a regular basis like he wanted. When you are an employee you do what your job title says. Your boss can act toward you however he or she sees fit.These kids should have been recruited to play for not just Bo Pelini and staff but the university of Nebraska and the other dynamic, the state of Nebraska. It's not like that everywhere else, but everywhere else doesn't own the longest sellout streak in college football! You have to really work hard to get Nebraska people to have an issue with you. It's a state made up of blue collar,considerate, and reserved people. I believe there never was the acceptance by Bo in terms of the fans importance to Nebraska football as well as the talent the state offered from the high school kids. I began to get to know some of the coaches in the state over the past year and was concerned and shocked by the things I heard. I heard kids no longer grow up dreaming of playing for Nebraska anymore!......what? my head exploded! They said kids watch other colleges and many have seen Nebraska not recruit the kids in the state so they look elsewhere earlier and earlier. The past 3 Gatorade players of the year in Nebraska are not wearing our uniform and that's a big problem! These kids go on and don't just play they excel other places. Drew Ott a defensive end from small town Nebraska should not be starting at Iowa making all conference and Harrison Philips from Omaha should not be contributing as a true freshman out at Stanford! The current Gatorade player of the year is verbally committed to Wyoming. The arrogance or incompetence of the previous staff I believe lifted their noses in the air to the state of Nebraska, the fans, high school coaches, and kids. The crazy thing is those kids wanted to play at Nebraska and weren't given the chance. Listen I know football was invented in Ohio (sarcasm ;) but Nebraska had a huge hand in the evolution of football and tradition of the game and set the bar when it comes to fan base support. We know football please don't act like we don't! As you can see I'm sensitive to my state and I grew up watching it done the Nebraska way and it works. Those trophies that the previous staff walked by everyday were there for a reason. Often times I wished they would have just displayed the trophies that were won since 2007 and see if the arrogance level changed a little and brought some back down to earth. We all know the best recruiting tool is winning and winning 9 games a year is good enough at a lot of places and with more composure I believe it would have still been good enough at Nebraska. You must understand the university is selling itself every time they are in the public eye not just to recruits but potential students from all over the country. The president and AD must protect that brand it is their priority...... as it should be. The primary concern for most fans is wins and losses but realize even when we were winning it sure didn't feel like we were. I had countless people in the NFL and around the country when we traveled utter this phrase to me "man I would never let my son play at Nebraska for that guy". I can't say when I removed my big red pride I blamed them. Would I want my son being belittled and spit all over on national tv for all his family and friends to see? No thanks! Dont get me wrong I played for tough coaches like Bill Parcells. He was very hard on his players and assistants but often saw him point the finger at himself. Bill was as tough of a coach as there was and he didn't throw fits on game day. He found other ways to get his point across. Coming off the field you either caught the glare or a quick one liner or had your backup go in and play. Pretty subtle but large points were made! Composure goes a long way in allowing your team to play relaxed and confident. There are many ways to teach young men and choosing to do it week in and week out on national tv is about as bad as it gets. In the NFL our coaches were hardest on us during the week in practice and then had the confidence in our work to allow us to play on Sunday and always told they were to help not distract. Guess what it worked! There is enough stress with playing this game without worrying about getting screamed at as you run off the field so you can't put all the blame on the media and fans when it comes to pressure the players felt. Bo was right in the leaked audio that sometimes it's about more than the money because some of his own coaches deserved better while on display for the entire country to see. The very respect Bo coveted from the AD and university he was not showing back to some of his coaches, the university or the fan base! Bo professed his love for his guys and that will get anyone on board. I do believe he cares for "his" guys, but never opened himself to caring for the university, state, and it's people. Many people say that the guy who is a Nebraska icon hired Bo Pelini so how can it be wrong. When coach Osborne hired Bo it made sense. The team needed a defensive coach first and foremost. Secondly, I feel Bo got the nod because he was there previously for a year with coach Solich and had been intertwined into the fabric of Husker football somewhat. Over Bo’s tenure we would see stories or things on social media about the problem being bigger than Bo Pelini. Really? Last I checked the president and the AD dont recruit players, organize practice, or call plays. Why were we hearing so much about these other 2 men. When I was in school and I am sure at a lot of other places the football players could care less who the president or AD are and what they do. It doesn’t affect what we are trying to do on a daily basis. Bill Byrne was the Nebraska AD at the time and honestly can’t recall if he was ever at a practice or a meeting and you know what we didn’t care! I am thankful that I played for a coach in Frank Solich who was a professional and never spoke about his employee/employer relationship. He knew those guys didn’t have anything to do with us blocking, tackling, and winning. I'm not going to go into X's and O's and things I agree with or disagreed with as that's not the point of this. My main point is I have seen Nebraska football and know what it feels like to be proud to wear that Nebraska gear out with pride. I strongly believe those days will be back upon us with the hire of Mike Riley based on character alone. I'm not sure what the win/loss ratio will be early on but I can assure you I won't feel like we are losing even when we are winning.