If you’ve had a nagging sense of deja vu over the last few weeks, our friend, Tony, has a theory as to why.
Consider the following uncanny similarities between the end of the season in 2003 and the end of 2014:
On November 30th, Nebraska fires a coach that just finished a 9-3 season, dividing Husker fan loyalties. (At least until a secret recording was made public.) The head coach of Arkansas obfuscates the coaching search for personal gain. A coach from the West Coast with a good recruiting acumen and an NFL pedigree is hired and many wonder if he’s good enough for Nebraska. The former coach returns to his home state of Ohio to coach a lesser conference/division school.
Spooky, isn’t it?
But what does it mean? Is Husker Nation trapped inside of some kind of time loop with the only way out being our ability to repeat our actions in an exact synchronized ballet?
If we fail to break the cycle, does that mean Mike Riley is the second coming of — DEAR GOD! BILL CALLAHAN?!?!?!
We sincerely hope not.
Before we all throw the panic switch, we should also acknowledge the many differences so far displayed between the events of 2003 and 2014.
First and foremost, the number of days Shawn Eichorst spent searching for the new “most important man in Nebraska” was FIVE.
The number of days it took Steve Pederson to pin down Bill Callahan was FORTY ONE.
Eichorst clearly had a contingency for replacing a relatively successful, if frustratingly plateaued, head coach. Pederson, not so much.
NCAA head coaching experience.
While both Riley and Callahan had brief stints as NFL head coaches, only Riley has had extensive time coaching a Division 1 football team before landing at Nebraska. Riley clearly knows what it takes to run a college program and he will not try to force an NFL template over it — as Callahan did. Respect for long-held traditions such as the vaunted walk-on system should stay intact under Riley. Whereas under Callahan, the walk-ons were encouraged to keep on walking, right out of the program.
No square pegs for round holes.
Does anybody remember October 9, 2004? If that date doesn’t jog your memory, maybe it’s because you, as a Husker fan, have repressed that date as a natural defense trigger. There’s nothing wrong if you do. That’s just the PTSD doing its thing.
October 9, 2004 happens to be the day that the Bill Callahan era of Husker football made its conference road trip debut. In Lubbock, Texas.
Ringing a bell now? Yep, this was the 10 – 70 loss to the Red Raiders that started those first few whispers in Lincoln. The same voices that would grow into a cacophony of discontent by mid-season 2007. The voices saying:
“What the fuck have we gotten ourselves into!”
But, while that embarrassing score looks horrific on paper (it’s still the largest margin of loss in the post Osborne era, despite so many other blowout debacles), what some people forget is that this game was far from looking like a blow out mid-way through the third quarter.
Trailing 21-3 at half time, Nebraska opened the third quarter with a 74-yard touchdown pass from Joe Dailey to Mark LeFlore. Down by less than two touchdowns, Nebraska’s defense gave the Huskers a chance to get back into the game by holding Tech scoreless on their next two possessions.
Everything looked in place for a respectable performance (if not a win) against a formidable conference opponent at their house.
So what happened? How did the following 19 minutes produce a 60-point final deficit? Callahan pulled Joe Dailey from the game as punishment for not being able to master his West Coast offense in half a season. Dailey was 14 of 34 in passing for 187 yards with one interception. Not bad for a kid who’d been recruited to run the option. But not good enough for Callahan.
Wise old Bill took out Joe and put in Beau Davis, a freshman who knew even less about running the West Coast offense than Daily. Davis finished the game with four completions. Three of which went to Red Raiders.
With three consecutive picks setting up three easy touchdowns, the Husker defense folded and let Tech (now up 42-10 going into the fourth) pound in four more touchdowns in the final period.
If Bill Callahan had not tried to force an option team to learn his uber-complicated West Coast Offense right out of the gate, the 5-6 2004 Huskers probably would have finished with a respectable eight or nine win season. The schedule that year was certainly no beast (Oklahoma was the only ranked team they faced). Callahan could have eased those players into his system while recruiting specifically to foster his chosen style. But, instead, he wailed a square peg through a round hole, causing the first Husker squad in forty years to sit home for the bowl season. The shame of it left a few seniors crying after the final loss — in Lincoln vs. Colorado — with one player wishing that fans would just forget about the 2004 team.
Already, Mike Riley has said things which should allay fears that this kind of bullshit will never happen again. He will customize his strategies around the strength of the team. Always. Hallelujah!
So, for those of you with an itchy sense that history is repeating itself, just relax. This bout of deja vu is but an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. The specter of Bill Callahan is no more real than a ghost of seasons past. Try not to think about it, otherwise…