Bo Pelini should be the Nebraska football coach in 2014. But before I get to that, let me ask you a question.
It's been 10 years. Where were you?
It was Saturday night, Nov. 29, 2003, and I thought I had the night off. I was driving back from dinner in downtown Omaha. Turned on the radio.
Breaking news: Nebraska fires Frank Solich.
The rest of the evening had a “War of the Worlds” feel to it. The talking heads had mobilized the live-truck troops into Lincoln. The local sports talk show did a special show. Barney Cotton called in, to talk about what it was like to potentially be out on the street.
I listened to it all as I frantically banged out a deadline column on a scenario that wasn't entirely surprising and yet was shocking for a place that hadn't fired a football coach since 1961.
Then came the next day, and Steve Pederson's infamous, “We will not gravitate toward mediocrity” speech. The first day of the rest of Nebraska football's life.
So here we are, 10 years later, and history sits here, taunting and teasing Nebraska with the words, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
The situation today is so similar it's eerie. Frank Solich, picked by Tom Osborne, was 58-19 after six seasons when he was fired.
Bo Pelini, who was picked by Osborne, enters today's season finale against Iowa at 57-23 through six seasons.
Pederson had been hired the year before, in December 2002. Shawn Eichorst was hired last year, in December 2012.
There are some differences. Solich won a Big 12 championship (1999) and played in two BCS bowls (2000 Fiesta and 2002 Rose). Solich won at least nine games in all but one season (7-7 in 2002).
Pelini has won nine games in each season and is trying to win his ninth today. He's played for three league titles and came within one point in 2009 and three in 2010.
Solich inherited a program coming off a national championship, with the expectations of maintaining a national title contender.
Pelini inherited a program coming off a second losing season in four years, with the expectations of building back a title contender.
What it came down to in 2003, and what it feels like again now, is a self-examination of Nebraska football. What does it want to be?
That question comes with a couple of kickers: Can they do better? And careful what you wish for.
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I believe there is a lesson to be learned from 2003, and I believe it's this: If you're going to fire a 9-3 coach, you'd better have someone better ready to step out from behind the curtain.
And by better, I mean 11 or 12 wins. By better, someone who can beat Wisconsin or Ohio State to win the Big Ten and beyond.
If you hire another guy to go 9-3, he might be a guy who doesn't call the fans names, someone who knows how to draw up a punt return, but he's still a guy who will hand you a ticket to the Outback Bowl.
You know what happened 10 years ago. Pederson rolled the dice. He busted. He thought he had the chops to get the next great coach. He thought the young Urban Meyer set would be beating down his door. Instead, they were allergic to a place that fired a 9-3 coach and an A.D. who liked to do press conferences.
What he got was Houston Nutt using him for a raise, and a host of other faceless “solid guys” turning him down. It was a joke. It made Nebraska look heartless, greedy. It made Nebraska look clumsy.
Now maybe Pederson had someone go back on a promise. I don't know. But he was bent on changing coaches no matter the cost. You know the result. Was it worth a roll of the dice?
Now here comes Eichorst. We don't know Eichorst yet. Some people say he'll do this or he'll do that, but the bottom line is, nobody knows. He's never hired a football coach.
I can guess how he might operate. Pederson was a bull in a china shop. Eichorst is more likely to walk unnoticed into the china shop and peruse. And when the salesman asks Eichorst if he'd like to buy something, he'd say he'll have to get back to him after the season.
What does Eichorst think about the current Nebraska program? Does he want his own guy? Does he have the connections to raise the money to make a move? Does he have the guts to do this in his first year?
If Eichorst has that 11- or 12-win guy behind the curtain, more power to him.
I won't press charges if there's a change, but I'd like to see Pelini get that seventh year that Solich never got.
Sure, I know there are inherent problems with Pelini's program. His Huskers play hard, tough as nails. But they also play undisciplined. They beat themselves too frequently. And Pelini and his staff don't have answers more often than they do.
Mostly, they've still got to answer the big-game question.
Interestingly, Solich had remade his staff. Changed the schemes. And had already won big games by the time 2003 rolled around.
But Solich in 2003, even at this veteran age, was a late-bloomer as a CEO head coach. He was being tutored by local CEO David Sokol, reading books about Attila the Hun. History shows that Solich went on to have a very good career at Ohio University. And you can say the level fit the man, or perhaps he became that CEO he never got a chance to be at Nebraska, where he was handcuffed early by Osborne's belief in keeping the old staff together.
Pelini has made progress as a CEO coach. He's better at it. He still comes off as a nuts and bolts football man. He's grown. He needs more growth. He needs to take charge of those special teams, make sure the offense has an identity, make sure fundamentals are seen on Saturdays or hire new assistants who can get that done.
I'm hard on this coaching staff. It's not inexperienced anymore. But given the 1-2 combo of youth and injuries, the coaches have held this thing together pretty well. Say what you want about Tim Beck, but Taylor Martinez's injury trashed what he wanted to do this year. Losing a starting quarterback? Navigating with a first-year kid? Not an easy thing to do.
I hear the argument that Pelini has a ceiling, that we know how this movie ends every year. I get that. But I also recall how Colorado gave Bill McCartney one more year — a fifth year — and he lit the fire. Missouri was close to jettisoning Gary Pinkel, and didn't, and he's about to become MU's all-time leader in coaching victories. Sometimes the best move is the one you don't make.
I don't deal in Tom Osborne debates. Different day, different rules. But Osborne won the Big Eight in his sixth season (1978) and arguably had the biggest win of his 25-year career when his Huskers outslugged Barry Switzer's best OU team.
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One of the things I always admired about Nebraska fans from afar was there was a certain civility, a perspective here, if you will. This was not a place that hit the fire alarms. If there was heartbreak, Husker fans brushed themselves off and had faith in next year.
That mentality changed a little 10 years ago. And now I'd hate to see Nebraska become a place that throws away coaches like lotto punch cards, always looking for the big score.
Earlier this week, when he was asked if he would be under pressure after winning nine games every year, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz joked, “I'd like to find out.”
The thing is, Husker Nation is not an unreasonable group. Fans do not cling to the 1990s or look down their noses at nine-win seasons. What they demand is a well-coached, competitive team that doesn't get embarrassed and makes plays to win the occasional big games and championships. Pelini needs to offer hope that he can do that.
The factions differ on that hope. What I see is a staff that has accumulated lots of young talent and a team that is developing a chemistry that could serve it well next season. Are they really that close? Would another season really make that big of a difference?
I don't know. But this time, I'd like to find out.
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>> Video: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after Wednesday's practice
>> Video: The Big Red Today Show, Nov. 26