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McKewon: Diving into key OC search names for Nebraska, the reality of player departures and more

McKewon: Diving into key OC search names for Nebraska, the reality of player departures and more

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Adam discusses what Logan Smothers might look like as a full time starter and the other Nebraska quarterbacks.

LINCOLN — Imagine for a minute that Nebraska announced all of its new football staff the Monday following the end of the regular season.

The Huskers would have had clarity. They also would have been hiring coaches who were either unemployed or already on the staff.

How would that have been any kind of solution to the problems NU has endured the past several years?

That’s one thought from a week that coach Scott Frost spent flying around on a private jet interviewing candidates for several open positions. The interest, as Frost said before the end of the season, has been strong, but the noise from social media and message boards — which play a legitimate-but-outsized role in perception — has at times suggested something far more dysfunctional.

Let’s work through the week of news, story by story.

» Nebraska doesn’t appear to be stumbling in its search for offensive coordinator, which was ongoing into the weekend with candidates still coaching in games, according to a source. It’s probably going about as quickly as it can if NU is serious in getting an elite candidate.

It involves in-depth analytics and film study, and centers to some degree on two questions:

First, does Frost prefer a seasoned coordinator who’s seen it all — perhaps in previous head coaching roles — and can run the offense with little oversight during the week and on game day? Or does he want a younger, hungry guy who resembles himself 10 years ago?

Frost has primarily said that he wants some “fresh ideas” from that role. Fresh ideas can come from both types.

Second, does that coordinator want to bring his own position coaches? Or is he game to assume charge of any group of coaches?

Frost has separately interviewed position coaches, too — such as Chicago Bears assistant line coach Donovan Raiola — but some coordinators have their own guys in mind, much as Frost had his entire staff in mind when he took the NU coaching job.

Nebraska could double or perhaps triple the salary of someone like Army’s Brent Davis, but NU would have to think very hard about the adjustment that would entail. Davis coached at Georgia Southern and Virginia Military Institute before Army. There’s a line in his Army bio that says “a veteran triple option coordinator.” Is that what NU wants? Is that what today’s elite recruit wants?

Other OC names abound.

Virginia’s Robert Anae, who may be in line for a head coaching job now that Bronco Mendenhall abruptly stepped down at Virginia, is one. Anae, who coordinated Taysom Hill’s offenses at BYU, knows how to use a running quarterback.

Arizona State’s Zak Hill has come up in other reports, but doesn’t appear to be NU’s top choice at the moment. There are Group of Five coordinators at places like North Texas and Tulane whom I like, but their names haven’t surfaced.

The ACC is a league full of dynamic quarterback play and good coordinators. The two coordinators in the ACC title game — Pittsburgh’s Mark Whipple and Wake Forest’s Warren Ruggiero — produced offenses that both averaged 43 points per game this season. Their quarterbacks, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and Wake’s Sam Hartman, could be Heisman Trophy finalists.

They’re different guys — Whipple, a former head coach at Massachusetts, is a seasoned veteran, while Ruggiero, who coached at Kansas State in 2008, is a younger guy with a unique, read-based offense.

When Frost talked about the hires, he spoke of prioritizing the OC pick in a way that, well, became misunderstood in terms of timeline. But it was always going to be one of the hardest hires, and Nebraska is not interested in giving out three-year contracts, which has become a thing at some schools.

» Frost locked in one position coach, Mickey Joseph. The former Husker quarterback brings immediate recruiting credibility to NU’s staff and should keep together a talented receivers room looking for a position coach who connects with them. Joseph, who worked at LSU the past five years, spurned job offers from other schools to pick NU, which drove a hard bargain in helping Joseph get out of a contract buyout.

Joseph is a hiring win for Nebraska, which is appealing to Joseph for its fan base and where Joseph thinks the program could head.

» Special teams could be coordinated by a guy currently on staff, like Bill Busch, or someone like Ricky Brumfield, who’s still in the mix and notably has experience as an offensive position coach and someone familiar with Anae. Frost has to figure it out and, more to the point, prioritize it himself. Bo Pelini finally did, and it paid dividends in 2014.

» Adrian Martinez hit the transfer portal. A fresh start is best for all.

The quarterback’s post-shoulder surgery rehab time may be significant, and Frost has been loyal beyond a fault to No. 2. Only the NCAA-related COVID rules made this departure a thing; Martinez sacrificed plenty, and Frost gave Martinez latitude to play through injuries in an offense suited to promote Martinez’s playmaking ability.

The single most consistent sentiment I’ve heard from fans is they wanted to see Frost get another year with a different quarterback. They’ll get their wish.

» Austin Allen and Damion Daniels are headed to the NFL, and others may be, too. Hardly a surprise — Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok did it last year. Grown men want to grow up and make a living, and sometimes that means leaving a place even if NIL money is available.

That line from Ecclesiastes — “There is a time for everything.” Worth heeding.

I’ve argued with my own colleagues on this, about redshirting guys and prolonging careers and hoping dudes get six and seven years with COVID allowances. With today’s student-athletes able to graduate ahead of schedule and a little antsy to get away from the institutional, helicopter-like intensity of major college athletic departments, anything more than four years at one school is gravy, and Year 5 can start to get awkward.

It got awkward in volleyball when an All-American with a sweet NIL deal got benched. John Cook, the best coach on campus, has the chops, seasoning and elite players to manage it.

» According to a source, Athletic Director Trev Alberts did stick around for exit interviews with some players instead of heading to Big Ten athletic director meetings in advance of the league’s football title game, as reported by The Athletic. He was also seen at the Huskers’ NCAA volleyball match Friday. Alberts is a seven-day-a-week athletic director, and the relationship between him and Frost is different from the one Frost had with Bill Moos, who was kept at arm’s length, almost an outsider in North Stadium.

Alberts is, to borrow a line from Frost, elbows deep in the football fix, and that changes the dynamic. For years it has been adversarial between coach and A.D., or the A.D. and NU administration, or the coach and the NU administration. It’s dysfunction worthy of a Russian novel, but Nebraska can’t and won’t win like that.

The Huskers haven’t won like that, and it’s not surprising there are edgy emotions around 4-8, 5-7, 3-5 and 3-9 seasons.

Losing wears on people, hurts NFL draft stock and generally makes for a gossipy, disgruntled fan base. Dismissed coaches have a right to be frustrated. The players who never made a bowl game, who endured an exhausting 2020 season, have a right to be frustrated, too.

But let’s see how the coaching staff shapes up. Nebraska made one splash with Joseph. It could make more.

And NU football is a different operation than it was in January 2021. Get used to it.

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