Sports Column by Wauneta Breeze's Dave Vrbas
I remember it like it was the winter of 2004. (It was.)
Working in a pathetic little cubicle in a gigantic office building in the middle of Grand Island, I was surrounded by at least 100 people who were rabid and vocal about Nebraska football.
As a guy who respects the winning traditions of the program’s past and who loves to attend games as well as watch them on the telly, I always avoided conversations about the Huskers because I didn’t have the will nor the time to memorize player stats and names and what brand of teeth guard they were all wearing on the third practice of the second week of pre-season.
That ad nauseam reporting on every DNA strand of every player to ever walk onto the field at Memorial Stadium is overkill for me.
So, I would always avoid getting wrapped up in their conversations about the team. Until one day I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.
It was Friday, Jan. 9, 2004. The announcement was made by that creepy little garden gnome of a (now former) athletic director, Steve Pederson, that Bill Callahan would take over for the very fired (and highly uninspiring) Franky Solich.
“Coach Bill Callahan is a rare find,” Pederson fawned in a press conference two months after canning the admittedly less-than-stellar Solich in a shocking and mega cruel November event. “As a Super Bowl coach, a top-level recruiter, and an experienced coach on the college level, he has all the ingredients to continue the consistent success that typifies Nebraska.”
The office was abuzz with the news. It was ridiculous to me, but not as ludicrous as what my aggravating, next-cubicle neighbor was saying. She was the consummate expert on many things, but her take on the announcement was both shrill and preposterous.
“Oh, finally,” she bellowed. “Bill Callahan is going to restore the order to the Huskers’ program once again. The greatness of Husker football will return. Mark my words.”
I knew I had the right to remain silent, as always, but I found it downright impossible.
“Really?” I asked, followed by an even snarkier reiteration. “I mean, REALLY?”
We both stewed a bit but returned to our work.
It turned out that my snotty ‘really’ was really quite accurate, no?
I know it’s easy to slam Callahan, and that’s why I do it.
Callahan not only failed miserably to ‘restore the order’, he refused to honor any of the traditions of the program, the most important of which was the simple act of winning a game here and there.
So, it came as no surprise to me that Callahan and Pederson were ‘removed’ from their posts when they were, and I was exuberant to hear that Osborne quit politics and returned to NU in the role of athletic director. He then had the common sense to hire Bo Pelini.
My, did Pelini earn his keep.
Restoring order wasn’t the only thing the man succeeded in doing. He was a wise sage in bringing back the walk-on program, which was a benefit to a recent Wauneta-Palisade standout, Taylor Dixon.
Pelini also brought a sense of dignity back. Granted, the temperamental Bo had his ‘moments’ this season, but overall brought back the sense of greatness that used to go hand-in-bloodied-hand with Nebraska Husker football.
Recruiting elite players with Callahan proved to be a nightmare, as prep players from across the country struggled to figure out exactly what he was doing with his now-infamous “West Coast Offense”.
As you’re all well aware, Nebraska finished 9-4 under first-year head coach Bo Pelini.
Pelini, now 2-0 in bowl games as head coach, joins Bob Devaney, Tom Osborne and that ol’ rascal Frank Solich as the only coaches in Nebraska history to post nine wins in their first seasons.
Pelini’s 9-4 record (and an actual bowl game appearance and subsequent win) also tied for the best mark among 2008 first-year head coaches and was the best of any first-time head coach.
Indeed, my former co-worker, the order has finally been restored.