Steven M. Sipple: Garrison believes criticism of Cotton 'way off-base'

2013-03-04T23:50:00Z 2013-04-03T21:43:11Z Steven M. Sipple: Garrison believes criticism of Cotton 'way off-base'

John Garrison experienced it in 1999, as a Nebraska defensive line recruit. He felt the pressure of trying to live up to Grant Wistrom and Jason Peter's All-America-caliber play.

Garrison brought up his playing days in an attempt to answer why Barney Cotton often is targeted by frustrated Nebraska football fans. I broached that topic after Monday's practice.

After all, Garrison works closely with Cotton on a daily basis -- Garrison as offensive line coach and Cotton in his new role as tight ends coach and run game coordinator. Cotton still coaches the offensive line, as has been the case since 2008.

Garrison played at Nebraska from 1999-2002, first as a defensive end before quickly moving to long-snapper and eventually to center, where he became a two-year starter. His position coaches were Milt Tenopir and the late Dan Young, legendary figures in the eyes of many Husker fans for their roles in developing some of the greatest lines in school history.

Their reputations no doubt contribute to criticism of Cotton. Nebraska fans yearn for "the Pipeline" days. That became the standard. But let's be real: It would be a gross oversimplification to pin all of the blame on Cotton for the line failing in recent years to consistently dominate.

Think about it. Nebraska's offensive line has experienced mixed results since, well, let's say 2001 -- 12 seasons ago. Cotton wasn't even around for six of those seasons. He wasn't around for the 7-7 record in 2002 (Tenopir and Young's final season). Or the 5-6 in 2004. Or the 5-7 in 2007. He was around last season, when Nebraska ranked 26th nationally in total offense, and eighth in rushing offense.

I'm not suggesting Cotton should be lavished with praise. Cotton would tell you himself the line too often has lacked consistency. That is fair criticism. But the amount of vitriol directed toward Cotton is unfair, if not absurd.

Garrison said the 56-year-old Cotton operates at a level on-par with Tenopir and Young.

"I think it's way off-base," Garrison said of the criticism. "I don't know if I've ever been around a harder-working guy. And let's face it, he's not a young guy. A lot of older guys, in the shoes he's been in, as an offensive coordinator (including at Nebraska in 2003), you probably could see some complacency. He may be one of the most hardest-working guys we have on staff."

Cotton's strength?

"It's his ability to see the full picture," Garrison said. "He's a big-picture guy. He understands the game. He understands defenses. And for a guy who's been around, he really relates well to kids. Guys play hard for him. To be honest, I think the criticism of him is so off-base, it's almost funny. It's like, 'Are you kidding me?'"

Dating to the class of 2009, Nebraska has had a handful of recruiting "misses" among offensive linemen. No doubt Cotton deserves some of the blame, although it's not as if he's the only Husker coach responsible for O-line recruiting.

Folks hammered Cotton when Tyler Moore left the program last August. But it's become clear Moore left for reasons that had little-to-nothing to do with Cotton. What's more, the issues that led to Ryan Klachko's departure had absolutely nothing to do with Cotton.

Garrison notes this is his sixth season working with the Nebraska offensive line -- he was an intern from 2008-10 before landing his full-time gig in 2011.

"We're in this thing together," Garrison said of Cotton.

Cotton's job title was offensive line coach before his role was altered slightly last month. Garrison said the change mostly manifests itself in the meeting room, where Garrison now handles installation and corrections. It's now his show in meetings with the 26 linemen.

"We still have the same ability to have two guys coaching the line," Garrison said.

Folks will read into Cotton's job-title change what they want. Is it a promotion for Garrison? A demotion for Cotton? I don't see it either way. I see it for what it is: A change to help increase staff efficiency on a day-to-day basis. I'm firmly in the camp that says the discussion in various social media was overblown.

Yeah, Garrison heard the discussion.

"You're in Nebraska," he said. "There's always going to be discussion."

Some of it fair, some not.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or

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