Steven M. Sipple: NU successfully walking a thin line

2012-10-28T23:50:00Z 2012-10-29T00:56:03Z Steven M. Sipple: NU successfully walking a thin line

Things I know and think I know:

Being a coach in a high-profile BCS football program obviously has its perks.

Stress is also prominent in the package.

Think about Nebraska's past four games. Rally to defeat Wisconsin. Get blown out at Ohio State. Win by a whisker at Northwestern, thanks in large part to a Wildcat safety's dropped interception attempt. Defeat Michigan to gain the upper hand in the Big Ten Legends Division.

Think about the thin line that often separates success and failure in the college game. The thin line has separated optimism among many Nebraska fans from pervasive anger and anxiety. The 21st-ranked Huskers, so far, have walked the line pretty well.

Think about the accompanying pressure on the coaches and their families.

"When you're a graduate assistant, you dream of getting to big-time BCS schools," said first-year Nebraska secondary coach Terry Joseph. "But then when you get here, every day you coach, it's like you're in the electric chair. We've seen it all over America, it's here today and gone tomorrow. That's the environment we're in."

Nebraska, in that regard, feels essentially like most everywhere else. Fire-the-coach howls occur quickly and loudly. Don't think for a second that Husker coaches are oblivious.

"When I was at Louisiana Tech, there wasn't as much pressure," Joseph said last week. "But now when you start getting to the programs like Tennessee and Nebraska, every day can be the day. You have to be ready for it.

"On the flip side, we signed up for the job. The pressure is what we want. We have to deal with it."

Joseph has relative stability at Nebraska compared to what he would be facing this season at Tennessee, where he spent the previous two seasons. The Volunteers are 3-5 overall and 0-5 in the SEC. UT has opened SEC play 0-5 in each of Derek Dooley's three seasons as head coach, and his job security diminishes with each loss.

In the powerful SEC, the margin for error can be ridiculously small. Really, it's like that in many conferences.

Ask Michigan State (5-4, 2-3 Big Ten), which faces Nebraska (6-2, 3-1) on Saturday in East Lansing, Mich. The Spartans, picked by many in the preseason to win the Legends Division, have lost three conference games by a combined six points — to Ohio State by one, Iowa by three (in overtime) and Michigan by two.

No wonder coaches constantly remind players to take care of details, and to never take a play off.

"Every play can become the critical play that decides the game," Joseph said. "The problem is, we don't know which play it's going to be. It requires tremendous discipline and dedication on every play."

Think about a defensive back who's not directly involved in every play. He may be directly involved in only five or six plays in a game, and one letdown could become the difference.

Think how differently we would regard Nebraska's season had Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell made the interception in those final minutes Oct. 20 in Evanston, Ill.

"I tell our guys, 'You have to play like you're going to go to the electric chair if you don't win this play,'" Joseph said. "There has to be a sense of urgency on every single play. I don't want the guys to be scared. But I want their stomach to be in knots."

Such is the nature of the beast. Such is the thin line that often separates success and failure.

* Epilogue to last Monday's column in which Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo stressed the need for the league, as a whole, to improve recruiting if it is serious about catching up with the SEC:

In our discussion, DiNardo wondered why offensive and defensive coordinators have more influence and prestige than recruiting coordinators in the culture of most coaching staffs. On many staffs, the recruiting coordinator is one of the least-experienced and lowest-paid members.

As head coach at Indiana from 2002-04, DiNardo said, he paid his recruiting coordinator the same as his offensive and defensive coordinators — not that it always mattered.

"When the offensive coordinator called a meeting, every offensive coach was there," DiNardo said.

Same with the defense.

"But I've never been on a staff where the recruiting coordinator calls a meeting, and everyone has the same response," DiNardo said. "It might be, 'Hey, I have to watch another game tape, I'll be in there when I can.…'"

Just something to think about.

* Nebraska coach Bo Pelini's much-discussed way of handling the Blackshirt tradition paid off Saturday. Husker defenders clearly regard the jerseys as a reward for excellence during the season. It motivates them, and you saw the result.

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

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