It was one of those Monday nights back when John Elway was on our TV set.
Tim Beck was sitting on his couch, watching like the rest of us. His workday was done, but only technically speaking. When Beck watches a football game, any game, he's on the clock.
Rewards come to the diligent, one supposes. And at some point the Denver Broncos offered a payoff, scoring on some play that caught Beck's fancy.
"That's all football really is, just a bunch of guys copying each other's stuff," he says.
So Beck scribbled down the play. Looked it over. Clever.
Maybe? Yeah, just maybe.
A few days later, Beck's high school team ran the same play Elway had run.
Al Michaels wasn't there to call it, but the play led to six points all the same.
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The second-year Husker offensive coordinator is, in his own words, "a football junkie."
Listen to his stories and it's hard to disagree.
When Beck was a high school coach, his spring break most often consisted of him traveling to some college town and spending a week watching football practices.
He'd jot down things to use. Just as importantly, he'd write down what not to use.
And always these questions: What causes this team a problem? And how did the team respond to that problem?
Oftentimes coaches will cite a handful of names as influences in their profession. Beck doesn't name names.
"It's just been kind of a mutt system over many years," he says of his football knowledge. "Little things here or there."
Some term he uses may come from when he was a graduate assistant at Kansas State in the early 1990s. Another might come from his days as the passing-game coordinator at Kansas during the Jayhawks' Orange Bowl run in 2007. Another might come from those road trips as a high school coach.
Beck coached in Scottsdale, Ariz.; Carrollton, Texas; and Mansfield, Texas. Good preparation for what was to come.
"At a smaller level, you're a CEO," Beck says. "Our program at Texas, we had 16 assistant high school coaches. I had two junior high programs with eight coaches each. You're running an organization, so you need to be on point."
He won a whole lot more games than he lost.
"Everywhere he's been, he's won state titles," says Husker running backs coach Ron Brown. "He's found a way to motivate his players."
Brown first met Beck when he was recruiting a guy on Beck's team in Scottsdale. Some guy named Mike Brown.
Beck and Mike Brown remain close to this day. Doesn't surprise Ron Brown.
"Tim takes the time to get to know people and is personable," Ron Brown says. "Because, really, you can have all the great X's and O's and be a guru in strategy. But if you don't excel in technique fundamentals, and the ability to understand your players so you can kind of know what they can do at certain times, they won't succeed."
And when they do succeed?
You have to know how to push the right buttons and keep that fire burning. Such is the challenge this week after a promising offensive debut against Southern Miss.
"They've worked very hard, but the bottom line really is we haven't accomplished anything yet," Beck says of his Husker offense. "I try to stay humble and I try to not be a statistics guy. I don't believe that means anything. It really doesn't. I think they have a lot to prove every time they step on that field.”
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So Kenny Bell wasn't surprised last Monday when Beck walked into an offensive meeting room — two days after his squad had 49 points, 632 yards and plenty of figurative pats on the backs from fans and media — and immediately told his team this: Don't believe the hype.
"That's why I love Coach Beck," says the sophomore wide receiver. "He's a no B.S. kind of guy."
Bell calls Beck a perfectionist.
He also calls him something else.
"I call him a thermostat," Bell says. "We talk about that all the time — being a thermostat not a thermometer. You want to stay at the same temperature, no matter how good you played or how bad you played."
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Certainly Beck's a creative guy, says Ron Brown. A good listener, too.
Those traits aren't mutually exclusive.
"When you make a suggestion to Tim, there are some people who would kind of immediately throw it out and go, 'Nah,'" Brown says. "But he'll ponder it, he'll think about it. I think he likes a fresh, new idea. I think he likes something that might look like it's a little bit exotic."
Beck says he takes ideas from anyone inside the program — from the graduate assistants to the interns to the defensive coaches.
"I've told people many times, 'I by no means have invented the game,'" Beck says. "If they have ideas that are pretty good ideas, I usually jot them down or say, 'Let's take a look at them and see what they look like.' And sometimes they're good, they work."
Beck's creativity wasn't in question even when Nebraska's offense sometimes took its lumps last year.
Oh, yes, he had some tricks: Whether it was a diamond formation that had a knack for big plays, like a Quincy Enunwa touchdown against Ohio State, or using Rex Burkhead as a quarterback/lead blocker against Penn State, or that double-option play against Michigan when Burkhead took a handoff, only to pitch the ball to fellow running back Ameer Abdullah for a touchdown.
"You never know what he'll come up with in his laboratory," says senior tight end Ben Cotton.
But when the season was complete, the team's record in this bottom-line business was 9-4, with an offensive thud in the second half of the bowl game and final season stats that weren't going to knock anyone over.
The Huskers ranked 66th in total offense (379.9 yards per game). While not exactly comparable given different competition in a different league, it was actually a statistical slide from 2010, when NU ranked 44th in total offense (398.1 yards a game).
The biggest thing Beck learned from his first year as a coordinator? "Trust my instincts," he says.
If the results weren't always what were desired, Brown says Beck deserves credit for staying the course through it all.
"Last year we introduced a lot of stuff to our players but we couldn't really hone in on everything," Brown says. "We're able to hone in on more now because the kids are just better at doing it, they're more familiar. So I think it took patience on his part not to just throw the baby out with the bathwater. Stick with a few things."
And just as importantly — stick together.
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You might recall the end to the 2010 season.
Nebraska had just fallen flat in the Holiday Bowl, scoring only seven points and suffering a bitter loss to a Washington team it had defeated by five touchdowns three months before.
Lots of talk around town about the offensive staff. Who was staying? Who was going? Who was going to be the coordinator?
“That was not an easy deal,” Brown says. “There was pressure and rumors swirling, a couple guys gone, and now to kind of pull all this thing together, Tim had to kind of put the stake in the ground and say, 'Hey, we need to come together and be at each other’s disposal.’”
They did. It’s become quite the tight-knit staff, Brown says.
Coaches who are not afraid to have healthy arguments in a meeting room. And coaches who have just as many laughs, comfortably razzing each other about their individual quirks.
“I think we made a pact as an offensive staff," Brown says. “We told our players that we’re going to protect the man on the left and the man on the right. But we had to learn to do that as well as a staff.”
If you're going to win big at this level, leaders in the locker room need to emerge, too.
That's something Beck really likes about this team.
“You can see the unity in this group is a lot different than other groups we’ve had here,” Beck says. “It’s similar to that group (at Kansas in 2007), where the leadership within the football team kind of took hold of the program.”
All this doesn’t guarantee wins. Not at all.
As Beck says, this group has much to prove, including Saturday night at the Rose Bowl when it takes on UCLA.
“I can’t sit here and say it’s always going to be like this,” he said after last week's impressive opening act.
But what players like Bell and Cotton can say is that players have bought into Beck's system.
They see the vision.
Now they have to make it fly.
“It’s starting to surface,” Cotton says. “You’re seeing the pace we want to play at, and how we want to attack the defense, not letting people line up, and playing as fast and physical as we can. Not just in the first drive of each half, but every time we get the football. We want to go, go, go, go, go.”