College football players spend perhaps more time with their position coach than anybody else over the course of a season and a calendar year.
It’s no surprise, then, that many Nebraska players would be left reeling with Saturday morning’s announcement that, in addition to head coach Mike Riley being fired, none of the assistant coaches were being retained except for interim head coach Trent Bray.
Sophomore cornerback Lamar Jackson told reporters Saturday that athletic director Bill Moos asked Husker players to avoid knee-jerk reactions and to be patient and wait to see who is hired as NU’s next head coach.
“He just wants us to stay together,” Jackson said. “He addressed the point about everybody asking for releases, all that type of stuff. He told everybody to just wait and just sit back. He promised that he’s going to take care of this program. He said, ‘Why go somewhere else when you’re at Nebraska?’ He said this is big-time football and he promises he’ll bring a big-time coach in that will be able to get us back to winning.
“We’ve just got to wait and see what happens and play it like that.”
When a coaching staff is fired, the attention often turns to high school recruits and whether they will stay committed. There’s usually more attrition than normal among active players, too, though, and that’s what Bray will be trying to stanch in his role as interim coach.
“Trent needs to focus on the current players — academic situation, going to class, workouts, strength and conditioning, and of course behavioral things too,” Moos said. “When you have this kind of transition where no one is manning the ship, things can go a little bit sideways.”
Players can also start looking in other directions, too. It happened in 2014 when Bo Pelini was fired, and senior kicker Drew Brown remembers it well. His advice for younger players this time around:
“Just to stick with it,” Brown said outside Memorial Stadium on Saturday. “There’s going to be a lot of thoughts about transferring or not continuing to play, but there’s no greater place than here. I think if the guys realize that, that there’s no better place to be than right here at this place, I think they’ll be fine. They just have to work hard and set goals for themselves so they can achieve them.”
Several have already weighed in to some degree, including redshirt freshman wide receiver JD Spielman, who finished the season with 55 catches for 830 yards and two touchdowns and was third in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards per game at 142.9.
On Saturday, Spielman wrote on Twitter that he appreciated receivers coach Keith Williams making him the receiver he “always dreamed of becoming.” Sunday, Spielman wrote, “A lot on my mind now that (Williams) is gone. Things are starting to get real. Need to just take a deep breath and think.”
Jackson on Saturday told reporters that the speed with which the staff was fired — NU’s season-finale against Iowa ended around 6:30 p.m. Friday and Riley was fired at 9 a.m. Saturday — hasn’t left him any time to consider his own options so far.
“I haven’t really talked too much about that kind of stuff and nobody’s really talked to me either because, like I said, we just got done playing last night,” he said. “Everybody knew it was going to happen but nobody knew it was going to happen (Saturday).
“I’m pretty sure that there’s a few guys in here that are already planning on leaving, but I can only speak for myself and wait it out and see what happens and what happens with my coach and stuff like that.”
Cornerbacks coach Donte Williams was one of the eight assistants not retained by Moos. The athletic director said that he, “would give the new coach every bit of flexibility to create his staff however he wants. I think we’ve got some talented coaches here and I think we’ve got coaches that think very highly of Nebraska and feel we can recruit here. Having said that, I haven’t really gotten to know any of them except for Trent very, very well at this point.”
And he likely won’t unless the next head coach decides to bring them back. That inevitably puts current players in a wait-and-see situation. It’s just one of many layers to the staff turnover that Nebraska is currently undergoing.