Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

Super Bowl XXIX

San Diego Chargers defensive tackle John Parrella sits dejectedly on the sidelines during a 49-26 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX on Sunday Jan. 29, 1995, in Miami. The former Husker was on three Super Bowl teams but never got a ring.

Mike Riley said last week he had a spreadsheet with 50 names of candidates to coach Nebraska's defensive line.

I wouldn't be surprised if John Parrella, the defensive line coach at Northern Michigan, was one of the names.

He finished his Nebraska playing career in 1992 as a first-team All-Big Eight defensive tackle and went on to play nearly a dozen seasons in the NFL, including three for the San Diego Chargers when Riley was head coach there from 1999-2001. What's more, NU defensive coordinator Mark Banker was with the Chargers during the same period.

It's not what you know ...

At Nebraska, Parrella was a teammate of standout cornerback Kenny Wilhite, who last week was promoted to NU's director of high school relations.

I like the idea of ex-Huskers being prominent on Riley's staff, within reason, because I think it's important to many Big Red fans. I hear from those folks. As it stands, none of Riley's full-time assistants have past ties to the program. Parrella, who starred at Grand Island Central Catholic, has a passion for Husker football -- it's essentially part of his DNA --  but also has been successful in his post-Husker life.

To be sure, this is about more than just who Parrella knows on the current Nebraska staff. The 46-year-old has plenty of substance. He was a hard-nosed, blue-collar player. If memory serves, he was a leader by example. I'm guessing he brings plenty of toughness to his work as a coach. But Charlie McBride has told me in the past that Parrella relates well to players. And, you can't put a price on the credibility Parrella built as an NFL player. College players pay attention to that aspect.

Parrella is in his third year as defensive line coach at Northern Michigan, an NCAA Division II school which last season finished 5-6 -- yes, it did struggle on defense. In 2013, he was an assistant coach at Chabot (California) Junior College, which won the Golden Gate Conference in his only season there.

Before entering the college ranks, Parrella accepted a challenge many coaches would be hesitant to take on. He started the program at Valley Christian (California) High School and guided the Vikings to four straight North Coast Section Division IV playoff appearances.

Notice his deep ties in California. That's obviously an important recruiting region for Riley's staff.

Parrella played for the Chargers from 1994-2001 and Oakland Raiders from 2002-04. One of his biggest influences is Los Angeles Rams defensive line coach Mike Waufle, who coached Parrella in Oakland. Watch the techniques of Ram linemen; they're what Parrella teaches.

Riley needs a strong recruiter. I'm told Parrella has been excellent in that area, but he would need to prove he can recruit athletes who can win championships in a Power-5 conference. This much is certain: He would believe in the product he's selling.

Reached last week, Parrella respectfully declined to discuss the Nebraska opening.

"I learned a long time ago to coach where you're at," he said. "Our hands are full. Our spring ball starts in (two weeks). I'm entrenched in that. We're working on that every day to make sure we start off on the right foot."

Nebraska's spring ball begins March 5. You have to think Riley will have Hank Hughes' replacement in the fold by that point. But it's not absolutely essential. What's essential is to hire the right person. If Riley wants someone with high-level experience in the game and deep Husker ties, Parrella would be a logical candidate.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


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