He sits in the big man's chair now, figuratively speaking.

Cory Ross is the boss.

The diminutive former Nebraska and Baltimore Ravens running back runs the show for the Lincoln Haymakers, a first-year head coach for the indoor football league franchise.

Wednesday, Ross had a lot on his mind. The season opener looms Friday. His cell phone buzzed constantly. Players lined up to see him. There were media obligations. Yeah, Ross admitted, being in charge can be stressful.

Suddenly, he pulled from his drawer a source of comfort.

"'The Holy Grail,' I call it," Ross said with a smile. "I'm not supposed to tell anybody I have it. …"

He clutched a white three-ring binder — Bill Callahan's offensive playbook.

Yes, the playbook Callahan used as Nebraska's head coach from 2004-07.

The playbook that helped Ross become the Huskers' offensive MVP after his junior and senior seasons (2004-05). He was a 5-foot-6, 195-pound running back who darted and dashed for a combined 1,984 rushing yards in those two seasons while also catching 64 passes for 654 yards.

No wonder Ross fell in love with Callahan's West Coast system. And, yes, its concepts transfer to the eight-man indoor game, Ross said.

"You just have to know how to transfer it," he said confidently, pointing to a particular alignment. "I can run this combination right here without a tight end."

Bottom line, the basis of Ross' offensive teachings come from Callahan, who endured a rocky ride at Nebraska, going 27-22, with two losing seasons.

Nevertheless, "I love Coach Callahan," Ross said. "Not many people got to see the side I got to see."

As a Nebraska team captain in 2005, Ross met every Monday with Callahan. It was Callahan who essentially introduced Ross to the game of golf.

"There's just something about the mind of that guy," said Ross, his voice trailing. "You can't deny how much he loves the game of football. He might've ruffled some feathers as far as bringing a professional attitude to a college game. But it really needs to be done that way."

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That's true, to an extent. I liked that Callahan operated with a stern, real-world mentality: If you're the man for a job, take it and dig in. If you don't produce, someone else will do the job.

When it comes down to it, Callahan, now the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys (although he's been stripped of play-calling duties) is Ross' biggest influence in the business. Say what you want about Callahan, he's achieved at the highest levels of his profession. Perhaps Ross can do the same.

For now, he works in a makeshift office for a franchise that last season stumbled to a 4-8 record. The coaching staff had too much turnover — a handful of guys left before the season was complete, Ross said. He was interim head coach for the final four games, going 1-3.

It was a start. He wants to make a career of coaching, preferably in college (the NFL holds little appeal). Friends in the coaching business tell him that having "head coach" on a resume is beneficial. Being a position coach at dear ol' NU would be ideal, he said.

He stays in touch with current Husker running backs coach Ron Brown, as well as former NU running backs coach Randy Jordan, now with the NFL franchise in Washington.

Ross is leery of the business aspect of the NFL.

"There are some guys that I thought were better than the starters," he said. "But those starters were getting more money, so the organization has to play those guys. There are only a couple NFL organizations that really allow the best men to play."

He mentions New England and Seattle as examples.

Ross clearly benefited from his two seasons in the NFL, in part because it helps him command the respect of his players. One of his Baltimore jerseys, No. 34, hangs on the wall behind his desk. He also keeps a Ravens helmet, complete with a used purple mouthpiece, under his desk.

Ross is assisted by fellow ex-Husker greats who played extensively in the NFL: Josh Bullocks coaches the defense with help from Keyuo Craver, who also guides the special teams.

The Haymakers began preseason camp Feb. 1 with 40 players. The regular-season roster will have 28 after Ross makes one final cut before the Wichita Wild arrive Friday for a 7 p.m. game at Pershing Center.

Ross knows what it's like to be a player waiting to see if he makes a team. Boy, does he know. He cried in August of 2006 when he realized he made the Ravens' regular-season roster as an undrafted free agent.

Now, Ross runs the show. He makes the cuts. Fields calls from player agents. The gamut. The offense, though, is his focus. His quarterback is Travis Hunter, who played backup last season with the Salina Bombers.

"Really, really strong arm," Ross said. "(Tuesday) was his third practice with us, and he's already picked up the offense."

Ross smiled as he held his Holy Grail for comfort. For confidence. Time to dig in. The season's upon him.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


Husker columnist

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

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