Tom Osborne sounds ready for some stability at Memorial Stadium.
He echoes the sentiment of a lot of Nebraska fans, it seems.
“I think continually stirring the pot and changing coaches and changing athletic directors is not in the long-term best interest of the athletic department,” he told the Journal Star on Thursday.
Osborne believes Trev Alberts’ hiring Wednesday as Nebraska’s 14th athletic director “sends a signal of long-term stability.” Alberts is 50. One can imagine him holding the job until he’s 65 or even beyond. There's certainly appeal in that possibility, particularly in the context of nearly 20 years of athletic department tumult.
As for Nebraska football coach Scott Frost, well, he’s 12-20 entering what feels like a critical fourth season in charge. He has a new boss. That obviously can feel uncomfortable for any employee, especially if an organization is performing below expectations.
No way Frost expected to be 12-20 at this point. He knows the score here. He knows the heat just got turned up a bit.
Hell, his old boss, Bill Moos, had been saying Nebraska has the talent to win eight or nine games in 2021. It felt like he already was turning the screws a bit.
Alberts noted Wednesday there can be a “healthy tension” among high performers in a competitive setting. "Healthy tension” could do some people good in the Husker football program about now.
Speaking of high performers, Osborne and Alberts have stayed in touch “fairly regularly” over the years, Osborne said. Alberts at times seeks Osborne’s wisdom. He might do well to consider how Osborne approached his role in assessing former Nebraska football coach Bill Callahan’s program in 2007.
NU chancellor Harvey Perlman fired AD Steve Pederson in mid-October of that year and turned to Osborne to provide stability, and also to watch Nebraska football closely in the final five regular-season games to judge whether a change in leadership was needed. The Huskers lost four of those games to finish 5-7. End of story.
Is Alberts now in a similar situation, at least in that it’s a period in which there’s heightened urgency on assessing the football program?
“Not totally,” Osborne said. “I liked Bill, and Bill was a good coach. But Bill was from the NFL and one of the first things he did was to pretty much dismantle the walk-on program and reduce the squad size.”
Frost, on the other hand, has tried to enhance the walk-on program, understanding it can provide depth on the roster, enhance the program’s culture, and even produce top-level players. Nobody had to explain the historical significance of the walk-on program to Frost.
I’ll always remember one of the first calls I received from Bo Pelini. It was in the spring of 2003 after he arrived as Nebraska’s defensive coordinator. He wondered why there were some 150 guys at practice. He didn’t understand the walk-on part of the program at all.
At any rate, Osborne in mid-October of 2007 told Callahan, “Just don’t have another losing season. We’d gone 42 years without a losing season and then we had one (in 2004) and were on our way to another in 2007.”
“There was a total defensive collapse,” Osborne recalled, noting Kansas’ 76-point uprising against Kevin Cosgrove’s unit.
“Offensively, we did pretty well,” Osborne said.
Long story short, Osborne fired Callahan and hired Pelini as head coach. During the last half of the 2007 season, Osborne met with Callahan at least once a week. Callahan and his staff knew where they stood, Osborne said. That’s something coaches appreciate. They want frank talk. My guess is, Alberts will be frank with Frost and his coaches.
Osborne said Alberts will assess overall talent in the program.
“I think Nebraska has more talent than it had when Scott came here (in late 2017),” Osborne said. “And the culture is better. Mike Riley was a very nice person. I liked Mike. But in the accountability area, well, could you miss class? Yes. Could you be late for practice? Yes. So, a lot had to shift culture-wise. There wasn’t a lot of accountability, and then all of a sudden when there was accountability, guys didn’t like that.
“I think you just look at the situation in the program. Is it something that’s capable of getting better? I think that’s what Trev will do.”
Osborne sends a clear message, though: He thinks people need to be patient with Frost.
“When he first came here, it was the first year of the early signing date,” Osborne said. “Before he even got here, 80 percent of the players nationally were already signed with other programs.”
“Then, of course, the COVID year was so strange,” Osborne added, referring to last season. “So, it’s been a little hard to say that you have a really fair measuring stick.”
Osborne thinks the roster “looks the part” now. No question about that.
“And then the question is, if Scott doesn’t get it done, who’s going to?” Osborne said. “You don’t just make a change to make a change. I think Scott has all the ability and the staff to be very competitive this year. But, as you know, ultimately you’re measured by wins and losses, and that plays into it.”
Let’s face it, Alberts is like most major-college athletic directors in that he’ll be judged largely on how well the football program performs. Football is the chief financial driver. It generates the vast majority of interest. I’ve heard it described as being this state’s chief cultural export. That seems accurate.
Alberts fully understands the lay of the land.
“He’s a guy who cares about Nebraska, and he’s not somebody who’s going to take a year and a half to get up to speed on some of the unique elements about Nebraska — the people, the different areas of the state, the fan base, some of the tradition and some of the hurdles such as the relatively sparse population base and the distance from many major recruiting areas. And the weather,” Osborne said.
“He knows all that, and he knows most of the people in the state who would be contributors, boosters. I think the time to get up to full speed is going to be really short with him.”
Osborne emphasized Alberts’ strong work ethic.
“He’ll be in attendance, I would think, at most athletic events,” Osborne said. “He can’t physically attend all of them, because some are occurring at the same time. But he’ll definitely be a guy who will be on-call and working at it probably 12 hours a day. He cares and he’ll be an excellent fit.”
He could be an excellent fit for several years, especially if the football part stabilizes to a high degree.
The key question: Is Frost’s program capable of getting appreciably better in a reasonable amount of time?
It hasn’t progressed at the pace many people would like. But Frost envisions significant progress in 2021.
That’s the plan. But plans don’t always work out as intended.
“I was supposed to go fishing this morning, but then it rained,” Osborne said.
We’ve seen enough storms of late around here. Time for more sunshine, and stability.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-473-7440. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.