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Nebraska’s biggest shame this week wasn’t a loss or a firing

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Oklahoma’s Jovantae Barnes carries the ball during the Sooners’ drubbing of the Cornhuskers on Saturday.

Oklahoma’s Jovantae Barnes carries the ball during the Sooners’ drubbing of the Cornhuskers on Saturday.
Photo: Getty Images

Every time Nebraska fires a coach — Scott Frost being the fifth straight person to occupy that position and then get shown the door — there’s this narrative that who on earth would want that job. The expectations don’t match the resources, and it’s no longer an attractive gig for big-name coaches.

Then, inevitably, the pundit will list off Bo Pelini’s record in Lincoln, and make a perplexing comment like, “I don’t know why they fired him.” Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle. A couple will emphatically say, “It’s over, Nebraska. The ’90s are never happening again.”

Never mind the fact that Pelini’s most recent job —defensive coordinator at LSU — was proof that he’s too stubborn to be a head coach, let’s talk about the job itself. I don’t know who inside the program thinks it’s still possible to waltz through a regular season on the way to regularly playing for national championships. Only like one-and-a-half schools can pull that off anymore.

There are more than a few deranged fans, for sure, and unfortunately, those are always the loudest and most annoying on social media. Trust me, I know as well as anyone how irritating the delusional Husker supporter can be. So, please, spare me the condescending bemusement at Pete from Kearney calling in with talk of national titles and restoring glory. When he’s not on hold with you, he’s sending me and the other dozen normal guys on the group thread hype videos from the Skers’ official Instagram account.

After the 49-14 blowout loss to Oklahoma on Saturday — which was a game for all of a quarter and a half — even more people will pile on with no other takes than confusion and borderline delight. Modest candidates will crop up, and Nebraska AD Trev Alberts will make his selection, most likely an experienced white guy who recites the values most in line with the school’s glory years. Then in another four or five years, he’ll be let go for failing to recreate a renaissance out of crayons and construction paper.

The only time Nebraska has been in the national conversation in the past 10 to 15 years was when they’ve fired/hired a coach. The program has progressively gotten worse over that period. People forget that Pelini was trending downward at a rapid pace, and had they kept him, it would’ve been just as bad if not worse than Mike Riley. How convenient it is to overlook Melvin Gordon’s 408-yard game in 2014, or last year when Pelini returned to coach LSU’s defense, and he was whatever is worse than horrible.

We know how bad Riley was, and somehow Frost was even worse than him. This is a continued spiral since Tom Osborne handed the reins to Frank Solich. I saw a story about a Solich curse. Yet this isn’t a hex. The team had a transcendent football mind at the helm and should’ve never expected to replicate what he did. The guy drew up trick plays that were so good they got banned.

A phenomenal coach is the only way Nebraska regains its competitiveness, and even then it won’t look like Alabama or Georgia. It probably resembles Iowa or Wisconsin’s best teams. However, the Huskers aren’t an attractive enough job to steal an all-world candidate from mid-tier programs right now. So it’s either get really lucky with an unknown commodity, or try an unseemly candidate who is one more scandal away from getting canceled, which won’t ever happen at Nebraska.

Regardless of how many felons Osborne had on his roster, he still conducted himself in a manner that Nebraskans accepted. The student section can chant “We want Urban!” until they’re without a voice, but if Meyer returns to coaching, his charades in Jacksonville will prevent him from going to Lincoln. Honestly, I don’t know why I’m even addressing that rumor. There are 25 programs he would go to tomorrow before he’d pick the Huskers.

If you can’t lure away an established coach, and even the scummiest of the scumbags won’t take your money, you’re left with the current list of candidates. The thought of trying to poach a Kansas, Kansas State, or Iowa State coach is demoralizing. A Stoops not named Bob would be alright, I guess. That’s also if he, you know, wants to leave Kentucky for Nebraska.

The most depressing part of the Frost firing was the realization that there’s never been a Black head coach — of any team — at Nebraska. Considering how many well-respected Black players/football minds have come through the program alone, it’s atrocious that Mickey Joseph had to break the barrier as an interim.

College football isn’t the NFL as far as Black head coaches are concerned. It’s a university-by-university basis, and if you’ve ever lived in Nebraska, it’s not shocking that the school wouldn’t trust a Black person with the most important job on campus — hell, maybe in the state considering the revenue generated by the Big Red.

The thing that made Osborne great went beyond his scheme and recruiting prowess. It was his ability to see where the game was going and adapt as quickly if not quicker than everyone else. After he saw Miami’s speed up close, he changed his defensive philosophy. The walk-on program was revolutionary at its peak. He didn’t think twice about having a Black starting quarterback.

Asking Alberts to find the next Osborne is foolish and unrealistic. However, the hire can be progressive. That’s an option, and one not being fully explored, according to the candidate lists I’ve seen.

Above all else though, it’s comically overdue.

Trying to restore the program using the same trial-and-buyout method employed by the rest of the college football world isn’t working. Maybe Joseph will show something during the next couple months to deserve a legitimate shot at becoming permanent. Even if he doesn’t, there are more Black candidates than just him.

The Huskers have tried an ex-NFL head coach, a hot coordinator, an established college coach, and the hometown hero. There aren’t many other versions of a white guy left. It’s only fair to give someone different an honest chance.

That may not be the answer Nebraska fans want to hear, but it’s better than the normal shrug, laugh, and dismiss schtick I normally see offered.

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