Disclaimer: I’m a Hawkeye fan through and through. This piece is purely an exploratory one, with no ill intent towards Nebraska football whatsoever.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers, a historically dominant football program, has fallen on some hard times. That begs the question of… what happened? Since the program’s inception, it has captured 46 conference championships, 10 division championships, and five national championships. The last national title came in 1999, during Frank Solich’s time at the helm. After Osborne’s departure from the head coaching role, the Huskers have had five head coaches (six if you include Barney Cotton).
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- Frank Solich
- Bill Callahan
- Bo Peleni
- Mike Riley
- Scott Frost
Briefly, I’d like to go over each coach’s tenure.
Frank Solich (1998-2003)
After the 1997 season came to a close, the Cornhusker program had a Tom Osborne-sized hole to fill on the sideline. Given how long he’d held the role, it was going to be a challenge, no matter who filled the role. Frank Solich came to be the next head coach of the Huskers.
One could make the argument that he fared quite well. Posting a 58-19 (33-15 Big 12) (.753) record, a national title, conference championship, and Big 12 North division championship, Solich very much left his mark on the program. In a move that shocked the football world, Solich was fired in the midst of a 9-3 season. Following his departure, Bo Pelini became the interim head coach. The Huskers would finish the season 10-3
Bill Callahan (2004-2007)
Taking the reigns for the 2004 season, Bill Callahan inherited a successful program. In his tenure, he was successful… just not to the same degree as Solich. A 27-22 tenure (15-17) (.551), Callahan did lead Nebraska to a division championship in 2006. He would be fired after a 5-7 2007 season, capped off by a 65-51 loss at Colorado, in which the Huskers gave up 34 consecutive points.
Bo Pelini (2008-2014)
In a post-Callahan program, then-defensive coordinator Bo Pelini was tapped to take the helm of a teetering Husker program. Pelini’s tenure was impressive in its own right. He posted a 67-27 (38-17 Big 12/Big 10) (.713) record, spanning two conferences, as Nebraska joined the Big 10 in 2010.
The Huskers left a mark on the Big 12 on their way out, winning three consecutive Big 12 North division titles. In 2012, Pelini led Nebraska to the Big 10 Championship Game, along with capturing the Big 10 Legends title. Bo Pelini seemed to be the one destined to raise the phoenix from the ashes.
He was fired by Nebraska in November of 2014, and Barney Cotton filled in to close the season. Nebraska would finish the year 9-4.
Mike Riley (2015-2017)
Mike Riley took the wheel to start the 2015 season. Was he good? No. Was he bad? Also no. In fact, he was exceedingly average, posting a 19-19 record (12-14). He is essentially a footnote in the program’s history and viewed merely as a transition coach between Pelini and our next subject.
Scott Frost (2018-Present)
Nebraska named Scott Frost the next head coach in 2018. Frost had just come off reviving future Big 12 member Central Florida (read more here), leading the Knights to a 13-0 season and a statement victory over Auburn in the Peach Bowl. Naturally, the former Husker QB frequently came up in speculation for the job between seasons.
The hype was real for Frost’s homecoming, seemingly heralding the return of dominance that Nebraska fans treasure. Admittedly, I was worried but also excited for the conference as a whole. After almost a decade into its time in the Big 10, Nebraska finally had a chance to shake up the conference.
The hype surrounding Scott Frost has thawed out, at least from the outside looking in. As of writing, Frost is 14-23 (9-18) since taking the head coaching job. All of his predecessors were fired for being more successful than that, so you’d think they would stay true to that policy.
Instead, Frost was rewarded with a two-year extension, tying him to the program through 2026. Is this the result of hiring the state’s sweetheart? From my perspective, I’d definitely say so.
Nebraska’s Own Pandora’s Box
I am in no way saying that Nebraska cannot turn it around. Frost was hired, in part, for his ability to turn programs around. Since that fateful firing of Frank Solich, the Huskers have been a slowly declining program. Once a national powerhouse, the Cornhuskers are searching for ways to reclaim their identity.
The firings of Solich and Pelini were questionable at best, and self-destructive at worst. Both were on the brink of bringing the program back to the national spotlight and into contention.
To quote former athletic director Steve Pederson, “I refuse to let the program gravitate into mediocrity… We won’t surrender the Big 12 to Oklahoma and Texas”.
Ironically, they would open Pandora’s box and do just that. If there was one piece of advice I could offer, from this Hawk Eye’s view, it is this:
Stability Brings Success