Nebraska keeps word, stays mum on coaching search
Posted: Wednesday December 17, 2003 2:18PM; Updated: Wednesday December 17, 2003 2:18PM
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- The head football coach at Nebraska is the highest-paid and, with all due respect to the governor, probably the highest-profile state employee.
Yet in the search for the next Cornhusker coach, the public is in the dark.
On the day athletic director Steve Pederson announced the firing of Frank Solich, he said he would not comment on the search for a successor until he introduced him at a news conference.
Eighteen days later, Pederson is staying true to his word.
Moreover, the people to whom Pederson has talked to about the job, if any, also are keeping quiet.
Meanwhile, the Huskers' considerable fan base awaits word of progress, feeding mostly on speculation and rumors.
Pederson, the one-man search committee, has addressed the coaching search in mostly vague terms in his weekly, statewide radio show.
Interim head coach Bo Pelini won't discuss his candidacy other than to say he is not privy to the details of the search and that he is supportive of the process. The other known candidate, quarterbacks coach Turner Gill, also declines to answer questions.
When word got out Monday that there might be player discontent about the length of the search, Pelini cut off the news media's access to players the next day. Pelini said the issue was resolved and that, for the time being, he would be the one and only voice for the program.
Even the paper trail leads nowhere, for now. Under state open records law, the university is required to provide application materials submitted by finalists for the position of head coach.
In response to an Associated Press request for applications, university attorney Richard Wood on Dec. 11 wrote: "To date no finalists have been selected."
"I have not seen such a lack of solid candidate information in any other coaching search," said veteran sports writer Blair Kerkhoff, who covers college sports for The Kansas City Star newspaper.
Nebraska sports information director Chris Anderson said she's not surprised the shroud of secrecy, which she helps maintain, has been so long-lived.
"It's absolutely indicative that Steve is not out there talking to people, and that proves the point more than anything that he is handling this process himself and that he is totally above board on what he says and what he is doing," Anderson said.
It's Anderson's job to manage interview requests for Pederson. If the request has to do with the search, she automatically rejects it.
Asked whether the players are told not to comment about the coaching situation, Anderson said: "We're not going to go there."
She added: "What Bo tells them in private meetings is totally up to Bo."
Dan Cook of Dallas, a major NU athletic donor, said Wednesday that he is as curious as every other Husker fan. On the other hand, he described Pederson's discreet search as "refreshing."
Cook said he has spoken with Pederson twice in the last week and that the athletic director had volunteered no information.
"We talked about everything else -- the weather, the moon phase," Cook said. "I wasn't pumping him for information because I knew he wouldn't tell me any way. The limit of my knowledge is writing checks and helping the program."
Cook said he's confident that no boosters are influencing Pederson -- or getting information out of him.
"People think we go into a smoke-filled room and tell Steve what to do," Cook said. "It doesn't work that way."
Compared with Nebraska, the University of Cincinnati has been wide open about its current search for a coach.
Rather than have athletic director Bob Goin pick the new coach by himself, Cincinnati used two committees to narrow the list of candidates. Even before the committees' work was done, Goin spoke publicly about the qualifications of former Nebraska coach Frank Solich, who is reportedly a finalist.
"You always want it done in confidence, and any time you go to a committee, you hope people keep it internal," Cincinnati associate athletic director Brian Teter said. "That doesn't always happen. Nebraska's thing has been very quiet, and they've done a good job with that."
Typically, Kerkhoff said, information about a coaching search comes from places other than the school conducting it. An athletic director will be seen in the hometown of a candidate, and word will spread.
"Steve Pederson is like the stealth AD," Kerkhoff said. "He's not being seen anywhere. He's done a great job laying low. We'd all be fools to believe he hasn't talked to dozens of people. But nobody has been able to trace him."