Ex-NFLers Wannstedt, Callahan are failing in college
Posted: Wednesday September 21, 2005 11:26AM; Updated: Thursday September 22, 2005 4:53PM
Dave Wannstedt (left) and Bill Callahan confer before engaging in perhaps the season's worst display of offensive football.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
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A few weeks ago, my colleague Austin Murphywrote in SI that the Sept. 5 tilt between Miami and Florida State (won by the Seminoles in a 10-7 barnburner) was a game that set offensive football back several decades. If that's true, then the boundaries of time travel were severely tested Saturday by Nebraska's shockingly awful 7-6 victory over Pitt. It was a game of startling ineptitude, featuring more penalties (15) than points scored (13), as well as a bizarre game-winning field goal attempt in which the Panthers' kicker caught an errant snap off of his holder's helmet and threw an incomplete pass.
How to explain such shenanigans? There's always plenty of blame to go around, but there's no way to avoid laying most of it at the feet of the respective coaches, Pitt's Dave Wannstedt and Nebraska's Bill Callahan. Both have extensive NFL head-coaching pedigrees. Both were expected to do great things in their current jobs. And now it's clear that both are failing.
We keep hearing that the problem is the kids aren't getting the system. Pitt, which scrapped the wide-open attack of former coach Walt Harris, is 0-3 after starting the year ranked in the top 25. Panthers quarterback Tyler Palko, a star last fall, is currently the 95th-rated passer in the country and has thrown one touchdown against four interceptions. Nebraska is in its second year of learning the West Coast offense, with no visible progress. Callahan's team was 5-6 in 2004, and though the Huskers are 3-0 at the moment, folks in Lincoln can't be happy with a passing offense ranked 108th.
Tell me, why haven't I heard the "not getting the system" excuse at Notre Dame? New coach Charlie Weis made a name for himself in the NFL as an offensive genius, after all. Why haven't I heard it from Florida, where coach Urban Meyer has taught his complex spread option offense to a bunch of kids who weren't even recruited to play it? If you believe Meyer, he isn't even all that happy with the way his team is running the thing -- yet the Gators still beat an excellent Tennessee team Saturday night.
We haven't heard "not getting the system" from either of those schools, for the simple reason that Weis and Meyer haven't just installed a system. They have taught it. The trouble I see for Pitt and Nebraska is I don't think either program is in the hands of men capable of much more than stewardship. There's little in the head-coaching pedigrees of Wannstedt and Callahan, who both have won championships at the collegiate and professional levels as assistants, to suggest they are the kind of head coaches who make teams better.
Let's start with Wannstedt. In six seasons with the Chicago Bears, who, to be fair, weren't that good before he showed up, Wannstedt went 41-57. During that time, he participated in some truly awful draft-day decisions (anyone remember Curtis Enis?) and presided over some truly awful teams. He did better in Miami a few years later, going 43-33, but most of those wins came with Jimmy Johnson's players. By the time Wannstedt left, nine games into the 2004 season, things were falling apart.