Callahan nearly on five-worst list? Fans want answers
Posted: Wednesday July 18, 2007 11:49AM; Updated: Wednesday July 18, 2007 2:51PM
Well, I must have done a halfway decent job on the best and worst coaches rankings this year, seeing as the largest number of complaints involved a coach who was considered, but did not actually make, the five-worst list.
Stewart, you had Bill Callahan as just missing the Five Worst Coaches list. I actually think he is the most underappreciated coach in the country. When he took over the Husker program, NU had one of the worst collections of offensive talent in the country, which was suited to run the option, and the program was average at best recruiting-wise. In just three years he's transformed the Nebraska program, which was outdated under Frank Solich, into a national recruiting power that is one of the top pro-style teams in the country, and the Huskers won their first division title since 1999 last year.
What were the criteria that you used to select the five worst coaches? What was it that put Bill Callahan just outside of the bottom five? The last time I checked the team was steadily improving. What has he done, or not done, that has been so egregious?
What's up with your hate for Bill Callahan -- in three years, he has taken a program in decline (don't let Frank Solich's 9-3 record the last year fool you), has upgraded the talent and improved the record every year. Without freak fumbles at the end of the Texas and Texas Tech games, the record would be even better. I would expect better from you than this. Really weak, Mandel. Really weak.
Reading these e-mails made me realize just what a vague word "bad" really is. It's true, based on what he's accomplished so far, Callahan has very little in common with the five guys who did make that list. His program has actually improved every year since he's been there, for all the reasons John so eloquently outlined. And I realize it was somewhat dangerous putting him on there considering I think he'll field a very good team this year (one I'll have ranked in the preseason top 15).
In Callahan's case, it's not so much that I think he's a "bad" coach. (Although really, are any of these guys truly "bad" coaches? If they were, they'd be coaching a J.V. high school team, not a BCS-conference college program. It's all relative). It's more that I think he's a "bad fit."
In less than four years, Callahan has turned Nebraska into a replica NFL franchise with a full-fledged pro-style offense. That's certainly impressive. Nebraska fans -- at least the ones who e-mailed me -- seem to be enjoying it, because I never thought I'd see the day Huskers fans would be so excited about a coach whose best season so far involved going 9-5. (They used to crucify Tom Osborne for going 11-1 but losing in the Orange Bowl.) I ask you, is what Callahan is doing really a good idea? For Nebraska? Let's just say I remain highly skeptical.
So far, the results have been slow but positive. And maybe the Huskers will go out and win the Big 12 this year. It's highly possible. But over the long run, I don't think Nebraska will ever be a consistent, national-title contender with Callahan.
The above e-mailers mentioned the impressive strides he's made in recruiting. There's a reason for that. Because of the drastic personnel makeover Callahan had to undergo to run his desired style of offense, he was able to go into the living rooms of blue-chip athletes around the country with the promise of instant playing time. Over a longer period of time, however, it's unrealistic to think Nebraska will be able to remain a true, national recruiting force like USC. This is nothing against Nebraska; it's just reality. Given the choice between spending four years in L.A., Florida or Lincoln, Neb., which do you think a five-star receiver from Virginia is going to choose? And the fact is, Callahan is going to be almost entirely dependent on these types of recruits because 6-foot-5 pro-style quarterbacks and 4.4 receivers aren't exactly growing on trees in Nebraska's backyard.
Furthermore, it's asking a lot of college quarterbacks to run a full-fledged, NFL-style version of the West Coast offense. It's just too complicated. At other programs that have attempted it, the typical QB has taken three years to fully grasp it. (UCLA's Drew Olson being a perfect example.) Callahan has been fortunate thus far to be able to land a juco transfer (Zac Taylor) who'd already been in the system and now a fifth-year senior transfer in Sam Keller. It won't always be that way. When the inevitable day comes that he needs to start a freshman or sophomore, it's going to be 2004-05 all over again.
Finally -- and this doesn't apply just to Callahan but to nearly all the NFL-bred coaches in the collegiate ranks today -- you do not win championships in college anymore by playing not to lose (as they often do in the pros). It's a huge pet peeve of mine and a common theme among the worst coaches nominees (see Dorrell, Karl; Gailey, Chan). The strange thing is, Callahan has shown he's more than willing to break out the flea flickers and other trick plays, but in last year's USC and Oklahoma games, and when the game was on the line against Auburn, he retreated to all-out, run-it-into-the-line-three-straight-times-and-play-defense mode. I can't emphasize this enough. I hate that.
So there's your explanation, folks. All in all, though, I don't think Callahan is that bad a coach. That's why he didn't make the list.