Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
8/04/2006 10:39:00 AM
Nebraska's Next Move
In case you're unfamiliar with the calendar concept ... Nebraska AD Steve Pederson points out his timetable for hiring a basketball coach.
Pederson, left, with new Pitt coach Ben Howland, center, on March 8, 1999.
When embattled Nebraska coach Barry Collier stepped -- or, some would say, backed -- out of Lincoln to take the athletic director's job at his alma mater, Butler, on Tuesday, he restarted a carousel that had been closed for the summer. In Collier's wake, the "who's-next" lists have followed an age-old formula, identifying non-BCS-conference overachievers (Creighton's Dana Altman, Nevada's Mark Fox, George Washington's Karl Hobbs), coaches with ties to the state (Altman again; Wyoming's Steve McClain; ex-Husker assistant Scott Spinelli, now at Wichita State), and coaches with even the remotest of connections to Nebraska AD Steve Pederson (Kent State's Jim Christian, a former Pitt assistant; UCLA assistant Kerry Keating, Ben Howland's ace recruiter).
This, however, is one occasion where the list is no lock to contain the successor -- because the man doing the hiring, Pederson, has a history of bucking conventional wisdom. Need evidence? Rewind to the last time Pederson was charged with hiring a coach to turn around a slumping hoops program, seven and a half years ago at Pittsburgh:
On Feb. 2, 1999, Panthers coach Ralph Willard announced he would resign at the end of the '98-99 season. The first list of rumored candidates that the public saw (the day after Willard's revelation) included the unemployed Fran Fraschilla, Nebraska's Danny Nee, Siena's Paul Hewitt, Marquette's Mike Deane, Quinnipiac's Joe DeSantis, Minnesota assistant Bobby Jones and N.C. State assistant Sean Miller, a former Panthers player. Newspaper stories from Feb. 9 began to talk about Hewitt and Xavier's Skip Prosser as the leaders.
By Feb. 19 -- 17 days after Willard's revelation -- two ex-NBA coaches, Bob Hill and Dick Versace, were thrown into the media mix. And one line, almost as an afterthought in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story headlined "PROSSER MIGHT BE OUT, BUT 2 EX-NBA COACHES ENTER PITT PICTURE" mentioned that a coach from Northern Arizona named Ben Howland, "a Rick Majerus disciple who comes heavily recommended by the Utah coach," would also be considered.
Pederson conducted a face-to-face interview with just one guy: Howland, who was working in the obscurity of Flagstaff, Ariz., and the Big Sky conference. Howland got the Pitt job and went on (with the Panthers and presently, UCLA) to win two conference titles, reach two Sweet 16s and one Final Four since 2000 -- a resume that trumps that of any of the other coaches who were on the media's initial short list.
An actual list, no doubt, exists in Pederson's head for his latest basketball opening. He declined to return an interview request on Thursday, but I expect that he's considering at least a couple of outside-the-box candidates. Does he dare drop down to Division II and grab fundamentals guru Mike Dunlap of Denver's Metro State? Or follow Texas A&M's lead and hire a relatively unknown UTEP head coach (Doc Sadler, who apprenticed under the Aggies' Billy Gillispie) to rebuild the Huskers? Or, just as Pederson with Bill Callahan for the football team, surprisingly give another ex-pro skipper new life in Lincoln?
Pederson prefers to put his own stamp on his hires, rather than echo public opinion. He's in a tough spot with this one, though; early spring, not late summer, is the best time to find a new basketball coach, and he intends to have someone in place by Aug. 21, when Nebraska begins fall classes. Can Pederson find another gem like Howland, or will one of the obvious candidates suit him this time? Husker fans are eagerly awaiting the surprise.
Anyone who believes Steve is an "East Coast Pro" obviously has no idea what he's talking about. Steve was born and raised in North Platte, NE and his parents still live there. He worked in the Nebraska athletic department in Sports Information while going to school. His assistant AD for Basketball, Marc Boehm, is from Grand Island. He has proven time and again that he's not afraid to do the unpopular thing to turn around a program. He tore down the old football field at Pitt and they are now playing in a professional stadium. He took down the old basketball arena and they now have one of the top arenas in the country. He brought in a no-name hire at Pittsburgh for basketball that is now coaching the national runner-up UCLA Bruins after he turned around a dismal Pitt team. Football, a perrenial Big East doormat, thrived under Pederson's leadership.
So this "East Coast Pro" that canned a such a classy guy in Solich (wait, didn't he get arrested for drunken driving?), and completely destroyed tradition (wait, didn't Solich end the 9-win season streak and leave the cupboard bare by recruiting only from Lincoln Southeast?) has proven that he will do what it takes to win, and if you don't like it, too damn bad.
Hey GTMO, get over the Solich thing already. NE football is better off, as we're continuing to see. The days of the good-ole-boy network in college sports are dead. It's a business now.
As for Husker Hoops, PLEASE no more mid-major coaches. It's never worked. Throw money at the problem. Spend $1.5M if you have to and hire a current big name coach, with EXPERIENCE. The fan support will be there if we can ever produce a decent product to watch. An extra 6,000+ season ticket holders will pay for the salary. With no tradition, we've got to bring in a a big "name" coach that kids want to play for in a system they like (Hmm, sound familiar)
Dear Bigredfaithful, your clueless. Stevie P's parents don't still live in North Platte. His father has too much ego, and after ousted from our state's legislaute still resides in Lincoln. Ego is a case where the apple falls close to the tree. As for his mother, God Bless Her Soul, she was a TOTAL CLASS ACT.
As for ruining Husker Athletics, this story is still being written. I watched my daughter play basketball at Stillwater, OK last weekend and marveled at the $200MM+ that Boone Pickens has donated to fund facilities additions and improvements. At Nebraska, with our rich tradition, we have trouble raising $50MM for an improvement to our football training complex.
Dear Steve P., have you called Warren lately? Maybe he would reconsider the gift to Bill Gates to fight AIDS and world hunger!!!
The Solich era at Nebraska is dead and Husker Nation is better off for it. Steve Pederson saw where the program was headed and well it wasn't good.
Thank you Barry Collier for saving the NU Athletic Department a cool million dollars.
As for fretting about which coach Steve will hire, Steve will find a coach that can and will be successful at Nebraska. It's a tough job, but Steve's track record is successful. Then, just maybe, their can be two legitimate D1 basketball programs in Nebraska. If Iowa can have three - Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Iowa, then certainly Nebraska can have two.
The main problem with Nebraska basketball is there is little in-state talent, and when someone does come along who can play at the D-1 level, we lose him to another Big XII school (see TJ Pugh to Kansas and Matt Hill to Texas).
What would make a highly touted recruit from a high school power choose Nebraska over 10 other schools? No matter how high basketball rises, it will always be second fiddle to football and likely third, behind baseball.
There is one thing Steve Pedersen can do to give Nebraska an edge on the recruiting front, and that is to hire an African American coach.
UNL has a miserable record of hiring minority head coaches. Look at the current athletic office. An African American coach can more easily recruit African American players, that is just a fact, and that is the program's only chance of getting big-time talent to come in.
Is Eddie Sutton STILL with us? Please...let him stay retired.
Creighton Assistant Kevin McKenna is a winning candidate - local ties, from a winning program, AND rebuilt and led the Div II Nebraska-Omaha program for 4-5 years. He'd be step in the right direction for the Huskers.