Whole state has stake in coach pick

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

By now, even Steve Pederson himself must realize he has screwed up in his handling of the football coaching change at the University of Nebraska.

Nebraska's new athletic director, who hails from nearby North Platte, knew one thing for certain: he wanted to get rid of Frank Solich as the Cornhuskers' head coach. But, mistakenly confident because of his success in changing coaches at the University of Pittsburgh, Pederson assumed he could handle things the same way at Nebraska.


In populous Pennsylvania, Pitt football is a pretty big deal, but it's nothing to compare to the awesome fanaticism called Big Red Mania. In the 40-plus years since Bob Devaney arrived, football has grown from a game into an obsession ... the Number One topic of interest among Cornhusker followers. As Pederson is learning, he's just one person among many. As Husker fans, all of us have a stake in what's happening.

Already, the athletic director should have learned some things about hiring a coach at Nebraska. First, don't be so impetuous ... be more calculating. In other words, what we are saying is that Steve lost his cool, overreacting to the storm of rumors which erupted after the Lincoln Journal-Star broke the story that Solich was on his way out. As it turned out, the Star-Journal was right. But that doesn't mean Pederson couldn't have held off, waiting until after the bowl game to announce the coach's dismissal.

Second, in Nebraska, silence is not golden when it comes to football. This is not one man's program ... it belongs to all of us who are Husker fans, wherever we live or whatever our lot in life may be. Because of that, Pederson needs to share as much with us as he can. That does not mean he needs to tip us off in advance about who he's going to interview, but it does mean he should keep us regularly informed about the type of candidate, and type of commitment, he is seeking.

There are signs that is happening. After saying at first that we would not hear from him again until a new coach was hired, Pederson went public with his side of the story after Houston Nutt of Arkansas was rumored to have been offered the job. And, since then, the athletic director's office has been more forthcoming about other reports about the coaching search.

That's good. You're learning, Steve. But after this ordeal is over, after a new Nebraska football coach is finally in place, the university needs to review whole process of how coaching changes are handled. "We're four steps removed from that," Regent Don Blank of McCook said when asked if the Board of Regents planned to review the coaching change process. By that, Dr. Blank meant that the athletic director was answerable to the chancellor, Harvey Perlman; the chancellor was answerable to the university system president, Dennis Smith; and the president was answerable to the Board of Regents.

Maybe so.That's the chain of command. But remember, all of you at the "U," in the end you are all answerable to the people of Nebraska, who -- by a huge majority -- are fanatical followers of Big Red football.

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