In the aftermath of the Oregon game, I thought to myself, what in the world am I going to cover that is not echoing literally every sports writer in the state of Nebraska’s sentiments from Saturday? Then it hit me like Eric Martin blocking for a kick return in Stillwater. After the brain fog wore off and I was able to locate my body, this old theory fired rapidly through the synapses of my brain, which is still functional luckily.
This is a subject that I have been sitting on for about three years. Basically, since Shawn Eichorst announced the hiring of Mike Riley. What started as pure speculation and an aggressive assumption on my part could not be written at that time, as it would be way to early to pass judgement on the new direction of the program. Even now, it still may be too early to write this article. However, when Riley was hired I had the sense, like many others, that Eichorst and company were not exactly looking for a “win first” type of coach. Not saying that winning wasn’t high up on the list, but it just didn’t seem that it was their first box to check in the hiring process.
My hunch was that the administration was desperately trying to change the perception of the football program post-Bo Pelini, above all else. Which leads me to the question, what is the current definition of success for the Board of Regents and Shawn Eichorst?
First, let’s state the obvious. We are in week three. That means it is too damn early to be discussing whether or not Riley’s position is in jeopardy. Can we speculate? Of course, it is what we do best. However, that is not what we will be talking about today. It is more so questioning what the primary motivation was for hiring Mike Riley and what defines success?
Has the definition of SUCCESS changed at nebraska?
The previous definition of success for Nebraska football used to be measured by contending for divisional championships, conference championships and on occasion, national titles. All of these measure varying degrees of accomplishment for a seasonal campaign. Whether Nebraska would win or lose, they were regularly in the conversation for those categories. Has the measure of success at Nebraska changed? My opinion is yes it has, but let’s unpack that.
The Husker’s have been mediocre for nearly twenty years, (Not bitter, just a realist) yet revenues increase, attendance is at capacity every Saturday and the athletic programs remain self sustaining. All thanks to Husker football. Naturally, one would think that if the main attraction does not perform, that all those numbers would decrease. In regards to Husker football, it seems almost the opposite, not intentionally of course. The Huskers have teetered on the peak of national relevance and faltered. Yet the program’s support is at an all time high. This is a good thing by the way. Unwavering support is something to take pride in.
Yes, the loyalty of Husker nation is unparalleled. Although, that in and of itself creates and interesting situation for the administration. Imagine running an organization that didn’t rely on typical metrics to determine success. Where you could deliver a sub par product, yet still maintain your clientele. This gives you… well, I just described the DMV. However, they are an outlier. Literally, everyone else besides the DMV. All jokes aside, that creates an interesting dynamic, no?
My take is the administration made their choice three years ago based on this… That a coach like Mike Riley, who is arguably, just good enough to coach at a program like Nebraska, yet a man of great character is the perfect fit for a program that doesn’t necessarily need to be among the pinnacle of college football anymore to thrive. Yes, Husker fans desperately want to get there, but what is the motivation for the program to do so in a hurry? Especially considering the duration of time that Husker football has spent in obscurity already. Not to mention the increase in revenues all the while.
This leads me to believe the definition of success is not measure in wins and losses to an extent, but rather the national perception about the character of the football program. At least for the time being. Almost like a buffer, before the “next guy” is put in place to hopefully bring the program back to prominence.
While the image of the program is very important and something that needed a little touching up after Uncle Bo departed, how far do we lean to one side of the spectrum? It seems the administration put way to much focus on being likable than it did fielding a coaching staff with a proven football acumen. That is not taking a shot at the staff either. I think it is a fair statement based on the results we have seen throughout their tenure at Oregon State and now at Nebraska. My hope is they can turn the corner, but history tells us otherwise.
Whether you believe Riley can get the job done on the field, there is no doubt he has successfully cleaned up Nebraska’s public relations off the field. The program has the feel of the “Old Nebraska” outside the white lines. Between them however, it would be hard to pick them out of a lineup with schools like Minnesota, Colorado State and God forbid Vanderbilt. For Husker fans that can be a problem.
The definition of success has changed. In some regards, for the better. In others and what the general population of Husker fans care about, for the worse. Nebraska football appears to be no longer measured by wins and losses, but instead primarily about the way the program is portrayed.
The program has pivoted in an interesting direction and one that we will just have to see play out. That said, I do not think this current definition of success is a permanent mind set from the “higher ups”, rather it was a safe plan put in place to get through the firestorm after Pelini was fired.
Do you agree? Comment below, and always, love you guys.