For the first time in his career, Nebraska football head coach Bo Pelini has named permanent team captains for the 2013 season. According to a tweet from Nebraska color analyst Matt Davison, this season Taylor Martinez, Spencer Long, Quincy Enunwa and Ciante Evans will captain the Cornhuskers.
The four players chosen as captains are not a big surprise. All seniors, the four are leading contributors in their areas on the field.
And given how much Nebraska is likely to lean on its offense to start the season, with only four defensive starters returning, it stands to reason that three of the captains would be on offense. Additionally, unless Enunwa is slated to increase his role as a kick returner, it is a bit eyebrow-raising that special teams is not represented in the captaincy.
The timing of the announcement, something new for Nebraska, also makes a lot of sense. As we enter the summer months, most of the coaching staff is prohibited from direct contact with the players. Only James Dobson, the strength and conditioning coach, is allowed regular contact with the team over the summer.
By naming captains now, Pelini puts into place a system of accountability. Hopefully, the captains will help keep the team on the straight and narrow in terms of behavior and offseason conditioning.
Team captains have been a part of Nebraska history for some time. According to Sam McKewon of the Omaha World-Herald, Nebraska has had team captains from 1930 to 1949, from 1954 to 1957, and in 2007 (although that might not be the year most NU fans are looking to replicate anytime soon).
There are a couple of different ways to see the naming of team captains as a positive.
First, and most obviously, it gives a level of responsibility to the team to police itself and provide leadership from within. Last offseason, Nebraska put its players through a mini-boot camp which (according to Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald) helped bring the team together and develop a sense of unity last season.
If naming permanent captains helps to create a similar type of team spirit this year, it can do nothing but help.
But a little more subtly, it also demonstrates a flexibility we are not used to seeing from Pelini. In his first five years in charge, Pelini has steadfastly refused to name permanent captains, responding when asked that he thinks leadership on a team develops organically and not through an appointment.
Ordinarily, Pelini is a “my-way-or-the-highway” kind of guy, and you don’t expect a guy like that to reverse course on a position he has so publicly staked out.
So by changing his mind on team captains, Pelini has demonstrated what many (including one particularly smart and handsome analyst) have hoped to see from him during his maturation as a head coach—the ability to be flexible, recognize mistakes and adapt his methods and practices as necessary.
Does that mean we’re seeing a softer Pelini emerge? Unlikely. But it may mean that we are seeing a wiser, more mature Pelini, more confident in his role as a head coach and more able to respond to the ever-changing challenges that face him as head Husker.
If that’s the case, Nebraska fans might really have cause to celebrate.
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