Nebraska Football: Grading Bo Pelini's Staff Changes
As mentioned in a previous piece, Bo Pelini finally has the staff in place that he wants.
No more holdovers, no more people that he simply has to get along with and no more unpopular coaches on the offensive side of the ball.
These are officially Bo’s boys.
Whether or not they get the job done, that’s on them, but the Cornhusker fan base is excited to see what they can do and they should be.
With genuine attempts to correct issues that were preventing Nebraska from attaining their goals comes optimism.
The vast majority of the new staff looks to be pretty impressive.
There are some odd pieces to the puzzle however.
Let’s examine how the new Nebraska coaching staff stacks up with a good old-fashioned report card.
A+: 10 points
A: 9.5 points
B+: 9 points and so on
Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks: Tim Beck
Replacing: Shawn Watson
Watson’s offensive principles just didn’t seem to be meshing.
This left Nebraska struggling for points while their defense saved the day to the point of exhaustion.
Enter Beck, a former wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator for the Kansas Jayhawks during their 12-1 season in 2007.
Beck has been working with Nebraska running backs since his arrival in 2008 preparing such talents as Roy Helu, Jr., Rex Burkhead, Marlon Lucky and others.
With Beck switching to the offensive coordinator position, the Cornhuskers can be assured that a dedicated, passionate coach is in the booth looking to dissect Big Ten defenses.
His in-roads with Texas high school football coaches have led to a plethora of current Lone Star members of the Nebraska roster.
Running Backs: Ron Brown
Replacing: Taking over Tim Beck's duties
Tough, dedicated and scrappy.
Three words used to define wide receivers and tight ends coached by Ron Brown over his career at Nebraska.
Now, he brings that coaching mentality to the Cornhuskers’ running backs.
While new offensive coordinator Tim Beck had a large part in securing big-time recruit Aaron Green, Brown and the incoming freshman have a special bond.
With returning stud Rex Burkhead, a great working relationship with Aaron Green, Ameer Abdullah and the potential for Braylon Heard to arrive, Nebraska’s running back position looks to be in good hands.
Wide Receivers: Rich Fisher
Replacing: Ted Gilmore
Ah, the unknown from Massachusetts.
Bill McCartney, Fisher’s head coach during Colorado’s 1991 national championship season told the Omaha World-Herald, “Kids will like him. He's got tremendous character. He's going to command respect. And he's going to be genuine, sincere, authentic. I'll bet he'll be an outstanding recruiter.”
McCartney makes an excellent point.
The Cornhuskers have already secured Tarriq Allen, a wide receiver prospect from Fisher’s former school.
With the relationships that Fisher has made in the Northeast, his recruiting potential is invaluable to Nebraska who will have to go up against the likes of Penn State for talent in the region.
Fisher has worked under some solid coaches in his career.
He served as a graduate assistant at Oklahoma State for two years before returning to Colorado to work under current UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel.
After his stint with the Buffaloes, he worked with former Oakland Raiders head coach Tom Cable at the University of Idaho.
After Gilmore's ineffectiveness as a wide receivers coach, any improvement will be an upgrade.
Fisher will very likely provide more than just proper pass-catching technique for Nebraska's receivers.
Assistant Head Coach/Co-Offensive Line: Barney Cotton
Replacing: Held current position
Barney Cotton isn’t an elite offensive line coach.
Serviceable may be more appropriate, but that's even debatable.
His unit did improve somewhat in 2010, and they were responsible for one of the team's constants: penalties.
Cotton’s talent on the offensive line has absolutely no excuse to hold, clip or accrue any standard offensive line penalty on a frequent basis.
He has far too much talent that wants to be coached, but for one reason or another, Cotton simply isn’t getting the job done.
His saving grace is that he stepped up his recruiting game and brought in a litany of tremendous offensive line recruits during this past cycle.
This is both a blessing and a curse.
If he cannot put together an All-Big Ten-quality offensive line in 2011, Nebraska has two options: Either assign Barney Cotton strictly to recruiting duties or look elsewhere for a coach that can work with an embarrassment of riches.
Co-Offensive Line/Tight Ends: John Garrison
Replacing: Assisting Barney Cotton/Assuming Ron Brown's duties
This promotion boggles the mind.
Garrison was a letter-winning center for Nebraska during his playing days from 1999-2002.
Aside from being taught by legendary Cornhusker offensive line coach, Milt Tenopir, what does he bring to the table?
Another question that’s brought up with the promotion of Garrison from intern status is can’t Barney Cotton take care of the offensive line on his own?
Is this not the purpose of having a coach strictly devoted to one of the most important aspects of a football team?
Nebraska did have a dual-offensive line system back when current athletic director, Tom Osborne, was head coach, but this isn’t the 1990s.
The argument can be made that Mike Ekeler and John Papuchis came from LSU with no assistance coaching experience and things worked out fairly well.
Papuchis remains on staff and Ekeler finds himself holding a second job within the Big Ten.
In regards to having Garrison coaching tight ends, there is some logic to the idea, believe it or not.
He knows the ins and outs of proper run/pass blocking from his playing days.
His internship was based on breaking down plays of opposing teams' defenses
Having Fisher and Garrison work with Nebraska's tight ends could help them be blocking machines while making clutch catches.
In theory, that is.
This may turn out to be a brilliant move with Garrison being some manner of coaching wunderkind.
Still, It’s hard to think that several Nebraska fans aren’t going to take a page out of the state of Missouri’s playbook and say, “Show me.”
Grade: D (A very generous one at that)
Defensive Coordinator: Carl Pelini
Replacing: Held position
Have there been any complaints regarding Carl Pelini’s handiwork?
If so, they've been drowned out by the vast majority of rave reviews.
As one of the few people who can go toe-to-toe with Bo Pelini on the sidelines, the elder Pelini brother knows how to assist his sibling in getting the best results possible out of their defensive line.
Carl Pelini wasn’t going anywhere unless it was his decision to depart, but while his little brother is coaching at Nebraska, expect him to stick around for a good long while.
Defensive Line/Special Teams/Recruiting Coordinator: John Papuchis
Replacing: Held position/taking over Ted Gilmore's RC duties
There was a point in time when John Papuchis looked likely to join new Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp.
Fortunately, that ship has sailed and not only do the Cornhuskers retain their defensive ends coach, Papuchis also takes over the departed Ted Gilmore’s recruiting coordinator position.
Nebraska’s defensive line/special teams coach has proven to be very effective in his very first coaching gig, but what Cornhusker fans may appreciate even more is the skills he brings to his recruiting job.
Last season, there was not one recruiting prospect on hand for Nebraska’s season opener versus Western Kentucky.
When it comes to recruiting, this is chalked up as not only dropping the ball, but doing so on your program’s foot.
This is unlikely to happen under Papuchis’ watch.
A very organized, hard-working and dedicated young coach, it will come as no surprise if Papuchis can double the number of prospects on hand for Nebraska home games.
In fact, if such events don’t occur, it should be considered a disappointment.
Linebackers: Ross Els
Replacing: Mike Ekeler (Now at Indiana)
A somewhat underwhelming hire, Ross Els comes to Nebraska from the University of Ohio.
Els spent six years with the Bobcats coaching linebackers and four spear-heading the special teams unit.
He also spent time at Nebraska’s Hastings College and New Mexico State before arriving at Ohio.
One has to wonder if perhaps former Nebraska staffer Doug Colman, currently serving as Tulane’s linebackers coach may have been a better hire.
Colman worked as a defensive quality coach for Nebraska in 2008 and 2009 and worked with linebackers for the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL-Europa in 2007.
In the meantime, Els is Nebraska's guy for better or worse.
Secondary: Corey Raymond
Replacing: Marvin Sanders (Resigned)
Bo Pelini and coach Raymond have likely crossed paths before.
Raymond worked with LSU’s cornerbacks and worked as a part of the Tigers’ strength and conditioning program.
Interestingly enough, Raymond accepted a position at Indiana to coach the Hoosiers’ secondary after a stint at Utah State. Two months later, he accepted the exact same role at Nebraska.
Former Nebraska assistant and recruiting dynamo, Bill Busch, who is currently the defensive coordinator at Utah State told the Omaha World-Herald, “He won’t ask for anything, just puts his head down and works. That’s the best way for me to describe him. Just a low-maintenance, hard-working guy.”
A Louisiana native, Raymond likely has extensive recruiting connections in SEC territory making him not only a valuable asset as a coach, but as a key recruiter.
It will be difficult to replace the coaching acumen of Marvin Sanders, but Raymond may be up to the task if his peers’ praise is any indication.
Eric Francis/Getty Images
Tim Beck: A
Ron Brown: A
Rich Fischer: B+
John Garrison: D
Barney Cotton: C
Carl Pelini: A
John Papuchis: A+
Ross Els: D
Corey Raymond: A+
Overall Grade: B+
Raymond is a solid addition to this staff and while the jury’s still out on Fisher, it appears that the sky is the limit.
Beck’s move into the OC/QB role is well-earned after his time working with perhaps Nebraska’s only consistently highly-productive unit.
The Els hiring seems odd considering the quality, or at the very least potential, of the other hires and movements.
Cotton has to be on thin ice at this point.
He has all of the talent necessary to take Nebraska back to the days of “The Pipeline” where amazingly talented offensive linemen were interchangeable.
Still, penalties and technique problems persist. What John Garrison is going to be able to do alongside him is an absolute unknown let alone his own duties as a tight end coach.
Carl Pelini’s role at Co-DC (let’s not pretend that Bo doesn’t have anything to do with this) is just fine. He’s worked well with the defensive line to this point.
John Papuchis is a hard, organized worker which makes him ideal for the recruiting coordinator position.
He has a true challenge in chiseling Cam Meredith, Josh Williams and Jason Ankrah into reliable ends, but all have ample talent.
This is a staff that has the potential to do big things in Nebraska’s initial season as a Big Ten conference member.
It’s an exciting time to be a Cornhusker fan, and tickets for Nebraska’s annual Spring Game are sure to become scarce once April comes around.
Offseasons are for scrubs.
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