Nebraska has had 31 head football coaches over the past 117 years. Of those, 21 won their first game as head coach at Nebraska, nine opened with losses and one (Dana Bible) tied his initial contest. While no one knows exactly what we can expect under Bo Pelini, we saw him win his first game as head coach of the Huskers.
History tells us that’s far better than the alternative.
Debut winners went a combined 711-219-26 over their careers. Losers on the other hand went a combined 44-96-6. Bible looked like the winners going 50-15-7. Given those choices, it’s good to know that Pelini’s Alamo Bowl win as interim head coach in 2003 puts him with the winners.
Simply winning the first game doesn’t guarantee a great career. Bill Glassford went 31-35-3 in his Nebraska career and Pete Elliot went 4-6 in his only year. The other 19 head coaches all finished with more wins than losses, including the last four: Bob Devaney, Tom Osborne, Frank Solich, and Bill Callahan.
But expectations at Nebraska are higher than simply more wins that losses. Frank Solich’s 0.753 winning percentage wasn’t enough to keep him employed. But what about another measuring stick — winning your first bowl game?
That’s a much more select group that includes only Pelini, Osborne, Devaney, and Callahan. The four coaches have a combined 384-91-5 record. Restrict it to coaches in bowls in their first seasons and you get Osborne, Devaney, and Pelini. Not a bad mix. That would give you 357-69-5, five national championships, and about 21 conference championships.
Of course, Pelini’s Alamo Bowl win doesn’t really guarantee any of those things but it does exclude him from a list that includes all of people that went below 0.400 in their Nebraska careers. That’s the kind of company we all want him to avoid.