It was going to happen sooner or later – Bo Pelini getting fired from his job as the Nebraska head coach. It wasn’t about the record, which was always good, but the inability to win conference titles or any meaningful games, which now leads to the question of who comes in for him? Dan Mullen from Mississippi State, Jerry Kill from Minnesota and Jim McElwain from Colorado State are just some of the names.
Pelini is 67-27 as Nebraska’s head coach. He has never won less than nine games in a season, and finished the regular season at 9-3 this year. The problem is that once again, the team’s two most meaningful games for him ended in a loss. A close one fans could live with against Michigan State, but then getting blown out on the road in Madison against Wisconsin, ending their chances of winning the division and going to play for the Big Ten title.
According to athletic director Shawn Eichorst, this was about not winning the big games. Nebraska is a program that got used to national titles and being on the big stage almost all the time. The decline of the last two decades has been difficult on a rabid fan base that might have too much influence on players and head coaches because there’s no other sports team to follow in the state. Too many people care just about them, and it’s part of the problem.
Pelini has had his run ins with the fans but he was loved by his players. Tweets and photos of recruits throwing away their letters from Nebraska got posted online. A lot of the current players were unhappy about the news and made themselves heard. Nebraska fans tweeted them about it, and it seems things aren’t very calm at the moment in Lincoln. They won’t be until a big name comes along, but who is there out there that’s going to do better than Pelini did during his seven seasons with the Huskers?
One name that keeps coming up is Scott Frost, the Oregon offensive coordinator. They seem to always be highly in demand over there in Oregon, but very few actually believe Frost is ready to take on such a demanding job. Maybe in a smaller school, but a Power 5 program? With the kind of expectations that follow a Nebraska head coach? Maybe it’s too soon for him. Nebraska probably want someone who has already been a head coach.
If that’s the case. Jerry Kill and Dan Mullen stand out. Kill is in the same division, doing a lot with a little, taking Minnesota to two consecutive eight-win seasons, which is a success considering the program. Recruiting is difficult in the Big Ten for those who aren’t Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Moving to Nebraska will be easier for Kill in terms of recruiting and he knows the conference very well, but there’s always the risk of his health. The added pressure in Lincoln might not be good for him.
Dan Mullen of Mississippi State just took his team to a 10-2 season, almost winning the division and was ranked #1 in the nation for almost half of it. Is that the ceiling for the Bulldogs in the division that’s stacked with powerhouses and teams that recruit more easily in the hot spot of the South? Nebraska play in a division that’s a lot easier and offers more opportunities, not to mention being a storied program that combined with Mullen could go to far away and very good places.
Justin Fuentes of Memphis and Mark Stoops are other names being mentioned. Pat Narduzzi, the highly regarded defensive coordinator from Michigan State, comes highly recommended, but it’ll be his first head coaching job as well. Mark Stoops who is starting something nice in Kentucky also comes to mind. There aren’t flashy options. The scenario just isn’t there, and Nebraska aren’t that kind of program anymore. But money isn’t a problem, and the potential is there. Also the risks, and the inherent problems that ruined Pelini’s tenure.