Wisch: I Pity Michigan’s Next Football Coach

By Dave Wischnowsky–

Jim Harbaugh’s not coming. And Pat Fitzgerald isn’t either.

But Les Miles still might be. Or maybe it’ll be Brady Hoke, some mystery candidate or, hmm … – the Ghost of Bo Schembechler? – that will be stalking the Michigan Stadium sidelines next season.

Yes, we might not know who will be the next head football coach at the University of Michigan, but we can know this:
No matter the name of the new Big Shot at the Big House, the Wolverines aren’t likely to soar back to their lofty perch atop the Big Ten any time soon.

In fact, if Michigan fans want to know what they’re in for during the post-RichRod era, all they need to do is look in a mirror located about 750 miles west of Ann Arbor.

It’s called Lincoln, Neb.

As I’ve watched with Dark Ages of Michigan Football unfold under Rich Rodriguez’s guidance (or lack therof) during the past three seasons, I’ve been struck with how similar the Wolverines’ current situation is to that of what the University of Nebraska struggled through last decade.

In case you don’t recall the particulars, in 2003, Nebraska ousted head coach Frank Solich following a nine-win regular season and then embarked upon a coaching search that saw the Cornhuskers miss out on their reported first choice (Arkansas coach Houston Nutt) and instead opt for Plan B (Bill Callahan, the recently fired head coach of the Oakland Raiders).

Callahan, who had no ties to Nebraska, came to Lincoln and introduced a foreign offense (the pass-happy West Coast) to aprogram that had traditionally relied – and prided itself – upon another one (the running-focused I Formation). Along the way, Callahan – who again, had no ties to Nebraska – tread upon many of the Huskers’ time-honored traditions and alienated most of the program’s former players from almost from Day 1.

Under Callahan’s reign, Nebraska’s proud defense struggled but its offense set numerous school records. His teams made two bowls, but finally, after four disappointing seasons, the Huskers canned their controversial coach following a disastrous 5-7 campaign in 2007.

Any of this sound familiar?

It should. Because, at Michigan, after head coach Lloyd Carr stepped down following the 2007 season, the Wolverines missed out on their reported first choice to replace him (LSU’s Miles) and settled on Plan B (West Virginia’s Rodriguez).

Rodriguez – who was not a “Michigan Man” – came to Ann Arbor and introduced a foreign offense (the Spread) to a program that had traditionally relied – and prided itself – upon another one (the Pro-Style). Along the way, Rodriguez – who, again, was not a “Michigan Man” – tread upon many of the Wolverines’ time-honored traditions and alienated most of the program’s former players almost from Day 1.

Under Rodriguez’s reign, Michigan’s proud defense struggled but its offense set numerous school records. And, finally, following three disappointing seasons, the Wolverines canned their controversial coach this week after they were routed by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.

The situations at Nebraska and Michigan – two of the most demanding programs in college football – are starkly similar. And, really, with the ill-fitting coaches they hired, the programs have no one to blame but themselves for their hard times.

Nebraska football now is back among the living. But Wolverines fans likely can only hope to experience as quick a turnaround as new Huskers coach Bo Pelini was authoring before Nebraska lost three of its last four games this season to spoil a 9-1 start.
Even with a 30-12 overall record and two 10-win seasons during the post-Callahan cleanup, though, Nebraska fans already are grumbling about Pelini, who hasn’t won them a national title yet.

Or, jeez, even gotten to one.

In Lincoln, Pelini had to cycle out the players that Callahan had recruited to run the West Coast offense, and is still struggling to establish his own (see: this season’s 9-6 loss at Texas A&M). In Ann Arbor, Michigan’s next coach not only will have to cycle out Rodriguez’s offensive recruits – unless he opts to stick with the spread – he also will need to rebuild a defense out of the shockingly porous one that Rodriguez left behind.

For Pelini, the championship-starved natives in Nebraska are restless. But, for the next coach at Michigan – where the win-starved natives already are livid – it will be much worse. And contrary to what Michigan fans believe, the U of M job – with all its pressures and a shoddy roster – isn’t very appealing. And it will not be a quick fix.

No matter what they demand.

Perhaps, on Nov. 19, when Nebraska visits Michigan Stadium, Bo Pelini can tell the Wolverines fans that.

I mean, they’re a reasonable bunch. I’m sure they’ll listen … right?

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

davewisch Wisch: I Pity Michigans Next Football Coach

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.

  • Bob Loblaw


  • Shane L Saathoff

    I still can’t understand the Callahan deal, he was a loser with Oakland after Chucky left, at least Rich Rod had a winning history, to bad it didn’t make the transition over to the Big Blue

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    Honestly, when Callahan was hired, I’m not sure how many other choices the Cornhuskers were left with. Former Nebraska AD Steve Pederson so botched that whole situation. First, Pederson went and fired Frank Solich, who had just won 9 games (that ’03 Nebraska team finished with 10 wins after the bowl) and that had the silly comment about how he wasn’t going to let Nebraska slip into “mediocrity.”

    By firing the coach of a 10-win team, Pederson made it almost impossible to hire another big name. Honestly, what good coach was going to come to a school where a 10-win season isn’t enough to keep your job? As a result, Nebraska ended up with Callahan, who was not at all its preferred choice.

    Ironically, Pederson is now the AD at Pitt who is the current process of botching the Panthers’ coaching search even worse than he botched Nebraska’s. No small feat.

    I think they guy needs a new line of work.

    For many reasons, I don’t think these head coaching jobs at “glamour” schools such as Nebraska, Michigan or Notre Dame are nearly as appealing as they used to be or as their fans like to think they are. Sure you can get paid big money at those places, but the pressure to win — and not just win games, but win championships — is so immense and, in many case, completely unrealistic.

    As for Rich Rodriguez, my guess is that the guy fares pretty well at his next coaching destination. The whole thing at Michigan was ill-fated from the start with the way he left West Virginia. He never should have left Morgantown. I bet he wishes he hadn’t now.

  • One Man Jury

    Let a Husker fan make some minor corrections to your column.
    1. When Callahan was hired, he wasn’t plan B, he was plan F or G.
    2. Callahan’s teams set some passing records. He was fired for breaking all of the defensive records.
    3. The current fans aren’t mad at Pelini: they are mad at the offensive coordinator and the team’s offensive meltdown the last few games.
    Otherwise, good article.

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    Thanks, One Man. And, yes, I agree that Callahan wasn’t Plan B, he was more like F or G. Perhaps I should have worded that a bit differently (I was trying to avoid going into an overload of detail on the Callahan saga.)

    And, certainly, Callahan wasn’t let go for his offense — neither was Rodriguez — but he definitely did drastically alter the power running game that been the hallmark and identity of Nebraska football for eons. Perhaps the offense needed to be updated, but the West Coast never looked right in Lincoln. Regardless, like RichRod, it was the disastrous defensive performances that got Callahan canned.

    Finally, considering your Husker fandom, I’ll certainly defer to you on who Nebraska fans are ticked at, and I have no doubt that the offensive coordinator bears the brunt of the current frustration. Some things I read online, however, were asking if the grace period is now over for Pelini — and I’m also wondering if his outburst towards Taylor Martinez in the A&M game has perhaps soured some Nebraska fans on Bo.

    I consider UNL fans to be among the classiest in all of sports, and I can imagine that rant, which drew Pelini a reprimand from the school, did not sit well with a good number of them.

  • r shriner

    honestly, guys, how can you compare an historically-embedded mediocre college [nebraska] with a university recently named number 14 institution of higher learning in the world [business week/usnwr]?– go ahead, you can look it up…

    what i’m saying is, there are other things besides football…

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Um, you do realize this is a blog entry about football, right?

      Not sure why you would think I’m comparing anything here other than the two schools’ football programs. Or why anything else would be relevant in this instance. There’s probably a college academics blog out there somewhere that your topic would be suitable for :)

  • starky33

    Honestly, Dave, I am also a husker fan, and I was not upset at all when he yelled at Martinez. T-Mart seems like the type of player that needs some tough love so he can grow into a better player (and man).
    You know, it is funny how people got on Bo’s case so bad for yelling, and then as I was watching Alabama play Auburn, they showed a flashback of Nick Saban erupting at his backup QB and actually physically spanked him. I don’t know about you, but I never heard anybody publicly criticize Saban for this, because it is the type of thing that coaches do and should continue to do. Players will never learn any lessons if they mess up and we give them a pat on the head and tell them “you’ll get it next time.” Sometimes kids need their butts ripped, and I love that Pelini runs a tight ship here at Nebraska.

  • starky33

    and r shiner, maybe you should look up the school with the most academic all-americans. psh… mediocre huh…

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    @Starky: I respect your opinion toward Pelini’s outburst, and if you’re fine with, that’s certainly your prerogative. I’m not going to begrudge you that and I understand where you’re coming from. However, I do think there’s a fine line between making a strong point to a playing and going overboard.

    I personally feel that Pelini’s outburst leaned toward the latter. Martinez is a just a freshman in college, and I don’t think there was a need to call him out that forcefully on the sideline. Pelini, I think, could have made the same point while also using a little more tact and maintaining better composure — the same composure I’m sure he expects Martinez to have on the field.

    LIke you, I admire Pelini’s fire, but you’ve got to be careful about being too fiery as a coach lest you become Bob Knight. That’s my take.

  • Ann Arbor Husker

    Yes, r shriner, you are correct. This column, however, is about the football programs.

    As a Nebraska grad living in Ann Arbor with a wife and daughter who are U of M grads, can attest to the school’s excellent academics. Nebraska, however, is certainly not mediocre. They qualified to invited to join the Big Ten because the are an accredited AAU research university, something even Noter Dame is not at this time.

    Having livd through both nightmares firsthand, i applaud the author for making the comparison which is something I have been explaining to my Wolverine friends for the last couple of years.

    Yes, the next Michigan hire is huge, to say the least. The fact that the Huskers ended up with Pelini saved them from a Noter Dame like downturn.

    • Ann Arbor Husker

      I guess the mis-spellings in the above comment don’t strengthen my argument about a Nebraska education not being mediocre, does it? :)

      I was typing way too fast….!

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        Ah, I end up with typos all the time. Don’t sweat it :)

        And Nebraska, while not as elite a university as Michigan — one of the very best public schools in the nation (I’ll even acknowledge that as an Illinois alum, ha) — is far from mediocre. It’s a strong school in its own right and worthy of inclusion in the Big Ten.

        All that said, I’m still baffled as to how academics became any part of this blog’s comment thread. Ha.

  • r shriner

    dave, hi, my point is simply [and fair enough that i might not have made it very clearly] that there are reasons that coaches[and yes, even many student athletes] make school-choices, and they can go far beyond the boundaries of “a football program”; thus, i respectfully take issue with your “apples and apple-like” comparison of nebraska and michigan…

  • Dave Wischnowsky

    Hey, R Shiner, I think understand what you’re getting at. But in this blog, I wasn’t trying to say that Nebraska’s and Michigan’s football programs or academics are identical, only that the schools’ experiences in regards to their recent hirings and firings of coaches has nearly been. That is the only comparison being mad here.

    I will say, though, that I don’t think many elite recruits consider much of anything other than football when they’re picking a school. The vast majority of players looking to choose a school to play football at choose it based upon the football played at the school, not whether its accountancy program or pre-med curriculum is rated more highly than another’s.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      And, see, I had a typo myself. :) I meant to write “made here,” of course, to end the first paragraph.

  • ibjohncorn

    You guys are hilarious! Nice article Dave, better comment thread. Nice points back and forth, and then that weird academics turn. Hilarious! Thanks gentlemen. (husker fan)

  • Bourbonrich

    Pitying Michigan is an emotion that I will never, never, never feel.

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