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Official Husker Locker Blog

2012 Jan 10

NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Nick Saban and Bo Pelini Remain Worlds Apart


By HuskerLocker

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By Brian Towle

Folks in Husker land watched the BCS National Championship last night with probable disgust. Alabama, a team many say didn’t deserve to be there, shut out the LSU Tigers 21-0 with a defense that could yell bark off a tree and an offense that had no penalties, suffered only one sack, and was efficient throughout the night.

While most fans of the Big Red were annoyed at their team not being able to win a game that way, what they should have been doing was seething in jealousy over what Nick Saban has.

The fact is, what Saban does is something that any school could very easily do, including Nebraska.

Bo Pelini and Saban preach to us the process of becoming winners, and there is no doubt that there is a process that has some parallels no matter where you go. However, that’s where the similarities start and end between Nebraska and Alabama.

Saban has his detractors, but he fights through them with results. There are a few things that make him great that has either missed or not addressed since he became the head coach of Alabama.

This includes things like:

An Athletic Department That Demands Excellence: When you become the head coach of a SEC school with the history of the Crimson Tide, excellence is demanded from you in every aspect. You absolutely must compete every year for the division and conference championships. Anything less is considered a failure in the eyes of the media, fans, and your superiors.

This is not true at Nebraska. Nine wins continue to be enough for some, but that standard earned the Cornhuskers the No. 24 spot in both polls today. Does anyone truly consider that successful? Not in Tuscaloosa. There is no reason it should be the case in Lincoln, either.

Coaching and Player Development: When Saban first won a title at LSU in 2003, his offensive coordinator was current Florida State head coach Jimbo Fishere. His defensive play-caller was none other than Will Muschamp, the man who was revered at Auburn and Texas before landing at Florida.

Saban does have a masterful defensive system, one that Muschamp and Kirby Smart have studied and ran well. However, Saban lets his people coach and make their own decisions, especially on offense.

He admitted that offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, who is leaving to become the head coach at Colorado State, had the entire gameplan centered around a quarterback (AJ McCarron) who he trusted. Saban felt McCarron could manage the game and move the ball down the field against a Tiger defense that was staunch against the run, but occasionally shaky against the pass.

Considering that Carl Pelini just left for his own head job at Florida Atlantic, it’s not fair to do the coaching tree comparisons quite yet. On the other hand, how much confidence has Bo shown in either Shawn Watson or Tim Beck? Both coaches have shown the ability to sit on two-score leads instead of getting aggressive with their attacks.

On several occasions, Bo has either not shown the ability to prod his offensive coordinator or has ordered them to rein in the playbook. This frame of mind has cost Pelini victories the last few years, including this season’s Capital One Bowl. Sometimes getting out of your own way or helping your assistants get out of theirs the best thing you can do.

Player development has been an advantage that all SEC schools have had over everyone else, so it’s really not fair to compare Pelini and Saban there. Oversigning and massive roster attrition is essentially a pass that SEC commissioner Mike Slive has given his coaches without considering the perception of national media.

Not that they would hear it, considering the southern press’ indelible love of football drowns out most anything else anyone says. This is not to say that Bo shouldn’t take a look at Saban’s nonstop recruiting efforts, though.

Every member of every class Saban has signed since 2000 has a national championship ring. His staff works non-stop, all year, until National Signing Day to get the best players on that campus and secure their commitments.

Imagine if Alabama’s head man wouldn’t focus on things until the end of the Auburn game or have less than 30 official visits take place over the course of the regular season. Mal Moore, the Tide’s athletic director, wouldn’t tolerate that and neither would the fans.

The environment around Saban demands that even right after his second national title in three years, he’d better get right to work on the next one. That is part of the process that drives him. Nebraska fans can only dream that the same environment existed in Lincoln to essentially force Bo to become that same brand of coach.

Nebraska’s athletic department has paid the bills thanks to the football program and winning conference titles. Fans scoop up national championship swag years after any conference title’s shirts stop printing. There is no reason that the same demands made of Saban shouldn’t be made of Pelini.

Alabama’s head man makes $4.2 Million, Pelini just a shade under $3 million. They are both the most respected men in their state, and their every move and word is put under a microscope.

The coach that embraces those ideas most is the one who hoisted a crystal football in the Bayou following a de facto home game for his opponent. The one that fought them saw his team give another lead away in Orlando over a week ago.

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Tags: nick saban, alabama, bo pelini

Comments (13)

Profile image for Gassman

I am not a fan of pelini, but I wouldn't trade all the results in the world to have a criminal like Saban, Miles, Meyer, Spurrier, the list is long and UNdistinguished. maybe that is what is holding mark back, he hasn't refined the criminal element of his coaching repertoire to such a high degree. another factor that is overlooked, osbone's idea of relevance, of a successful program, is way, way different than the fans/supporters. Sadly, there really isn't any reconciliation between the two.

– Jan 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Profile image for turtle5

Ther is no comparrison as they are not on level playing fields. Until the NCAA and majority of member schools force the SEC and a handful of others to stop the morally corrupt practice of oversigning football players and adjust their weak academic standards, the SEC will continue to dominate. www.oversigning.com Ever wonder why ESPN never reports on this despite LSU and Alabama were in the title game?

– Jan 13, 2012 at 7:57 am

Profile image for EChusker

Of course he is paid more, its 2012 not 1990 all coaching salaries have dramatically increased. The little details those coaches put in is because they have had years of experience head coaching to learn and tweak their systems appropriately. Yes, Bo has had some bewildering losses but he still has a lot of room to grow as a head coach. Also, the way the coaching world has changed Bo will always be linked to other jobs because of the immediate success he has had. He can't control other programs seeking him, that's just the way it's going to be. I will give you that he has handled the media poorly at times, I too hope he improves that part of his job and I think he will as he grows into the position. I'm not positive on the statistics, but I think he is top 10 in wins in the past four seasons. Also, I read recently Nebraska is one of only 8 programs in the past 3 seasons to start and end ranked in the top 25, even if it is 24th. Have some patience. GBR

– Jan 11, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Profile image for HarleyHusker

Happy with nine wins and no chance at a NC unless the rest of the top 25 play down to you. Nope not going to happen get real.

– Jan 11, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Profile image for Brian_TowleLocker Pass member

You mean, the TO that is Bo's boss shouldn't hold Bo to the same level as he was held by Devaney/Byrne while being paid more than any other football coach in Nebraska history? That makes sense.

If Bo puts the effort into the little details like Saban and a Urban Meyer puts in, there wouldn't be wondering why we lose to a 6 win Northwestern, or wondering why we get smoked on the road by Michigan (who turned over their entire staff and had one of the worst D's in FBS last year). How can Brady Hoke have more BCS appearances in one year on the job than Bo has in four?

One thing about Bo that was similar in Saban is that he seems to not be happy with his current job. Tom interviewed for one job in 25 years being the head coach. Bo has been linked to several jobs in the last 14 months, while blowing off a question that, if he just took the patience to answer, would have gave peace of mind to all fans. But, like recruiting, the press, and countless other things.... it wasn't important enough to answer. Matter of fact, it was treated like a hindrance.

– Jan 11, 2012 at 1:02 am

Profile image for EChusker

This is a very poor comparison you are making. If you are going to compare coaching careers, then why not compare the relevant material such as the beginning of Saban's career (exactly where Bo is at as a head coach). He went 9-2 at Toledo then went to the NFL then at M. St. he went 6-5-1, 6-6, 7-5, 6-6, 9-2, then LSU 8-4, 10-3, 8-5, THEN national championship followed by a 9-3 season. At Alabama 7-6, 12-2, and the last 3 years which you focus your article on. If you are going to compare coaches look at their full body of work. It took years for Saban to find consistency, and even though he was moving around in the coaching world he still had several mediocre seasons. This time also helped him grow into the great coach that he is. Bo has 4 years of head coaching experience and has won at least 9 games every season. If he follows Saban's career trend, then I like what the future brings for Nebraska WITH Bo. Y'all are too greedy and whiny. There is only one Tom Osborne and we were damn lucky to have him and still have him on our side, but we can't expect every coach we get to be his duplicate. If you look beyond football, I do believe Bo has brought the football team GPA as high as its been in years if not ever, while getting 9 wins. To me we better hope Bo stays and doesn't get fed up with all this nonsense, ignorant bickering.

– Jan 11, 2012 at 12:32 am

Profile image for Husker4Ever46

I think you are missing many thing in your post. The biggest thing BO has that Nick does not is that he is coaching at the Best Football program in NCAA over the past 25 to 40 years and one of the top five all time.

As to you post:
An Athletic Department That Demands Excellence: What did this get them? The Bear won 3 titles in the 70 one in the 80 and they went until 92 ten years after the Bear retired (1982) then they went another 17 years until 2009 to get one. They have won only 4 SEC titles since 1982 (this year was not one of those years). they have had 4 losing season and two years on probation since the Bear Retired. Glad Nebraska did not have this standard.
Coaching and Player Development:
Nick has been coaching how many years compaired to BO? Think you are looking at apples and organes here. You have to look at the fact of kids have never flocked to Nebraska a small town that is cold has all get out in the winter. The best players in the country come from mostly warm state why go to Nebraska when I can go to AL, FL, TX to play. This has always been an issue and we win a lot of game with fewer high recuits. You need to quit thinking it is all Bo there are factor you do not want to look at. If you wish Bo to leave or get sick of the winy people in Nebraska and have Bill back please go to some other school because I like 9 wins over BIll anyday.

– Jan 10, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Profile image for Huskers1975

Great post, I really like Tim Beck and I hope Nebraska keeps him a long time, however I seems Bo Pelini needs to quit being nice and RUN UP THE SCORE!!! When we have a chance. Nebraska needs to be more "Balls out" when coming to offense.

– Jan 10, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Profile image for HuskerLockerLocker Pass member

The upper Midwest isn't looked at as a recruiting hotbed and never has been in the modern era. Nebraska puts out 5 FBS-level kids on average per year. In terms of the "few" Nebraska gets, over Pelini's past four classes, there have been 28 prospects from the state of Texas, or an average of seven per year.

– Jan 10, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Profile image for Husker62

You are looking at the few we get every year, maybe a 4 star if lucky but mostly 3 stars. Why? Because the top talent already has taken the spots at the other big schools. Compare the rosters and see how many SEC teams have kids from the upper midwest on their teams and starting.

– Jan 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Profile image for HuskerLockerLocker Pass member

Doesn't really apply when Nebraska's had dozens of Texans and a number of Californians and Floridians on their teams at the same time. Nebraska can recruit just about any state in the union if they put in the effort, save Utah

– Jan 10, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Profile image for Husker62

One big thing you forgot in your comparison, location. Its much harder to get player to come to Lincoln. It isn't an easy task for the coaching staff and is a huge obsticle most SEC teams don't have to face. Look at the States that boarder ours, SD, IA, KA and CO. Not exactly the hotbed for high school football talent. Sabin has had TX and now FL next to him in both his schools, the two States put out alot of players every year who can stay close to home in nice weather conditions, or head to sunny warm Lincoln. Whats the temp today? Compare that too.

– Jan 10, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Profile image for HarleyHusker

Good point hold his feet to the fire and make him earn his money.

– Jan 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm

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