Official Husker Locker Blog
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2011 Jul 19
Husker Heartbeat 7/19: More Props for Crick, Michigan Braces for the Huskers and Is Nebrasketball in Trouble?
- Jared Crick joins Walter Camp award list
- 11 things that Husker fans need to see in the season opener
- A Wisky take: Where Nebraska fits in
- The Wolverines see the Nebraska game as a loss
- Doc Sadler and Danny Nee reportedly tied to a financial adviser
- Erstad's pay ranks well amongs the conference
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2010 Mar 30
-Barry Collier, Aug. 1, 2006, upon becoming Butler’s athletic director.
Those words ended what some observers considered the worst six-year stretch of Nebraska men’s basketball - a program that didn’t exactly have much history to recommend it in the first place.
His worst critics called it the “Barely Collier” era: Two winning seasons, a 2-2 record in the NIT, a 1-6 mark against Creighton, and 36-60 record in the Big 12. He had presumably saved his job winning two games in the 2006 Big 12 Tournament, including one vs. Oklahoma. Considering then-athletic director Steve Pederson’s fixation on beating Oklahoma - at anything - Collier’s last win was easily his biggest.
But when Collier left NU in the dog days of that summer, he’d recently lost his top recruiter, Scott Spinelli, to Wichita State, center Aleks Maric had chosen to leave the Huskers, Jamel White, too, gifted guard Joe McCray had been booted for, among other things, getting fat, and several other talented players had transferred.
Barry bolted for Butler and left Doc Sadler to clean up the resulting mess, which included a nightmare non-conference schedule of games in Hawaii, New Jersey, Miami and Oregon that left the Huskers living out of suitcases for a month.
To Sadler’s distinct credit, he won 17 games that first year, and 20 games the next.
Meanwhile, Collier nestled back into the program he helped rebuild with “The Butler Way," five principles developed by the first legendary Butler coach, Ray Hinkle, and revitalized by Collier. It is:
1.Humility - know who we are, strengths and weaknesses
2.Passion - do not be lukewarm, commit to excellence
3.Unity - do not divide our house, team first
4.Servanthood - make teammates better, lead by giving
5.Thankfulness - learn from every circumstance
Earlier this year, in a fit of extraordinary timing, the Indianapolis Star beat writer even wrote a book entitled "The Butler Way: The Best of Butler Basketball."
Expect to hear plenty about it this weekend as those Bulldogs head to the Final Four with a 33-yard-old coach, Brad Stevens, that Collier picked against conventional wisdom, a suffocating defense, and just a single NBA-bound player - small forward Gordon Hayward. Freshman guard Shelvin Mack - who escaped Lexington, Ky., because John Calipari blows off four-year players - might evolve into an NBA-caliber talent, too.
But the rest of the roster are parts that make up an extraordinary sum.
Big 12 purists surely look at Butler and scoff. Fourth in our league! Fifth! Sixth! And yet it’s the Bulldogs on a long winning streak, with wins over Syracuse and Kansas State. The Bulldogs who will play in front of a fawning, adoring crowd in hometown Indianapolis. The Bulldogs who are two quite possible wins away from the NCAA title.
And Collier, let’s face it, is one of the reasons why.
So his failure at NU - and, folks, his seventh year would have been a shattering, resounding thud without Maric, White or any semblance of momentum - raises the questions: Was it him? Was it Nebraska?
Both. Collier was a bad fit in just about every imaginable way, but some of his mistakes were unintended. As if he didn’t know the secret handshake of a program left on the ropes by Danny Nee, who was fired in April 2000.
*Nee left a roster of misfits and effort-optional guys for Collier to corral. Collier tried to institute a “five miles at 5 a.m.” punishment for being late to practice; one Husker, waiting behind one of those endless, lurching coal trains that once clogged up morning traffic on the north side of campus, eventually chose to quit the team than run the miles.
Center Kimani Ffriend - still the most naturally gifted Husker in the last ten years - spent many of his games at NU freestyling outside of the system.
“He thinks he’s Kevin Garnett!” Nee used to say. If Garnett played for 11 professional teams across Europe, Asia and Israel during the last ten years, that’d be true.
*Collier was diffident and vague with the media, rarely a good thing after a slightly-inappropriate raconteur like Nee. He closed practice with thin black curtains. The media hasn’t seemed to forget, either. He dumped on Creighton as a “mid-major program” right around the time when the Bluejays were making noise in the top 25 and pushing for an annual two-game series.
*Then-AD Bill Byrne was apathetic at best to the men’s program, which, at the time, didn’t aid his pursuit of a Sears Directors’ Cup like baseball, track and women’s soccer did. Byrne low-balled Tulsa’s Bill Self - you know him, right? - with a contract offer before zeroing in on Collier. Self went to Illinois instead. Byrne gutted the sideline student seating a few years before in favor of padded “Nicholson seats” and a more elaborate season-ticket structure; the Bob Devaney Sports Center has always been a lesser venue his choices. The court looked like a chewy Gobstopper. We could go on.
*Collier tried building the program around home-grown talent - after all, Nee had some Nebraska kids - without knowing that a fruitful 15-year window of high school basketball within the state had closed. He came by this folly honestly, I think, but it was folly nonetheless. Nee recruited Rich King, Erick Strickland, Bruce Chubick, Terrance Badgett and Andre Woolridge, among others. We’re not going to single out specific players but Collier’s options were, to put it bluntly, far more limited. Even Creighton knew better.
*Unlike Sadler, Collier wasn't really allowed to crawl out of early recruiting mistakes because of the NCAA’s “5-8 rule,” which limited teams to offering five new scholarships in one year, and just eight over two years. The rule was in force 2001-2004, or pretty much all of Collier’s early tenure.
*Collier was stubborn. Many coaches are, but Collier beckoned scorers like Nate Johnson and Andrew Drevo, then locked them into a system of set plays and Princeton concepts. The greatest beneficiaries of the Collier era were 3-point specialists Brian Conklin and Cary Cochran; NU, by design, was a feast-or-famine team that lived and died by the outside shot, lacking a consistent mid-range/inside game.
Even against opponents where Nebraska had decided athletic advantages, the Huskers didn’t always exploit them. That’s how you lose to teams like Sam Houston State, Ball State, Alaska-Fairbanks, Missouri-Kansas City, Murray State and Pacific.
He was a purist, Barry Collier, although you’d presume Nebraska holds blindly to such people, our state has always been more populist and pragmatic than that. Crops, after all, have to grow regardless of the weather’s shifting moods. Sadler’s natural toughness better fits the mood. Possessions aren’t lost just because NU couldn’t organize itself into a playset quick enough.
But can Sadler, who’s a better game coach but prone to the same revolving door of talent, rally in year five? And is there any way to create a successful Butler-style team in the Big 12? Should NU even aspire to try?
Is a player like Hayward, the gangliest, skinniest player left in the Big Dance, all that Nebraska needs? Or is it the four-year talents of guys like Willie Veasley and Ronald Nored - whom Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim called the best defensive guards he’s seen in ten years - that make the most difference?
The Butler Way works beautifully at Butler. But Collier-as-AD isn’t necessarily Collier-as-coach. When he first left Butler for NU, the Bulldogs were a nice team who took Florida to the wire in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The pride of Hinkle Fieldhouse is a whole different animal now.
Nevertheless, minor as it may be, Butler’s run to the Final Four - with Collier’s name somewhere in the background - is still a painful reminder that Nebraska toils for a just a taste of the NCAA Tournament.
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2009 Nov 04
If Nebraska quarterback Cody Green brought a yearbook to Tuesday press conferences – caution, belabored analogy ahead – I assure you, the media would fill every page of the book with “Stay the same...never change!” At least when it comes to talking to the press corps.
The kid can talk, he can talk a lot – a 20-minute session of smiles and wisdom Tuesday - and, for now, he says interesting football things. In my racket, that's like dinner with Naomi Watts.
Plus, he's truthful – which is a little different than being skeptically honest – about his game.
He needs to work on the little things, like finishing off zone read fakes.
“At the end of the game, I started getting lazy,” Green said. “Started watching the game. And we always say if you want to watch the game on the field, buy a ticket.”
He knows Oklahoma's defense will “bring the house at me.”
He can joke about himself, like when his high school coach told him he “choked” in the second half at Baylor. Which, frankly, is a little true, although understandable.
He knows that game day is about making plays, not thinking about making them: “I try to analyze everything throughout the week the best that I can and then once game day comes, just go out there and play. Just let my instincts work. I trust my instincts. I’ve been playing football for a while now so I really can just sit back and say, ‘All right, there’s a hole here, I think that guy’s going to run there, take off.’”
The kid can talk. He and Blake Lawrence could go into business together and sell a million widgets in a month.
The question for Saturday is this: Can Green color inside the lines enough to give himself the chance to make one or two spectacular plays when Nebraska needs them? Because, if Saturday goes according to NU's plan, the Huskers limit their mistakes against a faster, more talented OU team, win the field position battle, and keep Green on a reasonably short leash – except for those one or two plays where he lets loose.
“This'll be like a NFL game,” offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. “It's going to be a physical, hard-knocking football game. It's one of those games where it's important to win on normal downs and stay in a manageable third down situation. That's our objective: Stay on the field, move the ball, good things will happen.”
Groan if you wish at the NFL reference, but Watson, fundamentally, is right. NU needs to drag this game in the fourth quarter with a fighter's chance. And it only does that with a NFL-style gameplan: Eat clock, complete the short passes, convert half of your third down attempts and pick your spots for the big shots. That's a winning formula, which is why Watson and offensive line coach Barney Cotton need to whip the offensive line into shape for its best game of the year.
Saturday won't be a game for stat hounds. If the Huskers muster 280 total yards and 17 points, know this: They've done about all they can do with the inexperienced, banged-up materiel on hand.
Green needs to know his role. By his own admission, he got a little loose in the second half at Baylor – the fumble was more inexplicable and maddening, in my view, than the Pick Six – and all of that needs to be tightened up by Saturday.
There is a sense that, despite his poise and confidence, he'll try to make plays outside the system, because he trusts his natural ability and instincts. But OU represents an elite level of speed and defensive talent. The Sooners make some gaffes, at times, overplaying their hand and getting too aggressive. But Green's not going to outrun them. He's not going to fool Oklahoma's master bluff artists at cornerback. Kansas' Todd Reesing and Joe Ganz can attest to that.
He can, however, get three yards instead of one on a zone read. Scramble for a first down or two. Get out on the edge with a bootleg and hit Mike McNeill in a soft part of the zone.
Little things win big games.
The key: Will Green get starry-eyed? Saturday, in the immortal words of Danny Nee, will be an electric zoo in Memorial Stadium. At kickoff, anyway. And then NU will have to settle into a modest game plan that relies on the Blackshirts, Adi Kunalic and Alex Henery.
The crowd may get restless – especially if the Huskers fall behind. Green can not.
See also: An Unforgettable NU-OU Memory
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2009 Apr 09
435 viewsIn part two of our assessment, we look at non-conference scheduling under Danny Nee, Barry Collier and Doc Sadler, and how that affects fan interest.
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2009 Jan 16
Nee motioned me into his office, which sits in the bowels of Bob Devaney Sports Center. It was a nice office – at the time, nicer than any of the football coaches’ offices I had seen – and I said so. An icebreaker.
The coach threw his elbows on the table and said: “What the f--- is this bull---- calling me a slickster?” Seems that a Daily Nebraskan colleague of mine had written those words about Nee.
This was after the Lincoln Journal-Star slapped him with “used car salesman,” mind you. And before a DN cartoonist put Nee’s face beside a horse’s rump and asked “Coincidence?” And somewhere in the midst of “Dan Knee” dying annually in the DN’s April Fools’ Day joke issue. When it was my turn to write that obit, I had him bite it off the coast of Tierra Del Fuego in a tragic sailing accident.
We heard from NU guard Cary Cochran, of all people, on that one. And one particular University of Nebraska regent, who made the trip down to Lincoln to scold me, and others, for killing a public official.
“But it’s Danny Nee,” I said.
The same man who goes – quite deservingly – into Nebraska Basketball’s Hall of Fame Friday night.
You think Bill Callahan got it bad from the media? Steve Pederson? Oh, a little. Actually, no, not really. That’s a different discussion for a different day, but Pederson and Callahan got to ride out of town on the kid glove train. A shame.
Nee, though, seemed to inspire insults.
The reasons were aplenty, if not always justified. He was an easy punchline compared to the grandfatherly Tom Osborne. His players walked out of him for one practice during the 1995-96 season, which changed the course of career at NU and altered fans’ perception of him. He tried to leave for Rutgers. He wore…vibrant ties. He had an accent that wasn’t from the cornfields or the oilfields.
Once, as Nee walked back up the ramp of Bramlage Coliseum after a huge loss at Kansas State, he was flanked by his assistants in a way that made him look – well, you know how it made him look. Like a Mafioso. He tugged at a sleeve and stalked toward the darkness in that hunched-over, creaky gait of his. We made eye contact. He nodded, grimly. It was one of those moments when you laughed to yourself, appreciating the characters of the sporting world.
Nee was more than a cartoon, though. He won basketball games at Nebraska. A lot of them. He beat Kansas, consistently. He coached some of the wildest, most ridiculous basketball games I’ve ever seen against Oklahoma’s Billy Tubbs. He made the program relevant. NU actually appeared on ESPN’s Big Monday a couple times per year. ABC came knocking. CBS. Sports Illustrated.
You know why? Because he also managed to undo the slowest, ugliest basketball on the planet from the Moe Iba days and turn Nebraska into an up-tempo, fun team to watch.
He brought in NBA-caliber talent. Oh, some of it was home grown – Bellevue West’s Erick Strickland, who also goes into the Hall of Fame, was one of those guys –but Nee went and found a skinny South Carolina kid named MikkI Moore who remains in “the Association” today. He coaxed Eric Piatkowski to NU. He won a recruiting battle for Tyronn Lue’s services. He plucked Big 12 Player of the Year Venson Hamilton out of Oak Hill Academy. He surrounded them with the state’s best talent.
The Huskers launched hopelessly long 3-pointers, sent down thunder jams, blocked shots into the cheap seats and otherwise electrified packed houses at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
I’ve often argued that the true golden age of college basketball was right after the 3-point shot was introduced and right before Kevin Garnett declared for the NBA Draft. College basketball was filled to the brim with shooters and talent, and most coaches were smart enough to get out of their players’ way. It was an NBA farm league with more pageantry and cooler uniforms.
Nee was one of those coaches. It attracted recruits to his program, especially scorers. For a good ten years, Nee was generally starting five guys who could play elsewhere in the Big Eight/Big 12. They weren’t all starters at, say, KU or OU, but they belonged on the roster.
On some nights his teams got run out of the gym. They never played the best defense, so all but one of NU’s five NCAA Tournament games under Nee devolved into shooting contests that the Huskers just happened to lose. Toward the end of his career at NU, Nee started missing on recruits and taking guys like Kimani Ffriend, who was kicked off his junior college team and living at an Econo Lodge when he signed with NU. The 6-11 Ffriend was a talented, moody guy.
“He thinks he’s Kevin Garnett,” Nee would say. He wasn’t.
When he was fired after the 2000 season, his team losing eight of its last nine games, Nee’s tenure had clearly run its course. But now that Nebraska has slogged through eight seasons of the postseason NIT – or, in a couple cases, nothing at all – and seems to be headed for a ninth year of the same, it’s much easier to appreciate what Nee did – and even how he did it. He worked the refs for every last inch, and his teams were one of the few who could run with Roy Williams’ bunch at Kansas. Williams blew a gasket three or four times against Nee and Nebraska. Part of me always thought it was his bruised, aristocratic ego showing.
Nee’s replacement, Barry Collier, was a wet blanket by comparison, micromanaging his mediocre talent to death. He was that guy at church always complaining about the worship music.
Doc Sadler is somewhere in between Collier and Nee. Sadler follows through on his “barks” by forcing his players to give the kind of effort Nee screamed for, but never really demanded with punishment. But Sadler, provided he ever gets the right mixture of players, is also realistic. He loves guys who can shoot and run the floor. He’d love a team that consistently scored in the 70s or 80s. He doesn’t have the talent to do it – that’s where he and Nee differ so far – but if he gets it, indications are he can outcoach a good portion of the Big 12. In fact, he already has.
As for Nee - when he is introduced Saturday night at the halftime of Nebraska’s game with Kansas State, the Devaney crowd should reward him with a warm reception. It’s been awhile since he stalked the home floor, but the memories of him doing it got better with age.
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2009 Jan 06
Now the man who led NU to five NCAA Tournaments is rolling back into Lincoln to be inducted into the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame. Nee will have one of his best players, tough-nosed guard Erick Strickland, going in with him.
Although the Hall of Fame inductees were established in June, the date for the induction game is now official: Jan 17, vs. Kansas State. May everyone wear their red ties.
But you want to go to the official induction ceremony, you can. It's a Jan 16 baquet held at Lincoln Station in the Haymarket. Found out more here.
Rex Ekwall, a star from the 1950s and current NU play-by-play broadcaster Kent Pavelka are also being inducted.
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