Key questions to ponder as Trev Alberts tightens search for coaches

Amie Just and Sam McKewon are back from their bye week to name football’s midseason MVPs before predicting which of five games or games remaining the Huskers are most likely to win. The duo discuss whether the head coaching job is up for grabs for Mickey Joseph. Plus, thoughts on the Big Ten basketball media days.



ON MY COUCH AFTER A BYE-WEEK WEDDING — And there’s nothing wrong with a little Pac-12 After Dark featuring the coach Nebraska might have hired if they fired Scott Frost last year .

South Dakota native Kalen DeBoer has Washington at 6-2. He took the UW job right after Thanksgiving 2021, just as Scott Frost was wrapping up a 3-9 season.

Another coach NU probably could have hired, Dan Lanning, took Oregon to 6-1 after a comfortable win over previously undefeated UCLA. The 36-year-old North Kansas City (Mos.) native didn’t accept the job at UO until Dec. 11 after the Ducks unsuccessfully attempted to retain Mario Cristobal, who had left for Miami (Florida).

Both coaches earn less than Frost in the 2021 season. Their contract buyouts are $12 million and $14 million, respectively. Their names may not have a place in the conversation for the next NU football manager, but I present them as a kind of thought exercise.

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How much money would Nebraska pay — in buyouts, in future salaries — to find the right coach? Some potential candidates have big buyouts but lower salaries. Others, like Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, have tiny buyouts — less than $2 million in Stoops’ case — but would demand $7 or $8 million of their own salaries, and possibly as much for assistants.

What would NU spare if he thought he had a slam dunk?

“Certainly, resources will not be a barrier to hiring the type of coach we want to lead the Husker program,” Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts said the day he fired Scott Frost. While not a circular response, Alberts leaves room for NU to hire someone who doesn’t break the Huskers’ bank. DeBoer and Lanning, for example, are quite affordable for their current schools.

The question arises as Nebraska emerges from its final week of bye and heads into its final five games on its schedule and a possible new permanent head coach. From 9/11 – when Frost was fired – until now, the focus has been on interim head coach Mickey Joseph who pulled the Huskers out of the doldrums and, for a week, kept them in the running Big Ten West.

A 43-37 loss to Purdue didn’t reduce NU’s split chances, but another loss — to Illinois, Michigan, anyone — would put the Huskers on a steep streak. A bowl game – 6-6 – is a better goal.

But even then, it’s a small story on a big canvas. Zoom out for a second to understand the context NU is facing.

>> Big Ten TV’s key partner Fox openly touted the league run, ahead of the Michigan-Penn State game, as a three-team invite between Ohio State, the Wolverines and the Nittany Lions.

>> The two teams joining in 2024, UCLA and USC, are 62-52 and 76-42 over the past decade, and no program would consider that a success. Both have been better than Nebraska (55-60) during that stretch. Imagine an Excel spreadsheet where you basically insert the LA teams into, say, columns four and five, right behind the OSU, UM and PSU troika, and all the other Big Ten teams are pushed down the list .

>>Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren is hungry for further development — he said so in an interview with HBO Sports — if the league’s athletic directors decide Oregon, Washington, California and Stanford add an accretive value, or if Notre Dame suddenly wants to join.

“I could see perpetual, future growth,” Warren told HBO.

These schools aren’t all football powerhouses, but even Cal isn’t a pushover. It wasn’t Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State in 1987 that went 4-27-2 combined and lost to Nebraska 54-2, 56-3, 42-3 . Northwestern is 1-6 this year – with a loss of more than eight points. You also know the history of the Huskers last season. The best 3-9 team ever.

Bad teams these days are just better, and good teams in the Big Ten are like Google and Apple. Good luck eating into their market share.

>> Wisconsin and Iowa – a combined 13-0 against NU since 2015 – have their own moments of looking in the mirror. The Badgers may be courting the same disaster Nebraska once did by firing Frank Solich in 2003, but they’re not standing tall and comfortable with mediocre offenses.

This is the backdrop to Alberts’ decision. College football’s vast middle class has never been more competitive, the worst FBS programs rarely stay in the basement for long, and Nebraska, though safe in one of two superleagues, must contend with excellence. Big Ten teams.

Ask Arkansas how it’s going. Since joining the SEC in 1992, the Hogs have had seven nine-win seasons and 13 losing seasons. In the previous 30 yards, they had a losing season.

Things change. The same goes for the kinds of questions Nebraska asks. Here are four more I’m thinking about as the sprint to Black Friday begins.

>> How many coaches whose teams don’t have a current or future spot in the SEC or the Big Ten would be willing to move to NU because the future of those leagues is secure? It would be any Pac-12 and Big 12 coach, with the latter poaching four to six schools from the former.

>>How many football facilities are in slight disrepair – or new facilities three or four years from now – who wouldn’t hesitate to walk into a facility built to accommodate more players than any one coach needs?

“I really believe we’re going to have the first development center in college athletics,” Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts said on his radio show last week. “That’s what our donors have provided. Obviously it depends on the people, and it’s going to be very important, but from a physical point of view, depending on the location, the size, the capacity, the technology, we will have the opportunity to really be able grow to a high level.

>> As for the Expanded College Football Playoff, is it better to reign in the Big 12 or finish third in the Big Ten? Assuming the Big 12 is close to a one-bid league without Oklahoma and Texas, should guys like Dave Aranda, Luke Fickell, Matt Campbell, Chris Klieman, Lance Leipold and even Mike Gundy decide to pitch their dice on a league title or rolling in a league where their team may not be the favorite but likely lands in the CFP with ten wins.

Nebraska may offer better access to the CFP — but arguably worse access to a conference crown.

Does NU’s glory days – just 21 years ago – convince a coach that the ceiling is higher here than it would be at his current school? This is where you wonder if a Stoops, whose team will always have to fight hard to beat Georgia and Florida, decides to try his hand at a different place, where football comes first and national titles have been won.

Much of the understandable focus has been on names — even former Boise State and Washington coach Chris Petersen has come up in recent weeks — but it’s also wise to think of Nebraska as a society that must rethink its primary goods. , the production line and the terms of delivery to the customer. The latter – the Memorial Stadium redesign and fan experience – is something Alberts and his team can largely control.

A rental like this is trickier. This is more than a guess, but far less than a guarantee. Nebraska thought it had one in 2017 as directors openly talked about going back to the 1990s. Five years later, NU is in the market again, looking for the right CEO.

Brandon D. James