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The A, B and C of Nebraska Football’s Future

Joe Flanagan

Nebraska football fans called for the heads of Mike Riley and Shawn Eichorst after the comeback that fell short against the Oregon Ducks. That seemed a bit excessive. Following the Huskers’ loss to Northern Illinois, kerosene was dumped onto that fire.

A choice will have to be made on their futures at some point during the 2017 season. It likely involves chancellor Ronnie Green. The three most likely options are as follows:

A) Keep Shawn Eichorst and Mike Riley: Clearly the least popular decision to many at this point, not only does Eichorst retain his watch, but Riley gets one more year to show what he can do.

Depending on how the rest of the season goes, recruiting could be very touch-and-go, especially with the new December signing period. There would obviously be firings (yes, probably plural) at the assistant coach level. There may be decommits as a result, but if the Big Red manages to retain its best recruiters, this hiccup could be avoided. If not, the Huskers would have to take some fliers to fill those spots.

The team becomes a Best-22 in the spring of 2018. No matter your age, if you’re the better athlete, you’re on the field: Experience preferred, but in no way required. Tristan Gebbia could be behind a pocket consisting of Brenden Jaimes, John Raridon, Michael Decker, Boe Wilson and Matt Farniok.

Will some egos be bruised? Yes. However, that is big-boy football. Nebraska then takes on a hellacious schedule that features road trips to Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa. That’s not even touching on Colorado visiting Lincoln as the second game of the year.

B) Fire Shawn Eichorst and Mike Riley; bring in a familiar face: With Eichorst and Riley out of the picture, Nebraska has to hire its fourth athletic director and fifth head coach since 2002. I’m not privy to what chancellor Green wants in terms of a new AD, though.

Let’s pretend the torches and pitchforks are out as far as Cherry County. Widespread demand forces Green to bring in someone like Dave Rimington. His name is consistently brought up by Nebraska fans as an eventual athletic director. This wouldn’t be the first time he’s been asked about wanting the position.

With a Husker football legend at the top of the athletic food chain, the Huskers search for the new face of football, someone who knows what it’s like to wear the uniform and has actually led the Big Red to success in the past… maybe? Okay, I’ve drawn this out long enough. Nebraska goes after and gets Scott Frost.

Congratulations, Huskers. You’ve just hired someone who will have finished his second year as a head coach in the AAC with a bowl record of 1-1 at best. But wait! What about Frost’s time at Oregon? This is always the part everyone in favor of Frost’s hire brings up, so let’s address it.

Yes, he was part of the Quack Attack as wide receiver coach from 2009-2012 and its offensive coordinator/quarterback coach from 2013-2015.

Sure, he could do that at Nebraska. It’d be curious to see what he’d do about assistant hires. Does he bring over the UCF gang including former Husker offensive lineman Greg Austin? Does he request access to the money vault from the athletic director to get the absolute best and brightest? Considering Frost learned under Tom Osborne — a man who put together an improbable run of staff retention — it’s safe to bet on the former.

The problem — and it would be a gigantic one — is figuring out Frost’s recruiting pitch. He’d need something to blow all of the negative recruiting about his inexperience (and the Huskers’ revolving door policy with coaches) out the door, let alone anything else we don’t know about.

Many a Cornhusker fan already has this problem solved. Recruit the 500-mile radius harder. Hell, recruit Nebraska harder. Iowa does it in its backyard, after all. In fact, 56 players on the Hawkeyes’ roster — that’s 47 percent — are from the Hawkeye State. As you may have guessed, several are from the surrounding area.

To be fair, Iowa has won a conference championship since Nebraska has (2004). However, the closest they’ve come since the Big Ten’s expansion was a 16-13 loss to Michigan State in 2015’s conference title game. They may have a five-game losing streak in bowls, but the Hawkeyes played (and beat) Georgia Tech in the 2010 Orange Bowl.

Does that sound like a future you’d enjoy, Husker fans? Maybe Nebraska would get lucky and win the West or be even luckier and win the Big Ten championship. Assuming the Huskers could somehow traverse the modern-day Big Ten schedule and any further changes to the college football postseason, maybe they could actually be part of an extended playoff. That’s a lot of maybes.

The heat would eventually consume Frost and his athletic director, too. Five years, seven years or a decade, who knows? Then the Big Red would be right back where it started. But there’s always the 1990s.

C) Fire Shawn Eichorst, fire Mike Riley and pay big-time: If Nebraska is going to clean house, it needs to take a huge chunk of that sweet Big Ten money and invest it in a coaching staff. No, I don’t mean a few million. I mean an obscene amount of money that a big name might consider…and that’s just for starters. We’re talking about an established Power 5 coach here. No Chad Morris, Bobby Wilder, Craig Bohl or some hotshot FCS coach.

Write a check out to Chip Kelly for seven or eight million dollars, because that’s the type of name Nebraska will need to attract and the kind of money these names will command…if they accept that offer and don’t want more.

Before we get too overzealous, here’s a list of names that will not be coming to Lincoln: Dabo Swinney, Chris Petersen, Jimbo Fisher, David Shaw, or any other Big Ten coach worth that kind of money.

Why would they? Everyone listed either has a sweet gig and can conceivably make the College Football Playoff or wants Nebraska to stay down as long as possible. No, Bob Stoops is not coming out of retirement to overhaul the Husker football program, either. Les Miles, nice guy that he is (and who do we hear that about in Lincoln already?), is past his prime and wouldn’t be recruiting players from the SEC.

Let’s see, who does that leave? I suppose Brent Venables, Bobby Petrino or some NFL coach that either isn’t quite getting it done or wants back into the college ranks.

The guy Nebraska would want to get is Kelly. He has the connections, the Huskers would retain the “cool school” status, plus he can salvage the current recruiting class and improve upon it. He’d also be the first coach to have been in a national championship game since Frank Solich. Unlike the former Husker running back, his squad actually had a chance in hell of winning, too. Plus he’s a read-option kinda guy, so that would play well.

Still, this isn’t a sure shot. Even if Nebraska gets Kelly, there’s no guarantee of championships. The hire would make the most sense and likely be the best shot if the Husker football program cleans house, but it’s ultimately still a crap shoot.

With the cards laid out on the table, it doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture.

There’s one option I didn’t mention, and it’s highly unlikely. Shawn Eichorst fires Mike Riley…like really soon. Let’s say Nebraska gets a close win over Rutgers or — even worse — loses. Eichorst pulls the trigger and does everything he can to make Option C happen.

His bacon would be safe for a year or two and if the new hire impresses, he earns forgiveness. I’m not sure what the likelihood of that happening is, because Eichorst seems every bit connected to Riley as Steve Pederson was to Bill Callahan.

Then again, stranger things have happened.  Buckle up.

To comment or keep up with the author, follow Brandon on twitter at @eightlaces

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