Arkansas is in the winners bracket of the College World Series, so here's an interesting question: What if Dave Van Horn makes the championship series?
Will Nebraskans root for NU's former baseball coach to win a national championship?
Cheer against Van Horn, out of spite?
“I hope they would root for us,” Van Horn said Saturday.
Van Horn didn't bring this up. That's a sports scribe's job. But credit Kent State coach Scott Stricklin for planting the seed. After Van Horn's Razorbacks beat Kent State 8-1, Stricklin said that if the pitching-heavy Hogs keep hitting like that, “they'll have a chance to win a national championship.”
How would Husker Nation handle the news? Pretty well, I think.
It's been 10 years since Van Horn left. He did it during this event, after taking NU to its second straight CWS. It was a surreal week. The Nebraska media spent the week chasing Van Horn rumors. On Thursday, Van Horn took the Arkansas job. By Friday, A.D. Bill Byrne had hired Mike Anderson with Rob Childress as associate head coach.
Somewhere in the fog, Texas and Huston Street won the national title.
Van Horn's departure was a highly unusual act around Lincoln. Nebraska coaches rarely win and leave. The basketball coaches generally get fired or beat the posse out of town. Anderson was fired. The past two football coaches were run out.
But Husker fans, a loyal bunch who demand loyalty in return, didn't harbor a grudge against Van Horn. There were a few reasons for that.
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One, Arkansas is Van Horn's alma mater. His chance to return his school to greatness. Can't blame him for that.
Secondly, NU baseball in 2002 didn't have a lot of self-esteem or self-importance. Fans were still caught up in the ride. And at that time it seemed like the ride would go forever.
Also, NU fans considered pitching coach Rob Childress a big key to the success. Childress was staying. Eventually, Husker fans turned on Anderson, who got the anger and resentment instead of Van Horn.
Van Horn has been to Omaha three times with Arkansas, without a lot of local emotion, and that includes the first time, in 2004.
“The fans here have been great to us, and I was worried about that in 2004,” Van Horn said. “There was only one guy who got after me, during batting practice one day.
“I've always said Arkansas was the only job I would have left for. We really like the people here. I was out to dinner last night with my wife and daughter and the fans all came up and were very nice, wished us well. I always liked Nebraska fans, always was glad to have my kids around them.”
Nebraska's slide since Van Horn (though Anderson did win a CWS game in 2005) is well-documented. Meanwhile, Van Horn is 404-221 in 10 years in Hog Heaven. His teams have made the NCAAs every year. He didn't win a CWS game until 2009, and that may have held some of the Husker catcalls back, too. Until this year, Van Horn had as many CWS trips at U of A as he did with NU.
It's been a good decade, a good move, but it's left some wanting more. Including the coach.
“We haven't won a national championship,” Van Horn said. “Everything else has been real positive.”
The critics got loud about a month ago, after Arkansas lost two of three at home to Auburn, then went 0-2 in the SEC tournament. The Hogs have big-time pitching but weren't hitting. Fans got on Van Horn. Imagine that, Husker fans.
“It's better than nobody caring,” Van Horn said.
That's the SEC. It's a tough deal, but somebody tell the Hogs that Van Horn hasn't lost a step. He's always been a scrapper and believed in workhorses on the mound, but he had to adjust to the big bats in the SEC. Now, since the bats have been muffled by NCAA rules, coaches are doing what they can to get to Omaha with fundamentals, defense and pitching.
Van Horn adjusted. When his Arkansas team ran out of pitching at the 2009 CWS, he made pitching more of a scholarship priority. The Hogs are deep on the mound here. If they get more pop like the homer by Jake Wise, watch out.
Nebraska fans may finally get to see Van Horn play for a national championship.
“Arkansas wears red,” Van Horn said, “Just like Husker red.”
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