LINCOLN — Joe Ganz lives alone in a south Lincoln apartment. His furniture barely knows him.
His alarm goes off at 5:41 or 6:01, depending on the morning. When he returns home — usually after midnight — he opens the door, locks it behind him and goes immediately to bed.
No TV. No snack. Just pillows.
Ganz's sleep schedule is almost as bad as his paycheck, which might violate labor laws in some countries.
He shares an office with three other low-level Nebraska assistant coaches, including former All-America guard Brenden Stai, who has a penchant for leaving pens in his shorts.
“Our stuff will come back from the wash and there will be ink stains all over,” Ganz says. “We call him the ‘Big Ink.'”
The lifestyle of a graduate assistant isn't supposed to glamorous — or lucrative. But there is something strange about Ganz's humble status.
Four years ago, he was a celebrity in this town. Starting quarterback at Nebraska. Doesn't get much better. Now when he makes a grocery run on a Thursday night, people don't even recognize him. Probably because he's 175 pounds — 35 less than his playing weight.
“They say, ‘Who's that guy that looks like a skinny Joe Ganz? I'm like, ‘Oh, that's me.'
“I'm like a hobbit. I come out for game day and then I go back in my hole.”
Here's what hasn't changed about Ganz: His blunt talk. His sarcastic wit. His influence on Nebraska football.
Ganz has a critical role on this Husker coaching staff: Taylor Martinez's mentor.
He's the first person No. 3 speaks to when he comes off the field, the only person inside the Osborne Complex who can fully understand the quarterback spotlight.
“I relate to him really well, just because we've gone through the same things,” Ganz says. “I know how it is. I know what he's feeling.”
Wednesday after practice, Ganz bounded up a narrow stairwell at the Hawks Center. Martinez trailed one step behind, poking him. Ganz threatened him: Wait 'til you see what I say about you in the paper.
Ganz, who waited four years to climb the depth chart, used to wear a perpetual chip on his shoulder. His prime motivation was disrespect.
Martinez's problem is the opposite. People expected so much so soon, Ganz says. Taylor carries a burden far heavier than he ever felt.
“You saw it in the UCLA game,” Ganz says. “I think he really felt the pressure to make a play in the fourth quarter and was really trying to push the envelope. I understand that.
“But he's becoming more aware of, ‘OK, big plays are going to happen within the system. If I throw it to the right guy in a certain coverage, we're going to get a big play. It might be a 5-yard throw where Jamal or Quincy or Kenny takes it 30. That's a big play.'”
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Ganz, 26, has always envisioned himself in coaching. But first he wanted to play as long as possible.
After the 2009 NFL draft, he signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, where he roomed with Chase Daniel. The Redskins eventually cut them both.
Then Ganz tried out with the Florida Tuskers of the UFL. The final spot came down to him and Marcus Vick.
“Quarterbacks didn't have to run 40s,” Ganz says. “I was like, oh, sweet. Marcus ended up running one. He ran like a 4.31. They signed him.”
Ganz returned to Nebraska. He did a little radio and TV work, “pretty much just selling myself out.” He shared an Omaha apartment with a few buddies, “living the college years I never got to live in college.”
“I worked like five hours a week. I got paid enough where I could pay rent, pay all my bills, pay green fees.”
In October 2009, Ganz crossed paths with Bo Pelini. One of the NU interns, Chris Kiffin, was likely leaving at season's end. Did Joe want to come back?
He jumped at the chance. You gotta start somewhere.
The first year beat him up. Not only the long hours, but the adjustment to a life without a jersey. He turned on the New Orleans Saints and saw his old rival, Chase Daniel, backing up Drew Brees.
“Drives me nuts, man,” Ganz says. “It drives me up the wall. ... It still sticks in my craw every time I see him with the backwards hat on. He's got a Super Bowl ring and I'm working 'til 12:30 at night.”
Some nights, especially in 2010, the clock passed midnight and Ganz just had to get out of the Osborne Complex.
“I'm like, ‘I'm leaving,'” Ganz says. “I don't know if anybody needs me, I'm leaving.”
Slowly Ganz came to accept the hours — it's not so bad considering the generous summer vacation. Slowly, he grew accustomed to standing on the sideline — he gets more nervous now than he ever did as a player.
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While Tim Beck targeted the whole offense, Ganz could focus on Martinez. Trying not only to build his skills, but to improve his leadership.
“It's hard being a redshirt freshman starting and saying something to Niles Paul, who's been here for five years,” Ganz said. “I get it. It's the nature of the position at quarterback. Some people aren't comfortable. You have to teach them how to be a leader. ...
“Now he's becoming more vocal. He trusts our coaching and he trusts his ability and his decision-making. Now he's demanding it out on the field, which is why our offense is really picking up.”
Ganz, who earned a promotion from intern to graduate assistant this year, isn't certain how long he'll be around to watch. At some point, he wants his paycheck to exceed the players' scholarship checks. That might require leaving his alma mater.
“I told Taylor I'd at least stay through his senior year,” Ganz says. “I don't want to be a 29-year-old GA still looking for something to do.”
If he walks away, he'll do so a more patient man. You'd think he would've mastered the art of waiting during his playing career — he only threw 13 passes his first three years on campus. But coaching presents new tests of patience.
Sometimes Beck and Ganz find themselves in the meeting room, scratching out their hair, yelling at the walls: Why aren't players getting this! What are they thinking!
“Every Monday, I'm like, we're gonna get killed,” Ganz says. “Our quarterbacks don't know what they're doing. They're not checking this. We're gonna lose by 60.
“And then by Thursday, it's like ‘OK, I think they got it.'”
Leaving two days to remove ink stains from his shirts.
Contact the writer:
402-649-1461, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/dirkchatelain
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