Published Monday, December 3, 2012 at 12:01 am / Updated at 9:43 am
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Shatel: Osborne says loss could help NU

Wild two days. The suggestion box runneth over with passion and opinion. Calls for a new coach. Staff changes. Some fans say they're stuck with this guy, and this time they aren't talking about the columnist.

Just the normal drama after a 70-31 loss in the Big Ten championship game.

Only one person made the comment that the loss to Wisconsin could end up helping Nebraska next year. Only one “fan” made the connection to the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

Guess who?

“You know, I thought one play really started the whole thing the other night,” Tom Osborne said. “They got us on a reverse. They got us on a couple misdirection plays. And our guys started to overcompensate to the outside, and then they got us in the middle. They got us a little out of kilter.

“We did the same thing to Florida in 1995. The next year, Steve Spurrier won the national championship. Sometimes a game like that can be instructional. It can end up helping you. But right now, it seems like the sky is falling.”

Of course, that loss to Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl inspired Spurrier to replace his defensive coordinator with a guy named Bob Stoops. That turned out to be a missing piece.

Late Monday afternoon, Osborne said he was “trying to recover.” But he's not recommending any changes to the coaching staff.

“In five years, he's (Bo Pelini) won 48 games,” Osborne said. “In Division I, there are only six coaches who did that. I wish we had won a championship by now. We had two good chances to do it. But he's done a lot of good things. I like what I see. I know in this day and age, there's impatience. I understand that.

“But Bo has a very good coaching staff. The main thing they need to do is hit the road.”

He meant recruiting.

» Let's get this straight. You lose to the third-place team in the Leaders Division by 39. You order up the SEC runner-up in a bowl game where you have bad memories from last year's loss to an SEC team.

Love it.

Osborne sought out the Capital One Bowl on Sunday and made a sales pitch. He said the Huskers wanted to play Georgia, which had just come within a play of making the national championship game. Love the reason, too.

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“If you're a competitor, particularly after the way things went Saturday night, you want to get back out and play a great team,” Osborne said. “That's what we've got in Georgia. They (Capital One) wanted us and it was what I wanted to do. I asked Bo and he said that's what he wanted to do, too.”

Sure, there's a risk that Georgia (with slightly more speed than Wisconsin) could make for a long New Year's Day for the Huskers. But NU needs as many at-bats against great teams as it can get. There are no shortcuts to the top, no easy ways out of this big-game slump. That the coach and players want to get back on the mechanical bull is a good sign. Just, please wear a helmet.

» I knew Osborne would defend his coach when I asked him about it. Maybe I just needed to hear a different take after the white noise of the past two days in which everything starts to sound and read alike.

Here's what I know: Nebraska cannot think about firing a 10-win coach or even a nine-win coach. If it ever happens a second time, coaches will think long and hard about coming here. They already are. They weren't lining up to come here in 2003 or 2007.

But I do think the heat will be up on Pelini in 2013. And that's a good thing. Heat prompts self-evaluation. Heat can mean change, good change. Pelini is a loyal man. But ultimately, head coaches survive by being loyal to themselves over their assistants.

When does Pelini reach that point? Does he? Will the Wisconsin loss coax change? Do you line up and try it again with a softer schedule? With a new boss looking over his shoulder, 2013 will be a very interesting year for Pelini. Big year.

» I met Rick Majerus several years ago, at an annual College World Series cookout at the midtown Omaha home of Joe and Jeanne Hauser. Joe grew up in the same Milwaukee neighborhood as Majerus, back when Majerus was a college-aged coach drilling the neighborhood kids on fundamentals.

There were several local basketball coaches and Creighton Prep officials in the crowd that night, including Mike Wilmot and Tom Brosnihan. Majerus blended right in, munching on chicken wings and talking hoops with total strangers. At some point that night, he cracked, “I hang out with basketball coaches and priests.”

Majerus made regular stops in Omaha to see his friends, Joe and Mike and Broz. He liked Creighton and was the headliner at the Jaybacker Bash, the hoops fundraiser, one spring. Majerus showed up in a T-shirt and sweats and told one great story after another. He commented on the food, saying, “I have cuff links bigger than that piece of prime rib they served.” Later that night, he joined the after-party at Big Fred's, where he had a pizza and a meatball sandwich and told stories into the night.

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That was the Majerus I knew, the guy in Omaha, among friends. I would have loved to have seen him at a Kentucky or UCLA, but there was a Midwestern, underdog sense to Majerus. There were always rumors that he wanted the Creighton job for that one day that Dana Altman was at Arkansas. We'll never know. There were rumors about him and Nebraska, too, but I think Majerus just wanted Steve Pederson to buy him an Omaha steak.

Everything about Majerus was big: his loyalty to his friends, his basketball brain and his heart, which ultimately gave out. He'll be missed. But somewhere in heaven, the pick-up game just got good.

» So, Creighton soccer team, you made a second consecutive College Cup. What are you going to do to celebrate?

Spend the day in airports waiting on planes. That's what the Jays did on Monday, flying back from Connecticut, where they beat UConn in an NCAA quarterfinal on Sunday. They'll turn around and fly to Hoover, Ala., on Wednesday for Friday's College Cup game with Indiana.

That's fine with them. This unlikely ride has become magical. The Jays made the College Cup a year ago but returned only three players from that squad. The biggest returnee was head coach Elmar Bolowich, who is making his sixth College Cup appearance, including four (and one national title) with North Carolina.

I sent Coach Elmar a text on Monday asking where this accomplishment ranked in his career and he responded, “Right up there.” I'll have more on Creighton futbol later this week.

» I would rather watch Oklahoma vs. Florida. But I have no problem with Northern Illinois making a BCS bowl. If any league champ shouldn't be in, it's the Big East.

» Looks like the rumors are true: Iowa is contemplating moving the Nebraska game to Saturday in the future. Doesn't Nebraska have a say in this? This illustrates how Huskers and Hawkeyes see things differently. Iowa A.D. Gary Barta told CBSSports.com that some Hawk fans complained about getting from Thanksgiving at home to a game the next day. Husker fans have no problem grabbing a turkey leg to go on the way to the stadium, especially if it means a national TV game.

» I didn't think the Chiefs should have played on Sunday, but I'm an outsider. The team and organization knew what they wanted to do. Romeo Crennel, wow. I have so much respect for the man. It's hard to even talk about his future, and General Manager Scott Pioli, after what they've been through. Owner Clark Hunt has a really, really hard job coming up.

» Shout-out to Morningside College quarterback Joel Nixon, from Wakefield, Neb., who led his team to the NAIA championship game Dec. 13 against Marian U. Nixon, a former wide receiver in his first season at quarterback, went 22 for 34 for 335 yards passing and four touchdowns in the semifinal win over St. Xavier. Very cool.

» One more and I'm outta here: Please join me next Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the Omaha Press Club when Greg Sharpe, the voice of Nebraska football and baseball, will be the guest speaker at lunch. Program starts at noon. I will take your questions and pretend to know the answers.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com;twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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