LINCOLN — Hook yourself up to a stress-tester, then put yourself in Charlton Warren’s place.
After nine years in a secure gig as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Air Force, Warren packed up his wife and three children last winter for a blind move to Nebraska to become secondary coach.
Eleven months later, the head coach who brought Warren to Lincoln was fired.
As anyone in that business knows, the odds of being retained by the next head coach are slim at best, meaning the Warren household could have tumbled into turmoil.
“So at times like this,” he said, “you fall back on what you know.”
What Warren knows, after 10 years of active Air Force duty, is that stress over a potential job change isn’t the end of the world.
“I used to put bombs in places,” he said. “Off of airplanes flying into enemy territory.”
It’s true. His service time included stints at Warner Robins AFB in Georgia, working cargo aircraft avionics, and Eglin AFB in Florida, where he did bomb installation on the Air Force side on F-16s and the B-2 stealth bomber, and for the Navy on Hornet fighters.
“My background academically and militarily gives me a lot of perspective on things,” Warren said. “Not that I’m not ultra-competitive and don’t want to give up a yard. But I understand there is a little bit bigger picture out there.”
So Warren, after Bo Pelini was fired and Mike Riley was hired, put together a plan.
“You control what you can control,” Warren said. “At that moment, what I could control was to keep recruiting and focus on my current players for the bowl game.
“And when you have a chance to meet with someone in authority — in this case, Coach Riley — you be genuine and tell them who you are and what you believe in. And you hope it’s a match. If it’s not, you buck up and do something else for your family.”
It proved to be a great match.
Riley said every time he visited with a recruit committed to Nebraska, the player wanted to know about Warren’s status. Once Riley got off the road to interview Warren, the men found that their philosophies and core values clicked.
“Anyone who meets him,” Riley said, “could see he’s a very impressive person.”
Warren said Riley’s genuine nature and “football wisdom” attracted him.
“In this business,” Warren said, “you always want to go places where you can grow as a coach. He’s been a defensive guy, an offensive guy and everywhere in between. And he has done it at multiple levels.”
Riley, who has gained high praise for being one of college football’s nice guys, impressed Warren with another attribute.
“He’s a pretty ferocious competitor when you sit down and talk to him about football and his vision for this program,” Warren said. “And he’ll be relentless on the recruiting trail.
“So he has a lot of great traits and a lot of things I hope to be in this profession. He inspired me.”
Warren said he “wore two hats” in preparing for the Holiday Bowl with the old staff during the day and working on a recruiting plan with the new one at night.
“I wanted to make sure I was taking care of these guys and getting ready for a bowl game,” he said. “At the same time, I wanted to keep a focus on recruiting, especially with midyear guys coming on.”
A staff change can damage recruiting, but Warren said the response on the road to Riley has been strongly positive.
“There’s some apprehension,” Warren said. “But it’s interesting as Coach Riley sits in the living room with these parents and kids, the calming effect he has. They see a genuine person in front of them.
“And they think, ‘If I was wavering, I feel more strongly about my original decision now because it’s still Nebraska.’”
Warren’s own commitment to Nebraska hasn’t wavered.
Had he made the Air Force a career — building on his bachelor’s in human factors engineering and master’s in business — he likely could have transitioned into the defense-contract business.
What about NASA?
“I ain’t that smart,” he said, laughing. Then he was asked, jokingly, if he is underemployed as an assistant football coach.
“Not being at Nebraska, I’m not,” Warren said. “Maybe the opportunity to come here a year ago was because I would have the opportunity to stay.
“That’s how I look at things in life. You make the most of what you are given. You don’t pout. You don’t go negative. And you salute and carry on.”
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