LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Mike Riley let go of Husker defensive line coach Hank Hughes on Friday. Riley announced the move in a late afternoon press release.
“I want to thank Hank for his hard work and contributions to our football program over the past year,” Riley said. “We continue to build our program with the pursuit of championships always at the forefront of everything we do, and we will look for a great coach, teacher and recruiter to enhance our defense.”
Hughes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On the advice of NU defensive coordinator Mark Banker — who played football with Hughes at Springfield (Mass.) College — Riley last January had hired Hughes away from Cincinnati to hire coach the Huskers' defensive line. Hughes signed a two-year, $300,000-per-year contract at that time. Since the contract expires in Jan. 2017, Hughes would be owed the final year of his contract — minus whatever salary he might make at some other job — if he was fired without cause.
Previous to his short stint at Nebraska, Hughes had been defensive coordinator at Cincinnati for one season. Prior to that, he was a longtime position coach at Connecticut. He began his coaching career in 1979 after a collegiate playing career at Springfield (Mass.) College.
Because of injuries, inexperience and mediocre depth. Nebraska's defensive line struggled to rush the passer in 2015. The Huskers lost two juniors — Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine — to the NFL Draft. Some players, such as defensive ends Ross Dzuris and Freedom Akinmoladun, did show improvement.
But despite needing high school and junior college pass rushers in the 2016 recruiting class, Hughes failed to close on any junior college pass rushers and landed only one true high school defensive end, Collin Miller, weeks before signing day. Hughes was also considered the primary recruiter for three-star Ashland-Greenwood product Ben Stille, but Nebraska otherwise missed on several talented pass rushers in the 500-mile radius, including Xavier Kelly (signed with Clemson) and Carlo Kemp (signed with Michigan).
Hughes was also an initial point of contact on the recruitment of Omaha South's Noah Fant. Nebraska originally sought Fant as a defensive end. He signed with Iowa to play tight end.
Riley personally took over Fant's recruitment at some point in the process.
“He’s really trying to salvage that relationship,” Fant said of Riley a week before signing day. “He’s doing his best to see if he can make anything happen, and I respect him a lot for that. I respect him as a head coach, and I like him a lot.”
NU would presumably want a line coach hired before March 5, when it opens spring camp.
The Husker defensive line showed some drop-off by various measurements in 2015. According to Nebraska’s official statistics, the D-line went from 22.5 sacks and 46 hurries in 2014 to 20 sacks and 25 hurries in 2015 despite facing 34 more pass attempts last season. The overall defense went from 29 sacks and 61 hurries in 2014 to 24 sacks and 35 hurries in 2015.
In 2016, four redshirt defensive linemen — defensive ends Alex Davis and DaiShon Neal and twin tackles Carlos and Khalil Davis — will be asked to have an impact.
>> Get the full story later today on Omaha.com or in tomorrow's World-Herald
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