LINCOLN — Personable. That’s one way to describe new Nebraska baseball coach Will Bolt.
Others have affixed their own adjectives to him — mostly related to traits good for winning sporting events — and I don’t doubt them. Tough. Gritty. Intense.
I imagine all are true.
But I appreciated last Thursday that the man is personable and, in being that, adroitly navigated a room of folks — media, family, staff, ex-teammates, NU administrators — who generally, even if no one’s going to say it out loud, would love to see Nebraska baseball all the way back to where it was in 2008.
Nebraskans are polite — or as NU Athletic Director Bill Moos likes to say, humble — but also proud, enough so Michigan baseball’s success in merely reaching the College World Series (much less doing so well in it) is something Husker fans might like replicating.
When I have conversations with Nebraska fans, it almost always progresses beyond football. Sometimes, we go six, seven sports deep. Baseball is a frequent topic. So is Moos.
My unscientific observations continue to see Moos as wildly popular with rank-and-file fans. Two of NU’s previous three athletic directors were some of the most unpopular figures in this state, so Moos benefits by comparison. But, outside of volleyball and track, Nebraska’s transition to the Big Ten has not been a road paved with lots of championships. The league at which Husker fans once poked fun packs a punch.
Moos personifies fans’ desires to pop a few jabs back.
He has hired eight coaches in 20 months. Even if some of the job openings were prompted by retirements or departures, this kind of coaching overhaul was coming down the pike before Moos arrived — especially in football and men’s basketball.
“I’ve checked off a bunch of lists,” Moos joked at Bolt’s introductory press conference. “I like the coaches we have. The ones that are new, the ones that have been here for a while. It’s just a really, really good mix.
“All have the same focus and understand the charge and what is expected of them in a variety of different areas, from academics, to student-athlete retention and also the scoreboard. We can win at Nebraska, it’s been proven, and we can win right and with the right talent.”
Moos noted that Nebraska doesn’t have to “fly-over talent” to get to more talent. That was a nod at Husker baseball — and other sports — keeping more local talent at NU.
Husker football coach Scott Frost addressed and resolved that issue quickly after previous staffs lost NFL draft picks like Harrison Phillips, Noah Fant and Easton Stick to other schools. We’ll see how many programs successfully follow Frost’s lead.
“In some of these positions I’ve made, I definitely feel we weren’t going in the right direction,” Moos said. “Others, like Darin (Erstad), was really a retirement. And I applauded that, in regards to spending more time with his family. I think he really left that program in good shape.
“My coaches know what’s expected of them, they know what the culture is and I feel, across the board, feel very blessed and fortunate that they’re at the University of Nebraska and they compete in the Big Ten.”
As it stands, Nebraska appears headed for its lowest finish in the Director’s Cup standings. Right now, NU is 49th overall and 12th in the Big Ten. Husker baseball will improve the overall points total a bit, but probably not enough to match the 44th place from last year. The athletic department’s revenue ranks among or near the nation’s top 25. Fan support is top 10 nationally in some sports.
All of Nebraska’s indicators are good. Revenues are up. Belief is high.
Moos has set up NU for good results.
NU doing fine with five commits
Beware putting too much stock in summer recruiting rankings.
It’s late June, the halfway point in the 2020 recruiting cycle. Yes, 10 of the Big Ten teams have double-digit commits. Yes, NU has five after the commitment of Alex Conn.
But remember: Nebraska may offer a lot of prospects, but it generally has a board, it’ll work that board and it won’t take guys at the bottom of the board just to replace them later with guys higher on the board.
Some schools (ahem, Michigan) have more or less done that.
According to 247Sports, Michigan had five decommits for its 2019 class. Minnesota had eight decommitments for its 2019 class — four in December 2018, just before the signing period. The Gophers had eight for their 2018 class, too.
In 2019, the Huskers, in effect, had two: running back Thomas Grayson and defensive tackle Tony Fair. The latter didn’t appear ready to academically qualify, so he decommitted in December and eventually landed at UAB.
Bottom line: Nebraska isn’t looking to play musical scholarships.
“One thing I take pride in when it comes to recruiting is that we are as honest as we can be,” Frost said in December. “We give good people our word or say something, we mean it. When a kid is committed to us, we’re committed to them.”
And vice versa.
I don’t get the sense Husker coaches want “OK, sure” from recruits. They want a firm, excited yes.
Sign up for Big Red Today news alerts
Get a daily Husker news roundup, recruiting updates and breaking news in your inbox.
No coach wants to babysit a recruit’s commitment. But at NU, ambivalent wafflers can be especially obvious. You either want to be at Nebraska — at a public, football-mad, biggest-show-in-the-state kind of program — or you don’t.
That’s where NU’s willingness to offer and scout so many prospects helps: The Huskers have a deep board.
If Nebraska doesn’t get Plan A at every position — only Alabama and Clemson do at this point — it has more backup options, precisely because NU assistants, and an organized recruiting administrative staff, did the work to build a deep board.
That’s how late in last year’s recruiting cycle, Nebraska landed three prospects — Jamin Graham, Jimmy Fritzsche and Demariyon Houston — who hadn’t been on the media’s radar much at all before Nebraska pursued them. NU stayed diligent, and got what I think will be three pretty productive players, all from the south.
So even if the Huskers’ dominoes fall a little more slowly, keep in mind: They’re still set up to fall.
Watch, too, the average-rating-per-recruit score. Rivals does it with a star ranking, 247Sports does it with a 70 to 100 scale.
For the 2020 class, Nebraska’s per-average score is 89.95, according to 247Sports. That’s second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State. As of Tuesday, Minnesota — with 21 recruits — is 11th in the league at 85.05. Iowa — with 20 commits — is ninth at 85.78. Both schools were just below 86 for the 2019 class. NU was at 88.50.
Any score at 90 or above on signing day in December is excellent. Top 15 nationally.
Nebraska tends to land in the 86-to-88 range since joining the Big Ten. Only once since the 2011 class has NU’s average been under 85. In 2014. A class that produced no NFL draft picks and played a role in two 4-8 seasons. Of the 10 lowest-rated players (according to 247Sports) in that class, three — cornerback Chris Jones, safety Byerson Cockrell and kicker Drew Brown — became regular starters. Five transferred, one (Larenzo Stewart) never arrived and one (Sedrick King) left the program before exhausting his eligibility.
Those averages matter. Right now, Nebraska’s is pretty good.