Got a visit from an old friend the other day. A friendly chap, full of sass, ideals and conviction.
It was the younger version of myself.
I figured he stopped by to chat about the future, but not exactly. As always, he was blunt.
“Hey, old man. You’ve gone soft.”
“How’s that?” Old Me asked.
“You cover a team that’s missed a bowl game two straight years and could make it three straight. They started the week as underdogs to Indiana. Indiana! They got manhandled by Minne-freaking-sota. And the coach makes $5 mil a year? Back in the day, you’d have called for everybody’s head on a stick by now.”
“One day, you’ll find out that ‘soft’ is another way of saying ‘smart,’ ” Old Me said. “Ever heard of context?”
“I don’t have time. I got a column to write.”
“So you came all this way to call me soft?” Old Me asked.
“I wanted to find out why this happens. I need to prevent this from happening to me.”
“Sorry, Bub,” Old Me said. “You can’t prevent getting older. And things happen when you get married and start a family. You see life through a different prism. When you have kids, you see things they do, mistakes they make, and how they happen. It gives you perspective.”
“Wait a minute. I’m getting married? I have kids?”
“Congratulations. The best family a man could ask for. By the way, remember that cute blonde you met at Pauli’s? Call her.”
“I still don’t see what’s so great about perspective. My readers want to know what I’m thinking right now. And they don’t want me to hold back.”
“I get it. But try to talk to people,” Old Me advised. “Coaches. Players. Find out why things happen. I didn’t always do that. What I found out is that Nebraskans want to know why things happen. They appreciate perspective. What I also discovered is that while they may criticize their team, they don’t necessarily want you criticizing their team. So you better have perspective, some reasons.”
“You know, I admit readers don’t like it when I rip Tom Osborne, which seems to be a lot.”
“Guess what happened a few weeks ago,” Old Me said. “I was talking to Osborne about Scott Frost the coach, and Osborne said he thought I had really developed a good perspective about Nebraska and the culture.”
“Oh my God, that’s horrible. Did you quit on the spot?”
“No, it meant a lot to me. You’ll get it one day.”
“Please tell me you’ve ripped Frost by now. Man, you really laid him out after that Arizona State game, remember?”
“I think Frost and his staff could be doing a better job coaching up the talent they have,” Old Me said. “They’ve been outcoached this year. But there’s a lot of things going on around them that they can’t control. Talent level. Depth. Youth. And the guys across the field can coach a little bit, too. That’s something I didn’t always appreciate back in the day.
“For instance, that Arizona State game. I gave Frost a lot of trouble. But a few days later, Milt Tenopir, the late, great offensive line coach, pulled me aside and said I’d messed up. He said his line actually deserved the lion’s share of fault. I also learned from Milt that things like sacks or a play breaking down happened because blocks were missed by receivers or running backs went the wrong way. I keep that in mind when I look at the current offensive line. Bottom line, everything has to be going in the same direction.”
“You know, all of this is fascinating. But why did you call me here? You did summon me, you know.”
“I did. I want to make sure you truly appreciate what you are watching,” Old Me said. “That level of winning may never happen again.”
“Oh, please. This is Nebraska. I know Osborne won’t coach forever. But this place is a machine. Anyone can win here, Frank Solich, whomever.”
“Steve Pederson on line two,” Old Me said.
“Pederson? He’s the director of football operations. Seems like a smart guy.”
“You’ll see. Anyway, my point is to enjoy all that winning. Mostly, pay attention to that culture. Study it. Talk to coaches and players about what makes it work. It’s such a unique way to run a football program, the repetitions, players policing themselves, development, attention to detail. All that. Don’t take it for granted. I did. When it goes away, it’s hard to get back.”
“It’s hard to believe that would go away.”
“It can. It did. After Solich was fired, Nebraska had coaches who didn’t believe in that culture or didn’t believe enough. Nebraska has fired four straight football coaches. Because that culture didn’t mean enough to the powers that be.”
“Wait a minute. Did you say Solich was the coach and gets fired?”
“Forget I said that. Don’t write that. If you say your source is from the future, you’ll lose your column.”
“What does this have to do with Frost?”
“Everything. Winning in college football is about talent. But it’s also about the coach and the way he coaches, what he demands, how you play the game. Frost wants to bring Osborne’s culture back. That’s why I think he should have all the room, all the years, he needs. That’s why I was so hard on the previous coaches. They didn’t get that the culture was the thing. I didn’t know that until it was gone.”
“Come on, old man. Four years, tops.”
“Forget that plan. Nebraska right now is on the Dave Ramsey Plan. You’ve probably never heard of Ramsey. Don’t worry, you will. Your wife will sign you up for his videos.
“Ramsey is a financial guru whose methods help folks get out of debt. One of the principles he teaches is to cut up your credit cards, pay cash for everything and have a $1,000 emergency fund at all times. He instructs you to come up with a budget and pay off your bills one at a time. It’s hard. It takes discipline. It’s basic drudgery.”
“Your point is?”
“That this is what Frost has to do with Nebraska football,” Old Me said. “Break down the way things have been done before and, step by step, learn to live a new way. Or, in this case, the old way. It might take four or five years, or four recruiting classes, to do this.”
“So you’re saying it might take Nebraska four to five years before it starts winning again? Like the fans will allow that.”
“I think it might take that long before Nebraska is ready to win at a high level,” Old Me said. “And that’s if they don’t make too many mistakes in recruiting, which might happen. Most fans I hear from are tired of waiting but willing to do so if it means building something the right way. So it lasts.”
“So everyone is safe? Boring.”
“For the time being, certainly. Staff continuity was a major factor in the Nebraska dynasty. Frost brought his entire staff here. They had an undefeated season at UCF, but now they have headaches they never imagined at UCF. It’s a relatively young staff. Too early for that talk. This is a staff that needs to grow with the program.”
“There you go again, soft.”
“Smart. Like I said, I’ve seen what works, saw it for nearly three decades,” Old Me said. “I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I thought it would go on forever. It doesn’t. It takes work. It takes the right coach, some patience and a little luck.”
“Well, if you’re done, I gotta run. Big night in the Old Market tonight.”
“Hey, drive safe.”
“Any other advice?”
“Yeah. If Texas says they’re leaving the Big 12, don’t buy it.”