Osborne: Next coach must understand Nebraska football culture

Updated: December 1, 2007, 10:23 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LINCOLN, Neb. -- The next Nebraska coach doesn't necessarily have to have ties to the school, but Tom Osborne says the Cornhuskers' next leader must have an understanding of the program's unique culture and history.

Somebody such as former Nebraska quarterback and Buffalo coach Turner Gill would qualify.

You want somebody that knows football and has a good work ethic. You want somebody that can motivate. Some people know football, but they really don't get people to play hard for them. Again, I'm not saying that's the case [with the previous staff]. But you've got to get players to play hard.

--Tom Osborne

Buffalo athletic director Warde Manuel gave permission to Osborne, Nebraska's interim athletic director, to speak with Gill, Buffalo sports information director Paul Vecchio told The Associated Press. He said an interview had not yet been scheduled.

Manuel told the Lincoln Journal Star that Turner has his support.

"I think it's tremendous. Turner is absolutely ready to coach at Nebraska. He's done a great job, an awesome turnaround. Although I would hate to lose him, he would be a great coach there."

Manuel told the the Journal Star that he believes an interview will take place "in the next day or so."

Gill's hiring would be a sign of progress, the head of the Black Coaches and Administrators says.

That's because Nebraska is a Bowl Championship Series school in the Big 12.

"It's a key job because it's visible," BCA executive director Floyd Keith said Monday.

There are only six black coaches at 119 major-college football schools: Gill, Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom, UCLA's Karl Dorrell, Washington's Tyrone Willingham, Kansas State's Ron Prince and Miami's Randy Shannon.

Four years ago, Keith criticized Nebraska for its 40-day search that resulted in the hiring of Bill Callahan, saying former athletic director Steve Pederson didn't seriously consider minority candidates.

Keith said he would send a letter to Osborne discussing the BCA's interest in the search and the organization's willingness to assist. Such letters are routinely sent to schools conducting coaching searches, Keith said.

"We hope we have conversations with them during that process and that they follow the guidelines for an inclusive and equitable search," Keith said.

LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini also appears to be on the top of the list of names mentioned most often as possible successors Bill Callahan.

The Journal Star reported that an airplane carrying Osborne and university chancellor Harvey Perlman left Lincoln bound for Baton Rouge, La., on Sunday afternoon.

The Omaha World-Herald reported that Osborne met with Pelini on Sunday then traveled to Atlanta. Parker Executive Search, the firm assisting Nebraska in finding a replacement for Callahan, is based in Atlanta.

Pederson interviewed Gill and Pelini before Callahan's hiring in 2004.

One of the criticisms of Callahan, who was fired Saturday, was that he didn't understand or appreciate the fans' passion and high expectations. Both were inflated during Osborne's coaching career, a 25-year period that saw the Huskers average 10 wins a season and win three national championships.

"I think it's pretty important that they have a good grasp of it," Osborne said of prospective candidates. "I think most people in football have a kind of peripheral sense of what it is like."

Gill quarterbacked the Huskers in the early 1980s and was an assistant under Osborne and Frank Solich. He left in 2004, after Callahan's first season.

In December 2005, Gill agreed to a five-year contract to coach Buffalo, which won just 10 games in its first seven years in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A. After the Bulls went 2-10 in 2006, Gill led them to a 5-3 finish in the Mid-America Conference, and a first-place tie in the East Division, this season. Buffalo was 5-7 overall.

Pelini was the Huskers' defensive coordinator under Solich in 2003 after working eight years as an NFL assistant.

Told of the flight, LSU athletic director Skip Bertman told the Journal Star, "Are you kidding me?"

Bertman told the the Journal Star that nobody from Nebraska contacted him regarding Pelini, but added, "It's probably not absolutely, positively mandatory for an assistant. I don't suppose he felt he had to contact me, I guess."

Gill and Pelini did not return messages left by The Associated Press on Sunday.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez's name has been bandied, but he said Sunday he has no interest in a return to coaching. Alvarez, who stepped down as Badgers' coach in 2005, played linebacker at Nebraska in 1965-67.

"I've got the job I want right now," Alvarez said.

Osborne said it would be "nice" if the next coach already had experience at Nebraska.

"But that's not going to be exclusive," Osborne said. "I'm not going to make that a prerequisite. So I'll just try to find the best candidate. And it takes two people to agree. I may talk to some people that have Nebraska ties that want no part of it."

Among other names to surface in media reports are Rutgers' Greg Schiano, Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, Boise State's Chris Petersen, Navy's Paul Johnson and South Florida's Jim Leavitt.

Schiano said he had not been contacted by Nebraska and declined further comment. Kelly also declined to comment.

Cincinnati associate athletic director for communications Kelby Siler told the Journal Star that Kelly wouldn't discuss rumors.

"He doesn't want to talk about it," Siler told the newspaper. "He doesn't want to field questions. We're just trying to figure out if we're going to El Paso, Charlotte or Birmingham [for bowl games] right now."

Siler told the Journal Star that athletic director Mike Thomas won't say whether he's been contacted by schools seeking permission to speak with Kelly.

Petersen, Johnson and Leavitt did not return messages left at their offices and through their schools' sports information departments.

Whoever the coach is, Osborne envisions a return to the days when Nebraska teams played a bruising brand of football and cultivated many of their best players from within the state.

Callahan junked Osborne and Solich's triple-option for the West Coast offense, and the Huskers seemed to lose their hard edge. Under Osborne and Solich, some of the most ferocious hitting occurred on the practice field. Under Callahan, practices in full pads were uncommon.

Osborne said he also wants the new coach to embrace the atmosphere, which means showing respect for the program's past, being visible and building the trust of fans and players.

"You want somebody whose word is good," Osborne said. "It's very important in recruiting that the players trust you. That what you tell them is going to happen.

"You want somebody that knows football and has a good work ethic. You want somebody that can motivate. Some people know football, but they really don't get people to play hard for them. Again, I'm not saying that's the case [with the previous staff]. But you've got to get players to play hard."

Osborne said he won't mandate a particular style of offense, but he said some facets of the old triple-option remain effective.

"I think it's really hard in college football if you don't have some mobility in your quarterback, to be successful," he said. "You need to have the ability to run the football once in a while and scramble for a first down. The rest of it, I don't know. The new coach will have to decide."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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