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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Stewart Mandel Still Makes No Sense

Or, Stewart Mandel’s lips are moving, but I can’t hear what they are saying through his Levi’s.

Last week Stewart Mandel included Bill Callahan as a coach on the verge of being on of his “worst coaches”list. Obviously, this provoked a flurry of emails from Nebraska fans. This week, in his mailbag, Mandel highlights his reasoning for putting Callahan on this list. Not surprisingly his reasons show the lack of research and insight that have come to characterize the mainstream media in general,

I shall attack his arguments one-by-insipid-one.

The above e-mailers mentioned the impressive strides he's made in recruiting. There's a reason for that. Because of the drastic personnel makeover Callahan had to undergo to run his desired style of offense, he was able to go into the living rooms of blue-chip athletes around the country with the promise of instant playing time. Over a longer period of time, however, it's unrealistic to think Nebraska will be able to remain a true, national recruiting force like USC.

Neither one of us knows what promises Callahan might have made in which living rooms along the recruiting trail. But the bottom-line is, very few first-year players have taken the field (in a meaningful way) under Callahan’s leadership. So, he either made promises and then didn’t kept them, or maybe, just maybe, his recruiting prowess stretches a bit further than promises of playing time. This isn't EA Sports NCAA Football, recruiting in the real world comes down to relationships built on a lot more than pithy pitches.

In addition, it’s unrealistic to think that any school can keep up with the type of recruiting that Pete Carroll is doing at USC. In fact, I’d argue that it might actually be more difficult for Carroll to continue to stay among the Top 3 in recruiting, year-in-year-out, than it would be for Callahan to continue to put together Top 10 or Top 15 classes.

This is nothing against Nebraska; it's just reality. Given the choice between spending four years in L.A., Florida or Lincoln, Neb., which do you think a five-star receiver from Virginia is going to choose? And the fact is, Callahan is going to be almost entirely dependent on these types of recruits because 6-foot-5 pro-style quarterbacks and 4.4 receivers aren't exactly growing on trees in Nebraska's backyard.

This is nothing new. L.A and Florida have always been better locales than Lincoln. And Nebraska is unlikely to ever be a recruiting Mecca. Yet, year after year we’ve managed to find enough guys to field a team. In addition, you have to look at what Callahan has done to help this situation. He’s locking up what high school talent Nebraska does put out each year, he’s putting on clinics, he’s working with high school coaches to implement his offensive system, and he’s inviting the best recruits to various camps throughout the summer. So, no recruits don’t come here for the beaches (Holmes Lake?), or the mountains. They come here for the tradition. They come here for the fan support. They come here for the facilities and the academic support. In the end, they all become proud to say “I Play for Nebraska.” Ooh, goosebumps.

Furthermore, it's asking a lot of college quarterbacks to run a full-fledged, NFL-style version of the West Coast offense.

You’re right, it is asking a lot. I get irritated, however, when people forget that Callahan utilizes the WCO because it is the system he is both familiar with and strongly believes in. It would be far worse coaching on his part if he asked his QBs to learn the run-and-shoot, as this lies outside his expertise. Callahan was hired to run the WCO. His QBs are recruited to run the WCO. Can you, or I, as casual observers really say that Nebraska’s offensive struggles relate to a lack of WCO expertise on the quarterbacks’ part, as opposed to say poor execution at any number of other positions on the field?

It's just too complicated.

Stewart Mandel, I’d like to introduce you to Zac Taylor, 2006 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.

At other programs that have attempted it, the typical QB has taken three years to fully grasp it. (UCLA's Drew Olson being a perfect example.)

I see where you’re going with this and everyone has his or her example to use as evidence (Drew Olson, Rich Gannon, etc.). The bottom line is freshman QB recruits have 5 years to play 4.

Callahan has been fortunate thus far to be able to land a juco transfer (Zac Taylor) who'd already been in the system and now a fifth-year senior transfer in Sam Keller.

Callahan was extremely fortunate to land Taylor (and Keller), but you make it sound like Taylor fell from the sky. Callahan and company, FOUND Taylor at a Kansas JUCO. They identified both his talent, and his football savvy, making him a perfect fit for their offense, regardless of his remaining eligibility. This ability is what distinguishes Callahan, from say, a bad football coach.

In addition, I’m a little confused about how Zac Taylor had “already been in the system”. He was in Callahan’s system for a spring and then 2 full seasons. If you are implying that his JUCO ran “a full-fledged, NFL-style version of the West Coast offense,” than you are either (A) wrong, or (B) mistaken about its complexity as a JUCO (2-year school by definition) is the last place this Rubik’s Cube-like system should be utilized.

It won't always be that way. When the inevitable day comes that he needs to start a freshman or sophomore, it's going to be 2004-05 all over again.

Inevitable? Perhaps, but it doesn’t really seem likely in the next few years. You see, Callahan knows that he needs talented QBs to run his system. And in college football they have this thing called recruiting that allows you to target high school and junior college athletes and then add them to your team. You can even see the results of Callahan’s recruiting on Nebraska’s roster. There you would find a bevy of quarterbacks waiting to take over for Sam Keller.

Joe Ganz, Jr.
Beau Davis, Jr.
Zac Lee, So.
Patrick Witt, Fr.
Blaine Gabbert (2008 commit)

One of these guys might have to take over as a sophomore eventually. But all Callahan can do is recruit to the best of his ability and then teach his system to ease any sort of transition.

The strange thing is, Callahan has shown he's more than willing to break out the flea flickers and other trick plays, but in last year's USC and Oklahoma games, and when the game was on the line against Auburn, he retreated to all-out, run-it-into-the-line-three-straight-times-and-play-defense mode. I can't emphasize this enough. I hate that.

Ok, I’ll grant you the USC game. Callahan’s playcalling in that game was conservative at best. Maybe he didn’t think we could win, or maybe he was protecting Zac Taylor, but he did sandbag at least a little. Point Mandel.

But what about those other two games? As I noted earlier, the OU and Auburn games were two of our least efficient offensive performances. However, it doesn’t seem like we retreated to all-out, run-it-into-the-line-three-straight-times-and-play-defense mode in either contest. How do I know? Well we ran 72 plays in the second halves of those games. You know, the second half when the “game is on the line”. Of those 72 plays 44 were passes. That means passing attempts represented 61% of the playcalls. Ineffective? Yes. An all-out retreat? I don’t think so.

See, that’s why you got you all of those emails from Nebraska fans. And you can call us defensive all you like. I just like to think that we are doing our part to protect the world from more mainstream media idiocy.