Steven M. Sipple: ‘Silly season’ not so silly at all for Nebraska football coaches under fire

November 25, 2017 GMT

They call this the “silly season” in college football.

Nebraska’s in it up to its neck.

Silly season is when coaches are getting fired and hired all over the nation. There’s eventually so much movement, you can barely keep up. It is kind of silly.

But there’s nothing amusing for the Nebraska coaches who likely will be shown the door within 24 hours of Friday’s 3 p.m. game against Iowa at Memorial Stadium. I’m told that official word will come down Saturday morning or early afternoon.

That’s not silly for families and friends of fired coaches.

We’ve seen this side of the business often at Nebraska in recent years. First, Frank Solich (2003), then Bill Callahan (2007), then Bo Pelini (2014) and now Mike Riley.

You can become callous about the plight of coaches. You can say firing is just part of the big-money business, but you must acknowledge it’s a cold part. These are humans.

This might sound hollow, but Riley and his assistants have handled the late stages of this dreadfully long season with Grade-A professionalism even though they knew their jobs were jeopardy.

“The consistency of work is something Mike’s preached and stayed on us about — and not getting too caught up in what’s going on,” Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “I don’t think we’ve had a lot of discussions about what’s going to happen. We’ve just continued to try to do our best, and let it play out the way it’s going to play out.”

At the risk of sounding maudlin, it’s been inspirational to watch the coaches conduct themselves with a sense of pride and dignity. They push forward with heads held high knowing their lives are about to be turned upside down. I’m guessing there has been frustration and perhaps anger behind the scenes. But we’ve seen only hints of those emotions in the public arena.

Langsdorf said Riley’s message is constant: Don’t give up. Keep working hard. Try to approach each day the same.

The coaches knew their jobs could be in jeopardy clear back on Sept. 21, when Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst was fired in the wake of a home loss to Northern Illinois. The season’s narrative suddenly took on an ominous tone.

All the while, Langsdorf said coaches tried to block out the outside noise as best they could for the sake of the players. Coaches and players alike have been able to take some comfort in being in the vacuum of weekly preparation for opponents.

As for remaining consistent on a day-to-day basis — yeah, it’s easier said than done, said Langsdorf, a married father of two.

“For sure it is,” he said. “It’s human nature. You’ve got families — wives and kids — who are probably concerned. You’re hoping to have as much time as you can to build a program. So when it’s not going as well as anybody wants it to go, the negative stuff can creep in.

“But I think at the same time, if you can control what you can control and continue to work hard at helping these kids out, that’s really all you can ask.”

Riley’s news conferences on recent Mondays have been memorable because of how calm and pleasant he’s been amid the heat. As you listen to him, you almost have to remind yourself Nebraska, at 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten, is in danger of losing eight games in a season for the first time since 1957.

One of his messages in this week’s news conference surely resonated with a lot of folks in various walks of life.

“I think some things like this (season), in adversity, and how you respond to it, go directly to your soul,” he said. “If you let things slide, if you don’t really get ready, then you are letting down a lot of people, but mostly yourself about who you are.”

Riley’s messages often are excellent. But they don’t seem to inspire his players often enough. How often do the Huskers perform with the sort of fire typical of championship-level teams? Or the sort of fire you might expect from players trying to save their head coach’s job?

“I think they’ve continued to work,” Langsdorf said. “It has not always gone the way we even thought it would go. But we’ve all tried to have a good attitude coming into work every day.”

If Nebraska shows up for a fight against Iowa (6-5, 3-5), the Huskers, all their issues notwithstanding, still have enough in the tank to send out their seniors on a good note.

Husker defensive coordinator Bob Diaco this week had in mind those 21 seniors, saying he wants them “to go out the right way, with class and pride and production.”

The veterans have seen a lot in their college playing careers. They’ve surely learned life lessons from watching Pelini and his staff deal with the firing squad.

Now, here we go again.

“You know, these decisions are out of our control,” Langsdorf said. “I think losing a ton of sleep over something that we don’t have any control over is kind of a waste of time.”

I guess in a sense he’s right, it’d be kind of silly. But I would totally understand.