There's a new look to Nebraska football, and you could see it on
quarterback Joe Dailey's face last week. Ten minutes after his
first spring practice under Bill Callahan, who replaced ousted
Cornhuskers coach Frank Solich on Jan. 9, the sophomore's
expression flickered between excitement and bewilderment. "We
hadn't even warmed up, and he's calling for some combination
route with a name, like, two sentences long," said Dailey. "I'm
trying to spit this play out, and guys in the huddle are looking
at me as if to say, We're doing this already?"
Callahan, the first Huskers coach to be hired from outside the
program since 1962, is wasting no time in bringing Nebraska up to
speed on his style of football. In less than three months the
former Oakland Raiders coach has enacted more change than the
tradition-entrenched program had seen in nearly three decades.
The Huskers' long-standing welcome of walk-ons? Callahan's
preseason roster shrank from 139 names in late January to 113
last week. That spartan locker room at Memorial Stadium? Callahan
ordered scarlet-and-cream banners hung and will have input into
plans for a supersized, super-modern locker room to be part of a
$50 million stadium renovation. "Football is always evolving,"
says Callahan, "and we must move with it."
An offensive assistant at the college and NFL levels for 21 years
before his head coaching debut with the Raiders in 2002, Callahan
led Oakland to the Super Bowl in his first season, but an
injury-plagued 4-12 campaign last year prompted his firing at the
end of the season. Callahan's boldest move in Lincoln will be
replacing the option offense--Nebraska's mainstay since
1977--with the West Coast attack he ran in the NFL. The coach is
confident the system will boost the Huskers' offense, which
ranked 10th in the Big 12 last year at 345.0 yards per game.
To ease the transition, Callahan and his revamped staff, which
includes two former Oakland assistants, worked tirelessly over
the winter to assemble a top 25 recruiting class featuring
players familiar with a pro-style offense. At the same time he
supplied Dailey and three other returning quarterbacks with tapes
of the 2002 Raiders offense, directed by Rich Gannon, who led the
NFL in passing that year. "We've been practicing signals to those
tapes every day after class," says Dailey. "Our preparation is
April 4, 2004
Until the results of that preparation are unveiled in September,
the question of whether this new offense can propel the
Cornhuskers into their first conference title game in five years
will be the source of heated debate in football-mad Lincoln. Most
fans are optimistic, including Tom Ruud, a Nebraska linebacker
from 1972 to '74 and father of current linebackers Barrett and
Bo. Last week Tom was among several alums who drifted into
Memorial Stadium for a sneak peek at the new Huskers. "Thousands
of people in this state are wondering what's going to happen and
how fast it's going to happen," he said. "But the one sure thing
is a new excitement in the air. The players will feed off of
Five More New Faces
Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State
The SEC's first black head football coach takes over a team that
has finished last in the SEC West three years in a row.
Mark Dantonio, Cincinnati
A former Ohio State defensive coordinator, he'll bring the
Bearcats (5-6 last season) to visit the Buckeyes on Sept. 4.
George O'Leary, Central Florida
In his first head job since the Notre Dame resume flap, O'Leary
inherits a team coming off its first losing season in four years.
Mike Price, UTEP
The Miners, who went 2-11 last year, expect big things from
Price, who led Washington State to two Rose Bowls.
Mike Stoops, Arizona
The fiery defensive coordinator for brother Bob at Oklahoma has
already landed a solid class of recruits for the struggling