That was quite the news bombshell Wednesday night, wasn’t it? Coach Mike Riley continued his staff shakeup, as defensive coordinator Mark Banker failed to have his contract renewed and defensive backs coach Brian Stewart departed for another opportunity. Assistant changes happen all the time in college football, but the timing of both for Nebraska could cause the Huskers some issues on the recruiting trail.
Stewart’s departure to become the defensive coordinator at Rice really isn’t all that surprising. He is a bit of a vagabond football coach, as he has never stayed at one job for more than three seasons. Add in the fact that Riley recently hired Donte Williams to “help” Stewart coach the secondary and it was only a matter of time.
Stewart’s top targets this recruiting cycle were:
- CB Deommodore Lenoir – Los Angeles, Calif.
- CB Elijah Blades – Pasadena, Calif.
- ATH Kamren Curl – Muskogee, Okla.
The first two prospects are both California natives, which is an area of expertise for Williams. Lenoir will be visiting Nebraska on Jan. 20 and the Huskers are in a solid position with both Blades and Curl. Stewart’s departure shouldn’t have too big of an effect over these next three weeks.
Banker’s dismissal is a different story though. He’s never been an elite recruiter — Banker is responsible for just one commit over the past two-plus recruiting cycles — but his departure now forces Nebraska’s defensive assistants to recruit players without a scheme to pitch. Prospects want to know how they are going to be utilized during their collegiate career, and right now Nebraska can’t adequately answer that question. Also, opposing coaches can use Nebraska’s current uncertainty at defensive coordinator as a negative recruiting tool over the next few days.
Riley has shown that he can move quickly when it comes to firing and hiring assistants, as he replaced the opening left by Bruce Read in under 10 days. With Nebraska’s current recruiting situation (10 open spots with 20 days until National Signing Day), he may need to move even quicker. Riley has stated in the past that if the NCAA allows a 10th assistant he would like to have five assistants on each side of the football. This means that both current coaching openings will likely be filled with defensive coaches.
Who will Nebraska go after to fill the openings? That’s the million dollar question. Will the Huskers stay in house and promote linebackers coach Trent Bray to defensive coordinator? Or will they make a run at Him Reid, Iowa’s former linebacker coach that led Boston College to a top 15 finish in total defense in 2016? It’s even possible that Riley will shock us all and go after a rising star in the FCS ranks, such as Villanova defensive coordinator Billy Crocker. All could be beneficial on the recruiting trail for Nebraska, which has to be a consideration for Riley in the hire.
Time will tell what happens (and it shouldn’t take long) but until then, Nebraska currently has uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball. And when you have six spots to fill in the final three weeks, uncertainty is the last thing that you want to have.