Through North Stadium, just before the pomp and history and nostalgia that makes Nebraska great sits on display, you take an elevator up from the ground floor and you’re a short walk away from the Athletic Director’s office. Memorial Stadium houses everything. Though soon to change, it’s a good reminder of what drives the bus for this athletic department. As Nebraska football goes, so too does the rest of the department. Shaky ground is no fun, and that turf on Tom Osborne Field has had its fair share of wobbly years since the turn of the decade.
Nebraska needs stability. In that way, nothing has changed in 20-something years. And still a whole lot changed this week with the abrupt announcement that Bill Moos would be departing as Nebraska’s Athletic Director on June 30, about 17 months before his contract was set to expire.
Moos had ardently, perhaps even defiantly at times, stated his intention to live out the life of that contract and stay with Nebraska through the end of 2022.
Though 70 years old, Moos enjoyed the gig. In a lot of ways, he was quite good at it. Moos brought Scott Frost home when there was a very real threat from better (read: recent football success) programs. He signed an NBA coach to Lincoln, Nebraska, who has since brought NBA talent to Lincoln. He brought Will Bolt home, who won the league in his first full season at the helm.
The Go B1G facility project is also on Moos’ résumé. Matt Davison was instrumental in crafting the vision, and former UNL president Hank Bounds was crucial throughout the fundraising process, but Moos was still the overseer of the department that raised tens of millions during a pandemic. No small feat.
Moos might not have provided the kind of stern, overbearing leadership some might prefer, but he also wasn’t blissfully unaware of the goings-on in his department. Moos was privy to things like Oklahoma-Gate.
That being the last “controversy” of his tenure and happening months ago, the timing here is no doubt curious and has—as one could have predicted—led to speculation and rumors. Nebraska’s fiscal year ends on June 30. Might that have played a role? Maybe Moos might have said something untoward during a round of interviews with national and local (myself) media on Friday, but I suspect his personable nature has little to do with his departure.
Nebraska called it a retirement. Until Friday, Moos didn’t seem a man close to retiring for all the reasons others, including Brandon Vogel, have written about already. Moos said in a statement he was “step(ping) away completely content, knowing that our athletic program is reborn and rebuilt and that it has a solid, stable foundation.”
Reborn and rebuilt, yes, but sitting on a stable foundation? I’m not so sure.
That would be hard when the athletic director abruptly steps down.
Nebraska football was 13-24 under Moos.
Nebraska basketball is 14-45 in the last two years after Moos parted ways with Tim Miles.
He has replaced other coaches in lower-profile sports. His department took a serious financial hit because of the pandemic. And there’s the fact the Justice Department is involved in a lawsuit against UNL for improperly handling Title IX allegations of sexual assault and harassment, a case that names, in some instances, Husker student-athletes as victims and alleges other athletes, who are not named, of wrongdoing.
Nebraska has not had solid, stable ground for some time.
Considering the circumstances, this is the latest rumbling.
And it potentially opens the door for further tremors.
Moos often said he didn’t like to break up the furniture as it related to hiring and firing coaches.
But if you’re moving into a new place, you’re going to bring your own furniture. New athletic directors want their own people. That’s true from an administrative standpoint and a coaching one.
Scott Frost is now in a precarious spot.
It would be absurd to suggest Frost won’t get the chance to coach the 2021 season under a new boss. It would be short-sighted to argue he’s in do-or-die mode once the new season begins. He’s under contract through the end of the 2026 year at $5 million per. If a program strives for stability, riding the coaching carousel every three of four years undermines that quest.
But Frost was Moos’ pick of the litter, a coach whose boss publicly tied each other at the hip. Frost, Moos said, would be there as long as he was. Well… to the new athletic director, Frost could simply be an inherited coach.
Maybe that new athletic director will be as close to Frost as Moos was, but a head football coach at a football school doesn’t get carte blanche to operate below expectations simply because he’s a well-liked alum.
This 2021 season becomes even more important than it already was. Coaches this past spring showed a sense of urgency poking through the typical seasonal optimism; Frost is 12-20 in three years and none of them are happy about that fact. Nebraska has underperformed, but it has always claimed to see the light at the end of the tunnel and Moos has backed those statements each step of the way.
Frost doesn’t just have to convince the fans of that anymore, he’s going to have to convince the new boss, who might enter with a similar level of skepticism.
Make no mistake, the hot seat columns in light of Moos’ departure are premature. Frost and his team have a chance to stabilize things in 2021.
Defensive coordinator Erik Chinander, his defensive assistant coaches, and his Blackshirts have all the talent to be one of the Big Ten’s best defenses.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez has perhaps the most complete offense around him he’s had yet.
Frost has three years of experience in the Big Ten to know exactly what to expect. There will be no surprises.
Nebraska will need to start strong in order to stave off any drama-inducing narratives early. The end of the schedule offers no rest for the weary, and questions about a coach’s future have a way of derailing ambitious teams.
For a number of reasons, it’s fitting that Oklahoma remains on the schedule for next season. The Sooners will offer a test of Nebraska’s quality, an insight into the season to come, and a foil for what Nebraska is.
Oklahoma’s current athletic director was hired in 1998. Eight months later, he hired a coach that would remain his football coach for 18 years. At the end, that coach groomed his replacement before stepping away. Joe Castiglione will no doubt try and groom his own replacement for when he’s ready to step away. And the OU train will keep churning because the football program does. Stability and consistency breed more of the same.
Nebraska has had five athletic directors now since Castiglione began his tenure and will conduct a national search for the sixth. During that time, the flagship football program has been led by five different head coaches. Would the sixth AD want a sixth coach? I’m not so sure. There are signs Frost is on the right path, he just happens to coach in a profession with little patience.
If Nebraska was set to have a season in 2021 that met Moos’ expectations—seven or eight wins, competing for the West—and Moos was on board to see it out, as he’d previously said he wanted to, Nebraska might suddenly be looking at the firm footing it has desperately been chasing for years.
But the Huskers do have a penchant for drama.
Moos’ departure doesn’t immediately signal danger for his highest-profile coaching hire, even if it does mean the safety net is officially gone.
For now, that rumbling outside Memorial Stadium is just a collection of bulldozers. For Nebraska’s sake, here’s hoping it stays that way.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.