As Mike Dawson sat down at the table for his half-hour round table session with local media on Monday, a few reporters welcomed him back to Lincoln.
“Like a boomerang — try to throw me away and I just came right around,” Dawson replied.
The former Nebraska defensive line coach is back with the Huskers after spending last year coaching linebackers for the New York Giants.
“Sold two houses, bought a house, it’s been a crazy 12 or 14 months or whatever it’s been,” Dawson said. “Maybe not how you draw it up, but I’m very lucky. You don’t get a lot of second chances in life, and another chance to, No. 1, get back to Lincoln, back to the University of Nebraska, back with Scott, I’m very excited about it.”
Dawson said that once he had a conversation with Frost it was a no-brainer to return to Lincoln to fill the vacancy on the coaching staff created by Jovan Dewitt’s departure. Dawson may not have been on the staff last year, but he was still a Husker. When Dawson had some off time before home games, he watched the Huskers on TV and during road trips he listened to the radio call of the games.
“Obviously I wanted success for the guys that I had coached with and the guys that I had recruited and coached and things like that, so I was rooting just as hard as everybody else was for them,” Dawson said.
Now Dawson is back, only at another position. He’ll be coaching the outside linebackers just like he did for the Giants last year.
“For me, since the time I started coaching, I’ve kind of bounced around between even the offensive line, the defensive line, I’ve coached inside linebackers, I’ve coached outside linebackers — I’ve kind of lived in that box throughout my career,” Dawson said. “I’m always really good at coaching everybody else’s guys too and being Mr. Know-It-All, so it’s a good chance for me to get back with the linebackers and be tied in to the coverage as well as the front.
“I think coaching outside linebackers is a little unique, especially in this system, because one play you could be playing defensive line and doing a defensive line job, the next play you could be doing a linebacker job and the next play you could be doing what is typically a safety job. There’s a lot of flexibility for the players playing that position, and then for me as a coach it helps me get tied in to the entire system, both the front end and the back end, which I like.”
Dawson did say it’s going to be a little bit different with the guys he originally coached and recruited in another meeting room.
“I don’t know how many times this situation has happened in college football where you go and then a year later you’re back… You build relationships with those guys over recruiting and also having those guys in the room with you for a year, so there’s a lot of those guys that come over and you get to see them,” Dawson said. “That’s part of the reason why I’m so excited to come back—that young group of guys working up front there, and even watching them run around a little bit in practice today was pretty exciting. They look good and Coach Tony [Tuioti] is doing a great job with them. It’s going to be a lot of fun being around those guys. We still get to hang out; don’t worry, I’ll still bark at them when I need to, they know that.”
In addition to having Dawson’s former players in his room, Tuioti also has Dawson’s office. Dawson is still getting used to that.
“It’s weird, I keep going in the wrong door,” Dawson said. “Tony’s got my old office—obviously when I left that was what opened up. I’ve got a different office, different locker, things like that, different meeting room, so I’ve got to just learn my pattern a little bit and get that squared away.”
One thing that didn’t take much time to get used to again was recruiting. Soon after accepting the job he was back on the road.
“Some of the guys that I have long-standing relationships with, especially in the northeast in New Jersey and New York and stuff, they were kind of giggling, ‘You’re back again.’ There’s a little bit of [whip-lash], but it’s like riding a bike,” Dawson said.
“You get back on it and you keep on going.”
>> Dawson offered a general evaluation of his room heading into spring ball.
“They’re very eager, a bunch of guys that want to get better,” Dawson said. “I think they probably read the Internet as well as anyone and they don’t want to be the group that gets singled out — hey, we’ve got to get better at pass rush, we’ve got to do a better job of setting the edge. I think they know and understand that and they’re eager to get that done. We have a lot of work to do, there’s a lot of work ahead of us. I think any time after a season you work your self-scout and you kind of go back and see what you did well and see what you didn’t do well and try to improve it.
“Whether it was Jovan [Dewitt] sitting here or me sitting here, I think that it would probably be a similar type of story — we need to get better at doing what we’re doing and these guys are eager to get that done.”
>> Dawson said that early enrollee Blaise Gunnerson is still working his way back to full strength after undergoing surgery following his senior season.
“We’re going to try to get him to be able to do as much as we can,” Dawson said.
>> Gunnerson is already on campus, but junior college pass rusher Niko Cooper is another story. He’s still finishing up some things at Hutchinson Community College.
“We’ve got to get him here and start working with him,” Dawson said. “I had a good conversation with him last week about kind of keeping him on the same schedule through this spring … You never know with guys until they actually get on campus but I’m excited to get a chance to coach him. He’s a great guy from what I can tell so far just talking with him on the phone. Obviously these guys have a great relationship with him, so I’m looking forward to getting him here and getting rolling.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.