In his two press conference appearances since Nebraska’s loss to Oklahoma, interim head coach Mickey Joseph has been intriguing to listen to.
Of course, what stood out from the post-game availability was his refrain that the loss was on him. He immediately made an attempt to redirect criticism off of players and assistant coaches, and onto himself.
As one might expect, it didn’t have much effect. Anyone who watched that game or has followed Nebraska’s situation this season can easily recognize that it’d be unfair, if not cruel to lay blame on Joseph. The problems that exist within the team aren’t something that can reasonably be fixed within six days, especially not against a top-10 opponent. In hindsight, there wasn’t much, if anything that Joseph could’ve done to change the outcome.
That being said, I don’t know if those comments deserved the level of immediate dismissal they received.
The response from the players following the game was that Joseph’s claim of responsibility was what he was supposed to say. It should be acknowledged that the response from players is also what they are supposed to say. Either party placing public blame on the other would raise a few eyebrows.
Many may not find it worthwhile to really consider the interim coach’s plan to help this Nebraska team win games. The Huskers are 1-3, fired their head coach and most of the focus is directed toward which big name they’ll land in their coaching search.
I don’t have insight into how Nebraska views Joseph’s chances to contend for the job past this year, but they barely feel high enough to take seriously. Nebraska’s not really in a great position to win many games through the rest of the season, and the Huskers’ top candidates will likely have more impressive head coaching experience.
But there are still eight games left, and current discussions on the coaching search just give me headaches. So I’ll spend most of the remainder of the season paying attention to Joseph’s goal — leaving the program in a better place should he not be retained.
There are tangible things Joseph has pointed to in putting the loss on himself. After the game Saturday, he said he “didn’t do enough” to get the team ready, wanting to prioritize individual work and fundamentals. He alluded to potential personnel changes as well, wanting to see if there were younger players that deserved more reps in practice.
The following day, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander was let go following the defense’s terrible start to the year. Special teams coordinator Bill Busch, who Joseph worked with at LSU, was moved to defensive coordinator and Busch’s special teams role was filled by Joey Connors.
This is a positive move. Joseph added a focus on coaching safeties and nickels for Chinander and will do the same for Busch, allowing defensive backs coach Travis Fisher to focus on cornerbacks. Unlike Chinander, Busch has extensive experience coaching the position. The defense cannot get any worse than it has been, so the potential reward outweighs the risk for Joseph.
I don’t see special teams suffering either, given that the Huskers haven’t been spectacular in that regard anyways outside of having a better punter.
On Tuesday, Joseph addressed another perceived shortcoming on his end — managing the tempo. Oklahoma’s eight first-half possessions allowed them to score 35 points before the break, already putting the game out of reach. The teams combined for nine possessions in the first quarter.
Taking into consideration the defense’s inability to get stops, the Huskers may have been able to keep the game closer for longer if they had made it a priority to take more time with the ball on offense. Nebraska’s opening scoring drive took under two minutes. There’s a strong chance the result wouldn’t have changed anyways, but looking back, it’s easy to see how the tempo worked against the Huskers.
I like that Joseph has been so open about his coaching decisions and where he feels he can improve. At very least, it gives us something to look at specifically as the season goes on. He’s not blind to the lack of execution by players, having mentioned it after the Oklahoma game, but he’s clearly doing what he can to play to the team’s strengths and weaknesses, not trying to force it into something it’s currently not prepared for.
Joseph has a hard task ahead of him in trying to make significant improvements on the field, one difficult enough that he won’t get much blame if the team can’t muster more than a win or two down the stretch.
A lot of things are out of his control when the team takes the field. But to have the program in a better place at the end of the year, he needs to do what he can to put the team in a position to win.
The moves he made so far are possible steps toward that. The October slate of Indiana, Rutgers, Purdue and Illinois provides a great opportunity to showcase it.