The Huskers' Unknown Variable in 2016
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Filling the Open Spot on Nebraska’s Coaching Staff

January 22, 2017

Nebraska made a huge move bringing Bob Diaco to Lincoln to coordinate the defense. Not only did that hire signal a major change in Nebraska’s defensive philosophy, but it was also a major financial investment, with Diaco reportedly receiving $1.7 million over the next two seasons.

Lost in all the excitement over the new defensive coordinator hire was the fact that Nebraska still has one more assistant coach spot to fill, the one left by the departed Brian Stewart. Nebraska has been quiet in terms of coaching candidates thus far, but that hasn’t stopped some fans from throwing out names such as former Illinois head coach Ron Zook and Notre Dame linebacker coach Mike Elston. While both are intriguing options for the Husker coaching staff, Nebraska’s best choice is already working in the football office. Kenny Wilhite, a former Nebraska defensive back currently employed by the Huskers, is the best option for the job.

He’s Already Working for Nebraska and Doing a Good Job

Wilhite has been employed at Nebraska since 2014, including two seasons under current Nebraska Coach Mike Riley. During his three years, Wilhite has taken on three roles: regional recruiting assistant, director of player of personnel and director of high school relations. Wilhite has excelled in all three roles, truly hitting his stride in 2016.

One of the main roles of the director of high school relations is overseeing the walk-on class. Wilhite has done a tremendous job in this area in 2017, landing seven talented prospects, with walk-ons Ben Lingenfelter and Trent Hixson both joining Nebraska instead of scholarship offers from Div. I schools. Wilhite has succeeded in every role that Nebraska has given him to date and he appears ready to take the next step and become a full-time coach.

He has Extensive Experience as a Position Coach in College Football

Wilhite spent over 10 seasons as a full time coach, as he began his coaching career at New Mexico State under Tony Samuel following his CFL career. Wilhite’s most recent stint as a coach was spent at Southeast Missouri State. He spent six seasons with the Redhawks, helping coach SEMO to an Ohio Valley Conference championship in 2010. Experience is one of the best teaching tools in the world of college football and Wilhite has over a decade of experience to work with.

He Wants to Work for Nebraska, which has Worked for Riley in the Past

Riley took a major risk with his football squad last season, hiring John Parrella as the defensive line coach. Parrella was viewed as a coach without enough experience (only three years of experience as a college coach), but Riley made the move due to Parrella’s intensity and desire to work for his alma mater. Parrella rewarded Riley’s faith in 2016, forming a solid defensive line unit and working tirelessly on the recruiting trail.

Riley can make a similar move again, albeit a much safer hire. Like Parella, Wilhite was an all-conference performer for Nebraska, leading the Big 8 in interceptions in 1991. Wilhite has also demonstrated considerable intensity and desire to work for his alma mater, as shown in an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star. Loyalty is a very difficult thing for college programs to find, and hiring Wilhite would give Mike Riley two defensive assistants that are truly in it for the long haul.

He is Already Recruiting for Nebraska

When Brian Stewart departed for Rice, the Huskers were left one assistant short on the recruiting trail. Many expected Riley to appoint Chris Brasfield, his former assistant from Oregon State, to handle it until National Signing Day but Riley decided to instead put Wilhite on the road for the final three weeks before signing day. Wilhite was even reported to be recruiting in St. Louis Monday morning.

He Has St. Louis Connections and St. Louis is Loaded with Talent

While a lot has been made of Nebraska’s efforts in California during the 2017 class, the Huskers’ success in the 2018 class will be determined by their effectiveness in St. Louis. Michael Thompson, Kamryn Babb and Trevor Trout are all top recruits that come from St. Louis and Nebraska has already been working hard to get them on board.

Wilhite is a St. Louis native that went on to star at Nebraska, meaning he can be a unique asset for the Nebraska coaching staff in the future. Wilhite also has over six years of connections in Missouri as a coach, as Southeast Missouri State’s campus is only an hour and twenty minutes south of St. Louis. This gives Wilhite impressive credibility with the coaches and prospects in the state of Missouri, an area that Nebraska needs to consistently keep an eye on to be successful.

A Balanced Coaching Staff for Nebraska

The addition of a 10th assistant coach appears to be all but finalized, and hiring Wilhite will keep Nebraska’s coaching staff balanced entering 2017. Tight ends coach Tavita Thompson is expected to be Nebraska’s 10th assistant when the spot opens up, which would give Nebraska five offensive assistants. Hiring Wilhite and having him coach safeties would give the Huskers the balanced staff they’re seeking.

He Won’t Break the Bank

Wilhite would be a solid hire for Nebraska not only in terms of coaching ability but also in value. Promoting him and giving him a raise would be a much cheaper option than attempting to pry Zook away from the Packers or trying to outbid Notre Dame for one of its assistants. By hiring Wilhite, the Huskers could have a great coach without the massive price tag.

What do you think? Who should Nebraska go after for its open spot on the coaching staff? Let us know in the comments below.

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