So Bob Diaco said some things yesterday. In an attempt to explain his “no reasonable reason” comments after the Northwestern game on Saturday, Diaco said Nebraska’s tackling was a in rough shape when he arrived. He said it was in rough shape because the program switched to a different way of tackling before the 2016 season and the decision to change wasn’t made by Mike Riley. “[W]hether this is true or not I have no idea, this is just what was told to me," he said, "mandated to the defensive staff was a tackling fundamental teaching progression, that they were going to tackle that way, mandated, from the administration."
It’s clear after yesterday, however, that Diaco believes it to be true. Based on what he heard and what he saw in his very first tackling drills at Nebraska – “to say alarming would be an understatement” – he was seeing proof of what he’d been told. Former defensive coordinator Mark Banker bristled to local media outlets when told of Diaco’s comments, but others have backed up Diaco’s version of events.
Yesterday was a good example of the impossible spot coaches are often in when it comes to talking about their teams. Would Diaco have been better off doing the coach-speak thing yesterday (and the Saturday before it), and say “we’re not where we want to be, but we’re working to get better every day”? Absolutely. He mentions his defense’s progress after almost every game and gets killed for it because it’s not showing on the field or in the stats. It might be viewed, and has been viewed, as evasive or maddeningly Pollyannaish, particularly given Diaco’s delivery.
But there’s one key thing that sort of coach speak is not viewed as – excuse-making.
And I don’t think that’s what Diaco was trying to do on Wednesday, but it’s the door he opened yesterday.
“I'm not going to talk disparaging about the players,” he said. “I love the players so I'm just not going to do it, I'm never going to do it. And I'm not a 'talk about family business' guy. And I want to do a third thing and that's be honest, so when it's not going well, to do all three of those things becomes very hard. And the answer can become a little nonsensical as you try to make sure that you protect your beautiful players and you protect the integrity of the family business because airing out your family laundry doesn't help anybody do anything, so I can understand.
“But, I do want to, I'll give you one example. And I don't know, I'm just trying to be honest here.” Then Diaco launched into his discussion of tackling.
Some people will never buy it as an attempt at honesty because it’s too beneficial to Diaco if the defense really was a big reclamation project. It explains some of the struggles this year. I can get that. It’s important to be skeptical.
Others might hate his comments because breaking the ball-coach omertà simply isn’t done. I get that point of view, too. The upside for Diaco saying what he said on Wednesday wasn’t very high because of this. (Not to mention because of what it further revealed about the too-many-cooks problem that currently seems to plague this program, but that’s another discussion.)
But it was for those reasons, as someone who occasionally holds the recorders coaches speak into, that I respected what Diaco tried to do on Wednesday. The truth – and I do believe that what he’s saying when it comes to tackling is true – didn’t help him here.
He said it anyway. He said it in a way that’s hard to love. If it’s an attempt to excuse where Nebraska’s defense is at in year one, it’s a horrible way to do it.
And that’s why it isn’t an excuse.
The Grab Bag
- Nebraska basketball got a win last night in its last tune up before the real games begin on Saturday. Jacob Padilla has your game recap here.
- Three UCLA basketball players were arrested for shoplifting in China yesterday, including one of the inheritors of the famed Big Baller Brand (LiAngelo Ball). SI legal expert Michael McCann looks at the potential ramifications and let's just say it's a particularly bad idea to get arrested in China.
- ESPN did a deep dive on Jim McElwain's exit from Florida.
- A friend of Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner is now on record saying he was the one who provided some of Pastner's players that resulted in recent self-reported violations, but there's more to the story. (Going to be quite the basketball season.)
Today's Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.