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Hail Varsity Mailbag
Photo Credit: Quentin Lueninghoener

Mailbag: Point Guards, Jersey Retirements, and… Yeah, that Oklahoma Thing

March 17, 2021

It’s time for another mailbag. The Hail Varsity staff is back to answer your questions, so let’s dive in.

You have been hired as Nebraska’s PR Director for football. Considering everything that’s occurred in the last 18 months with the program, what would you do to help the media and sports fan narrative concerning the Huskers? (@Corn_Huskers) 

Erin Sorensen: PR is a tough job. If it were easy, everyone would be in the field and you’d never have any public gaffes. With that said, the only way I think that you can change the narrative right now is to win. It’s as simple as that. However, that doesn’t do much in the short term, does it? If I’m Nebraska, I’d probably just put my head down and get to work. That also doesn’t mean shutting everyone out. Continue with regular press conference through spring ball. Allow the good stories to surface and be told about your team. Hype will inevitably build because that’s just how it goes, but I think the PR move right now is just to go about business. Get to work. Let your players shine. Accept that some may see what happened as a bad move but choose not to try and combat it with words but instead with action. Little things go a long way. 

Greg Smith: I would make the program more accessible to fans and media. The program feels like everything is being guarded like it’s the Pentagon. Football doesn’t have to be that serious and treating it that way leads to worrying about the wrong things as a program. My “narrative” that I would try to push would be that the program is all about the work. Social media graphics, videos, etc. would be centered around the message that hard work built this program and that’s what we are doing now to return to prominence.   

There has been discussion that John Cook would be a good AD – do you think he would be interested when Moos retires or is replaced? (@dmhusker1) 

Brandon Vogel: I have a hard time knowing exactly where I come down on this. On the one hand, Cook enjoys a good challenge and I do think the Nebraska AD job is currently a challenge given the lack of sustained success in the two main revenue sports. Cook also has an affinity for football, and whoever the AD is when Nebraska football gets back on a better trajectory will likely get a good deal of credit. All that said, as more time passes I’m starting to think just finding the right exit point for volleyball and retiring as one of the greatest college coaches in any sport is the more likely scenario.  

Can someone please explain what actually happened throughout the entire OU fiasco…from start to finish? (@GoBigRedcast) 

ES: A source tipped off Brett McMurphy that Nebraska was trying to get out of the Oklahoma matchup this fall. Oklahoma’s athletic director released a statement two hours following McMurphy’s tweet that didn’t deny the report but did say the Sooners were still planning to play that game. Several hours later, Nebraska responded and confirmed that it had looked into the option, citing financial reasons and the benefit of an eighth home game, but planned to go ahead with the Oklahoma game. That’s what happened. Anything else around it—like who tipped off McMurphy or what exactly Nebraska was saying behind closed doors—is not public knowledge at this time (or confirmed, I suppose I should say). We can form opinions on what we believe to have happened based on the information out there, but that’s an entirely different answer, isn‘t it? 

So, I get the bad look of the Oklahoma situation, but honestly wasn’t it overblown a bit? Many teams play way easier schedules than we do. Never a good look to be seen running from something, but if there was any other news on that day no one outside of Nebraska would have noticed. (@InDaWilderness) 

Jacob Padilla: I don’t think it was overblown at all. Considering the history, the brands and the context, Nebraska-Oklahoma is likely one of the most high-profile nonconference games of the 2021 season (even if the Huskers aren’t yet in a position to make it a great game). It was going to be a national discussion point no matter what else was going. Twitter has time for a lot of different topics in any given day. 

GS: It wasn’t overblown at all. If anything, this was an enormous admission of where the program is and how far behind schedule things are under Frost. On a related note, there is just too much talk around here about how hard Nebraska’s schedule is. Every schedule in a great conference feels tough when the team is underperforming.   

I’m still a Frost fan, but it seems like public and media opinions on him have shifted a lot over the last few months. Is Frost coaching for his job in 2021? Should he be? (@InDaWilderness) 

JP: I still don’t think he’s in trouble as long as Bill Moos is the AD, but how long will that be? How stagnant would the program have to be for the top boosters to step in (which is apparently what happened with Indiana and Archie Miller) and start applying pressure? “Coaching for his job” is more aggressive than I’d go with, but he certainly needs to start showing tangible progress or things are going to get really awkward around here. 

GS: Coaching for his job is strong for me too. Things can change quickly though. A fourth straight season of sub-.500 football and no bowl game would show a lack of any momentum. That might change things. If the team goes 7-5, that shows some life. I’d say Frost enters the 2021 season a lot more under the microscope than before. Everything that happens is just another log on the fire for whichever way you think this is going. 

BV: We knew entering 2021, before the Sooner Saga, that Frost was going to show up on national hot-seat lists. Those things are like cooking from a recipe and his tenure at NU so far includes all the ingredients. I don’t get the sense that most people in Nebraska feel there’s much real danger this year, however, which is good. At some point this program (and most other power programs, honestly) probably need to break out of the three-year hire/fire cycle. That’s just a crap shoot, it is evidence of no long-term plan. Having five full seasons before such a decision is made feels like a contrarian strategy at this point, which intrigues me. (Michigan’s doing it now with Harbaugh.) So, I entered the year thinking that barring an utter collapse, a 2-10 season for example, a coaching change in 2021 was off the table. We’ll see what more we learn about the Oklahoma thing, but it did shake my confidence in that “firing is all but off the table” notion. This was a pretty big blunder that was completely avoidable. If I started the year thinking there’s a 5% chance NU has a new coach after this season, maybe now I’m at 8%. 

Derek Peterson: Oklahoma or not, Nebraska can have a winning record this season based simply on the talent in the locker room. It has talented assistant coaches who can recruit. It might even have its homefield advantage back. But at the end of the day, in this bottom-line business, the head coach makes millions of dollars to put everything together. If everything isn’t put together this season, there’s four years of evidence to suggest it can’t be in the current setup. Do I think that happens? Not really; I think Nebraska will be a competent-to-good football team, largely because of the belief I have in the defense and the rushing attack. I don’t think Frost is coaching for his life this season. But I do think Jacob’s phrase—things are going to get really awkward around here—would apply to the months following another disappointing season, should it happen. Nebraska and its donors, I’d venture to say, would be acutely aware of the narrative that “if Frost can’t do it, no one can” and would probably be more hesitant than normal to wade into those waters. Again, I don’t think we get to that place this year. 

Do we get a statement from Frost before his next public appearance regarding the OU game fiasco last week? Did he know about it, advocate for it? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

ES: Maybe he opens his spring football press conference saying Nebraska is looking forward to the matchup, but that’s about it. I don’t think there’s much more he can say, nor would I recommend it if I were his publicist. Trying to comment on what was known, when it was known, whether he advocated for it or not gets messy fast. It would only rile people up more, start the finger pointing more than it already has and make more news. In this case, the best path forward is probably to acknowledge it, say he’s looking forward to the matchup and move on. 

GS: See my answer about guarding the program like it’s the Pentagon. I don’t expect to hear from Frost until spring football starts. I do agree with Erin that the best path now is to just acknowledge it and more on without creating more ripples.  

BV: We don’t yet know the origins of Nebraska’s idea to explore leaving Oklahoma at the altar, but I honestly cannot envision a scenario where any scheduling change is even considered at the FBS level, maybe the college level as a whole, and the head coach isn’t consulted. I could be wrong, but not being consulted on such a change is barely even plausible to me, and that makes some basic level of approval here tacit. 

How can coaches avoid a season-killing confidence meltdown if we get SHELLACKED by OU and are blamed nationally for having “possibly” doubted our chances. The “this close” mantra is hard to sell if you try ducking a game… Unless “this close” means a .500 season… (@howard_parkert) 

ES: Go into every game and compete. If the Oklahoma game ends in a loss but it looks like Nebraska’s loss to Ohio State last season, you can take plenty of good away from that and see progress. That’s really it. No game on this schedule is guaranteed, nor should it be. Nebraska has to go into each and every one and earn it. Progress can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and I get that. If Nebraska can be competitive in every game and earn a bowl game bid, I think the “we’re close” selling point becomes more clear. 

BV: Nebraska needs to worry about beating Illinois, on the road, first and then a very impressive Buffalo program. (People know Buffalo is good at this point, but I’m not sure many know how sound that program is. It’s another Wisconsin or Iowa, just in the MAC.) The Huskers will be favored in both games, but I wouldn’t write in Ws in pen yet. Focus on those challenges. After that, Oklahoma is going to be rough. Nebraska is going to take it on the chin all week long and might take it on the chin on game day, too. The Husker coaches will have to do a good job preparing the team for that, on and off the field. But if Nebraska can come out of that 2-1, I think it’s sitting OK. I’m more concerned about the confidence-killing reverberations of this whole thing now than I am when Nebraska actually gets to Norman in September.  

Who’s the next recruit likely to join the ‘22 FB class? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

ES: I’m just offended that my answer last week in Greg’s absence clearly didn’t do the trick. I get it. I’m not the recruiting expert. 

GS: I am sure Erin did a fine job answering the question last week. It’s tough to project because I think recruits are going to hold off on commitments until visits open back up. There is light at the end of the tunnel on that front. For my full answer, see my story from Tuesday.  

Who should be the Huskers point guard next season? Is that player currently on the team? (@Corn_Huskers) 

JP: That’s a really interesting question. As of now, Nebraska technically has four scholarships to play with right now considering neither Kobe Webster nor Trevor Lakes will count towards Nebraska’s scholarship limit next season as seniors returning for an extra year. I don’t think Nebraska will have 15 scholarship players on its roster next season, but it could. All of that is to say that this roster is far from set. It’s possible that Fred Hoiberg and Matt Abdelmassih discover a point guard in the transfer portal that they think would be a perfect fit and convince him to come to Lincoln. Barring that, however, I think the plan is probably to keep Trey McGowens as the primary point guard. He’s said multiple times he came to Nebraska to be a point guard and he thought having the ball in his hands more led to his better play down the stretch. 

Iowa basketball player Luka Garza’s uniform number was immediately retired following his last home game. Does Nebraska have a written policy on retiring numbers and is it the same for all sports? (@dmhusker1) 

ES: Per Nebraska, “all major national award winners at Nebraska automatically have their jerseys retired, but their numbers will still be available to active Huskers.” That’s an easy enough explanation for people over the years like Ndamukong Suh, Jordan Larson, etc. It’s a little more curious for someone like Tyronn Lue, who was a member of the Nebraska Basketball Hall of Fame prior to his jersey retirement. That was one where many felt it took too long. I’m guessing the N-Club has some say, and the athletic department reviews suggestions as well. As for the numbers themselves, that’s a bigger (and tougher) deal. Nebraska football, from my understanding, has only ever retired three numbers. That’s Johnny Rodgers (20), Tom Novak (60) and Bob Brown (64). As for the process behind retiring a number (and not just a jersey), a quick Google search didn’t return anything specifically written on the topic but I assume something has to be in place. Retiring a number is a big deal, and one that comes with a fair amount of scrutiny too. Even the Garza news brought about complaints from Roy Marble’s family for his number not being retired, with Iowa apologizing but saying he ultimately didn’t meet the requirements for the honor. What is that criteria? Well, Iowa didn’t say. It’s probably easier not to have that on the record somewhere because it is a bit arbitrary, I think, so it’s not surprising that I couldn’t find anything specific on Nebraska’s criteria either. 

How far does Creighton go in March Madness and who’s in your final four? (@CarnesRegg) 

JP: It’s hard to know what to think about Creighton because the team has been so volatile lately with everything that happened. That being said, I’d be surprised if this team (and particularly the seniors and Marcus Zegarowski) didn’t go down swinging; the NCAA Tournament is what they’ve been working towards for the last two years and now it’s here. I think Creighton could definitely get to the Sweet 16, though a lot of that may be determined by whether or not Denzel Mahoney can pull himself out of his slump. Even if he does, I have a hard time seeing the Jays get past Gonzaga. I haven’t filled out my bracket yet (I’ll do so after this Mailbag gets published), so I don’t have a Final Four, but I’ll likely pick Gonzaga to win the whole thing so you can slot the Zags in there for sure. 

Thoughts on men’s basketball departures? What do you think the starting five looks like next year after the dust settles? (@iheartwinona) 

JP: None of the departures were surprising. I think all three are going to look to play at lower levels where they might have a chance to contribute more than they would have at Nebraska. As I mentioned above, Nebraska’s roster is far from set and it’s possible opening day starters aren’t currently on the roster. Based on what we know, I think we’ll see Trey McGowens, Bryce McGowens and Derrick Walker starting for sure. Unless they find an upgrade Lat Mayen will likely continue starting at the four, and then we’ll see if Fred Hoiberg can get Dalano Banton back to playing like he did prior to the team’s COVID-19 pause. It’ll probably be either him or Kobe Webster in that fifth spot. 

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