You can say this for Bill Moos—he’s a helluva headhunter. He famously went down to Key West to lure Mike Leach to Washington State. It was a splashy hire and Cougar fans got six bowl appearances and four seasons with eight or more wins out of the deal.
In 2018, Washington State finished 10th in Associated Press poll, it’s first top-10 final ranking since 2003 and just the fifth in school history.
Moos wasn’t there for that. He took the Nebraska job in October of 2017, when it looked like Mike Riley was about to be fired and native son Scott Frost, in the middle of what would be an undefeated season at Central Florida, was becoming the hottest up-and-coming coach in the country. Under those specific circumstances, Nebraska hiring anyone else to lead the football program would’ve been viewed as a failure.
Moos got it done, landing what he would call, at the December 2017 introductory press conference, the “pick of the litter.” In 2019, he landed a brand name in Fred Hoiberg to lead the men’s basketball program.
When Moos was hired at Nebraska, Leach said he’d bring some “sizzle” to Nebraska athletics. There was no shortage of that, from the big-name coaches to a new $155 million athletics facility, from saying some Big Ten powers were “running scared” before the 2018 season to annual, and specific, win totals for football when asked about fair expectations in the offseason.
It was six wins in 2019, an against-the-grain number when Nebraska was trendy entering year two under Frost, and eight or nine this year, also against the grain but with the roles reversed.
If sizzle was all you wanted, Moos showed up with a slab of bacon and a cast iron skillet. But, as anyone who has fried bacon that way knows, it’s pretty messy. Almost messy enough to make you think twice about even doing it.
Running an athletic department isn’t just frying the bacon, it’s the whole job—wiping down the stovetop, disposing of the grease, cleaning that cast iron without using soap.
It seems, given the surprise nature of this retirement, as if some of those other duties came to be too much or weren’t getting done at all. The sizzle was there, but, apparently, other pieces were missing.
Nebraska football has yet to reach the six wins Moos hoped for two years ago. While it would be easy to point to that as a key reason for his departure, I don’t think that was it. The Huskers’ 12-20 record over three seasons checks a lot of boxes if you’re looking to write an offseason hot-seat list, but I never got the sense this staff had reached the win-or-else stage entering this season.
I definitely don’t think that’s the case with basketball, despite 14 wins in two seasons. Enthusiasm still seems pretty high there.
Those win totals certainly didn’t bolster Moos’ résumé the way many, myself included, thought they would’ve by now, but if you look beyond the raw results you can find real signs of progress. Both football and basketball have done some things that are typically conducive to winning. Keep doing those things and the wins should come.
So, why won’t Moos be there to see them? That’s the question that will drive the next couple of weeks of rumors and reporting in Nebraska. He retired, but it doesn’t seem like that’s fully adding up for anyone based on the early reaction to the news.
It doesn’t for me either.
Moos was part of the Big Red Blitz last week, a barnstorming tour that saw Nebraska coaches and athletic department officials fan out across the state to drum up support. (Moos hit Alliance and Chadron, shoutout to the Panhandle.)
Moos, 70, said on multiple occasions this summer that he intended to finish out his current contract, which ran through 2022.
Moos was scheduled to have an in-person interview with Hail Varsity staff writer Derek Peterson on Tuesday of this week. That was rescheduled for today and, today, Nebraska is looking for a new athletic director. ESPN reporter Adam Rittenberg also had a Friday interview scheduled and canceled.
Sound like someone mulling retirement right before a new academic year begins to you? Me either.
If you’re a fan of Nebraska athletics, I wouldn’t get too caught up in the gossip around what did or didn’t happen here.
The much bigger concern now is where the Huskers go next, and it’s going to take a special candidate to not just do the job but perhaps want the job.
Not that Nebraska isn’t still a good job. It is. Moos spent much of his official statement talking about that very thing, a consistent refrain of his from day one to today.
But it’s a unique time for this athletic program on multiple fronts.
The new facility project is underway. Moos said a week ago that funding was on track, but it’s not fully funded yet. Depending on the candidate, that could be either a “lot of work’s already done” or “lot of work still to do” scenario.
There’s the football program. While I don’t think this staff’s seats are nearly as hot as some would lead you to believe, the fact remains that Nebraska does need to win. Soon. A new athletic director has to enter knowing that the future of the flagship program is uncertain at the moment. With a couple of good breaks, it’s fine. With a couple of bad breaks, a big decision could loom and everyone knows that hiring and firing football coaches tends to define AD tenures.
Then there’s one more unique detail: This spring Nebraska made the decision to sever a longtime relationship with Learfield IMG College and instead handle the sales of its own multimedia rights and the operation of its own media network. Virtually every other athletic department of Nebraska’s stature outsources that process to one of the handful of companies that do that work full time. Those departments give up a percentage of their profits for a reason. This might seem like a small thing, but for a new AD it means that instead of starting the job knowing that part of the equation—a huge, financial piece of the equation—is handled, he or she enters having to lead the department through a job almost every other department hires somebody else to do.
Oh, and this is all on top of the larger upheaval of the college sports model as a whole due to Name, Image and Likeness rights, which kickoff July 1.
I’m not an expert in athletics administration, far from it, but if you just laid out those circumstances for me and said, “Would you like to be in the market for a new AD now or would you prefer to wait a bit?” the choice would be pretty clear.
For whatever reason, it doesn’t appear as though the clear choice was on the table at Nebraska.
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.