Tom Osborne: Offensive Coordinator from 1969 – 1997
Some younger people might not know this, but not only was Tom Osborne one of the best coaches in the country during his tenure at Nebraska,but he was also his own offensive coordinator. Why am I leading off with a fact that you probably already know? Because I really don’t fell like I have to actually detail Osborne’s career in this space. All five of Nebraska’s national championships were a direct result of Osborne’s offensive scheme, after Bob Devany promoted him to the position prior to the 1969 season. With Nebraska’s stupidly high bar for success, Osborne will probably be the only person on this list that’s considered “a success” by the majority of the fan base, but I think the next man up deserves a little recognition.
Frank Solich: Offensive Coordinator from 1998 – 2002
Turns out that Frank Solich was also his own offensive coordinator for most of his tenure at Nebraska as well, following in the footsteps of his mentor. Let’s be honest, you probably didn’t know this because you likely don’t care about Solich’s life and career as much as Osborne’s, and nobody cares who their coordinators are unless the team is bad or they’re about to take another job elsewhere, and Solich’s teams certainly weren’t bad. Remember, this is the guy whose firing led to questions about just what exactly then athletic director Steve Pederson was doing (I’d cover what happened to him, but all he did was go and torture Pitt for a little while before getting fired from there too), and also led to some potential hires like a young Urban Meyer feeling hesitant about coaching a team whose fan base wasn’t satisfied with nine or ten-win seasons and hey, wait a second, you mean that’s been a problem at Nebraska for longer than the last six years? Anyways, while Solich’s teams were good, they weren’t necessarily great. Yes, he did go to a national championship in 2001 and yes, he did coach a Heisman winner in Eric Crouch, but he also only won a single conference title (back when the Big XII still had those) and prior to the 2003 season Solich was told he’d have to make some serious changes to the staff of a team that went 7-7 if he wanted to stick around. So he brought in a face that’d become a little too familiar with Husker fans.
Barney Cotton: Offensive Coordinator in 2003
Go ahead and check Wikipedia if you don’t believe me, but Barney Cotton was actually the offensive coordinator for the Huskers in 2003, and I’d pay to see a Husker fan from 2015 go back to 2003 and experience a press conference in which the administration turns to Cotton to fix the football team. But, regardless of what you might think, the offense was actually substantially better the year he took over. However, three big losses to conference opponents (yes, this has always been Nebraska’s problem, and it probably always will be) ultimately doomed Solich, who was fired following the final game of the regular season. Solich moved on to Ohio University, being named the head coach of the program, and has since won three division titles and had four season of nine wins or better. Meanwhile, Cotton moved on to Iowa State, where he was again named an offensive coordinator under longtime coach Dan McCarney. Once again, Cotton’s offense showed immediate improvements to the team, who went from a 2-10 record the year before to posting back-to-back 7-5 seasons. However, the program regressed to 4-8 the following year, and Cotton was again fired as the result of a head coaching change. Then things got weird. Cotton was unable to find a college coaching job at all, and instead coached as an unpaid assistant at Ames High School in Iowa. In just four years he had gone from coordinating one of the best programs in the country (and winning) to yelling at high school kids and not getting paid for it. However, obviously Cotton found work again, as he came back to Nebraska to join Bo Pelini’s staff, although interestingly not as offensive coordinator, despite the fact that both men were hired in the same year to improve the same team, and did so. While Cotton did coach the Huskers to a narrow defeat at the hands of USC in the 2014 bowl game, it was not a strong enough showing to warrant either discussions of him as the new head coach, or even to remain on the Nebraska staff, and he found himself let go again by Nebraska. But let’s talk about what happened while he was lost in the corn fields of Iowa, shall we?
Jay Norvell: Offensive Coordinator from 2004 – 2006
Some of you reading this might have some selective memory when it comes to Jay Norvell, as it happened during a certain dark period of Husker football that people like to pretend never existed. To be fair, Norvell has done plenty to make himself hated by Nebraska fans: he graduate from the University of Iowa, was associated with the Nebraska football program alongside Bill Callahan, and went on to work for Oklahoma and Texas, two of Nebraska’s oldest rivals. But one thing Norvell didn’t do was have a terrible offense, and as a matter of fact, they were actually pretty good. While the Huskers did go 5-6 in his first year, that may have had more to do with losing games to teams like Kansas State and Iowa State by a combined score of 79-48. However, the following season things were looking up. In 2004 Norvell utilized junior transfer Zac Taylor at quarterback and saw his team win nine games that year, while only being held to less than 20 points twice: once in a 7-6 win against Pitt and another time in a 40-15 loss to Kansas (the convenient thing about pretending the Callahan era never existed is Nebraska fans also forgot about the one season that Kansas was actually good at football). In 2006 the Huskers were even better, once again winning nine games and being ranked for a majority of the season. However, after the 2006 season Norvell took a new job…well, a different job. The thing is, typically when a successful coordinator gets hired away from a program, it’s usually to be the head coach of another school. And yet, Norvell instead went to UCLA to do the exact same thing he was already doing at Nebraska. Even stranger, he only remained for a single year, as a coaching change for the Bruins left him looking for a new work. It was found in Oklahoma, as assistant offensive coordinator after Kevin Sumlin took the University of Houston job. After three years, Norvell moved up to co-offensive coordinator and remained until last year. However, at the conclusion of the 2014 season, Norvell was fired by Bob Stoops who was facing pressure to shake up his coaching staff and offense from fans and administration alike. Again, Norvell had no trouble finding work, as he was brought on to the Texas Longhorns staff at the beginning of the current season. Things have already improved for Norvell as well, as Charlie Strong announced on September 8th that he’d be taking over play calling duties for the Texas offense. Who did he replace? Well…
Shawn Watson: Offensive Coordinator from 2007 – 2010
Once Norvell left, Watson, who joined the staff in 2006 as the tight ends coach, was promoted to coordinator and play caller. However, after the Huskers went 5-7 and missed a bowl game for the second time in Bill Callahan’s career, new Athletic Director Tom Osborne fired Callahan and brought in our good friend Bo Pelini to be the next coach. Despite being associated with Callahan’s staff, Watson was retained as offensive coordinator thorugh the 2010 season. But prior to 2011, Bo Pelini realigned his assistant coaching staff, and Watson found himself looking for work, having been ousted as OC. He was hired by Charlie Strong to be the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Louisville, where he coached the likes of Teddy Bridgewater, and when Strong was offered the Texas job, Watson followed, taking over coordinating and play calling duties there as well. Life unfortunately became less rosy for Watson, as his Longhorn offense was statistically awful, at one point ranking dead last in the nation. As of week two of the current season, it was announced that Strong would be stripping Watson of his play calling duties in place of Jay Norvell, who in reality is probably a better candidate if you look strictly at the numbers of each coach’s offenses. I’m still partially convinced that this Watson/Norvell tandem is a long con by Nebraska affiliated coaches to bring down Texas from within, and Watson quietly drives back to his Austin home, opens up a bottle of scotch, looks at a picture of he and Norvell in their Nebraska sweatshirts on the sidelines in 2006, and gives a small smile.
Tim Beck: Offensive Coordinator from 2011 – 2014
Everyone remembers Tim Beck. Everyone remembers the things he did that infuriated Husker fans throughout his time here. Electing to run pass heavy schemes in games when running backs like Burkhead and Abdullah could’ve ran for 200+ yards if they’d just have been given the ball (sometimes they did anyway, which makes it equally frustrating). People remember his ability to kill momentous drives with nonsensical trick plays that would get the offense off of its schedule and find itself settling for a field goal or a punt to try and win the field position battle. But what’s remarkable about Tim Beck in this scenario is that out of everyone on this list, he’s the only one that managed to fall upwards. Despite ultimately failing to win either a conference championship or any major bowl game, Beck found his coordinator services in need at Ohio State with coach Urban Meyer, a team that had one of the finest offense in the country the year before he was brought on. Where are they now? Well their starting quarterback (whom Tim Beck coaches) has struggled somewhat through three games, they’re playing lesser teams a lot closer than they should be, and people are saying the offense isn’t clicking partially because junior running back Ezekial Elliott isn’t being given enough carries. Doesn’t that sound familiar?