After a season like this, you have no choice but to look with admiration at the Iowa State sports fan.
Life is, indeed, different for Cyclones. Unlike your typical Nebraska Cornhusker, there is no burning anxiety leading up to and following Saturdays in the fall. Iowa State fans seem satisfied merely fielding a team and are pleasantly surprised when that team walks off the grid iron with a win. Sure, there are hopes, but rarely are there any expectations.
I know this having lived with a Cyclone for years. As a graduate of Iowa State, Teresa is immune to the madness that follows the Husker program, and conversely so am I. We both look at the plight of Nebraska's football team like rubber-neckers slowly driving past a three-car pile-up that has closed down the right lane of a county road, glancing over at the twisted metal carnage trying to ascertain whose fault it was, looking intently for any bodies still strewn along the graveled shoulder. By the time the blue-and-red lights have faded in the rear-view mirror our thoughts are onto something else, while back there someone's life has been changed forever.
After both the Wisconsin and Minnesota games, the idea that Husker head coach Bo Pelini could be fired briefly crossed our minds but was put on the back burner. They'd never fire him, we thought, not after a 9-win season. Despite serious personality defects that include the inability to rationally talk to a player on the sidelines after a blown play — his face instead transforming into a blistering-red hate cannon — Pelini was still Nebraska's best option. Or so we thought.
Perhaps too much Cyclone mentality had crept into our logic process, because even after winning only two games this season, there is little doubt in either of our minds that Cyclone head football coach Paul Rhoads will be back next season. Those thoughts were validated when, during a call-in show the Monday following Iowa State's most recent loss, Iowa State AD Jamie Pollard compared Rhoads to a mountain climber.
"…You've got to have a chip on your shoulder and you've got to try to do something that others maybe are afraid to do or couldn't do or don't want to try to do," Pollard was quoted as saying in the Des Moines Register. "That's what inspires all of us to be here, and it's to climb a mountain that others have never gotten to the top (of). I look forward to continuing that journey with coach Rhoads and hopefully getting there."
Going winless in the Big 12 with no bowl game to cap off the season is all part of climbing the mountain. And Cyclone fans wouldn't have it any other way. And anyway, basketball is now in full force and The Mayor, Fred Hoiberg, already has things well under control. Hoiberg is confidently guiding a nationally ranked team through the pre-conference season, but even if he wasn't, The Mayor is so beloved, so looked upon as a local hero, that it would take a major felony conviction involving minors for him to lose his job. Hoiberg will helm the Cyclone basketball program for as long as he wants to. Few other NCAA coaches have such job security. It's all part of being a Cyclone.
One could argue Iowa State fans approach collegiate sports in a healthy, holistic manner. Not so Husker fans. Their Monday was spent speculating who would take over the football program after Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst announced Pelini's ouster during a press conference filled either with calm, rational confusion or outright lies, depending our your point of view. No businessman like Eichorst, whose pedigree includes time spent at the big-time football factory called the University of Miami, fires a head football coach unless he already knows who will replace him.
The answer remains a mystery as I write this in the dark early morning hours of Dec. 2, but by the time you read this later this week, a new Nebraska head football coach could very well have been named and likely has been.
Despite my emotional distance from the Husker program — I went to UNO and am a Maverick first and foremost — it was impossible not to speculate with my co-worker at my "real job," one of the state's (nay, the country's) most important Nebraska sports bloggers, Husker Mike (huskermike.blogspot.com). As effortlessly as you would name your children, Husker Mike rattled off a list of possible candidates, including Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill and Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain. He dismissed rumors surrounding shamed Ohio State coach Jim Tressel (still under NCAA penalty, he said) and former Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost, currently earning a measly $400,000 as offensive coordinator at PNW powerhouse Oregon (impressive, but too inexperienced).
We both agree that whoever Eichorst chooses (or has already chosen) has to be a big name, a splashy name, a name even the most tangential of Husker fans will recognize. There is no point elevating an anonymous assistant coach from a familiar program. The Pelini fans, of which there are still plenty, will howl like cornered hyenas throwing their own dung and screaming that the program was better off with the drama that was Bo Pelini.
Husker Mike's most ambitious speculation also was my favorite: that Eichorst would try to woo away Baylor head coach Art Briles, a guy who single-handedly turned around an embarrassing punching-bag of a program into a possible national title contender in the same amount of time to took Pelini to guide the Huskers into forgotten national mediocrity. With a stroke of a pen, Eichorst could double Briles' salary and put the full power of Husker Nation behind him.
Briles would be a huge win, but even I know that it's not likely to happen. Why would he leave a team that's already accomplished so much? Indeed, despite the promise of millions, why would any quality coach leave behind success to pull a program out of an unending ditch, to climb a seemingly insurmountable mountain?
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim firstname.lastname@example.org