In the end, Bill Callahan degenerated into something akin to a used car salesman that only has one model to peddle. If almost no one is buying it, he still had to believe in it with his whole heart and soul.You’ve got to give Callahan credit for one thing: he is sincere about his beloved West Coast offense.
Did you get a good look at Callahan’s pride and joy Friday in Boulder? Hope so, because you won’t be seeing it in Lincoln again anytime soon. It will leave town this weekend with the man himself. The short-timer from the big time will be moving on soon – maybe to become an offensive coordinator for some desperate NFL team.
The Cornhuskers’ 65-51 loss at Folsom Field was a showroom for Callahan’s beloved WCO – and we saw the best and worst of it in the same game.
Callahan’s offense runs very well when conditions are ideal, when things are going his way, and the Huskers have the momentum. It’s beautiful to behold when things are rosy. But when the storms of life in the Big 12 start beating on it, Callahan’s West Coast offense starts to break down. In the end, it fails because like a finely-tuned Stradivarius in a sandstorm, it has very little tolerance for changing conditions.
In the first half, the Husker offense could do no wrong. Joe Ganz led the Big Red to almost 400 yards of total offense in the first half. But thanks to another generous performance by the defensive unit formerly known as the Blackshirts, Colorado was still very much in the game, trailing 35-24.
In the second half, Callahan tried a couple of running plays, which gained the Huskers a first down. Then the wheels started falling off. An illegal substitution penalty. A delay of game penalty. Ganz looked confused. The Husker sideline looked confused. Ganz badly missed his receiver and the Colorado safety turned an easy interception into a touchdown.
In that moment, Callahan did what he has done so often in his career – abandon the running game. Of the Huskers’ 37 second-half plays from scrimmage, 32 were passes. It looks pretty in the stats sheet, but it loses you a lot of ballgames.
With the Huskers still leading 35-31, Callahan went to the air on first down, and Ganz’s pass bounced off a Husker receiver’s fingertips into the hands of another Colorado safety. The Buffaloes turned another short field into another quick touchdown and across the United States, you could feel the leaderless Huskers deflating once again.
In the second half, the West Coast offense began to shrink until it became a noose around Callahan’s neck. A short pass to Marlon Lucky. A quick sideline route. Another three-and-out. A blocked punt. Another quick CU touchdown. A couple of dropped passes. Before we knew it, Colorado led 44-35 and was on the way to a victory that made it bowl eligible. On the CU sidelines, the Buffs celebrated as Callahan does what he generally does when he gets under pressure – default to his dink-and-dunk passing attack. Sure, the Huskers got a couple of cheap touchdowns at the end, with Colorado in its prevent defense, but CU was glad to trade the points for the victory.
In four years, Callahan proved cannot motivate talented players to perform as a team. He proved that he’s doggoned slow thinking on his feet. And as he did at Oakland, he proved that he can take a team from first to worst in a single season.
Callahan finished his second losing season as Husker coach the way Husker fans have become accustomed to seeing him – with his face buried in his playbook as his players deflated around him on the sidelines. He didn’t have much life on his postgame show, and seemed to be glad to get to the end of his final radio interview, which he turned into one last plug for his beloved West Coast offense.
I really can’t tell you exactly what he said on that show. They all sounded about the same this season. But I could almost hear him rehearsing his routine for the next gig down the road:
“Look at these fine passing stats, sir!” he’s telling anyone who will listen. “Yes indeed, ma’am, those are genuine slant routes. They’re guaranteed to succeed unless the players mess up the timing or drop the ball. No, sir, our offensive tackle is not supposed to knock down that linebacker. It’s all part of the way this beauty is designed.”
As we watched the Huskers' machine fall apart in losing six of their last seven games, it became obvious that Callahan is a man who cannot be trusted as a head coach, making decisions with the game on the line. You’ve got to feel sorry for his players, who trusted him the entire time he was leading them to a last-place tie in the Big 12 North.
As Callahan the salesman promised before he started his first season, his West Coast offense took what it wanted at times against the 6-6 Buffs, but with the game on the line, it gave away the farm in a quick flurry of penalties and turnovers. “Oh, did I forget to mention that it has a few leaks? Sorry about that.”
When Callahan’s first offensive coordinator, Jay Norvell, stopped in North Platte during a goodwill tour in the summer of 2004, he went out of his way to promise that the Huskers would continue to run the football. But as I think back to that day, Norvell never did promise that the Huskers would do a good job of it, or that they would be committed to the run when they needed it most.
So ladies and gentlemen, the University got what it paid for. And boy, did Dear Old Nebraska U pay – more than $1.5 million a year plus a generous buyout clause that Callahan will walk away with thanks to Harvey Perlman and Steve Pederson. But in the end, everybody will get what he wants. Callahan will walk away with his money and his West Coast offense and Husker fans will get a new coach.
Callahan likely will be just as glad to be rid of Nebraska as Nebraska is to be rid of him. Actually, he’s got it made. All he has to do is find an NFL team that doesn’t have the dumbest players in the nation.
Time to tally up Callahan’s legacy. He went 27-22 at Nebraska, including a 15-18 record in the Big 12. He joins Lawrence “Biff” Jones, Bill Glassford and Bill Jennings as the only men who ever coached more than 20 games at Nebraska who had more than one losing season. Not that it will ever bother him.
But the Husker Nation cares, and will remember. We won’t be buying that model again.