Nebraska Fires Callahan After 5-7 season
Both the school's losing seasons after 1962 came under Callahan's watch
Nov. 24, 2007
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -Bill Callahan was fired as Nebraska's coach Saturday, his four-year stay marked by the most embarrassing losses at a football program once among the mightiest in the nation.
Interim athletic director and Nebraska great Tom Osborne announced the dismissal one day after the Cornhuskers ended the season at 5-7 following a 65-51 loss at Colorado. They squandered an 11-point halftime lead by allowing 34 consecutive points.
"As a former coach this is a role I really don't like," Osborne said at a news conference. "I hate to sit in judgment of other people. I never envisioned being in a situation where I would have to make a decision on somebody's employment opportunity, but that's the nature of this business."
Osborne met with Callahan for five minutes Saturday, and Callahan left the football complex without speaking to reporters. After Friday's game, he said he enjoyed his time at Nebraska. "I have no regrets," he said.
Osborne said he told Callahan at the end of October there would be a coaching change if Nebraska finished with a losing record. LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini and Buffalo coach Turner Gill are the names mentioned most often to fill one of college football's glamour jobs.
Nebraska's dismal season followed one in which it reached the Big 12 championship game. This year also featured a 76-39 defeat at Kansas, the most points allowed by a Nebraska team.
Osborne's decision came one month and a day after Callahan said, "I have done an excellent job in every area." Osborne apparently thought otherwise after only the second losing season at Nebraska since 1962, both coming on Callahan's watch.
It will cost the university more than $3.1 million to buy out Callahan's contract, which was to run through the 2011 season. The contract was signed in September before a series of the most lopsided losses in decades and the firing of athletic director Steve Pederson, who hired Callahan.
Osborne said he had not yet spoken with any coaching candidates.
"The next few days I'll try to talk to four or five people," he said. "I would like to move it along as fast as I can because recruiting is really critical at this time."
Pelini was Nebraska's defensive coordinator in 2003 and was popular among fans, who chanted "We want Bo" after he led the Huskers to an Alamo Bowl win over Michigan State as interim head coach following the firing of Frank Solich.
Gill, a longtime assistant under Osborne and Solich, was the Huskers' quarterback in the early 1980s and a Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1983.
Callahan came nowhere near meeting the high standards for Nebraska football established by Osborne, who won 255 games and three national championships in 25 seasons before retiring after the 1997 season.
When the Huskers were 4-4, Osborne said, he told Callahan that if the team finished 8-4, there would be no coaching change and that if he won three of the last four games "we can maybe make it work."
"If it's two out of four, it's going to be pretty tough because now you're break even, and we haven't had many break-even seasons around here," Osborne said he told Callahan. "And if we have a losing season, there isn't any way this will work. The parameters were pretty clearly spelled out."
The Huskers struggled as their defense posted some of the nation's worst statistics and their offense fell flat in the biggest games, leading to a five-game losing streak.
Callahan's four-year record was 27-22, with three of those wins coming against opponents in the division formerly known as I-AA. He was 15-18 against the Big 12, 0-7 against top 10 opponents and 3-10 against the Top 25. He was 0-17 in games in which the Huskers trailed at halftime.
Callahan was widely acclaimed for his recruiting, and each of his classes was ranked high by analysts. But many of those players never delivered, and Callahan's ability to develop talent was questioned.
The Huskers won their first two games this season, but a 49-31 home loss to Southern California proved ominous, as did an embarrassingly close 41-40 home win over Ball State in which the Huskers were clearly outplayed.
"The USC game took a lot out of people," safety Ben Eisenhart said. "People put a lot into that game, everybody was excited to play and it didn't come out like we thought it would. Then we come out against Ball State the following week and it's 41-40. It's like we got knocked off track, and it was really hard for us to get back on track."
A win over Iowa State in the Big 12 opener was followed by losses of 41-6 to Missouri, 45-14 to Oklahoma State, 36-14 to Texas A&M, 28-25 to Texas and, worst of all, a 76-39 defeat at Kansas.
Also on Callahan's tab was the 70-10 loss at Texas Tech in 2004, the most one-sided defeat in the program's 118-year history.
Callahan came in with much bluster, saying he would "flip the culture." That meant dumping the triple-option offense employed by Osborne and Solich and installing the West Coast offense.
His 2004 team went 5-6, ending an NCAA-record 35-year bowl streak. The streak was a point of pride to Husker fans, and many were infuriated when Callahan downplayed the significance.
"It's one game today, it's one season," he said then. "I never look back."
That comment came two weeks after Callahan insulted Oklahoma fans after a 30-3 Nebraska loss by using an expletive while calling them hillbillies. In 2005, the Big 12 reprimanded Callahan for making a throat-slashing gesture at an official during a game against Oklahoma. Callahan denied wrongdoing.
The '05 team won three straight to finish 8-4 after losing four out of five, beating Michigan in the Alamo Bowl. That set the stage for last year, when the Huskers went 9-5 and swept all six games against the Big 12 North.
Then came this season's horrible downturn. The Huskers lost three home games for the first time since 1968 and allowed 40 points or more in six games for the first time.
"There were five (losses) at least that were three touchdowns or more," Osborne said. "So it's not just how many you win and how many you lose, but kind of how you do it."