LAWRENCE, Kan. ï As a typically mild-mannered sports writer/columnist for what's classified in this business as a "community" newspaper, calling for a coach or coaches to be fired isn't standard operating procedure.
That's big-city stuff. While pundits at major metro publications and big-time Web sites are apt to call for heads to roll at the first sign of trouble for their local sports team, most of us gentlefolk born and raised in rural Nebraska are more prone to conservative sensibility.
We hayseeds tend to give people second, even third chances. We're long on patience. Heck, even legendary Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne and now-beloved defensive coordinator Charlie McBride took some time to find their stride and tweak the program before eventually making it great.
But after being subjected to what has to rank as the most embarrassing defensive performances in the 118-year history of Nebraska football, I think we've seen enough. Kevin Cosgrove must resign as the Cornhuskers' defensive coordinator immediately, if not sooner.
Yes, we're fully aware that Nebraska interim athletics director Tom Osborne has stated that the current coaching staff will stay in place through the remainder of the season and will then be evaluated. But while it's already a foregone conclusion that head coach Bill Callahan and his entire staff are on their way out, the move to jettison Cosgrove simply can't wait any longer.
It's become a matter of pride, or at least what's left of it for the Huskers.
Exhibit 1-A: Kansas 76, Nebraska 39. No, folks, that isn't a basketball score. Every single one of the Jayhawks' record point total put up against the Huskers was indeed scored on the gridiron. Most of them with the ease of a break-away layup.
Cosgrove seems like a nice enough fellow, so it brings no pleasure to write that someone's livelihood should be taken away, even if it's only temporarily. Coaching is a difficult job and guys in the profession often absorb a lifetime worth of criticism in the span of one season. Plus, there are families involved.
But enough is enough.
In the past eight games, Cosgrove has demonstrated a complete inability to fix whatever is wrong with Nebraska's defense. In a relatively short period of time, he has presided over The Unit Formerly Known as the Blackshirts going from mediocre to arguably one of the worst performing defensive units ever put on the field by a BCS conference school this side of Northwestern.
On Saturday, Kansas scored on 10 consecutive possessions on which they actually attempted to score. Only a kneel-down by quarterback Todd Reesing at the end of the first half ended the onslaught, which was a technicality at best.
Even with the Jayhawks undefeated and ranked No. 8 in the country, scoring 39 points on the road with your backup quarterback at the controls should always be enough at least keep a team in the game. On Saturday, it wasn't. Not even close.
Exxon Valdez captain Joseph Hazelwood got a better performance review than the one Osborne was probably scratching out on a napkin midway through the third quarter. Craig Bohl just called to say the Nebraska defense looks soft.
OK, we apologize for piling on. The players on Nebraska's defensive unit are still student-athletes and shouldn't be subjected to that kind of criticism and once again, that's where Cosgrove comes in.
After the events of the past two months, there can be no doubt that Cosgrove has completely lost the players that are under his direction. While Nebraska has numerous injuries and may not exactly be oozing with defensive talent, this was a unit that most expected to at least be serviceable even with the loss of its entire defensive line.
Perhaps it's because they like Cosgrove as a person or because they're choosing to take the high road but several Nebraska defensive players said they believed in the Huskers' game plan coming in.
"If you don't have faith in the plan by the time you get to the stadium, then there's no point in going out to play," Nebraska nose tackle Ndamukong Suh said.
True. But now, it's getting to the point where you have to wonder how much longer can the players continue to believe? After going through week after week of such pronounced failure, doesn't even the most loyal soldier begin losing confidence in his commander?
What has happened since the Huskers were riddled for 49 points by Southern California defies explanation. Well, at least Cosgrove doesn't seem to have much of a clue, only saying afterward that he's "frustrated."
If Cosgrove doesn't have the decency to step down out of the respect for Nebraska's tradition or for the respect of the friendship and job that Callahan has given him, Callahan needs to cut the cord himself. If he won't, then he needs to be removed as well. Leave offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and the remainder of the staff to finish this thing out, and go from there.
Nebraska deserves at least that much. So do these players.
Judging by Callahan's postgame comments, we should apparently expect things to remain status quo for at least the next three weeks. At least that's what Callahan indicated when asked how much longer he could afford to go on without making significant defensive changes.
"We're trying to do everything we can," Callahan said. "There are really no other options, if you're referring to coaching changes and things of that nature. We don't have any options at this point, so we're going to do the best we can and finish this season with this staff."
One side note we can take away from Saturday's massacre is maybe that Callahan was indeed too slow to make a move to Joe Ganz and at least give the backup quarterback a chance during this five-game losing skid. That's not to say that former starting quarterback Sam Keller wasn't a better player, but Ganz certainly appears capable of at least creating a spark.
If nothing else, the Huskers might have found their starting quarterback for 2008. Sure, Ganz made some mistakes, but his spirit and his 405-yard passing day show that he should at least be given a chance to win the job next fall
Unfortunately for Nebraska fans, next fall and the hope of starting over again still looms two games and three weeks away. At this point, it can't come soon enough.
Terry Douglass is sports editor for The Independent.