Category Archives: Huskers News

A ‘different breed’ comes to Lincoln: Bob Diaco brings 3-4 scheme, top-level experience to NU’s coordinator post

LINCOLN — As he built one of the best defenses in the nation, Bob Diaco would arrive before dawn at Notre Dame’s football offices and usually be one of the last to leave. He loved the film room, and wanted his players to love it, too — so much that he could figure out an offense’s play call by how the tight end distributed the weight on his hand before the snap.

“Diaco is a different breed. He was an ultimate leader — an ultimate warrior,” said former Notre Dame linebacker Danny Spond, who played three seasons for Diaco at Notre Dame.

A minute later, Spond, who started 11 games for the Irish’s elite 2012 defense, paid Diaco an even higher compliment.

“He’s the best college coach I could imagine,” Spond said.

Now, that coach works for Nebraska. The Huskers officially announced Diaco as their new defensive coordinator Saturday morning. The 43-year-old will be the highest-paid assistant in NU history, making $825,000 in his first season and $875,000 in his second. He’ll be charged with taking the Husker defense from decent — 33rd in scoring in 2016 — to dominating.

In a press release, coach Mike Riley — working with a new defensive coordinator for the first time in 20 years — said Diaco emerged as a strong candidate.

“When we began looking for a new defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco quickly rose to the top of the list,” Riley said. “He has coordinated a top-level defense, has proven himself as a great teacher and recruiter, and we are excited to have him join our football program. Bob is an energetic coach and is ready to get started immediately, beginning with hitting the recruiting trail to find future Blackshirts.”

Diaco, who played college football at Iowa and served a two-year graduate assistant stint there, said he was “excited to become a part of one of the truly great programs in the history of college football.”

“Coach Riley has such great respect from everyone in football, and he is building something special here,” he said. “I started my college football experience in the Big Ten and am thrilled to be back in this conference. I can’t wait to get to work and help build a championship football program.”

Nebraska is in the midst of a recruiting push, so Riley and Diaco didn’t immediately hold a press conference and were not available by phone. Riley is likely to wait until he has hired another assistant coach — to replace the departing Brian Stewart — before he holds a press conference to talk about his new coaches.

But in a variety of conversations Saturday — including interviews with Spond and former Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, who also started on the 2012 team — a clear portrait of Diaco as a coordinator emerged. Learned. Energetic. Tireless in his preparation. Intense. Direct.

Diaco didn’t berate players, but he could break down their strengths and weaknesses in great detail.

“He’ll get in your face — in a good way,” said Lewis-Moore, who had six sacks on the 2012 defense, which allowed just 12.8 points per game. “He’ll get after you, and he’ll love you. I had a lot of fun playing for him. He’s very intense, but he’s only going to bring the best out of you.”

Said Spond: “It’s worse to disappoint him than make him mad. He was really good at that. He knew he didn’t need to yell at us because we knew what was expected of us. When we didn’t do it — didn’t execute — he didn’t need to yell. We knew we’d failed. He knew when to turn it on and when to turn it off. He was very good at being pretty level-headed.”

Notre Dame used a 3-4 scheme — Lewis-Moore said the scheme occasionally shifted into a 4-3 — that stationed a defensive tackle right over the center and two more defensive ends over the offensive tackles. Lewis-Moore was one of the ends, and he had “two-gap” responsibility; that is, he had to be able to man the gap between the guard and the tackle — and potentially the one between the tackle and the tight end — on the same play.

Nebraska fans are used to hearing the “two-gap” label, since former coach Bo Pelini adhered to some of those philosophies while using a 4-3 alignment. In Diaco’s defense, the four linebackers were freed up to make plays when the defensive line — and the 2012 Notre Dame unit had three future NFL draft picks for starters — gummed up the offensive line.

“It lets the linebackers make plays,” Lewis-Moore said. “You’ve got to have a solid D-line.”

Said Spond: “It’s a very athletic defense — you have to be. You’re relying on your linebackers to be pass rushers and defend the run, but also drop back and cover the slot. But especially for college football — where you get quarterbacks who run the ball a lot more and there’s a lot of spread and spread option type stuff — the 3-4 fits really well, because you’ve got a lot of athletic hands at the second level.”

Some 3-4 defenses have a lot of exotic, unorthodox blitzes attached to them. Some 4-3 defenses do, too, and former Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker — whom Diaco is replacing — unpacked the suitcase of tricks for the Music City Bowl. The blitzes didn’t get home.

Diaco often prefers a sounder, safer approach, sources said.

“We really worked on never giving up the big play,” Spond said. “We can bend, but let’s not break.”

The stats back it up. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 — Diaco’s last three years as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame — his defenses ranked third, second and first nationally in fewest 20-yard-or-more plays allowed. In the 30-plus yards category, the Fighting Irish ranked sixth, second and sixth nationally.

Banker’s defenses ranked 23rd in 20-plus yard plays allowed this season and 49th in 30-plus yard plays allowed. Nebraska’s stats were abysmal — 114th and 111th — in 2015.

Because Diaco’s scheme didn’t break easily at Notre Dame, he put major emphasis on red zone defense. He even had a metaphor for it: the “white light.”

“When a light bulb gets so bright it literally becomes a blinding white light, that’s how our emotions had to be in the red zone,” Spond said. “He’d say, ‘The hopes and dreams of millions of fans are on our backs,’ and it gets intensified in the red zone. That was something he instilled in us, and it really became a cultural feel.”

In 2012, Notre Dame gave up touchdowns on just 34.2 percent of opponents’ possessions inside the Irish 20. That ranked third nationally.

Lewis-Moore and Spond both praised Diaco’s ability to prepare them for games. Lewis-Moore said Diaco was good at putting the defense through situational football. Spond said Diaco’s film work was dynamic.

In fact, he’d describe the mental progression of his players as going from the “100 level” to the “400 level” of the defense — much like the progression of academic courses in college. By 2012, Spond said, the defense was at a 400 level.

“He could dissect where the tight end’s weight was on his hand to dictate what the play was going to be,” Spond said.

That attention to detail is part of how Diaco won the Broyles Award for the nation’s best assistant after the 2012 regular season.

But Spond said the coordinator knew how to turn off the intensity, too — to show the personal, caring side. Many of his coaching lessons, Spond said, were tied to real-life experiences unrelated to football.

And when Spond battled serious migraines — which left him briefly paralyzed and hospitalized at the start of the 2012 season — Diaco would stop by after work and visit him, sometimes at 10 or 11 p.m. Diaco would still go into work at 4:30 a.m. the next day.

Spond chose to retire from football just before the 2013 season on the advice of doctors. After he told his dad, the second person he told was Diaco, who knew what Spond had been through.

“He told me, ‘You don’t have to say anymore. I wasn’t going to let you back on the field, I love you too much,’ ” Spond recalled. “And he made me feel just like I was another one of the players that entire year.

“He took care of me. That’s the type man he was. That’s the type of man he is to his players.”

Tyjon Lindsey picks the Huskers days after decommitting from Ohio State

LINCOLN — If Tyjon Lindsey becomes the player at Nebraska that his high school career and recruiting profile suggests he can be, his long Twitter countdown to a big decision for NU will be one Husker fans remember.

“This is for my momma,” read Lindsey’s tweet at 11:39 a.m. By 12:44 p.m., after thanking family, friends and Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School — where Lindsey was a star player — the 5-foot-9, 180-pound wide receiver picked Nebraska. The Huskers had been the runner-up in August when Lindsey — the nation’s No. 38 player according to 247Sports’ composite service — committed to Ohio State.

But last week, Lindsey abruptly decommitted from OSU and opened up his recruiting process. The Buckeyes sent their cocksure wide receivers coach, Zach Smith, out to visit Lindsey. Smith, who has slyly taunted Nebraska wideouts coach Keith Williams on Twitter, then tweeted he’d had a “genuine REAL visit” with a prospect Thursday night. That was Lindsey.

Saturday, Lindsey picked the Huskers. He was not immediately available for comment to The World-Herald, but he talked at length about his decision to That interview laid out his reasons.

» Familiarity with Williams and several of Nebraska’s commits — especially Keyshawn Johnson Jr. and Tristan Gebbia, both of Calabasas (Calif.), who know Lindsey well.

“At Nebraska, I have friends who are going there who I can trust and who have been like family to me over the years,” Lindsey said.

Williams, Lindsey said, continued to recruit him after he committed to Ohio State. Lindsey said that Williams is the best wide receivers coach in the country.

» Fit in Nebraska’s pro-style scheme. Lindsey said OSU would have used him as a “situational player” who didn’t develop as a true wideout. Nebraska, he said, “wants to air things out.”

» Making a big splash at Nebraska vs. being just another player at Ohio State.

“Ohio State has a ton of guys; they’ll be just fine,” Lindsey said. “At Ohio State, I would have been just another nice player, but at Nebraska, I think I can be the guy right away and really showcase my talent better.”

Based on what Lindsey did at Gorman — one of the nation’s top high school football programs — his talent is considerable.

Lindsey missed most of the 2016 season with a right knee injury that, in various reports, Lindsey has not described as serious. But in the three years he played at Gorman, he averaged 25.3 yards per catch and scored 31 touchdowns on 84 career catches. His highlight is that of a guy streaking past and zipping around defenders while he catches passes from close friend Tate Martell, who chose to attend Ohio State.

“He’s a great athlete and one of the quickest kids we’ve ever had,” said Gorman coach Kenny Sanchez in an interview last week. “And he’s a great kid.”

Lindsey becomes the highest-rated prospect in the class; previously, it had been linebacker Avery Roberts.

Lindsey is ranked highest by 247Sports’ regular service, which has him as the No. 29 prospect in the nation; ESPN is the lowest at 77th.

He’s the third wideout to commit to the class, joining four stars Jaevon McQuitty and Johnson.

NU has 16 commits, and Lindsey’s pick put the Huskers in the top 25 of national class rankings, according to 247Sports’ composite service. NU is fifth in the Big Ten behind Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Maryland, which has 28 commits in its class.

Huskers can’t hang with Michigan in shootout for second straight loss

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When you score 85 points on the road in Big Ten basketball, shoot 56.2 percent from the field and outrebound your opponent, the result normally is a happy plane ride home.

Not so for Nebraska on Saturday.

The mystery of how to deal with Michigan’s offense continued as the struggling Wolverines outgunned NU 91-85 in front of 11,145 fans at Crisler Arena. UM is the only opponent the Huskers have yet to beat since joining the Big Ten six seasons ago.

NU senior guard Tai Webster posted career highs of 28 points and nine rebounds. His backcourt mate, sophomore Glynn Watson, added 22 points.

But the Wolverines got 23 points from center Moritz Wagner, 21 from guard Zak Irvin and 20 from guard Derrick Walton. The last time three opponents scored 20 or more points on Nebraska in game was 19 years ago when Texas did it with Chris Mihm, Luke Axtell and Kris Clack.

“They do what they do,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said of Michigan. “They get their points. It’s a matter of whether you can match that.

“Usually, if you go on the road and score 85, you win. We didn’t get enough stops.”

Miles is 0-6 against Michigan. No so coincidentally, he’s also 0-6 against Creighton, which runs many similar offensive actions — spreading the floor, big men shooting 3s, back-door cuts and guards driving inside.

“In the past,” Webster said, “it has seemed like Michigan’s offense is coordinated to what our defense does. But I thought we had the best shot to beat them this year, especially with some of the defensive changes we’ve made.

“We just didn’t do a good enough job of executing the game plan.”

Michigan got 7 of 9 3-pointers from the 6-foot-11 Moritz and 6-10 D.J. Wilson. The other Wolverines were 4 of 13.

“We didn’t handle their five-man pick-and-pop stuff well,” Miles said. “We adjusted maybe too late. But they never really separated from us. When we adjusted, we still couldn’t get stops. They just got us in other ways.”

The game was one big statistical oddity.

Michigan, which had lost three of its past four games, never trailed. Nebraska forced only one tie — at 2-2. Yet the rest of the game was played with a single-digit margin except for 20 seconds in the second half when UM took a 53-43 lead.

Both teams shot exactly 50 percent from the 3-point line, and better than 50 percent overall.

Michigan was 26 of 30 on free throws. Nebraska was 4 of 5, to the confusion of Miles, who saw his team score 44 points in the paint yet only draw 15 fouls. But UM leads the nation in fewest fouls per game at 14.2.

“We can’t get beat at the foul line that bad,” Miles said. “That really hurt us.”

Webster and Watson nearly overcame it themselves. They combined for 31 second-half points, including 15 in a row down the stretch as Nebraska closed to within two points with 4:42 left, four with 1:34 left and five with 28 seconds to go.

But Michigan (12-6, 2-3) scored on its final seven possessions to hold off the Huskers (9-8, 3-2). For the game, the Wolverines averaged 1.33 points per possession. A defense’s goal is to hold a foe to less than 1.0 per possession.

Said Webster: “Coach told us in the locker room we need to get more stops and get back to that defensive identity that got us in the position we’re in in the first place.”

Yet discouragement wasn’t part of the Husker postgame.

“When you come to somebody else’s gym, you’ve got to be prepared to take some punches,” said NU guard Evan Taylor, who had 11 points and five rebounds.

“They hit us with 11 3s. But we didn’t get down. We were right there so many times. That’s what I’m excited about going forward. We don’t quit on anything.”

Webster already had the coming week in mind.

“Now we’ve got Ohio State at home and Rutgers,” he said. “If we get those and get to 5-2 — and those two losses aren’t bad ones — we can really be in a good position.”

It’s official: Nebraska names Bob Diaco its new defensive coordinator

Nebraska officially announced Bob Diaco as its defensive coordinator Saturday, three days after coach Mike Riley dismissed his longtime coordinator, Mark Banker. The World-Herald, partners with News Channel Nebraska, had reported the expected move on Friday night.

“When we began looking for a new defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco quickly rose to the top of the list,” Riley said in a press release. “He has coordinated a top-level defense, has proven himself as a great teacher and recruiter, and we are excited to have him join our football program. Bob is an energetic coach and is ready to get started immediately, beginning with hitting the recruiting trail to find future Blackshirts.”

Said Diaco: “I am honored to join Coach Riley and his staff at the University of Nebraska and am excited to become a part of one of the truly great programs in the history of college football. Coach Riley has such great respect from everyone in football, and he is building something special here. I started my college football experience in the Big Ten and am thrilled to be back in this conference. I can’t wait to get to work and help build a championship football program.”

Huskers to name ex-Irish aide Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator, replacing Mark Banker

LINCOLN — One of the busiest weeks in coach Mike Riley’s tenure at Nebraska appears to have culminated in the hiring of a new defensive coordinator, a man who in 2012 was named the nation’s top assistant coach.

Multiple sources confirmed to News Channel Nebraska’s partners at the World-Herald that Riley intends to hire Bob Diaco, former Notre Dame defensive coordinator and former Connecticut head coach. Diaco’s tenure at UConn ended in his firing — after an 11-26 record in three years — but his four-year stint at Notre Dame marked him as one of the nation’s best defensive coordinators.

Though the hiring hasn’t been made official by Nebraska, Husker players were already reacting to the news on Twitter.

“Welcome Coach Diaco,” cornerback Chris Jones wrote. “Let’s get to work then.”

“All change ain’t bad,” cornerback Eric Lee wrote.

Diaco replaces longtime Riley confidant and assistant Mark Banker, whose contract will not be renewed. Banker said he found out his contract was ending when Riley called him Wednesday as Banker sat in a Denver airport. He was headed to Tulsa to recruit, as Thursday was the end of the noncontact period.

In an interview with the World-Herald Friday, Banker said he had no idea he wasn’t coming back. Banker said Riley told him “this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” and then informed Banker his contract — which expires at the end of January — wouldn’t be renewed. Riley didn’t tell Banker why, and Banker didn’t ask.

“That’s just disappointing, that it’d be a phone call and not face-to-face,” Banker said. “That’s a weird way to approach things. And you can say that it’s hard, but if it’s hard on him then it’s hard on my end. But that’s what you got to do, do it (face-to-face). Be grown men about it. It’s a communication thing. Let’s just be good communicators.”

A call to Riley’s cellphone and a text message were not immediately answered. His voicemail has been full for several days.

Diaco, 43, was a college linebacker at Iowa from 1992 to 1995. He served as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator from 2010 to 2013.

The Fighting Irish ranked in the top 30 nationally in scoring defense all four of those years, peaking in 2012, when the Irish, featuring Heisman finalist and linebacker Manti Te’o, gave up just 12.8 points per game on their way to the BCS national championship game. Diaco’s defenses were particularly stingy inside their own 20-yard line, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on just 47.3 percent of their possessions over his four seasons as coordinator.

The erudite and passionate New Jersey native spent six years with coach Brian Kelly at three stops — Central Michigan, Cincinnati and ND.

At Notre Dame, Kelly and Diaco recruited and developed a defense that blended stars like Te’o and lunchpail guys who embraced a motto Diaco explained to reporters just before the 2013 BCS national title game: “Whole heart, whole body, whole mind.”

For his work in 2012, Diaco won the Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant. At the BCS press conference, Diaco called it a “staff award.”

In the same press conference, Te’o praised Diaco’s ability to tell players “how to get from point A to point B.”

Diaco was a linebacker himself, starting the last 23 games of his career at Iowa and winning co-MVP honors. He was a graduate assistant at Iowa in 1996 and 1997 before moving to Western Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan. Kelly hired Diaco at Central Michigan in 2005. Diaco also served a three-year stint at Virginia under coach Al Groh, who won two Super Bowls with the Giants as an assistant under Bill Parcells.

Diaco had a rough tenure as UConn head coach. The Huskies ranked 65th in scoring defense this season — a 3-9 campaign — and 86th in 2014, when they finished 2-10. But in 2015, when Connecticut made a bowl game and finished 6-7, the defense was the best in the American Athletic Conference, finishing 15th nationally in points allowed. UConn handed Houston its only loss that season.

His Huskies had problems on offense. They finished dead last in the nation in scoring this season, 121st in 2015 and 125th in 2014. The lack of offensive output was ultimately Diaco’s undoing as a head coach. UConn replaced him by bringing back Randy Edsall, its coach from 1999 to 2010.

After Diaco left Notre Dame for the Connecticut job, Notre Dame plummeted to 84th in scoring defense in 2014.

Nebraska’s defense had its difficulties under Banker, too. Players struggled at times to pick up his scheme and move with the kind of fluidity needed to be one of the Big Ten’s best defenses.

Banker said he took “full responsibility” for any struggles by the defense, which finished 33rd nationally in points allowed.

“It’s easy — 62 points against Ohio State, 40 points against Iowa, and 38 in the bowl game,” Banker said. “Big plays. All those things. That’s what people don’t like.”

Banker said he wished he’d adapted to personnel better in 2015. As for 2016, his biggest regret wasn’t the loss to Ohio State or the one at Iowa, a game Banker said he’d already watched “a million times.” The biggest was not being able to finish the game at Wisconsin, which the Huskers lost 23-17.

“I truly do believe it would have been different if we had beaten that team,” Banker said. “I thought we were a different team after that Wisconsin game — all around.”

Banker said he attended a staff meeting Jan. 6 in Lincoln. Either Riley hadn’t made a decision not to bring back Banker, or he decided not to tell Banker then. Banker did not attend the American Football Coaches’ Association convention in Nashville, Tennessee. He went back to Oregon to visit family, including a daughter who’d just had a child.

He plans to continue coaching.

“I want to get on with my life,” he said. “I’ve got a house to sell, a wife to take care of. Contract’s up. We’ve got to take care of business and move forward.”

Huskers grab early lead in dual win over Wisconsin

The fifth-ranked Nebraska wrestling team bounced back from its first dual loss of the season with a 28-11 victory over No. 21 Wisconsin on Friday night at the Devaney Center.

Nebraska, which lost to No. 3 Penn State last Sunday, set an early tone by winning the first three matches with bonus points — Tim Lambert (125 pounds) won by technical fall, while Eric Montoya (133) and Colton McCrystal (141) followed with major decisions. The Huskers later got bonus-point wins from Tyler Berger (157) and TJ Dudley (184).

At 197 pounds, Nebraska’s Aaron Studebaker stretched his winning streak to 13 matches with a 4-3 victory over 13th-ranked Riley Robertson. Seven of Studebaker’s victories during that streak has come against ranked opponents. It also was his 99th career win as a Husker.

Nebraska returns to action Sunday at 1:15 p.m. with a home dual against No. 13 Michigan.

Nebraska targeting defensive coordinator with experience in 3-4 scheme; Bob Diaco a candidate

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s search for a new defensive coordinator could move in the direction of a different scheme on defense that better fits the Huskers’ personnel.

Multiple sources told News Channel Nebraska’s partners at The World-Herald that NU coach Mike Riley may be in the market for a coach with more experience in a 3-4 scheme, which typically has three linemen and four linebackers, although one of those linebackers can have the flexibility to play both lineman and linebacker. The 3-4 scheme is often used by Alabama and Wisconsin, among college programs, and has grown in popularity in the NFL.

Previous defensive coordinator Mark Banker preferred the 4-3 alignment throughout his time at Nebraska and Oregon State, though both programs could use a three-man front at times, especially in third-down situations.

A top coordinator candidate, according to one source with knowledge of the situation, is former Notre Dame defensive coordinator and former Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco.

The architect of Notre Dame’s 2012 defense, which gave up just 12.8 points per game and helped the Fighting Irish make the BCS national title game, Diaco was a longtime assistant of current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, who hired Diaco at Central Michigan in 2005. Diaco then followed Kelly to Cincinnati and Notre Dame before taking the UConn job in 2014. After finishing 11-26 in three seasons, Diaco was fired by UConn.

Diaco is a finalist for the Arkansas defensive coordinator job, according to several reports in Arkansas.

But Diaco wasn’t the only name given to The World-Herald on Thursday. The names ranged from former college head coaches who used to be defensive coordinators to current NFL defensive coordinators. Generally — though not exclusively — some experience with a 3-4 scheme was mentioned.

Given NU’s relative lack of proven edge pass rushers on the defensive line, a 3-4 could help get some of Nebraska’s athletic, talented linebackers more playing time. Seasoned vets Marcus Newby, Dedrick Young, Luke Gifford and Chris Weber return, but coaches are also excited about sophomores Mohamed Barry and Tyrin Ferguson, plus three redshirt freshmen and true freshman Avery Roberts, who has already enrolled.

It’s not clear how much Riley has discussed with his staff, which dispersed Thursday and headed on the road to finish recruiting the 2017 class and get a better start on the 2018 class.

NU has two assistant coaching jobs open — Banker’s old spot and the spot vacated by former defensive backs coach Brian Stewart. Riley has said previously that he’d like to have two defensive backs coaches, but he also has options to promote or hire in other spots, including tight ends, where Nebraska has graduate assistant Tavita Thompson.

Old friends, nemeses Tom Osborne, Barry Switzer gather at event to celebrate Outland Trophy winner Cam Robinson

Tom Osborne arrived, Barry Switzer made a beeline to see him and the cameras naturally followed.

After a few seconds and a few words with his old friend and nemesis, Switzer realized what was happening.

“You guys snuck up on us,” Switzer said. “You’re gonna catch Tom cussin’.”

And so it started.

Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson was honored Wednesday night as the 2016 Outland Trophy winner, but Osborne and Switzer — and Switzer’s herd of former Oklahoma greats — demanded attention at the annual Outland banquet and receptions beforehand.

“I always enjoy coming to Nebraska, and Nebraska’s always been good to me,” Switzer said.

“Great fans, and we made a lot of memories.”

Switzer received the Tom Osborne Legacy Award before a crowd of 750 at the Downtown Doubletree. Osborne and Switzer led Nebraska and Oklahoma through most of the 1970s and ’80s, with the Big Eight championship and Orange Bowl bid usually at stake.

“It was two great teams, two great programs,” Switzer said. “But we had great respect for each other, and it was a very healthy, healthy rivalry. And a lot of schools don’t have that, what Oklahoma and Nebraska did.”

Osborne would echo Switzer’s words, noting that some other rivalries could include an edge or nastiness.

“And Oklahoma-Nebraska was never nasty,” Osborne said. “I can’t remember one single incident … and a lot of that had to do with Barry.”

Before Switzer took the mic, Osborne added: “I really appreciate all Barry contributed to college football over the years.”

Switzer traveled on his private plane with former Sooner greats Billy Sims, Thomas Lott, Greg Roberts and Joe Washington. Roberts also was honored Wednesday night and received a replica for winning the Outland in 1978, when Sims was the Heisman Trophy winner.

Among former Nebraska stars in attendance were Outland winners Larry Jacobson (1971) and Dave Rimington (1981, ’82), and 1972 Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers.

“I have a great respect for Oklahoma,” said Rodgers, part of NU national championship teams in 1970 and ’71. “They kind of made us great. I have a lot of Oklahoma friends and a lot of respect for the whole program.”

Sims knew he was going to hear about his late-game fumble in 1978 — and said he did not long after getting off the plane. It allowed Nebraska to escape with a 17-14 victory in Lincoln.

OU avenged that defeat by beating the Huskers 31-24 in the Orange Bowl, but it cost the Sooners a chance to play for another national championship.

“Losing to Nebraska broke my heart,” said Lott, the former OU wishbone quarterback. “That’s something that I never got over. You go on, but you don’t get over it.”

Lott was among the Sooners who led Osborne to start looking for running/option quarterbacks. One of his biggest recruiting scores was pulling Turner Gill out of Fort Worth, Texas, when Switzer said he thought OU had him locked up until signing day in 1980.

“I’m so upset with Turner,” Switzer said. “Still am today. Turner, I tell him that all the darn time.”

Switzer said he still kicks himself for not making one last visit. The story goes that Switzer was in Tulsa chasing another recruit, who would pick Texas, and Nebraska assistant Lance Van Zandt had Gill hidden away.

“If I’d gone there, I promise you, y’all wouldn’t have gotten Turner Gill,” Switzer said. “If I had gone to Fort Worth … and not taken it for granted.

“I’m two hours away (in Norman) from Turner Gill’s home. It’s a little closer than Nebraska. And he’s going to talk about playing baseball at Nebraska. I sent my baseball coach down there to sign him, and he couldn’t find him.”

Switzer left OU after the 1988 season, and Osborne not only would stay at Nebraska until 1997 but would win three national championships. What Osborne did over 25 seasons, Switzer said, no one else could do.

Switzer also paid homage to those last five Husker teams, which Osborne led to a 60-3 record. He appreciated the north-south attack, the option element, the ability to attack the perimeter.

“I’ve always said the playbook to the ’90s that he had would work today,” Switzer said.

Osborne was at NU and Switzer at OU before both became head coaches in 1973, also putting them on opposite sides for the 1971 Game of the Century. With Bob Devaney leading the Huskers and Chuck Fairbanks directing the Sooners, No. 1 Nebraska beat No. 2 Oklahoma 35-31 in Norman.

“It would have been a better game,” Switzer joked, turning to Osborne, “if we were the coaches.”

After Mark Banker’s ‘surprise’ departure, Mike Riley will have a new defensive coordinator for the first time in nearly two decades

LINCOLN — Nebraska coach Mike Riley’s choice to not renew the contract of longtime assistant, confidant and defensive coordinator Mark Banker stunned coaches and staff members inside NU’s program after Riley announced the decision Wednesday night.

“A surprise to me,” said Danny Langsdorf, Riley’s right-hand man on offense and the only coordinator his boss didn’t let go after this season. Another source within the program described Riley’s decision as shocking.

“I learned a lot from him,” linebacker Josh Banderas said. “I mean, I’ll take the knowledge that I learned from him — X’s and O’s, and just kind of life stories — I’ll take that with me everywhere I go. Whatever Bank decides to do, he’s gonna do awesome at it.”

Except for one year, Banker had worked for Riley since 1997, when Riley took the Oregon State job for the first time and invited Banker — whom he met when the two worked at USC. Banker followed Riley to the San Diego Chargers, again to Oregon State, and finally to Nebraska. Banker once described he and Riley as “yin and yang.” He was NU’s highest-paid assistant, with a salary of $580,663. His two-year contract was set to expire in January 2017, and Riley passed on extending it, effectively firing Banker.

For the first time in nearly two decades, Riley will have a new defensive coordinator.

“I want to thank Mark for his hard work and contributions to our football program the past two years and for all of his service and dedication as a member of my other coaching staffs,” Riley said in a statement released by Nebraska, which announced two other staff departures, as well. “We will conduct a national search to find a great coach, teacher and recruiter as we continue our pursuit of championships.”

Banker did not immediately return calls or texts from the World-Herald.

Safeties coach Brian Stewart is leaving to become Rice’s defensive coordinator, while director of player personnel Ryan Gunderson will coach quarterbacks at San Jose State and reunite with with former Oregon State wideouts coach — and Riley assistant — Brent Brennan, who just took the head coaching job.

ESPN first reported the news of Stewart taking the Rice job. Stewart made $425,000 at Nebraska this past season; Rice, a private institution, does not have to report coach salaries, but its league, Conference USA, is not prone to shelling out those kinds of bucks for a coordinator. Former Nebraska linebackers coach and current North Texas defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler, for example, made $250,000 this past season.

Still, Stewart has longstanding ties in the Houston area, having previously worked as a pro and college coach in that city.

“Brian feels this is a great opportunity for him and his family and I respect his decision,” Riley said of Stewart’s departure, which seemed likely after Nebraska hired Donte Williams away from Arizona to coach cornerbacks. “We appreciate Brian’s contributions to our program the past two years and wish him the best of luck. We will work diligently to replace him with an outstanding coach, teacher and recruiter.”

Gunderson — who organized NU’s recruiting operation and was known as Gundy by everyone inside the program — “has been a valuable part of our operation both at Nebraska and Oregon State,” Riley said. “I’m excited that he’s getting a chance to get back on the field in a coaching role and wish him the best of luck.”

Now down to seven assistants — with NCAA membership mulling over adding a 10th assistant this year — Riley has options in terms of hiring a position coach. He’d recently told reporters he wanted two defensive backs coaches when Stewart and Williams were briefly on the staff together, but he could add an offensive assistant — such as promoting graduate assistant tight ends coach Tavita Thompson — as well.

The bigger question comes at defensive coordinator.

Riley fired his special teams coordinator — another longtime friend, Bruce Read — 48 hours after a 40-10 loss to Iowa, but Read’s unit badly underperformed and his role had become an anachronism in college football anyway. But while Riley has years of experience on the defensive side of the ball — he spent the first six years of his full-time coaching career as a small-college defensive coordinator — he’d farmed out that side of the ball to Banker.

At Oregon State, the Banker system — with his “gap cancellation” run defense that strove for negative plays and his “quarters” zone pass defense — peaked in the late 2000s before beginning to decline as more Pac-12 offenses embraced the spread, no-huddle approach favored by Oregon. Starting in 2010, his last five defenses at OSU ranked 64th, 89th, 22nd, 91st and 98th nationally in points allowed. In his first press conference at Nebraska, Banker said he was excited to join the Big Ten, where fullbacks and tight ends still had a place. He compared his scheme to Michigan State’s scheme that won a Rose Bowl and made the College Football Playoff.

But with Banker trying to juggle changing schemes and managing mopey players who didn’t want predecessor Bo Pelini fired, the 2015 defense was a disaster — NU’s worst since 2008, when the Huskers faced far superior offenses in the Big 12. Nebraska gave up 400.4 yards and 27.8 points per game in Banker’s first season at NU. The bottom particularly dropped out in a 55-45 loss at Purdue.

“It was the absolute lowest point of our season,” Banker said this season about the Purdue loss.

After the 2015 season, Riley fired Banker’s preferred defensive line coach, Hank Hughes — whom Banker had touted as a good recruiter but wasn’t anything of the sort — while two Husker defensive tackles, Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine, declared for the NFL draft. Banker took over the coaching the safeties and relegated Stewart to coaching the cornerbacks. Banker switched up his scheme, playing less quarters coverage.

NU did get better — giving up just 363.7 yards and 23.9 points per game. But Nebraska wasn’t stingy against spread offenses, as Oregon racked up 482 yards and 32 points, Ohio State had 590 and 62, and Tennessee had 521 and 38.

The roughest game, though, was a 40-10 loss to Iowa, in which the Huskers were gashed for three big first-half plays. The Hawkeyes ran for 264 yards. Afterward, in the Kinnick Stadium tunnel, Banker — always a clever quote machine for reporters — uttered the sentence he’ll be remembered by at Nebraska.

“I bet their practices are like a bloodbath,” Banker said of Iowa, “because both sides of the ball kind of emulate that.”

Nebraska’s defense, as the season wore on, did not emulate that. Its best player, safety and captain Nate Gerry, was suspended for the Music City Bowl because he was academically ineligible, a budding issue about which both Riley and Banker — more directly responsible — were aware during the season. And the defense looked especially overmatched in the Music City Bowl loss, when Tennessee racked up 38 points despite Vol receivers dropping two sure touchdowns. After that game, Banker said NU’s had to improve.

“We just really need overall team speed,” Banker said. “And I think at the same time, we need to just increase the size of our overall team.

Speed and size. It was questionable whether Banker — or, after a good 2016 recruiting cycle, Stewart — were doing much on the trail to recruit those kinds of guys.

NU has zero defensive back commits in this class; Williams’ hiring was and is designed to resolve that, but that position was co-coached by Banker and Stewart until Williams got there.

The Huskers also still don’t appear to have a game-changing edge pass rusher in line for the 2017 cycle. NU grabbed one — Alex Davis — in the 2015 cycle, and one — Collin Miller — in the 2016 cycle.

Nebraska’s defensive line accounted for just 17 sacks this past season. Only 6½ of those sacks — compiled by Freedom Akinmoladun, Carlos Davis and Mick Stoltenberg — return for this season. Those three are likely starters.

At linebacker, NU will return starters Dedrick Young and Marcus Newby, plus Blackshirt backup Chris Weber and a host of young, talented players coached by Trent Bray — the only defensive position coach from Riley’s original Nebraska staff that he hasn’t let go.

In the secondary, Williams will get two returning starting cornerbacks — Chris Jones and Joshua Kalu — along with three seasoned safeties in Antonio Reed, Aaron Williams and Kieron Williams. The Nebraska defensive backs have had six position coaches over the last seven seasons.

Whoever Riley tabs as coordinator — be it an in-house promotion or a well-known name from a national search — he won’t have his longtime friend by his side.

Langsdorf, interviewed at the Outland Trophy banquet, knew Banker for more than a decade. They joked often after practice in front of reporters.

“Just a wealth of experience, and really good knowledge, and a great person, too,” Langsdorf said Wednesday of Banker. “So, sorry about it, but we’re also understanding that that’s part of the business we’re in.”

Assistant coaches Mark Banker, Brian Stewart among Husker football coaching departures

Defensive coordinator Mark Banker will not have his contract renewed, Husker coach Mike Riley announced Wednesday.

“I want to thank Mark for his hard work and contributions to our football program the past two years and for all of his service and dedication as a member of my other coaching staffs,” Riley said in a press release.  “We will conduct a national search to find a great coach, teacher and recruiter as we continue our pursuit of championships.”

Defensive backs coach Brian Stewart has decided to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Multiple reports have indicated he will be the next defensive coordinator at Rice.

“Brian feels this is a great opportunity for him and his family and I respect his decision,” Riley said. “We appreciate Brian’s contributions to our program the past two years and wish him the best of luck. We will work diligently to replace him with an outstanding coach, teacher and recruiter.”

Ryan Gunderson, the Nebraska director of player personnel, has also chosen to leave the program to pursue an on-field coaching opportunity.