No Strings Attached?
Steve Pederson announces firing of Frank Solich
Steve Pederson announces firing of Frank Solich

Posted Dec 1, 2003


The bomb dropped and all reacted. Such was the belief in the stunning decision Athletic Director, Steve Pederson made in firing coach, Frank Solich. The actual removal probably wasn’t the shock, rather the timing, Solich just coming off helping his team to it’s 9th win of the year, propelling Nebraska to possibly the Holiday bowl, a respectable post-season game in anyone’s book. Well, almost anyone. 9-3 turned out to be still too little, far too late, Solich now amongst the unemployed.

Stunning. Surprising. Dramatic. Even, uncalled for. Such have been only a sparse amount of the descriptions behind the abrupt firing of head coach, Frank Solich. Coming off a rebirth of sorts for NU, having just led the Huskers to a road-win against Colorado, bringing back the oh-so comfortable 9-win season and even a chance to win one more, Solich was given his message, his thanks for a job well done.

Your services are no longer required.

Citing wanting a different direction, not wanting to languish in mediocrity and refusing to yield conference power to the likes of Texas and Oklahoma, A.D., Steve Pederson addressed the media, stating his reasons for his version of emancipation from complacency.

A decision Pederson said that he had come to possibly even before he took the job as Athletic Director for Nebraska, coach Frank Solich was removed without hesitation. Some of that lack of hesitation though was admittedly not by his own choice, the now infamous story by the Lincoln Journal Star starting an onslaught of media speculation, public outcry which ultimately prompted a move that was untimely, but apparently unavoidable in the end. "I made this decision now at the conclusion of the regular season in part because of the media firestorm that surrounded this speculation and really left me no option but to address it prior to a bowl game."

It was a media firestorm that Chancellor, Harvey Pearlman said was initiated by a ploy to use the aforementioned, Journal Star as a means to an end in attempting to tarnish the credibility of Pederson. "I believe that the Lincoln Journal Star was used as part of an effort to undermine Steve’s credibility." Pearlman stated. "And, I have no doubt about the truthfulness about Steve’s assertion that he spoke to noone."

"Make no mistake about it, Steve Pederson and only Steve Pederson is running the athletic department. He has my complete confidence in making the difficult decisions to move this program forward."

The rumors, stories, speculation and what not, well, it all entailed stories about boosters pulling the strings of the Nebraska A.D., Pederson being portrayed more as a puppet than anyone who was actually in control. It was rumored that statements were made, threats about donations being pulled if such and such actions were not taken concerning the present state of the Nebraska football team. Pederson stated that at no time did he accept or would he accept any donation with as he said, "strings attached".

"It’s not how we run this program." Pederson stated. "Nobody has offered a donation with strings attached, because I think they know enough about me to know I wouldn’t take it anyway. And, the quickest way to get your check slid right back across the desk is to put strings on it."

The ultimatum said, the speculation aside from the actual firing of coach Solich would be to his replacement. It would have stood to reason that for such a dramatic decision with equally dramatic timing, a coach might have already been chosen.

To that end, we may not know, but Pederson stated that he had, had no contact with any prospective coaches at this point, but was going to start a nationwide search for a candidate. Or, perhaps he already has his prime choice right now.

In the interim, Bo Pelini was named the head coach, leapfrogging Asst. head coach, Turner Gill. That choice will no doubt prompt most to think that he’s a shoe in for the position, but even Pelini himself reiterated that his position right now was as an interim,

BoPelini.jpg - 57598 Bytes

Bo Pelini addresses media
after being named the interim
head coach for the University of
Nebraska

but also said in response to inquiries about his bring ready for the job, "I’m standing up here, aren’t I?"

There’s so many questions that will have to be answered, but not in a press conference where it’s a free-for-all and the answers ultimately don’t do the trick. Recruiting, the rest of the assts., which Pederson said at this time were currently "intact" and of course, the looming bowl game.

With respect to recruiting, I have already talked to a variety of players, one being Daryll Clark who had just finished a conversation with Turner Gill. What did Gill say? What could he say? "He said that he didn’t know anything right now." Clark stated. "He just wanted to call me to let me know what’s going on, but not even he knows what’s going to happen, so everything is up in the air."

Clark said that he wasn’t going to be in a rush to any decision on the stability or state of the program at NU, because he felt that only when the dust settles and the final decisions were made could he ascertain for himself just what kind of impact it would have on him. Daryll did say that a decision to finalize the staff changes coming sooner would be preferred though. "I’m looking at a few schools, but it would be nice to know what’s going on with them pretty soon." he said.

Clark has an official visit scheduled for Nebraska in January.

I would think that most hope or are counting on that any decision in finalizing the staff changes won’t last until after the beginning of the year. With recruiting for the second year in a row being thrown into turmoil based on coaching changes, addressing this issue expeditiously would seem paramount.

Like last year though, the cries for an immediate decision went out, but the final decisions concerning the entire staff lasted considerably longer than perhaps anyone (Solich included) anticipated. Nebraska did rebound though.

And it’s logical to assume they will rebound again when it comes to courting the prep-elite, but this year is much more significant than the year before.

Again, this is the second year in a row that Nebraska has had dramatic changes in the coaching staff. And, that’s with more changes likely to come. One more year and that’s almost going to be a trend, one no program wants to set.

Starting RE, Benard Thomas started a back and forth with the A.D. that at one point appeared to be getting heated, at least from Thomas’ side, so much so that LB, Demorrio Williams had to convince Thomas to cease and desist. That exchange was a bit surprising, but the question Benard asked before he departed was about the recruits and telling them what coach they would be playing for. Pederson simply stated that they would know when a coach was chosen.

There are two distinct mind-sets to the recent occurrences within the football program at Nebraska. Opinions that are no doubt dividing lines and creating rifts across the Husker state. It’s mostly based on what you believe Pederson did was a motive of his intentions or others that were being exhibited through him.

Personally, I would take this stance.

What Steve Pederson has been for better or for worse is a Husker in form and function. That’s to say that even when he was at Pitt, perhaps even he knew that one day his path would lead back to Lincoln.

He was born here, raised here, worked most of his career in this profession here and now finds himself back with possibly the biggest decisions he will ever have to make, right here, right now.

Nobody has more riding on this than him. Though Pederson said that the totality of what he’s done as an A.D. defines his career thus far, it’s clear that what he does now and the decisions he makes will have the greatest impact.

One year in, he has ironically already found himself in a ‘must-win’ situation, having to choose right and choose right now.

You can’t make those decisions being influenced by boosters. When it’s your butt on the line and not theirs, what you do, say, think and ultimately decide is your fate, is your reputation and consequently, is your burden to bear. I do not think that Pederson would shoulder any of that based on the coercion of a financially blessed few. To do that would ensure that for his entire tenure, Pederson would be at the control of others and I think we’ve seen that Pederson isn’t willing to give that to anyone but himself.

As he said, these are his decisions for which he’s the person to have to take sole responsibility, so to in turn base what you do, how you do it and when on outside influences that have the luxury of being able to move on if those decisions turned out to be ‘bad" while you have to find another job, it doesn’t make sense for someone that has more than just a job to lose.

He’s a native. He’s raised in the state. This is where he calls home and not the type of home a coach on the move calls his place of residence, but a home that has been his no matter where he’s gone.

I would guess that in the end, it’s about some measure of faith. And right now, it’s going to be pretty hard to come by considering the circumstances in which everything has recently occurred. Pederson by his own admission knows that he is probably not the most popular guy, but I don’t think he’s looking to be loved. Respected would be preferable.

Hindsight is the only way we will ever be able to accurately judge what has taken place in recent days and no doubt will take in some days to come. I would say though that as much as fans feel they have lost or have to lose, how much boosters say they have invested and think they have lost out on at this point in time, the personal investment by Pederson in taking a job he probably planned on being the last A.D. job he would ever have, who has more to risk when it’s all said and done?

Like him? Ok. Hate him? If you want. Respect him? Maybe someday, but no matter what, you have to appreciate the position he’s in. He took the job, yes, but even "dream" jobs come with some fairly unsympathetic strings attached. Strings that don’t have requests on the other side, but demands. Strings that aren’t bought, they are paid for and strings that every A.D. had before him and will have after he’s gone.

Pederson may not succumb to a "strings attached" M.O., but the strings that came with the job will always be there.

Now, we’ll see for Pederson what those strings become, a purpose in which he propels the program back to the top or a noose that ’helps’ drive it to the bottom.

It’s his show, his program and yes, his future. There are definitely strings attached after all.

Steve Ryan can be reached at huskerconnection@neb.rr.com or 402-730-5619



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