By Randy York
To heighten interest, The N-Sider offers up some interesting little twists that make watching the Nebraska-Georgia Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl more historically relevant and, by its very nature, more fun. Let’s start with a bit of a stunner: In the history of college football, only seven BCS conference coaches have posted at least nine wins in each of their first six seasons as a head coach at that school. The last time something like that happened dates back four decades ago when Tom Osborne won at least nine games from 1973 to the 1978 season and, of course, went on to keep that streak for all 25 of his years as a head coach. Barry Switzer launched his head coaching career at Oklahoma the same year Osborne began at Nebraska. Switzer kept his minimum 9-win streak alive for his first eight years at OU before his Sooner teams finished 7-4-1 in 1981 and 8-4 in both ’82 and ’83. The list of coaches who have launched each of the first six years at a BCS school with at least nine wins includes:
Dr. Henry L. Williams (Minnesota) 1900-05, 65 wins
Dennis Erickson (Miami) 1989-93, 63 wins
Barry Switzer (Oklahoma) 1973-78, 62 wins
Steve Spurrier (Florida) 1990-95, 61 wins
Mack Brown (Texas) 1998-2003, 59 wins
Earle Bruce (Ohio State), 1979-84, 56 wins
Tom Osborne (Nebraska) 1973-78, 55 wins
That’s our trivial pursuit version of something that might expand from a Magnificent Seven to an Elite Eight list on New Year’s Day. If Bo Pelini can lead Nebraska to an upset win over Georgia in their Jacksonville rematch of last year’s Capital One Bowl, he can add his name to the “first six-seasons list” and increase his win total to 57, one more than Bruce and two more than Osborne, the man who hired him.
Osborne and Switzer Shared National Excellence
How rare is it for two coaches like Osborne and Switzer to rank so high on the same list? For three decades, they battled for seasonal supremacy in late November. Let the record show that Osborne lost to Switzer the first five of those six years (‘73-74-75-76-77) until the Huskers upset the top-ranked Sooners, 17-14 in 1978. Years later, Osborne made a substantive observation: “Our fans used to think Oklahoma was the enemy, but they actually made us better,” he said. Osborne and Switzer were longtime rivals who had great respect for each other. They are the only two coaches on the list who started their head coaching careers at that school during those designated years. With a win, Pelini, would be the third to achieve that milestone in his first head coaching stop. Erickson, Spurrier, Brown and Bruce had previously been head coaches at another BCS school.
Williams had previously been a head coach, but not at a BCS school. Big Ten history buffs know that Williams was Minnesota’s head football coach from 1900 to 1921. What some might not know is that Williams Arena, the home for Gopher basketball, is named after the legendary football coach.
If Pelini joins Switzer and Osborne as history-makers in their respective first six seasons, he also would become the first BCS conference coach in college football history to take over a losing team and lead it to at least nine wins for each of his first six seasons. Pelini’s win total in comparative charts does not reflect his serving as Nebraska’s interim head coach when the Huskers beat Michigan State, 19-3, in the 2003 Alamo Bowl. The NCAA, however, recognizes Pelini’s Alamo Bowl win over the Spartans, giving the Youngstown, Ohio, native a 3-3 overall bowl game record as a head coach.
Bo Ranks 10th Among Active Division I Coaches
We finish this blog sharing the list of active college football Division I coaches who have the most wins since 2008, the year that Pelini first became an NCAA head coach. Here’s the elite company he’s in:
1) Nick Saban, Alabama, 72
2) Chris Peterson, Boise State, 68
3) Bob Stoops, Oklahoma, 62
4) Gary Patterson, TCU, 58
5) Les Miles, LSU, 60
6-7) Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State, 59
6-7) Brian Kelly, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, 59
8) Urban Meyer, Florida, Ohio State, 58
9) Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech, 57
10) Bo Pelini, Nebraska, 56
Numbers don’t lie. They frame historical perspective. Hope you enjoyed this little history lesson. It heightens my interest in the bowl rematch. How about yours?
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Voices from Husker Nation
I am a 1973 graduate of Nebraska, so I was there when Devaney won the first two national championship games, and I have been an avid fan ever since. I am SO glad to have someone show the positive aspects of the Pelini coaching era. He has worked very hard to improve himself. Imagine taking the quarterback away from Auburn, Alabama or Texas A&M and add the list of Nebraska injuries to them and think how they would have fared. I think this team did an admirable job with what they had left to work with. I like the way the defense is improving and recruiting, and I see a battle brewing between Johnny Stanton and Tommy Armstrong Jr. next fall. Fans have a choice. Become part of the solution by supporting the program or become part of the problem and add nothing to the equation. My suggestion: Get over it and get on board. Nebraska is putting the pieces together to be a powerhouse again. Patrick O’Neal, Kansas City, Missouri
I just read your article regarding Bo Pelini and what could be accomplished should the Huskers beat Georgia in the Gator Bowl. Good research. Right now, he has a chance to hang his hat on an accomplishment that only the few and the best have had. Thanks for your perspective Jim Tische, Lincoln, Nebraska
Great information on Bo. Enjoy reading your column all season long. Rory Martin, New Lenox, Illinois
I grew up in Big Springs, Nebraska, and defected to the University of Wyoming, but have been a devoted Husker follower since 1946 - yea, I’m old! I think Bo epitomizes what college football should be about - behavior first, education second and championships third. Thanks for being positive about Bo. Ron Peterson, Chattanooga, Tennessee
We left Lincoln in 1990 but still follow the Huskers and what’s going on in Nebraska. We watch every game and enjoy your articles. I still have faith in the Huskers and wish them the best in Jacksonville. Let’s bring our team home with a Gator Bowl win New Year’s Day. Rich Wright, Wilmington, North Carolina