LINCOLN — Bo Pelini is off the books.
A Nebraska athletic department official confirmed Wednesday that the final monthly severance payment of $128,009 went out this week to the former Husker coach. Pelini has now received $6.54 million from NU, which doesn’t have any former coaches or athletic directors left on its payroll.
Nebraska paid off Mike Riley in December 2017 with a lump sum of $6,253,393 after Riley took a job at Oregon State. Then in June 2018, former Husker Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst took a job with Texas and received a lump sum of $762,439.
Pelini, whose payout was mitigated by his salary as Youngstown State’s coach, was the last of the coaches on the monthly severance program. So even though he’d been fired in late 2014, he stayed on the Husker payroll until this month.
For the moment, Nebraska is free and clear of severance obligations. But a decision about men’s basketball coach Tim Miles looms.
Miles’ buyout would be $2.52 million, potentially mitigated by the salary of a new coaching job. Miles’ assistants have contracts through 2020 and would also be due buyouts mitigated by the salaries of new coaching jobs.
On a podcast in mid-February, Miles joked with a national reporter about receiving a payout if he’s fired.
“I’m still a millionaire. I’ve got that going for me,” Miles said, an apparent reference to Bill Murray’s “Caddyshack” character.
Miles apologized for the remark later in the week.
Scott Frost excited about Huskers’ culture, strength gains in Year Two at Nebraska
Nebraska coach Scott Frost didn’t say who the sage was. But at Wednesday’s annual luncheon for the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, he passed on the words of a “wise man” who met with Frost and a friend.
“Culture eats scheme for breakfast,” Frost said. “And I think that’s true.
“I can put the guys in the best scheme, the best offensive plays, the best defensive plays I can come up with. But at the end of the day, if we don’t have corners who can run through tackles and knife-knees, if we don’t have O-linemen coming off the ball, if we don’t have people holding each other accountable, and we don’t have our team making smart decisions and grinding and working hard, I’m not sure the best scheme in the world matters.”
And so, Frost said, much of his first season at NU — a 4-8 campaign that included five losses by five or fewer points — involved instilling the new staff’s culture among the players. The culture has two key tenets, Frost said:
1. Players making decisions in the best interest of their teammates, or “the soldier on their left and the soldier on their right.”
“Our players have to understand they represent more than themselves,” Frost said. “They represent the football team, they represent the athletic department, they represent the University of Nebraska. Everywhere they go they’re going to be recognized. Everywhere they go they’re going to be held accountable. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes from that.”
2. A desire to excel and no fear of failure. Frost told two stories from his own playing career — one at Nebraska and one from the NFL — when he struggled with worrying over making a mistake. Frost and his assistants coach in a way that lets players know they won’t be pulled for just one error.
“Our coaching staff needs to coach them that way, so (players) are not getting their face ripped off if they ever make a mistake, miss a tackle, miss a block,” Frost said. “We want our guys to go try and make the great play.”
The first years in any program, Frost said, “stink” because the culture is still being put in place. He didn’t want to share performance testing numbers from last season, Frost said, because they weren’t very good in some cases. Likewise, Frost wants to bring back the player-led Unity Council that governed the Huskers’ best teams in the 1990s, but didn’t think the leadership was quite there last year.
“Hopefully as we go forward, I’m going to recruit leaders who aren’t just culture-setters but they’re culture-keepers, so they can pass it on to everybody else,” Frost said. “For that to happen we need a group of leaders who understand it and are on the same page and can police the team and motivate everybody around them the way they should. We’re on our way from that standpoint, too.”
Other notes from Frost’s chat in front of a Chamber-estimated crowd of 1,200 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
» NU did a national search for new defensive line coach Tony Tuioti, whose experience in the 3-4 was important.
» Frost said the Huskers have made significant weightlifting gains since the arrival of strength and conditioning coach, Zach Duval, adding an average of 13 pounds of muscle. A player’s average max on squat (100 pounds) and bench press (50 pounds) has gone up, too. Husker players have been candid that, under Duval, they’ve been able to attempt to lift more weight and push the boundaries of their ability.
Nebraska assistant Jovan Dewitt has throat cancer, will miss some of spring practice
Nebraska coach Scott Frost delved into a variety of topics during a one-hour radio appearance Wednesday night. None were as serious as the health of an assistant and longtime friend.
Outside linebackers coach Jovan Dewitt won’t be a full-time participant in spring practices as he works through a form of throat cancer, Frost said on “Sports Nightly.” Dewitt’s condition is why NU got a waiver for a couple of graduate assistants to get out and recruit during last month’s contact period.
Most important, though, is the long-term outlook for the Milwaukee native, husband and father of three.
“He’s an important part of what we’re doing, an important part of what we’ve done,” Frost said. “He’s fighting a good fight right now. The diagnosis is pretty good. I think it’s a high-percent chance that it’s a curable type of cancer. He’s going through the necessary things to try to win it and he’s got all of us behind him.
“We’re rooting for him and we’re going to get by without him. I know he’s gonna want to be out there and do everything with the team and he’s going to do as much as he can. But he’s got more important things on his plate right now.”
Asked about another off-the-field issue with the legal situation regarding running back Maurice Washington, Frost said he “can’t talk much about it” as the process unfolds. He said it should be a reminder to players that they stand for more than themselves.
“It’s disappointing to me any time the team or the university are represented in a bad light,” Frost said. “So I’ve been disappointed in everything. But I’m hopeful that the process moves quickly and there’s some clarity shed on the subject for us real soon.”
Other notes from Frost’s interview:
» Redshirt freshman Cam Jurgens will also be a candidate to play guard — not just center — as he makes the transition from tight end. The 6-foot-3 Beatrice native is already up to 286 pounds after hovering around 245 last year.
“I think that’s a natural position for him to play guard, center or guard,” Frost said. “He’s so explosive, he’s one of the best blockers on our team and that would have been his strength if he’d have stayed at tight end. But we’re going to be able to use him a lot more with him playing inside on the offensive line.”
» Defensive backs have made major strides in the offseason and the 2018 class has been a big part. Cam Taylor is “going to be a leader for us,” Frost said, while others are working back from injuries. Braxton Clark (shoulder) will be involved in spring ball while CJ Smith will have to “wait a little bit” as he recovers from a knee injury against Northwestern. Cam Jones (injured in fall camp) is “killing it” in the weight room and will have a chance to show what he can do.
Meanwhile, the secondary members have changed the opinions of strength coaches in the offseason.
“They talk about their least favorite group to work with last year might have been the DBs,” Frost said. “They say this year that their favorite group to work with is the DBs. I think Lamar (Jackson) is a great example of that. He’s a guy that’s really figured some things out last year and by the end of the year was playing at a really high level. He’s a great team guy now; he’s working hard. Got all the talent in the world and he’s kind of an example of the turnaround in that room.”
» Asked whether the Nebraska defense will ever resemble the 1990s Blackshirts, Frost said football has changed since then. He looks at yards per play as a better metric than opponents’ total points or yards.
» Early enrollee and true freshman Wan’Dale Robinson will play the “majority” of his time at receiver, though he’ll also line up in the backfield on occasions.
» Frost noted that the starters on offense in 2020 could all be the same as in 2019.
“I think there’s a chance that we could be playing with the same 11 guys for two straight years, which is hard to do in college football,” Frost said. “I can’t wait to watch the improvement of that whole group.”
» Matt Farniok, who started at right tackle last season, could play four spots on the offensive line going forward, Frost said.
» Frost was asked about the early Heisman hype surrounding sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez and said he has the potential for major success.
“My hope is when he leaves Nebraska, that he’s thought of as one of the all-time greats at the position,” Frost said. “In fact, I hope he’s thought of as the greatest to ever play at Nebraska at that position. I know if you asked him that question, all he would talk about is team, and that’s the way I want him to think. If our team does well and our offense does well, then the best players on that offense are going to be in line for a lot of recognition.”
Scott Frost says Nebraska was ‘lucky enough’ to land defensive line coach Tony Tuioti
Scott Frost interviewed “a bunch” of people in a nationwide search for a defensive line coach. He wanted a technician and someone who would blend in with the character of his staff.
It quickly became apparent Tony Tuioti fit that description better than anyone.
Frost said the former Cal assistant stood out for his experience in a 3-4 defense.
“I think that position is unique,” Frost said. “If it was a (defensive backs) coach, for instance, everybody kind of coaches those guys about the same. But a 3-4 and some of the things you ask a D-lineman to do in a 3-4 compared to a 4-3 is kind of like reading Greek and Latin.
“They’re similar, but they’re different. Or maybe Latin and Italian — I don’t know, it’s been a long time since I’ve gone to school.”
Tuioti spent his first day in the office Wednesday and met the rest of the coaches he hadn’t seen during his interview. Speaking later during the radio show, the new NU assistant said his first priority that night and the rest of the week is to call his linemen and get acquainted before spring practice begins Monday. He’ll start looking at tape of his new players now to get a jump on how he can help them improve.
Tuioti said Frost was an attractive part of the job along with the reputation of the program.
“It’s just the University of Nebraska,” Tuioti said. “It’s a football brand. Everybody in the country knows about the University of Nebraska. And to have the opportunity to work here, it was tough to pass up.”
Tuioti, who has seven children, said the family was pulling up YouTube videos of game days at Nebraska to get a sense of what they were getting into. Having spent a year at Michigan as the Wolverines’ director of player personnel, he said he’s well aware that stopping the run and embracing the elements are two key tenets to winning in the Big Ten.
He also didn’t know that the April spring game was already sold out.
“But I’m not surprised because it’s Nebraska football,” Tuioti said.
Frost said he expects Tuioti to hit the ground running and quickly build a rapport with his players and fellow coaches.
“There was a lot of really good candidates, but I think it was pretty clear to all of us who the lead guy was,” Frost said. “And we were lucky enough to get him.”