Dear Nebraska fans,
It is time. The prologue to the Matt Rhule era begins now.
Well, I suppose you can count the previous 111 days as the prelude to the prologue, but I digress.
Spring football isn’t just on the horizon. It’s here.
The Huskers are set to get the early worm well before the sun rises — kicking off the Rhule era at 6 a.m. Monday.
As always, much will be made of what happens in March and April — probably too much, even — but that’s the nature of the beast, as former coach and athletic director Tom Osborne so eloquently said in a recent roundtable chat with Rhule and current athletic director Trev Alberts.
“There really isn’t an offseason,” Osborne said. “If you’re a major metropolitan area, there’s a pro team there and once the season’s over, the sportswriters turn to something else. Here in Nebraska, usually in most every edition of the newspaper, there’s going to be something about football. There’s scrutiny pretty much 365 days a year.”
People are also reading…
Guilty as charged.
I genuinely can’t remember the last time our sports section didn’t have at least one shred of news pertaining to Nebraska football. For better or worse, that’s just how things work here.
Nebraska Athletics, football in particular, matters to Nebraskans. A lot. Even when things aren’t going so well.
“We’re going into the stadium last fall, and I think we were 3-8 or something like that and everybody was here,” Osborne said. “There’s very, very few places in the country where you’d be 3-8 and every seat was full. So, with the scrutiny, comes the fact that people care. They show that they care.
“... I’d rather have people care and have a little extra attention than vice versa.”
Rhule, though, he’s learning quick.
As has been written, he’s not shying away from the public eye. He’s been to a handful of Nebraska men’s basketball games, making appearances on the videoboard each time. He’s been spotted in public at several local restaurants, taking the time to chat and take pictures with fans.
In that roundtable, Rhule shared a story where after he and his family attended the men’s basketball game against Maryland, he took his daughters to get ice cream.
(He didn’t say where in the interview, so I, as a local ice cream aficionado, needed to figure it out if the Rhules are Team Ivanna Cone, Team 402 Creamery, Team Neveria, Team Freezing Thai, Team Dairy Store or somewhere else. Some sleuthing revealed the destination as 402 Creamery. Great choice, IMO.)
Anyway. While there, Rhule ran into some fans.
“They were going to drive four and a half hours home. They came for a basketball game,” Rhule said. “It was humbling and at the same time, a great reminder that there’s people all over the state that care deeply about what we do.”
Presuming those people drove in from within the state, that’s roughly a 300-mile drive from somewhere like Benkelman or Oshkosh or Chappell.
There’s a lot of people like that. Just ask volleyball coach John Cook. He’ll be the first to tell you there’s something special about Husker fans from western Nebraska.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, let me say that — at least as a head coach,” Rhule said of the fanbase. “I’ve never been privileged to play in this type of game day environment.
“... When the alarm goes off in the morning and we’ve got morning workouts at six o’clock in the morning and you don’t feel like getting up one day, just reminding yourself that there’s a lot of people that do care.”
Rhule will get his first in-person taste of that on April 22. I’m going to venture a guess attendance for the Red-White game will look more like 2018 and 2008 rather than last season.
The first year of a new coach at Nebraska always draws a large crowd.
For Bill Callahan’s spring game, 61,417 fans were on hand. For Bo Pelini in 2008, 80,149. For Mike Riley in 2015, 76,881. For Scott Frost’s spring debut: a record 86,818.
By the time this year’s iteration of the Red-White game rolls around, I venture we’ll have a few questions answered with many that’ll linger through August.
But that’s all right. This is what spring is for: slowly starting to figure out what you have and utilize those reps to help inform the fall.
“You can’t promise results,” Rhule said. “We can certainly promise the work. You can’t promise how the season will end up, but you can certainly promise that your process will be right and I’ll try to do right by everybody.”
While that may be true for the fall slate, I can assure Husker fans of one result.
Nebraska should win on April 22.