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Steven M. Sipple: Mickey Joseph returns to NU with a reputation that suits him just fine

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NU Football Press Conference, 12.15

New Nebraska assistant coach Mickey Joseph is emphasizing the need for his receivers to be able to play special teams. 

So, Mickey Joseph, any good recruiting stories?

The 53-year-old coaching veteran has scores of them, and he shared a pretty good one Wednesday. 

The central figure in this particular story is Ja'Marr Chase of Metairie, Louisiana, a unanimous All-American for LSU's 2019 national championship squad. 

He was a four-star receiver in the class of 2018, and Joseph was LSU's wide receivers coach at the time. 

"It was a Tuesday night, and I got wind that Auburn was coming to town," Joseph recalls. "So, I called him, and he answered the phone. We kept talking, and he kept trying to hang up. I wouldn't let him hang up. I kept him on the phone for like four or five hours.

"With SEC recruiting," he adds, "it's tough because everybody's after those four- and five-star kids. You've got to really work." 

In this case, it meant keeping Chase on the phone until 2:30 a.m. 

"I woke him back up at 7 to sign that (letter of intent)," Joseph said with a grin. 

Whatever it takes, right?

"I hit the ground running (last week)," said Joseph, Nebraska's new receivers coach, passing game coordinator and associate head coach. "I'm ready to work. That's one thing I'm good at, just communicating with those kids and working — and identifying talent. You've got to make sure you identify the talent." 

Joseph seems OK in that regard. In 2019, for instance, LSU assembled arguably the best group of receivers in SEC history. The Tigers’ three starters — Chase, Justin Jefferson and Terrace Marshall — combined for 241 receptions for 3,991 yards and 51 touchdowns.  

During his tenure at LSU (2017 to 2021), Joseph became known as an excellent recruiter — one of the best in the business, in fact. 

Some coaches resist being known as a recruiter, feeling it short-changes their ability on both the practice and playing field.

But Joseph isn't worried about that. 

"Well, you know what, I've never seen a bad coach with good players, and I've never seen a good coach with bad players," he said matter-of-factly. "So, I don't mind being known as a recruiter because I know I can coach football. I know that's the reason I'm here, to coach football."

Joseph was formally announced as a Nebraska assistant Dec. 3. He acknowledged he considered one other coaching job. 

"Then, right when I took this job, there was another opportunity," he said. "But we were set on coming here." 

After all, Nebraska is his alma mater. Joseph, in fact, "was recruited as heavily as anyone we ever recruited," former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne recalled recently of the former option wizard. 

Joseph picked Nebraska over Oklahoma, playing 34 career games at NU — rushing for 1,091 yards and passing for 909 — and spent most of the 1990 season as the starter. 

His return as a coach has been emotional, he said. It's also been interesting for him because he says the city of Lincoln has changed dramatically since his college days. 

However, "Like I told my wife, I wouldn't bring my family here if this wasn't a good place with good people," Joseph said. "We could've went other places. But at the end of the day, I think Scott (Frost) has this program going in the right direction. No, we don't have the wins, yet. We will get the wins. We've got to tweak some things. We've got to get some things better. But I think for the most part we're on the right track."

Joseph feels an injection of new energy in the coaches' offices — offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and offensive line coach Donovan Raiola also met with local media Wednesday at Memorial Stadium — could help matters.

For his part, Joseph said, he'll push his receivers "to a level they've never seen before." 

"I tell them I have proof that it's going to work," he said, alluding in part to four of his LSU receivers being selected in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.

He seems to have a good feel for the group of Nebraska receivers he's inherited.  

"I think it's a talented room, with Zay (Zavier Betts) and Omar (Manning)," he said. "You've got Oliver (Martin), you've got Alante (Brown), you've got Latrell (Neville). I think you've got some kids who can play." 

Joseph will try to foster intense competition within his position. He'll emphasize that receivers who were prominent in last year's rotation don't necessarily have spots locked up.

He also made clear what traits he's seeking in his guys. 

"First of all, that they don't blink," the coach said. "Every snap, they're coming at you. They're trying to rip your heart out. If you have that attitude, you're going to win 90% of the battles. 

"And you have to be able to catch the ball, and you've got to be able to catch it across the middle, even knowing that linebacker's about to knock your head off. I still expect you to catch the ball. And there's got to be good route-running. I think the playing field is even on Saturday. So you get open with your good route running. 

"That's what I like about Oliver. He's a great route runner, and he catches the ball well."  

Joseph wants guys who do whatever it takes, just like he does — both as a recruiter and coach.

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