Two yeas ago, when Nebraska pulled off an improbable comeback to defeat Iowa 37-34 in overtime, they made a curious move -- they fired the coach who had led that comeback win, Bo Pelini. The win gave Nebraska their ninth win of the season, a familiar plateau under Pelini -- he never won fewer than nine games at Nebraska. He also never lost fewer than four games at Nebraska -- except for, ironically, his final season in charge, when he was fired after a 9-3 regular season (Nebraska did lose their bowl game that year to keep the streak alive). For the Nebraska administration -- and athletic director Shawn Eichorst -- that wasn't good enough, especially when it took crazy comebacks against Iowa to accomplish. Said Eichorst, "In the final analysis, I had to evaluate where Iowa was."
When Eichorst fired Pelini, he said, In the final analysis, I had to evaluate where Iowa was.
Since then, Nebraska is 16-14, Iowa is 23-8
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) September 21, 2017
Iowa has also gone 2-0 against Nebraska -- and Mike Riley, Eichorst's successor to Pelini, who was mainly chosen because he was the opposite of Pelini in almost every way -- since those comments. They've also competed for a Big Ten Championship since then and played in their third major bowl game since Nebraska last played in a comparable bowl game.
Today, Nebraska fired Shawn Eichorst. In the final analysis, I guess Eichorst's bosses had to evaluate where Nebraska was as a program.
So now the wheels of change will turn again at Nebraska -- and Eichorst probably won't be the only one to lose his his head in this cycle of turnover. New athletic directors rarely feel beholden to previously hired coaches; they definitely don't feel beholden to previously hired coaches who are barely over .500. I'm just saying, I hope Mike Riley is renting. (And while this move was mainly prompted by Nebraska's continuing football struggles, its ramifications could spread beyond football -- Tim Miles runs a basketball program that's been trending the wrong way in recent years and bleeding its best players in a way that draws to mind the end of the Lickliter Era at Iowa; that's not a formula for continued employment, especially with a brand-new boss.)
Unless Nebraska's new athletic director (and whichever new football coach he hires, either this offseason or next) -- whoever they are -- have a time machine, though, it's not going to matter who Nebraska hires. The circumstances that created three decades of dominance for the Cornhuskers in the 70s, 80s, and (especially) 90s aren't coming back. Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne were excellent coaches who also happened to be the right men at the right time with the right set of conditions that they could exploit. But the college football game has been utterly transformed since those days and almost all of the advantages that Nebraska once had have been systematically eroded.
Their walk-on tradition has evaporated in part due to their own mismanagement, but also due to copycat programs and a realization among players that they can get more exposure (and playing time) at mid-majors (or even FCS schools) than they can waiting 3-4 years for a shot at Nebraska. 20-30 it was a big deal that Nebraska was on national TV more than almost any other program; today between cable and streaming options, there are literally dozens of games available to watch every single week and almost every team is on TV every week.
Tougher admission standards (hello, Proposition 48) and a 24/7 news cycle with literally thousands more outlets make it impossible to get -- or keep -- some of the... flawed... players they succeeded with in the past. On top of that, Nebraska no longer has any sort of schematic advantage on either side of the ball. Nebraska is just a team in a snowy midwestern state with no natural recruiting advantages whose championship glory is receding further and further into the past with each passing year. They're Minnesota with a more delusional fanbase.