Shatel: Byrne’s gridiron legacy a bit cloudy - Omaha.com
Published Monday, April 23, 2012 at 10:13 pm / Updated at 10:17 pm
first downs and second guesses
Shatel: Byrne’s gridiron legacy a bit cloudy

What if Bill Byrne had been able to hire a Nebraska football coach?

That thought came to mind last week when reading the news that Byrne is out as Texas A&M athletic director. According to published reports, the school and Byrne have negotiated an amicable split, though the school wants Byrne out before his contract ends at the end of 2013. Byrne could be gone as early as August, before A&M begins play in the Southeastern Conference.

Byrne, 66, quite possibly will ride into retirement now. What will his legacy be?

For me, it will be as an effective builder of broad-based programs, a guy who could raise money and hire a baseball coach, but an odd fit at schools where football is the first language.

Byrne showed some guts by taking the Nebraska job in 1992: replacing legendary Bob Devaney with the knowledge that the sitting legend, Tom Osborne, was not thrilled about his hiring. Neither were many Husker fans, and that stuck with Byrne for 10 years. Few mourned when he left in 2002.

But “Dollar Bill” was the right man at the right time, in many ways, especially in the fundraising arena. Donations were tied to football seats. Skyboxes went up at Memorial Stadium. So did Husker Vision. Byrne spent a lot of effort and money building up NU’s prowess in non-revenue sports. He was criticized for not keeping the football facilities up to date. When Steve Pederson replaced Byrne in 2002, upgrading the football complex was one of Pederson’s first moves.

The classic Byrne legacy is transforming Nebraska baseball. If Dave Van Horn is the man who built Haymarket Park, Byrne was the one who hired Van Horn.

Under Byrne’s watch in College Station, Texas, the Aggies won national championships in men’s and women’s track, women’s basketball and men’s golf. Texas A&M baseball made it to the College World Series. And Byrne was able to make good hires in men’s basketball, something he whiffed on at Nebraska.

But the real legacy sports at NU and A&M are football, and Byrne had minimal impact there. If anything, he was kept on the outside of the major decisions.

At Texas A&M, it was always unclear whether Byrne hired coach Dennis Franchione. He got credit for Mike Sherman, but that wasn’t always a good thing. In fact, A&M fired Sherman at the end of last season while Byrne wanted to keep the coach. The Aggies’ brass also made the move to the SEC with Byrne reportedly disapproving.

Back in 1997, there was no question of Frank Solich replacing Tom Osborne — it was Osborne’s pick. Byrne had nothing to say about it. Who would Byrne have hired? There was always speculation that he favored Mack Brown, then at North Carolina.

Mack Brown coaching Nebraska? Wonder how that would have worked out.

• Michigan A.D. Dave Brandon told the Detroit News he expects the Wolverines’ Oct. 27 game at Nebraska to be a night game with a prime-time kickoff. Will that pre-Halloween game be the one where the Huskers come out in costumes, er, new uniforms?

• You need a little luck in recruiting. Sometimes you need a break. Bo Pelini started a pipeline at his former high school, Cardinal Mooney, and it looks like it paid off in a big way. Cardinal Mooney produced a four-star linebacker, Courtney Love, who just committed to NU over Ohio State, USC, Florida State, Notre Dame and others. Bo went home to beat Urban Meyer on a kid, but maybe Pelini’s starting to get some breaks in recruiting.

• Creighton officials say more than 5,000 tickets have been sold for Tuesday night’s Nebraska game at TD Ameritrade Park and they expect up to 10,000. That’s probably understandable considering the seasons Creighton and Nebraska are having, though NU is having a good year compared to recent seasons. Still, buzz for college baseball is low this year. You’d think that a great night with temps in the 80s would bring out more than 10,000.

One of these days it would be great to see CU and NU get together to bring in two quality College World Series contenders and play two mid-week games, or a doubleheader beginning at noon, etc., at TD Ameritrade. That would be a bonanza for everyone. And the relationship between the schools is in a good place to do it.

“The Creighton series is a great series for us,” first-year NU coach Darin Erstad said. “Creighton is a fantastically run organization. Coach (Ed) Servais is a great coach and person. I would like to keep playing Creighton three times (a season) forever. Our fans love it and our players look forward to it. It’s a no-brainer.”

• The NCAA transfer rule needs revision and here’s a good place to start: Whatever is good for the coaches is good for the athletes. If a school is able to limit the landing places for a kid, it can do the same for a coach who leaves. If a kid must sit out a year, so must a coach who leaves. If NCAA chief Mark Emmert really wants to start doing right by the student-athletes, let them transfer without penalty. Would that cause chaos? Maybe, maybe not. But no more chaos than when coaches leave at their whim.

• So the Jays travel to San Diego State and Boise State is the return game next year? That’s the way the Missouri Valley-Mountain West challenge goes. Every year is unique. Whatever works, I guess, but you’d think that the mid-major powers that be would be savvy enough to get a team like Creighton, which will be a top 20 team, in the best game possible for TV reasons. Sometimes the mid-major folks get in their own way.

• There’s not much left to say about Alfonzo Dennard’s weekend. It pretty much speaks for itself. The NFL will have the last say and that should be interesting. No doubt Fonzi cost himself some money with his after-hours adventure — good money. But talent matters most in the NFL, even with Sheriff Goodell riding herd. Dennard probably waits until Saturday to hear the phone ring, but would I be surprised if he goes sooner? Not at all. Physical corners don’t come along often.

• Ask and ye shall receive. Last week I wondered about the origin of Lyell Bremser’s signature phrase “Man, woman and child.” At the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame Dinner last Thursday night, we found out, courtesy of Al Mackiewicz, who accepted the honor for his late father-in-law. Mackiewicz, who used to work on the KFAB broadcast team with Bremser, said Bremser heard the phrase when he was a kid hanging out at his dad’s grocery store in Dow City, Iowa. Al said Bremser’s uncle used to say “Man, woman and child” in place of four-letter words whenever he would get excited. It stuck with the young Bremser.

That doesn’t mean Bremser was swearing at the end of Johnny Rodgers’ punt return at Oklahoma. Just means he was excited.

• Fist Bump: To Nebraska softball coach Rhonda Revelle, for notching career win 750 at Ohio State. And, also for agreeing to play a game at UNO, the first time NU went to Omaha to play UNO (in any sport) since 1979. It was a nice gesture and hopefully the beginning of a competitive series.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com

twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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