Big 12: John Papuchis

Can Cornhuskers rebound after late collapse at Virginia Tech?

September, 25, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

In the estimation of Nebraska defensive ends coach John Papuchis, the Nebraska defense played well on all but three of its 75 snaps against Virginia Tech.

Breakdowns on those three plays ultimately was the difference in Nebraska's disappointing 16-15 loss to the Hokies.

Papuchis told a group of Cornhusker fans at the weekly Big Red breakfast in Omaha, Neb., that the plays that haunted him included: a third-and-20 passing conversion on the opening series that led to a touchdown, the 46-yard run late in the second quarter that led to a field goal and Tyrod Taylor's miraculous 81-yard pass with 1:11 remaining that led to Virginia Tech’s game-winning touchdown.

"This was a great illustration for us,” he told the Lincoln Journal-Star. “It’s not what they did to us. It’s what we didn’t execute or did for ourselves.

“It’d be nice if I didn’t have to say, ‘Minus this play, minus that play.’”

Papuchis said the disappointment was evident after the game, but the Cornhuskers have rebounded with renewed purpose for Saturday's game against Louisiana-Lafayette.

"There was a look of hurt and anger, and that’s the way it should be,” Papuchis said. “You want it to hurt because that means they understand the investment they’re putting in is worthwhile.

“I thought that part was awesome.”

Not many Cornhusker fans share that description for what happened in the final minutes against the Hokies.

“Our players were hurt by the loss and came back,” said Papuchis, noting Monday’s and Tuesday’s practices were the best he’s seen at Nebraska since his arrival.

“That’s not coach talk. That’s an honest observation.”

The Louisiana-Lafayette game will celebrate the Cornhuskers' tradition as the school notches its 300th consecutive sellout. But it will be just as interesting to see how the team puts aside that heartbreaking loss to get ready for the upcoming North Division race.

Papuchis also coaches the Cornhuskers' special teams and had an interesting description of why he has chosen junior Alex Henery as his punter over freshman Brett Maher.

The major reason is because the Cornhuskers employ freshman P.J. Mangieri as their long-snapper.

“I’ve got mouths to feed at home,” Papuchis said. “That’s a scary deal.”

The Big 12's best recruiting closers

September, 8, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Recruiting is a competitive game, but some coaches have risen above the others for their ability to close the deal and convince recruits to come to their schools.

These coaches definitely deserve the coffee, according to the classic line uttered by Alec Baldwin in the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Here’s my list of the very best of the Big 12 closers:

Texas coach Mack Brown: There’s a reason why Texas has dominated recruiting in recent seasons. And it starts with their head coach, who has a knack for convincing top recruits to commit long before their senior seasons -- an accepted practice across the conference.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops: Recruits don’t seem to mind the Sooners’ recent BCS failures. They know they’ll have the opportunity to be in the championship hunt every season and develop their talents while working with Stoops.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel: He’s changed the recruiting culture at Missouri as the Tigers now dominate in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas where they once struggled. And no Big 12 program has developed a better reputation for building NFL talent than the Tigers under Pinkel, which makes recruiting easier now than when he started.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini: His staff isn’t as much into recruiting rankings as their predecessors were, but Pelini is just as effective sealing the deal with recruits. His no-nonsense style appeals to parents and recruits like his energetic staff keyed by Tim Beck and John Papuchis.

Baylor coach Art Briles: It’s a wickedly competitive battle for recruits in Texas, but Briles seems to be holding his own. Texas high school coaches respect him because of his similar coaching background earlier in his career. But Briles also has an innate way of putting recruits at ease immediately as well as convincing their parents to come to Baylor.

Record-breaking Henery trying for Nebraska double duty

April, 3, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Alex Henery might have saved Nebraska's season in 2008 with his dramatic record-breaking 57-yard field goal that helped beat Colorado in the final minute.

Now, he's got another challenge with the Cornhuskers.

Henery first walked on at Nebraska with the idea of working as a punter. But that all changed over the past two seasons as he has emerged as one of the most consistent kickers in school history.

But with the graduation of punters Dan Titchener and Jake Wesch from last season, Henery is returning to his booting roots, so to speak, this spring.

"I knew both of them were going to be gone, so I figured I might as well give it a try and see what would happen," Henery told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "You can't lose anything trying."

That's why he's trying to accomplish a rarity in college football today as he attempts to double as a kicker and a punter.

"I wouldn't have even introduced the idea to him about punting if I didn't think he could handle both," Nebraska assistant coach John Papuchis told the Journal-Star. "If there is ever a point in time where he feels stressed on where he needs to spend the majority of his focus, we'd have to make a decision then. But right now I think he is able to handle both pretty well."

As big as Henery was last season, maybe he's trying to make himself even more indispensable for his team by doing both jobs.

Amazingly, Henery still isn't on either an academic or athletic scholarship for the Cornhuskers.

His big kick against Colorado helped catapult the Cornhuskers into a New Year's Day bowl game and helped push along Bo Pelini's transformation of the program that much faster.

He even received the ultimate compliment from Pelini, who referred to him as "a stud" after his heroics against the Buffaloes. That kind of flattery from the Nebraska coach is usually reserved for quarterbacks and defensive tackles.

But if he can prove himself as a punter and a kicker, it might get Henery a scholarship. And that would be an even bigger reward than any game-winning kick or postgame platitude from his coach.  

Cornhuskers' assistants receive big salary bumps

March, 31, 2009

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Bo Pelini's new contract received much of the buzz Monday as the Cornhuskers' second-year coach received a hike that will push his yearly contract to $1.851 million per season.

Lost in that fanfare was the 22.2 percent boost that Nebraska assistant coaches received in the new deal.

The highest-paid assistant will be offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, who will receive a whopping 66.7 percent increase from last season. Watson's new yearly salary will be hiked to $375,000, according to figures obtained by the Lincoln Journal Star. It will make Watson the highest-paid assistant coach in Nebraska football history.

Here's a look at the salaries of Pelini's staff for the 2009 season.

Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson                                   $375,000

Defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Carl Pelini           $208,360

Running backs coach Tim Beck                                           $208,360

Tight ends coach Ron Brown                                               $208,360

Offensive line coach/associate head coach Barney Cotton      $208,360

Wide receivers coach/assistant head coach Ted Gilmore        $208,360

Secondary coach Marvin Sanders                                        $208,360

Linebackers coach Mike Ekeler                                            $150,000

Defensive ends coach John Papuchis                                   $150,000

The collective package will pay Nebraska assistants a total of $1,925,160 -- the highest collective total ever paid to Nebraska assistant coaches. The school said the assistants' new salaries rank sixth among Big 12 teams.