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Nebraska's struggle to find coach surprising

OMAHA, Neb. -- Long known as a bastion of coaching
stability, Nebraska hasn't been able to find anyone to take over
its football program.

Where most schools go only a few days between the departure of a
coach and the arrival of a new one, Nebraska athletic director
Steve Pederson on Thursday began the 40th day of his search for
Frank Solich's successor.

Anxiety in this football-mad state escalates with each passing
day, as evidenced by the vitriol on local sports call-in shows and
Internet bulletin boards.

Precious recruiting time is slipping away, and there still is a
vigorous debate over whether Solich should have been let go after a
9-3 regular season.

Add to that the strong fan sentiment for defensive coordinator
Bo Pelini, who led the Huskers to an Alamo Bowl victory over
Michigan State, as interim head coach.

It has become a volatile mix for Pederson, who has conducted his
one-man search in virtual secrecy.

Pederson is a North Platte native, a Nebraska graduate and a former
recruiting coordinator for the university. In his first year as athletic
director, he often said the fans' passion is a strength of the
program.

Yet he has appeared to be caught off-guard by the frenzy the
search has created.

"We are unusual in the fact that the University of Nebraska has
not gone through this process in football since we hired Bob
Devaney from Wyoming in 1962," Pederson said. "However, the
process is proceeding as planned."

Pederson has acknowledged he has interviewed Arkansas coach
Houston Nutt and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
Whether either received offers depends on who you talk to.

Bill Callahan, fired as Oakland Raiders coach last week, was in
Lincoln on Wednesday night and Thursday morning interviewing for the
job. Pelini and quarterbacks coach Turner Gill, the in-house
candidates, interviewed on Wednesday.

"If I were in Nebraska's position, I'd make sure I'm getting
the right man at this point," Arkansas athletic director Frank
Broyles said. "I wouldn't go hire somebody just because it looks
like I need to. When you go this long, find the best fit for
Nebraska."

How long it takes to replace a football coach varies, depending
on the time of year and circumstances.

Washington, for example, fired Rick Neuheisel on July 28 -- just
a few days before the start of preseason practice -- and promoted
assistant Keith Gilbertson the next day.

Texas A&M needed only three days to replace R.C. Slocum with
Dennis Franchione in December 2002, and Florida took just four days
to see off Steve Spurrier and hire Ron Zook.

"I always knew if Steve left who I was going to talk to,"
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "I was going to talk
to three people, and I was going to hire one of them."

Nebraska, on the other hand, is conducting one of the longest
major-college football coaching search in recent times.

According to Broyles, Pederson violated a firing-and-hiring
axiom when he dismissed Solich.

"I was taught that you don't make a change until you know who
you're going to hire," Broyles said. "And you also have to make
sure the new guy is better than the old guy."

But Broyles praised Pederson for having the integrity to wait
until after most of the bowl games to start talking to candidates
from the college ranks. Broyles last week held off Pederson's bid
to lure away Nutt.

Gil Brandt, who works closely with colleges as an NFL scouting
consultant, said he's surprised Nebraska is having so much
difficulty finding a coach, given the program's tradition and
resources.

"If Mike Zimmer turned down the job... it's hard for me to
understand why anyone would not want to go from being a defensive
coordinator in the National Football League to being head coach at
Nebraska," Brandt said. "If these are all turn-downs, there must
be something to it that we're not reading or seeing.

"It's different if you're trying to get somebody to go to a
school with lesser history, less money. To me, Nebraska is a very,
very good job."

Pederson said when the search started that the next coach would
be expected to return Nebraska's program to elite status, meaning
it should be competing for national championships regularly.

Brandt said such an expectation should not scare away quality
candidates.

"My educated guess is that job is going to pay $1.5 million a
year," Brandt said, "and if you're going to pay top dollar, top
performance is expected."

Foley said Pederson needs to go about his search in his own way
and not be concerned with the public's reaction.

"No matter who he hires, there will be somebody out there who
wishes he had hired somebody else, or why he couldn't have done it
quicker," Foley said. "It's just part of being in the chair.

"They got the right guy conducting the search. He's a quality
AD, and he knows his sports, and he'll find Nebraska a quality
coach."