When I saw that Tom Osborne allowed Doc Sadler speak to the media after the former had fired the latter, I couldn’t believe it. I understand Illinois letting Bruce Weber speak after he was fired, but Weber delivered a national title game appearance to the Illini. The terminated Sadler, whose never got a team to the NCAA tournament, spoke for a teary four minutes, claimed he didn’t see his firing coming (like most people who get fired), and no one had any questions for him, likely because Nebraska could have shuttled him out the back door. They had, after all, not allowed Mike Anderson to speak to the media, after he was broken off after nine seasons, five postseason appearances, and a CWS appearance in 2005, a much better record than Sadler. Guess we know which sport Osborne thinks is more important.
I realized a year or two ago, Sadler looked like the exact kind of mistake that a football school would make on a basketball head coach. His rah-rah personality, reminiscent of the late great Bob Devaney and current Husker football coach Bo Pelini, isn’t a great sell to premium recruits. Yes, it’s reminiscent of Bob Knight, but over time (and ESPN exposure) he didn’t get the best recruits. (Ironically, Texas Tech, the last school Knight coached at, was interested in hiring Sadler last year.) Sadler always had a player or two transfer after every year, and it makes you wonder if his hot-head style wore players out the way Jon Gruden’s did. Sadler’s defensive-style was another reason that he fooled Nebraska for six years. A defense-first approach appeals to a football mecca like Nebraska, but at some point, a coach has to recruit scorers, and Sadler didn’t do that.
Then there’s Osborne’s role in keeping Sadler on. Osborne said he was embarrassed by Sadler’s low guaranteed money, but why did wait until three and a half years after becoming athletic director to address it? While I understand Osborne’s motivation, if he felt he had to give Sadler the extra money to succeed, he should have fired him last March, after Wichita State had run Sadler’s team out of the gym in the NIT. He should have asked himself, can I still keep this coach if we have a terrible year next year? And with the conference change, there was no guarantee that Nebraska could keep pace in the stacked Big 10. In the end, one wonders if Osborne, with the midset of a former coach, gave one chance too many to Sadler.
Think Nebraska looks bad for keeping Sadler? Kansas State kept Jim Woolridge for six years, and he finished with a record of 83-90 in 2006. There’s no urgency to win in college basketball, because football is what carries the athletic department The reason Osborne gave Sadler a bigger buyout than Bo Pelini (really) rather than break him off last spring was that he could. He’s not the football coach. At least right now, Osborne and Mark Boehm are saying the right things, that they will now spend $1.6 to $1.7 million a year on a basketball coach (Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and Michigan’s John Beilein both make $1.6), so at least there’s a chance Nebraska can land a good coach, although Shaka Smart turned an alleged $2 million a year from N.C. State last year, so don’t hold your breath on him.
But back to Sadler, who spoke to the media in tears on Friday. I felt somewhat sorry for him, although not because he lost his job. In spite of Nebraska’s poor basketball facilities, Sadler couldn’t get out of his own way. And of course his buyout automatically suspends sympathy. I feel sorry for him because someone who has failed so publicly shouldn’t be trotted out there to wheeze to the media like that. That might be what’s really wrong with Nebrasketball.