Things I know, and things I think I know:
During a late-November day in 2013, former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini and his staff were in the midst of meetings as they prepared for that week’s game against Iowa.
There was a problem, though.
Nebraska players kept interrupting the meetings to ask Pelini if rumors regarding his job status were true. They expressed concern. Hot-seat talk was intense. Long story short, the players knew there was ample pressure on Pelini and his staff to win, or else.
“Just go play,” Pelini told his guys. “Let me worry about the big stuff.”
Nobody’s saying current Nebraska head coach Scott Frost is under that sort of pressure. But we can all agree the heat on Frost has ramped up a few notches. He understands it fully. After all, he’s 12-20 entering his fourth year in charge. He has a new boss. Of course there’s pressure. Last week’s revelation that his program is in the midst of an ongoing NCAA investigation turned up heat that much more as Saturday’s opener at Illinois approaches.
Nobody asked me, but it seems important for Frost to do what he can to take pressure off his players.
And, yes, pressure on coaches affects their players.
“Even more so in this day and age because there are so many media outlets — it’s everywhere,” says Rick Kaczenski, who coached the defensive line under Pelini from 2012-14.
Perhaps more germane to this discussion, Kaczenski played collegiately at Notre Dame from 1993-97, where he was a three-year starter at center — two of those occurring during the tenure of former Irish head coach Lou Holtz. The environment in South Bend, Indiana, obviously is pressure-packed almost all the time, but Holtz had ways of taking pressure off his players, Kaczenski said.
For one, Holtz never blamed them. The head coach took responsibility for losses.
“When you didn’t do your part and he takes the hit, you are overcome with guilt and disappointment, and that works as a driving force to never let down that man again,” Kaczenski said.
Holtz also created adversity during the week of practice so players could handle pressure on game day. He called it “stress tolerance.” It might involve putting the offense in a two-minute drill down seven points on the scoreboard. A coaching staff, though, can create stress in a variety of forms.
What’s more, “Holtz made sure that from top to bottom everybody shared the same goal so the only thing you had to worry about was football when you were on the practice field and in the stadium,” Kaczenski said. “And he would not allow distractions to leak into the locker room. He was the spokesman for the players and the entire team.”
The best way to take pressure off players? In my opinion, it’s to have them prepared to the fullest. Put an excellent game plan in front of them. Get them feeling confident in their overall preparation — physical, mental, all of it.
“Players will know if the coaches have prepared them for the situation,” Kaczenski said. “Coach Holtz prepared us for any situation. I have played for (another) coach who didn’t prepare me for those situations and have absolutely no respect for him. You know why? Because his investment looked different from mine, yet he was the one making decisions.”
Holtz had a record of 100-30-2 at Notre Dame from 1986 to 1996. Between 1988 and 1993, his teams were 64-9-1. He also took the Irish to bowl games in nine consecutive seasons, still a school record.
Kaczenski took part in four bowl games, including the 1996 Orange Bowl under Holtz.
Holtz had one motto that can apply in a variety of settings. It’s an excellent one.
“Only the unprepared are overcome by pressure,” he said.
OK, I know what you’re thinking. The best way to relieve pressure is to win games at a high rate. That’s obvious. But it’s also easier said than done. I know this: Frost genuinely believes in his roster but also thinks the program is in need of early-season success for much-needed confidence, or as Frost puts it, “We need to get some wind under our wings.”
Kaczenski fully understands where Frost is coming from. In some ways, it’s about the price of investment and feeling of reward.
“It’s enlightenment when success comes to fruition,” Kaczenski said.
Nebraska has a veteran-laden team. Those veteran players want to see that what they’ve being taught for the past few years can produce wins on autumn Saturdays.
It’s proving season now. Enjoy.
* Part of Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook’s assessment of the Red-White Scrimmage included him saying, “Lindsay Krause has been dominating practice.”
Um, that gets your attention.
In case you’re still learning all of the Huskers’ new faces, the 6-foot-4 Krause led Omaha Skutt to Class B state titles in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. She was ranked as the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect by PrepVolleyball.com.
* We’ll see what Cook has to say Monday about senior setter Nicklin Hames’ ankle injury. She’s a gamer whose on-court enthusiasm is contagious. You hope she’s OK.
Cook is scheduled to meet with media at 11 a.m. Mondays during the season. Frost takes the podium at 12:30 p.m.
* So, BTN analyst Howard Griffith says this is the “best-looking” Minnesota team he’s seen in his 14 years with the network. Translation: The Gophers are big and talented. I’ll keep saying this: Nebraska’s only road game in October (Oct. 16 in Minneapolis) is going to be an absolute bear. Keep in mind, the Gophers will have two weeks to prepare for the Huskers.
* Iowa senior Kyler Schott, projected as the starting left guard, broke his foot baling hay and is likely to miss the Hawkeyes’ opener against Indiana. Iowa plays at Iowa State in Game 2. Hello.
“I think he’s the first guy, at least in 23 years, I can remember that got injured baling hay,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
To be clear, Schott landed awkwardly after jumping from a stack of bales. Whatever. I’m not telling a kid from Coggon, Iowa, that he can’t bale hay.
Better than playing video games.
Originally Appeared Here