LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson
was fired Monday, two days after the school's once-mighty football
team was rocked with its worst home loss in nearly a half-century.
Pederson, along with coach Bill Callahan, has been heavily
criticized after a series of one-sided losses this season. The most
recent was a 45-14 loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday with former
Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne and his 1997 national title team in
Callahan's job is apparently safe for now. Chancellor Harvey
Perlman said the next athletic director would decide the fate of
the football staff.
Over the past two weeks, the Huskers (4-3) have lost by a
combined score of 86-20, dropping a 41-6 decision at Missouri two
"There is no joy in my heart for having to do this," Perlman
said. He said it would cost at least $2.2 million to buy Pederson
out of his contract.
At the end of the July, Pederson's contract was renewed for five
years, but this season has been a nightmare for the most part. Even
in victory -- a 41-40 nail-biter against Ball State -- the Huskers'
defense was far from the force it used to be.
For the first time in their 118-year history, the Cornhuskers
have allowed at least 40 points four times in a season.
"You make the best decision you can with the information you
have," Perlman said.
The chancellor also said since July he's noticed a decline in
morale and growing concern about keeping key personnel in the
athletic department. Paul Meyers, a key fundraiser, was among
several people who departed.
Several people came forward with concerns about Pederson's
management style and his connection with staff, donors and
athletes, Perlman said.
"Every one of you thinks this is because of a football game
that was played last Saturday," Pederson said. "It may well be
that the vulnerability of the football program encouraged people to
come forward when prior to that they had not."
A search for an interim athletic director has begun, with the
next step to find a permanent replacement.
"It is not clear how long such a process will take or its
precise form," Perlman said. "It is important it be done
expeditiously but thoughtfully."
Perlman said he would consult with Osborne about the direction
of the athletic program, but stopped short of saying he would offer
Osborne the interim athletic director's job. Osborne now teaches a
business leadership course at the university and is a consultant to
local college athletic programs.
Callahan, who signed a five-year contract last month, said less
than two hours before Pederson's firing that they talked almost
daily about the program.
"We've come under a steady stream of criticism," Callahan
said. "It's important you stand tall. You'll be the direct target
of critics. I understand that. You're in the public eye and in a
high position in order to lead. We're going to continue to lead in
a very positive manner."
In four seasons under Callahan, the Huskers are 26-18 overall,
14-14 against the Big 12, 3-8 against teams in the Top 25 and 0-6
against the top 10. They have given up 40 points or more nine
Pederson has been a polarizing figure in Nebraska, widely
criticized for firing coach Frank Solich and then for conducting a
protracted one-man search for a new coach.
Pederson may have been his own worst enemy, setting the bar high
for Callahan and raising fans' expectations.
"I refuse to let the program gravitate into mediocrity,"
Pederson said the day he announced Solich's firing. "We won't
surrender the Big 12 to Oklahoma and Texas."
Despite firing a coach with a 9-3 record that season and a 58-19
career mark, Pederson said he was not running a "win at all
He said he did not like the direction the program was taking
after going 16-12 in Solich's last 28 games.
"The byproduct of excellence in every area of your program is
winning, and I don't apologize for having high expectations,"
"This is the best job in the country, and anyone who doesn't
want to win the national championship shouldn't bother applying for
this job. I understand we aren't going to win the championship
every year, but I believe we should be playing for or gaining on
the championship on a consistent basis.
Pederson had at least four candidates turn down the job before
he hired Callahan, who had just been fired by the Oakland Raiders.
The Huskers went 5-6 in Callahan's first season but improved to
8-4 in 2005. They were 9-5 last year, winning the Big 12 North and
losing to Oklahoma in the conference title game. They then lost to
Auburn in the Cotton Bowl.
Any traction gained last year had been lost this season.
Pederson, who grew up in North Platte, Neb., and worked at
Nebraska in the sports information office and football program, was
athletic director at the University of Pittsburgh when Nebraska
hired him in 2003.
"The selection of Steve Pederson in 2003 as athletic director
was widely thought to be the only clear choice because of his
experience, his roots and his knowledge of our traditions,"
Perlman said. "I know Steve made the decisions he thought best for
the interests of the program and the university. I am disappointed
that I had to come to this decision."
Steve Glenn, a Nebraska offensive lineman in the late 1970s,
said the firing of Pederson is "the best thing to happen to
Nebraska football in 10 years," adding, it "lifts a cloud off the
state of Nebraska."
Glenn said he hoped Osborne, 70, would take the interim AD's
"What a great man of integrity -- he could do great things for
the university," especially if the team has to recruit a new
coach, Glenn said.
Osborne didn't immediately return a phone message Monday
"I don't know whether the lynch mob is going to be satisfied
with one body," said regent Randy Ferlic, who added he and other
regents have received hundreds of e-mails calling for the firing of
Pederson, Callahan and Perlman.
Ferlic said he worried the decision sends the message that a few
fans can get a ball rolling and get people fired.