For Nebraska to win big, it needs efficiency, no drama

Coach Mike Riley has worked to eliminate distractions at Nebraska, where, for the past 10 to 15 years, one mini-drama after another has dominated headlines and undermined progress. Mike Granse/USA TODAY Sports

So what exactly happened this week in the Nebraska weight room?

If you unplugged briefly on Wednesday afternoon, you likely missed it. And by nightfall, the Cornhuskers’ first potential controversy of 2016 was seemingly extinguished. After the removal from a display screen of weight-lifting and performance-testing records set in the past decade, followed by the complaints of former receiver Kenny Bell, Nebraska announced that it would restore the marks in the name of recognizing all past players.

Good idea.

Case closed. But the episode served as a reminder of the combustible nature of the football environment in Lincoln. People care enough at Nebraska to create a stink about almost anything. For the past 10 to 15 years, one mini-drama after another has dominated headlines and undermined progress.

It was tiring to watch, let alone to experience as a player or coach.

Since coach Mike Riley was hired in December 2014, he’s done well to bring the Huskers together, to eliminate controversy -- especially over the past four months in the wake of a troubling 5-7 regular season.

Since January, Memorial Stadium has felt like a happy place. Riley and his staff are settled. The players appear largely poised to work hard toward maximizing their talents without the burden of regular, unnecessary distractions.

The weight-room flap doesn’t change any of that. But if it’s symptomatic of a divide within the strength program -- or anywhere else -- Riley and his boss, AD Shawn Eichorst, can't look the other way.

Strength and conditioning is the backbone of every football program. For five full months in the offseason, the players work primarily with the strength coaches. Nebraska built the nation’s most successful program over 30 years from the ground up in the weight room.

The man at the wheel in that championship era was Boyd Epley, who retired at Nebraska in 2006 and returned as the assistant AD for strength and conditioning in 2014.

Epley oversees the operation, but he no longer runs strength and conditioning for the football team. That job belongs to Mark Philipp, hand picked by Riley.

It was Epley, before the Wednesday's reversal, who chose to remove the records set, essentially, during his time away.

"I had good intentions," Epley told the Omaha World-Herald, "but the fact is, no one wants to have their records taken away."

Former Nebraska offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles, interviewed on the Hail Varsity Radio Show, said he felt "more shock than anything" about the decision.

"[Epley] felt that the techniques that were being done by the previous strength staff were not up to his standards," said Sirles, who spoke with Epley and continues to work out in the Nebraska facility. "unless he had seen the records set with his own eyes, then he had them taken down."

Good on Epley and Nebraska for defusing this fast. It’s a footnote now, if even that, but a reminder that little problems can disrupt the calm seas that Riley has worked to achieve.

The coach understands the importance at Nebraska of an efficient operation. Long gone are the days when the Huskers could compete for championships as figurative bombshells exploded on the sideline. For Nebraska to win big in the Big Ten, it must rate as the most smoothly run operation in the league.

In a blast to the not-so-distant past, the school’s retiring chancellor, Harvey Perlman, threw a barb at former coach Bo Pelini during Perlman’s final "state of the university" address last week.

"I'm not going to do a 'Bo Pelini,' Perlman told an audience. "You know what a 'Bo Pelini' is? It is defined in the urban dictionary as an expletive-laced rant, expressing outrage on leaving a position you didn't want anyway."

Pelini was the poster child for unnecessary drama in his seven seasons at Nebraska. Perlman has had plenty of moments, too.

Incidentally, as Nebraska crafted the statement Wednesday to ease concerns, the university introduced Ronnie Green to succeed Perlman.

The key to an efficient football machine at Nebraska starts with leadership -- at every level.

Here's to a nice, drama-free start for the new boss.