Nebraska is one of the most prestigious college football programs in the country, and is considered by many to be one of the “blue bloods” along with the likes of Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, etc. This was especially true for certain eras of Nebraska football when the program was regularly contending for a national championship, though there have been some eras in which the Cornhuskers have struggled.
Throughout it all, Nebraska has had over 30 head coaches in the program’s history, with an obviously large range of success. Which of these coaches ranks among the best in the program’s history, though? Here are our picks, in order, for the top five. Before we start the list, some of the coaches who just missed the cut include Jumbo Stiehm, Walter Booth, Ernest Bearg, and Ernest Bearg.
In 1929, Dana Bible was named the 15th head coach in Nebraska football history and had a long track record when he joined the Cornhuskers. Bible had been at Mississippi College and LSU for one season each in the 1910s before joining Texas A&M for more than a decade. Bible coached Nebraska from 1929 to 1936 and didn’t have a single losing season in his tenure. His worst season came in 1930, with Nebraska still finishing 4-3-2.
Bible finished his eight-year tenure in Nebraska with a record of 50 wins, 15 losses, and seven ties. His .743 winning percentage is the seventh-best in Nebraska history, and fourth-best for coaches that had at least 70 games under their belt. Bible won six Big Six titles and lost just three conference games. He wrapped up his coaching career with 10 seasons leading the Texas Longhorns.
Taking over head coaching duties for a certain someone who will be mentioned later was never going to be an easy gig. After the 1997 National Championship season, the Cornhuskers were looking for a new coach for the first time since 1972. Instead of hiring an outside candidate, the Cornhuskers promoted running backs coach Frank Solich, and he held the job for six seasons.
Solich struggled toward the end of his tenure and was put on the hot seat after a 7-7 season in 2002. However, that was the only time he had more than four losses and had an overall impressive record. Solich coached the Cornhuskers to a bowl game (or was at least eligible) in all six seasons, winning the Fiesta and Alamo Bowls. He was fired after 2003 despite having a 58-19 record, then coached Ohio for 16 seasons.
Bo Pelini was the defensive coordinator when Frank Solich was fired and took over as interim head coach for the 2003 Alamo Bowl, winning in his first game. Pelini then became an assistant coach for Oklahoma and LSU for four seasons before the Nebraska head coaching job became vacant once again. This time, Pelini was hired on a full-time basis. While he had success, it wasn’t enough for many Huskers fans.
Pelini lost exactly four games in each of his first six seasons and was fired after the 2014 regular season when he finished 9-3, avoiding a potential fourth loss again with no bowl game. Pelini, despite his critics, had a strong winning percentage and a record of 67-27, including four bowl wins.
Nebraska was a bit of a middling program for the first 70 years of the program’s history outside of a 1921 national championship, but that all changed in 1962. Michigan native Bob Devaney had been an assistant at Michigan State during the mid-1950s before being hired as the Wyoming head coach for five seasons.
Nebraska hired Devaney after he went 35-10-5 with the Cowboys, and it ended up being a home run hire. Devaney coached for 11 seasons with the Cornhuskers, and he lost just 20 games while winning 101. Devaney won six bowl games, including three consecutive Orange Bowls at the end of his tenure, winning back-to-back national titles in 1970 and 1971.
Of course, there’s no coach that really comes close to matching the success of Tom Osborne. Osborne had the unenviable task of following Devaney, and had served as an assistant with Nebraska for nine years before being named the head coach. Osborne got off to a good start, going 9-2-1 in his first year with a Cotton Bowl win.
Osborne’s Cornhuskers made a bowl game in all 25 of his seasons as head coach and were ranked outside of the top 15 at the end of the season just once (24th). Overall, Osborne had a record of 255-49-3, winning 13 conference championships and three national titles, including his final season (1997) as a coach.