Former Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride on Bob Diaco: ‘I think they’re going to get better’

Charlie McBride cringed and winced and groaned right along with you late Saturday night. And after sleeping on Nebraska’s 43-36 escape from Arkansas State in Week 1, the former Cornhuskers defensive coordinator promises that the light you see at the end of the tunnel isn’t an oncoming train.

“You know, I’ll tell you what, I think they’re going to get better,” McBride, the Huskers’ defensive guru from 1982 to 1999, told Land of 10 from his home in Michigan. “I was impressed with their aggressiveness. I mean, they were trying.

“Those guys in the secondary, I know they felt bad … those kids are competitive and they know what the fans expect of them and what the coaches do.”

My first impression [of Arkansas State] was, ‘I’ve been there before.’ “

— Former Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride on the debut of the Cornhuskers’ 3-4 defense

The Blackshirts wound up among the top 10 nationally in total defense 11 times during McBride’s 18 seasons as coordinator. But he remembers the units that didn’t reach elite status just as well — largely because he never heard the end of it from Big Red faithful who were used to a high bar.

“People wanted to fire me from Day 1,” said McBride, who retired in 2000 after 23 seasons on the staffs of Tom Osborne and Frank Solich. “All of a sudden, my name wasn’t Monte Kiffin. Monte was the homegrown guy.”

McBride was the guy who took the heat, especially after overseeing the last major scheme shift in program history before Bobby Diaco joined the program this year, switching to a 4-3 front as a base scheme in 1993. Growing pains are a natural part of the process, he said — and watching the Red Wolves pile up 32 first downs and 497 yards in Lincoln was all kinds of painful, even from afar.

“You start with a new system — first of all, people don’t understand that when you’ve got a new system, the seniors are freshmen,” McBride said of the debut for Diaco’s 3-man front. “Everybody’s not on the same page. You don’t have the same defense going [for years] where the older guys [know it].

“And they don’t have a lot of older guys. They have a lot of young kids. Like a lot of people say, between the first game and the second game is when you see a lot of improvement. They ran a lot of screens and they were missing some tackles, which happens.”

“[On film we found] that usually it turned out to be poor tackling and poor technique. It wasn’t the defense so much as it was just the fundamentals. And so that’s probably where they’re at a little bit right now. On television, you can’t see the secondary, but it did look like the corners were off a little bit.”

So he’s got more than sympathy for Diaco, having walked a few miles in those headsets already. But if McBride could offer one bit of sage advice after Week 1, it would be for the new coordinator to make himself available and accountable to the media in the postgame — an opportunity Diaco declined.

For one thing, while Nebraska coaches don’t need friends in the press corps, they do need friends among the Huskers faithful. For another, McBride said, it provides a window to take the heat off the college kids who’ve already weathered, by that point, a pretty long night.

“My wife came in [Sunday] morning. She said after the game he kind of blew off the press,” McBride said. “And I don’t think that’s a good idea, especially when people don’t know you that well.

“I used to blame it on myself and that shut things down. I said, ‘Look, I screwed the game up. I made some bad calls that really hurt us,’ to take that pressure off the players. They’ve got a young secondary where those kids don’t need to hear any negative talk. [They need] more positive talk, to feel that they’re improving, and so that the next game you feel better, at least you’ve got something to lean on.”

Although McBride doesn’t imagine the film review was much fun, either. Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen played pass-and-catch at will for most of the contest, completing 46 of 68 throws for 415 yards and 3 scores.

It made McBride flash back to 1993, to the early days of the 4-3 front. The Huskers hosted a resurgent Kansas State side on Oct. 16 that season and surrendered 28 points and 489 yards through the air.

“My first impression [of Arkansas State] was, ‘I’ve been there before,’ ” McBride said with a chuckle. “I’ll tell you what: We played K-State, it was just like the same game it was [Saturday] night … Geez, we were bad. The one game, you learned a lot. Plus they had a really good quarterback [Chad May] and things like that. They were doing that to everybody, but we won. And that happened [Saturday] night.

“The first thing with Nebraska fans, most of them are so loyal, it’s unbelievable. And that there’s that 5 percent that can’t handle it, and they want you fired or they want the secondary coach fired. It’s probably happened everywhere. And I was there 23 years and they were as good as people and as loyal a people as you have ever been around.”

McBride watches the Big Red from the family home in Michigan now, having set up shop there in the spring after a number of years in Arizona. He’s planning on coming to Omaha on Oct. 5 to be the target of a celebrity roast involving several former players, with proceeds going to the St. Bernard and St. Phillip Neri grade schools. A gaggle of former Huskers will be in town that weekend to honor the 20th anniversary of the 1997 national championship team.

“My players have been roasting me ever since I’ve been retired,” McBride laughed.

“No, they’ll make stuff up. [They’ll say] I was chewing Copenhagen and everyone says I was yelling and spitting in their face. That’s just baloney. But I’m sure I’ll hear some of that. It’s just something that magnifies things a little bit. I might have hit a few of them a little bit when I was screaming, but I never spit on a kid.”

The post Former Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride on Bob Diaco: ‘I think they’re going to get better’ appeared first on Land of 10.

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