Steven M. Sipple: Why Bolt likely will break through before Fred or Frost; and beers with Nee

Nebraska baseball coach Will Bolt watches the action against Northern Colorado from the Husker dugout last March at Haymarket Park.

Once again, good questions rolled in. Thank you.

The mailbag column is becoming a thing. Let’s do this. 

Who breaks through with a Big Ten title first — Frost, Fred or Bolt? I’m counting Big Ten West for Frost — Regg C.

Both what we’re seeing right now and what we’ve seen historically suggests the clear answer is second-year Nebraska baseball coach Will Bolt. 

The Huskers entered weekend play with a 7-4 record, good for third place in the Big Ten standings. They’re a threat to win a conference crown this year. Granted, I’m not picking them to do it. But they’re a legitimate threat. 

I’m guessing that with Bolt in charge, Nebraska will be a threat far more often than it’s not.

Go back to February 2020, shortly before COVID-19 ended the collegiate baseball season. Although it was Bolt’s first season in charge, the vibe among Nebraska players and coaches was “win now.” Keep in mind, Darin Erstad’s last team, in 2019, finished 32-24 overall and 15-9 in the Big Ten and reached an NCAA regional for the third time in four years. 

Bottom line, Erstad didn’t leave the baseball program in a state of disrepair, as Mike Riley did to the Husker football program before being jettisoned in 2017. In fact, both Scott Frost and Fred Hoiberg inherited extremely challenging situations. Hoiberg in the spring of 2019 really was left with no choice but to overhaul the basketball roster. As for Riley, his 2017 team lost six of its last seven games, the losses occurring by an average of 26.2 points.

Riley’s supporters curiously tend to leave out how ugly it got in the end. They forget 54-21 at Minnesota and 56-14 against Iowa. They forget fans leaving unused tickets on the sidewalk near the stadium. 

Yes, Bolt inherited a much, much better situation than either Frost or Hoiberg. But it’s more than that. Although Big Ten baseball has gotten stronger in recent years, with more schools committing more resources, it’s not nearly as challenging as it is in football and men’s basketball. Think about it: Bolt doesn’t have to take down a monster the size of Ohio State football.

Then there’s the historical element. Nebraska has won a Big Ten regular-season baseball championship as recently as 2017. The Huskers haven’t won a conference crown in football since capturing the Big 12 in 1999. 

I’m sorry, but I can’t count winning the Big Ten West Division as “breaking through with a Big Ten title.” You win first place in the division. You win a Big Ten championship. It’s an important distinction.

As for Nebraska men’s basketball, it hasn’t won a regular-season conference crown since the 1949-50 season, when it finished in a three-way tie atop the standings with Kansas and Kansas State. Of course, Danny Nee made history in 1993-94 when his team captured the Big Eight Tournament title.

Yes, that long ago. It’s remarkable. It’s harsh reality. 

Which is partly why Bolt gets the nod in this conversation. 

Which Nebraska coach, current or in the last 20 years, would you love to have some adult pops with and have a tell-all conversation with? — Raymond. 

Although it falls right outside the 20-year time frame, I’ll go with Nee. As Nebraska’s head coach from 1987-2000, he was fiery and humorous. He was genuine. His teams often were talented and incredibly fun to watch. Did I mention he was fiery? We had some serious run-ins, but he generally retained his sense of humor throughout it all. 

Since you feel Woody Harrelson is a top-10 actor of all time, I have a question. Did you ever watch “True Detective” series one, and if yes, what did you think of it? — Vaughn T. 

What did I think of it? Let’s see. I was staying in a hotel along I-80 at the time (don’t ask). I flipped on the TV to HBO and the opening song was on. I quickly became hooked. My attention was rapt enough that I watched the entire first episode standing up. I didn’t even think to sit down. 

That was January of 2014. So, enough time has elapsed to dive back in. Now there’s an idea. 

Is Tim Miles getting any looks for coaching jobs? — Dan P.  

The former Nebraska coach (2012-19) reportedly received a long look by New Mexico before it hired Richard Pitino despite Pitino’s limited success at Minnesota. In fact, Pitino was hired by New Mexico less than 24 hours after being fired by Minnesota.

So what’s the deal?

Well, Pitino had Billy Donovan in his corner. The current Chicago Bulls coach and former longtime Florida coach was an influential voice behind the scenes in Pitino’s hiring, CBS Sports reported. Donovan coached New Mexico athletic director Eddie Nuñez at Florida and later employed Pitino as an assistant with the Gators. Then there’s this little nugget: Donovan played point guard for Pitino’s father, Rick Pitino, once upon a time at Providence.

It’s often who you know.

What is your win/loss prediction for Husker football this fall? — Scott S. 

Nebraska will do enough to qualify for a bowl game. It has enough firepower. I’ll stop there. I need more information before putting a record out there. Spring ball begins Tuesday and lasts until May 1. Let’s talk again then. 

Who do you call most on a weekly basis? Tom Osborne or Bill Moos? — Raymond (again). 

It goes about once every two weeks with Moos and once every couple months with Osborne, if you must know. 

Moos, the the Nebraska athletic director, thinks it’s important to keep the conversation about Husker athletics lively. He thinks it’s important to be transparent. He loves to talk about sports in general and college football in particular. His presence is immensely appreciated.

Osborne shouldn’t fade into the woodwork. Ever. Plus, he remains an intriguing figure in this state. 

I need to give that guy a call next week.