Q-and-A with Nebraska’s Doc Sadler

The Nebraska Cornhuskers are tired of being close.

They went 20-12 in 2007-08 but missed out on the NCAA tournament because of a 7-9 league record.

The following season Nebraska went .500 in the Big 12 but won just 18 games overall. For the second straight year, they settled for the NIT.

“When you’re trying to get your program to that next level, there’s no room for error,” fifth-year Cornhuskers coach Doc Sadler said. “Everything has to go just right.”

Doc Sadler hopes this is the year he leads Nebraska to its first NCAA tournament since 1998.
(Bruce Thorson/US Presswire)

Finally, for the Cornhuskers, it is.

In one of the bigger upsets for the 2010-11 season to date, Nebraska upset No. 2 Texas 70-67 Saturday at the Devaney Center. Cornhuskers’ fans mobbed the court as the final horn sounded. Hopefully the celebration won’t be their last.

With an 18-8 record overall and a 6-6 mark in Big 12 play, Nebraska still has a chance at its first NCAA tournament berth since 1998. With upcoming games against schools such as Kansas State and Missouri – both at home – Sadler’s squad has a golden opportunity to enhance its resume and earn a berth in the Big Dance. Nebraska is 0-6 all-time in the NCAA tournament.

Sadler, whose team has won three straight, spoke with Yahoo! Sports by phone Sunday.

Q: How many calls did you get after Saturday’s big win?

A: “Quite a few. Obviously with the game being at 12:30 a lot of people saw the game. And when you beat a team like Texas it’s going to be replayed on TV all day. A lot of people who wouldn’t normally see it noticed it and wanted to congratulate me. It’s always good to hear from people. It means they care.”

Q: Any specific calls stand out?

A: “I got calls from a lot of guys I’ve worked with and worked for. Billy Gillispie and Eddie Sutton called. Bill Frieder called. A lot of former players I haven’t talked to in a long time, guys I had when I was an assistant coach at other schools. That part is always the greatest, when you hear from guys you haven’t heard from in a lot of years. If you get a text message or something on Facebook or whatever … that’s the neat part about it. When you’re someone’s college coach, you’re seen as a disciplinarian. Once everyone gets away, they appreciate the things that you’ve done for them.”

Q: What stands out the most about the win?

A: “The best part is to go in the locker room after a game like that knowing how hard your guys have worked. Not just in that game, but for a long period of time. Most of the guys in that locker room went through a tough year last year. We were close in a lot of games, but we didn’t win them. They stayed the course and now it’s paying off. We followed up a big road win against Oklahoma on Wednesday with a great win against a team that could win a national championship three days later. To walk in that locker room and see all the excitement, that was the neat part about it.”

Q: Speaking of the locker room, what was it like in there?

A: “They were very excited. This team is not a team that really shows a lot of excitement on a lot of things. It was definitely a very excited locker room and it should’ve been. A lot of times, as players and coaches, we don’t enjoy the wins like we should. But yesterday was an example of guys really, really feeling good about themselves and enjoying it.”

Q: Certainly the win was extra-special since it thrust you into the NCAA tournament mix, right?

A: “Everyone on my staff has either coached or played in the NCAA tournament. It’s special. It’s very special. You want all your players to experience that opportunity also. You understand how much hard work goes into that. You take a step back and say, ‘You’re going to have to beat a great team to even have a chance.’ Even when you do beat a great team, it doesn’t make it happen. But at least you’ve put yourself in the mix.”

Q: You mentioned your team being in a lot of close games. What do you think got you over the hump against Texas?

A: “Billy Gillispie told me something a few weeks ago that I’ve been using with my team. We’ve been so close in so many ballgames. He said, ‘Doc, you’ve just got to find a way for yourself, your staff and your player s to give 2 percent more than you’ve been giving. It’s not that you’re not giving a lot, but find a way to give 2 percent more.’ That’s been them the last few weeks. I don’t know that it’s working, but at least we’re winning some ballgames.”

Q: Interesting. Give me an example.

A: “Tony McCray has a severe case of plantar facitis, but he always wants to wear flip-flops. The doctors keep telling him, ‘Hey, you’re not helping yourself any by wearing those flip-flops.’ My challenge to him was to put those flip-flops up and wear supportive shoes everyday when you go to class. It’s something real small, but it could be something real big also.”

Q: What has held this program back the last few years?

A: “More than anything, I think when you’re trying to take your program to the next level, there’s no room for error. Everything has to go just right. Once it starts going right, it seems to snowball. But it’s so hard to get everything going right. Each year we’ve had one or two things happen to us with injuries. Last year Christopher Niemann tore his ACL for the second time and Toney McCray tore his elbow. We lost two players that would’ve been starters and we weren’t good enough to overcome it.

Look back at when I got the job in August five years ago. That was like a two-year delay. You can’t do anything with that season because all the recruits were taken up by that point, so I went out and probably signed some players that weren’t good enough – or guys that were good enough but weren’t a good fit for our program. I was two years behind. Everything had to go right to have a chance. We’ve been close but something bad has always seemed to happen.”

Q: Did any of your team’s struggles cause you to change your style?

A: “No. That’s where being a very demanding coach is difficult. You know they’re hurting and you know that it isn’t easy for them. But as a coach, you can’t let them feel sorry for themselves. You’ve got to coach them that much harder. Sometimes, in the short term, that doesn’t seem like the best thing, but you’ve got to keep thinking about the big picture. I’ve got great assistant coaches and we’ve continued to demand all the little things when it would’ve been easier to say, ‘Hey, let’s try to win this next game and forget about the big picture.’ Once things start going your way and guys start feeling better about themselves, good things happen.”

Q: How nice has I been to have an athletic director like Tom Osborne that has stuck with you through thick and thin?

A: “I’ve been lucky to have people like Coach Osborne around me. So many times he’s said, ‘Doc, you don’t have pressure on you this year – or next year. You just do the right thing. I know you can coach. I know you’re doing everything right. In the long run everything is going to work out. It’s good to have that kind of reassurance. As you and I both know, a lot of people don’t have that kind of leadership above them. I’m fortunate to have that.”

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Feb 20, 2011