Chinander aims to restore meaning of Blackshirt tradition
FREMONT, Neb. - Few Nebraska traditions are as great and widely known as that of the Blackshirts.
As true as that may be, it’s also true that there may not be another tradition as widely scrutinized and critiqued by the fans and media over the last 15 years or more than the Blackshirts.
Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and defensive backs coach Travis Fisher were on hand to speak to a crowd of roughly 100 people in Fremont as part of NU’s Husker Nation Tour on Tuesday. It was only a matter of time until the question of how the tradition would be handled under the Scott Frost regime was asked.
Fisher opened by saying the Blackshirt tradition is something Chinander has really taken seriously pretty much since the moment they were hired back in December.
“I know Coach Chins took this to heart,” Fisher said about the Blackshirt tradition at Nebraska. “When he first took the job he came to me and said, ‘Hey Fish, they were passing those Blackshirts out like M&M’s. That’s not happening under my hat.’ That’s what he told me.”
Chinander went on to explain that one of the first things he did was to research the tradition to the fullest extent. Along the way, he reached out to former Blackshirt greats as well as former Nebraska defensive coordinator Charlie McBride as resources.
“Before I made any public comments about it I wanted to make sure I understood (the tradition),” Chinander said to the crowd. “Hearing the story about how the Blackshirts were created is not enough. Obviously, Barrett Ruud is a great resource and he was a great Blackshirt. Kenny Wilhite is up in our office, he was a great Blackshirt.
“I also talked to a lot of the guys. A lot of the defensive linemen, the Peter brothers, Grant Wistrom, (Adam) Carriker, the Kelsay’s, they all came in to talk to us. Then one day Charlie McBride called and said, ‘Hey I’m going to come by and meet you.’ Then about four hours later we were still talking.”
For Chinander, it was more than just reading about how the Blackshirts came to be. It was about gaining the correct level of knowledge of what it means to be one and what it takes to earn one.
“I think it’s important to understand that after talking to (McBride), who is a Blackshirt?,” Chinander said. “Well, it started off as the 11 starters, but to understand where it’s at, it’s not the 11 starters that’s important. It’s who deserves to be a Blackshirt. At that point in time it just so happened to be that those guys were doing everything the right way. That was the whole team at Nebraska at that time.
“So now what happens is you talk with Charlie McBride – I have great respect for him – he came in an gave me a lot of his time and I am very gracious of him. There can be 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 Blackshirts. This year? I don’t know, there might be 14 or there might be four.
“The important thing is not only do they prove themselves on that field on Saturday by the way they play, but they’ve got to practice. They’ve got to practice in the right way that their teammates can depend on them. They’ve got to go to school, they’ve got to be a Blackshirt on campus when they leave our building. They’ve got to be a Blackshirt in the community when they leave our building. They’ve got to be a Blackshirt in every facet of their life or they don’t get one.”
According to Chinander, not only must a player check several boxes in order to receive a Blackshirt, but it can be taken away at any given point in time if they are not upholding the tradition of having one.
The way he sees it, Blackshirts are rented, never owned.
“Once we hand out a Blackshirt, that thing can be taken away as fast as you got it and they’ve got to know that, ‘Listen, you don’t own that Blackshirt. You’re renting that Blackshirt and rent is due every day, Bub. If you can’t handle it then you don’t need to be a part of it,’ Chinander said. “There can be a guy that can be our nickle or our fourth defensive lineman in the rotation, but he does everything the right way and he practices the right way. He might be the fourth Blackshirt and he might be the only guy that’s got a Blackshirt and he might not be the starter.
“Now, what you’d like to have is 11 starters to have the Blackshirts. I was talking with Coach McBride and I said, ‘Coach, I’ve got to be honest with you. If we’re going to live up to what you got done here and I even want to be close to stepping in your shadow, I don’t have 11 guys that you’re going to be proud of to wear a Blackshirt.’ He said, ‘Then that’s fine Erik, just give four or give two or give nine or give whatever you’ve got to give.’”
During Chinander’s answer to the crowd he held his arm up and made a ‘zero’ with his hand saying as of today there are zero Blackshirts on the team. He went on to say there is a good chance they may not officially make a decision until after the defense plays under the lights of Memorial Stadium.
The bottom line for Chinander is that he wants to make sure the Blackshirt tradition gets back to being the greatest tradition in all of college football again.
“There’s this many Blackshirts on this team right now on our team and there will be this many Blackshirts probably until we see somebody play in a football game,” Chinander said signaling a zero with his hand. “There might be a couple of guys we want to have then in through camp that have earned them, but I want to see them play under the bright lights before they are going to go ahead and get one.
“Maybe by the end there will be 11, I don’t know. Maybe there will only be four. It will be a decision by our coaching staff. Those kids are going to earn them and it’s going to be back to where when that thing is in your locker when you open your doors on a Tuesday morning there’s going to probably be some tears rolling. I don’t think that was always the way it was, but it’s going to be a special thing and it’s going to be back to the greatest tradition in college football.”