A former Husker offensive lineman, Barney Cotton is in his seventh season on Coach Bo Pelini’s Nebraska staff and his eighth year overall as a Husker assistant, counting his 2003 season as NU’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
Cotton’s role changed slightly in 2013, as served as Nebraska’s run game coordinator and tight ends coach, while continuing in his role with the offensive line and as associate head coach. Cotton has been Nebraska’s offensive line coach for the past six seasons and helped NU finish in the top 20 nationally in rushing each of the past four years, while producing a 1,000-yard rusher for five straight seasons.
Nebraska’s run game ranked 19th nationally in 2013 with an average of 215.7 yards per game. Cotton played a key role in the Huskers once again boasting one of the nation’s top rushing attacks. Five starters on the offensive line dealt with injuries, including 2012 All-American Spencer Long, who suffered a season-ending injury in Nebraska’s sixth game. Injuries also forced NU to use three starting quarterbacks this fall, which allowed defenses to focus on the Husker rushing attack.
Despite the adversity, junior I-back Ameer Abdullah thrived, rushing for 1,690 yards, while tying a school record with 11 100-yard rushing games. Paving the way was a gritty offensive line that dealt with multiple injuries and position switches. Senior Cole Pensick, who started at both guard and center, was a second-team All-Big Ten selection, while tackles Andrew Rodriguez and Jeremiah Sirles each earned honorable-mention all-conference accolades.
Cotton’s tight ends combined for 23 catches while contibuting to the run game. Cotton’s youngest son, Sam, produced the lone touchdown catch by a Husker tight end in 2013. Jake Long battled through injuries to earn second-team CoSIDA Academic All-America honors, while his twin brother Spencer was a first-team academic All-American.
In 2012, Cotton helped Spencer Long complete a journey from walk-on to All-American. A consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection, Long was named a second-team All-American by both the Associated Press and the Walter Camp Foundation. Cotton has coached the only three Husker offensive linemen to earn first-team all-conference honors since 2001, while Long was Nebraska’s first All-America offensive lineman since Toniu Fonoti in 2001.
In addition to Long, former walk-on center Justin Jackson, a converted defensive lineman, earned honorable-mention All-Big Ten accolades from the league’s coaches in his only year at center. Offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles was a second-team all-conference selection, giving Nebraska three all-conference offensive linemen in 2012.
The line helped Nebraska rank eighth nationally with 253.4 rushing yards per game. It paved the way for Abdullah to become the first Husker sophomore to rush for 1,000 yards since 1994, helping him earn second-team All-Big Ten honors. The unit also helped Nebraska top 200 yards rushing 12 times in 2012, the highest total by a Husker team since 1997.
Cotton’s line also helped All-Big Ten quarterback Taylor Martinez set Nebraska’s junior class total offense record, throwing for 2,871 yards and rushing for another 1,019 yards and accounting for a school-record 3,890 total yards.
The 2012 season marked the third straight year Nebraska averaged more than 200 yards rushing, a first for the program since 2001 to 2003. The 2011 Husker rushing attack ranked 15th nationally, averaging 217.2 yards per game.
Cotton has a knack for quickly developing players. First- or second-year players combined for 38 starts on the offensive line in 2011. Cotton also developed three current or former walk-ons who combined for 32 starts in 2011. Two of those former walk-ons were Mike Caputo and Long, both of whom earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2011, along with honorable-mention selection Marcel Jones.
The 2011 line paved the way for All-Big Ten I-back Rex Burkhead to post the 32nd 1,000-yard rushing season in school history. Burkhead finished with 1,357 yards to post the highest rushing total by a Husker I-back since 1997.
In 2010, NU rushed for 3,466 yards, the program’s highest total since 2002, and ranked ninth nationally in rushing yards per game (247.6 ypg). Ricky Henry became the first Husker offensive lineman to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors since Toniu Fonoti in 2001, while Caputo and Keith Williams garnered honorable-mention accolades. Roy Helu Jr. ran for 1,245 yards behind the line and set the Nebraska single-game rushing record with 307 yards against Missouri.
Under Cotton’s leadership in 2009, three Husker linemen (Henry, Williams and Jacob Hickman) earned All-Big 12 accolades from the Associated Press. The line helped pave the way for I-back Roy Helu Jr. to earn All-Big 12 honors while posting the 29th 1,000-yard rushing season in Husker history. Helu Jr. added 1,245 rushing yards in another All-Big 12 campaign in 2010, becoming the first Husker with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in nearly two decades.
Cotton helped Nebraska finish among the top 20 units nationally in total offense, scoring offense and passing offense in 2008. Matt Slauson was a second-team All-Big 12 pick under Cotton’s guidance, while Hickman and Lydon Murtha were honorable-mention picks. The line paved the way for the Husker running game to average 169.8 yards per game and score 27 touchdowns, while protecting quarterback Joe Ganz as he threw for a single-season school-record 3,568 yards, and set the single-season school-record with 3,826 total yards.
In 2003, Cotton’s offensive unit helped Nebraska to a 10-3 record and a victory over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl. Nebraska ranked among the top 10 nationally in rushing offense and four linemen earned all-conference accolades.
Following his successful one-year stint with NU, Cotton stayed in the Big 12, serving as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Iowa State. In 2004, Cotton’s offense helped ISU to a late-season surge and a berth in the Independence Bowl where it defeated Miami (Ohio). The following season, Bret Meyer and Todd Blythe led ISU to a trip to the Houston Bowl, as Meyer threw for 2,876 yards, while Blythe topped 1,000 receiving yards. Center Scott Stephenson was a first-team All-Big 12 pick that year in his first season under Cotton.
Following his stint at ISU, Cotton served as a volunteer assistant coach at Ames High School in 2007, where he assisted with all aspects of the offense.
Before his four-year run as an offensive coordinator in the Big 12, Cotton spent the previous six seasons as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at New Mexico State on the staff of former Husker Tony Samuel. Under Cotton’s direction, the Aggie offense ranked in the top 25 nationally in total offense three times in six seasons and ranked in the top 25 in rushing offense all six seasons.
Cotton went to New Mexico State from Hastings College, where he was head coach in 1995 and 1996. In 1995, the Broncos won the Nebraska-Iowa Athletic Conference Championship and made an appearance in the NAIA playoffs. Cotton was named the 1995 NIAC Coach of the Year.
Cotton spent six seasons as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at St. Cloud State (Minn.) from 1989 to 1994. In 1989, St. Cloud won the North Central Conference Championship and averaged more than 400 yards of offense.
An all-state selection as a senior at Omaha Burke High School, Cotton played for Nebraska from 1975 to 1978. He played on the offensive line as a freshman and sophomore, then switched to defense where he started at tackle in 1977. Cotton moved back to offense in 1978, where he earned second-team All-Big Eight honors as a senior guard on Tom Osborne’s Big Eight championship team.
Cotton played in the 1979 East-West Shrine Game, then was a third-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1979. Cotton played one season with Cincinnati and three in St. Louis from 1980 to 1982, before a knee injury forced his retirement.
The 57-year-old Cotton earned a bachelor’s degree from Nebraska in 1983 and a master’s degree in athletic administration from St. Cloud State in 1994. Cotton and his wife, Christine, have three sons, Ben, Jake and Sam. Ben was a senior tight end for the Huskers in 2012, while Jake will be a senior offensive lineman in 2014, and Sam will be a sophomore at tight end. The Cottons were the only group of three brothers on the same FBS roster in 2012.
The Cotton File
Date and Place of Birth:Sept. 30, 1956 in Omaha, Neb.
Family: Wife, Christine; Sons, Ben, Jake and Sam
Education: Bachelor of science, Nebraska, 1983; master’s, athletic administration, St. Cloud State, 1994
Playing Experience: 1975-78, Nebraska; 1979, Cincinnati Bengals; 1980-82, St. Louis Cardinals
Coaching Experience: 1989-94, St. Cloud State (assistant coach/offensive coordinator, offensive line); 1995-96, Hastings College (head coach); 1997-2002, New Mexico State (assistant head coach/offensive coordinator, offensive line); 2003, Nebraska (assistant coach/offensive coordinator, offensive line); 2004-06, Iowa State (assistant coach/offensive coordinator, offensive line); 2007, Ames (Iowa) High School (volunteer offensive assistant); 2008-12, Nebraska (associate head coach/offensive line); 2013, Nebraska (associate head coach/run game coordinator/tight ends/offensive line).