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  • Pelini on the Brink: Past, Present, & Future

    When the most arrogant athletic director in America canned Frank Solich in 2003, it was clearly the wrong move, rushing off an older coach who may have soon retired anyway. When Tom Osborne dismissed Bill Callahan, it was a clear sweeping away of an NFL assistant out of place. Even if Nebraska loses out from here, getting rid of Bo Pelini would not be as clear-cut. Kirk Ferentz, Tommy Bowden and Mark Dantonio have not had a five-year stretch in their jobs at Iowa, Clemson and Michigan State, respectively, with as many wins as Pelini's 48 wins in his first five years at Nebraska.

    Iowa State 2009 was the first game that Bo Pelini as a coach looked ordinary. Early in his second year, Nebraska's golden boy faced an inferior opponent at home, and Nebraska's culture of panic-at-the-first-mistake manifested itself in eight turnovers, four inside the five yard line, and fearful players trying not to be the one who made the next big mistake. From that game to new program-crushing lows suffered in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin and at Minnesota last week, Nebraska football continues its disturbing trend of not stepping up when it's their time, even as they fill their win quota every year.

    Sep 14, 2013; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Bo Pelini before the game against the UCLA Bruins at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
    Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
    Ever since Pelini's sideline tirades reached a fever pitch at Texas A&M in 2010, I have wondered if Pelini's Nebraska's tenure would, after a few more productive years, crash and burn as his fiery message died out and he failed to become less defensive coordinator and more CEO. Consider his demeanor after Nebraska beat Ohio State in 2011, and I am not just speaking of the course words we know now. Pelini's team had just won its first Big Ten game at home and had just had the biggest comeback in school history, beating his alma mater. Spirits here couldn't have been higher, but Pelini was still mad enough at Dirk Chatelain's column that he had to tell a reporter “I'm done with you,” and act like a petulant child in his post-game presser. Very professional.

    Some of comes back to the fact that Pelini's a defensive guy, and defensive guys are motivators over innovators. Seven of eight NFL head coaching jobs last winter went to offensive coaches, and of thirty head coach openings in the FBS, only eight went to coaches who had defensive backgrounds. Of those eight, only two were active defensive coordinators in 2012. Defense may win championships, but offense and quarterbacking sell tickets, optimism, and get a team in the ballpark to win a championship. With all of the rule changes in football geared toward offense, it's almost a liability to have a coach that thinks defense-first.

    If who you associate with says the most about you, perhaps we need to look to Taylor Martinez, who has started 43 of Pelini's 76 games as Nebraska's head coach, to understand Pelini. In an age where quarterbacks come in as freshmen and take the college football world by storm (Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley), Pelini has stood by Martinez to the point where he chided reporters last week for even asking if the backup was going to play. The reporter didn't even mention Martinez, but Pelini acted as if it was insulting to insinuate there should have been a one-series change. It was the same hyper-sensitivity that Pelini displayed in his post-Ohio State presser, but without the machismo.

    Pelini is this ultra-defensive of a quarterback who is six feet tall and 210 pounds, well below adequate height and weight for a running quarterback. Even with all the work Martinez has put in (and he is better now than even last year), Martinez is physically limited, and frankly, it's surprising that he stayed healthy two years in the Big Ten with his dimensions being what they are. Loyalty is one thing, but Mark Zuckerberg left Eduardo Saverin in the dust. There's no reason to cling to Martinez, and it's not personal.

    So here is Pelini, 5-2 at a point where he could have been 6-1 or 7-0. If Pelini plays Tommy Armstrong and/or Ron Kellogg III in the final five games, he has an out, as long as the team does not quit. And deep down, fans probably want him around anyway, even if they give him grief all the time.

    If Pelini stays through next season, his Nebraska tenure will have outlasted that of Tom Osborne's two immediate successors, and that feels right for Nebraska to have long-term, institution-like coach. At Miami, Florida and USC, they get it that coaches are 8- to 10-year projects, and when Pete Carroll or Urban Meyer run their course, these schools are ready for the Next Big Thing. Nebraska needs to be more like Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa, albeit without Iowa's tendency to put the worst buyout language ever into a contract. Without the plethora of great recruits, Nebraska has to be about long-term stability, even if that means keeping a coach one year too long.


    Derek Johnson is a Seward, Nebraska native who works for his family's organic farm seed company, Blue River Hybrids, and is a freelance writer and commission photographer. He has been a contributor to Husker Max since 2013, and is a former contributor to the website Husker Locker. Visit his blog,, and follow him on Twitter @derekjohnson05.
    Comments 9 Comments
    1. Red Dead Redemption's Avatar
      Refreshing! Thanks!
    1. C'mon Man's Avatar
      C'mon Man -
      I can barely understand the first paragraph because it's so poorly written. Easy on the commas.
    1. LincolnshireHusker's Avatar
      This seems to be reasonably fair but Bo's progress in sideline demeanor might have been mentioned as well as his player's strong support for him. Fans forget that Devaney was hung in effigy two or three years before winning his first national championship. While most fans glorify TO's amazing tenure at NU many forget the criticism that he "couldn't beat OU" or win the "big one" and the seven straight bowl game losses.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      You do realize that Solich is STILL coaching, right? Zero cred after that blunder...
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      How much did bo pay you to write this? This is garbage. Bo isnt getting it done and soon will be gone.
    1. Dan's Avatar
      Dan -
      I had an extended email conversation with Angry Dad on this very subject. Do we want the 25 years of mediocrity that Notre Dame experienced from the late 80's until the end of the Chatlie Weis era? The truth is that we could hit a Home run with a new hire, or end up watching a revolving door with Coach after Coach who is not the answer.

      If we can Bo, we better have a Superstar waiting in the wings.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      We have given Bo 6 years to show us something. Frank Solich was fired with a better record and a chance for a national championship. Bo cannot win the big games just like Frank, and both had problems with recruiting., I give Frank more respect though, he tried to recruit, Bo leaves it to our high school defensive coordinator, or other big recruiter that can recruit his sons. 4 and 5 star players are needed, just as Dr. Tom saw that we needed speed to win. Look at past recruiting boards, I see championship teams at the top, and we are far from that. Bo better change, or his attitude and friends will be coaching at a middle school near you.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      We have given Bo 6 years to show us something. We gave Frank only 5. Who has a better record? Who took us to more championships, including the big one? Why was Frank fired? What do we have in the trophy case with Bo? Bo cannot win the big games, do to the fact that he does not recruit, he leaves it to our high school defensive coordinator, or other big recruiter that can recruit his sons. 4 and 5 star players are needed, just as Dr. Tom saw that we needed speed to win. Look at past recruiting boards, I see championship teams at the top, and we are far from that. Bo better change, or his attitude and friends will be coaching at a middle school near you.
    1. Unregistered's Avatar
      Unregistered -
      Even if Nebraska looses out from here . . .

      Correct looses to loses.
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