One thing Bo Pelini is absolutely great at is being Bo Pelini. No one does it quite like him. He’s a good coach who gets a little worked up and out of control at times. But one thing he’ll never be good at?
Being Tom Osborne. Even harder: Being Tom Osborne while playing in the college football landscape of the 1980s.
And that’s Pelini’s problem, because Nebraska football fans don’t seem to realize that the clocks have been ticking, the calendar pages turning, the world changing. They want Osborne and white picket fences and would it really be so bad if, say, "The Brady Bunch" were back in prime time?
Pelini may not have lost his job — the university released a statement Wednesday saying the most recent matter "is put to rest" — but it’s not like he got much support from chancellor Harvey Perlman or athletic director Shawn Eichorst.
You probably know by now that someone leaked a secretly taped private conversation Pelini had two years ago. The Huskers were getting blown out by Ohio State in the third quarter and then came back to win. Pelini was getting ready to do his postgame radio show when he dropped f-bombs while describing fans who had given up on the team and left at halftime.
But it was an emotional moment, and Pelini thought he was talking with friends. He had no idea anyone was taping him. Yes, that means he did a stupid thing. Now, two years later, after Nebraska’s collapse against UCLA Saturday, the tape emerged for the first time, presumably handed over from a disgruntled fan to Deadspin.com.
Pelini has spent the week owning up and apologizing.
“I’m human, like everyone else,’’ he said. “You say things in an emotional moment under certain circumstances. Like anybody else, you’re human. You make mistakes. You apologize for your mistakes, and you move on. And that’s all you can do in this situation.’’
Let’s be clear: Even if Pelini had been fired, it wouldn’t have been because of his temper, though we’re being reminded of examples of it. He is not Bobby Knight. It would have been because Nebraska fans don’t think he’s winning enough. They were hoping to use this BS blackmail to try yet again to find another Osborne replacement.
I’m sure their first choice would have been Osborne himself.
Pelini has won nine games or more in each of his five seasons at Nebraska. But he hasn’t won a Big Ten championship. And last year’s humiliating loss in the conference title game was more than many people could take.
Pelini hasn’t done a great job at Nebraska, but a good one. The problem is the outrageous expectations of Nebraska fans. We’ve seen the same thing at Michigan lately, too. These legendary historical Midwestern programs aren’t thriving anymore. Only Ohio State, and maybe Notre Dame, have stopped pretty much everyone from going to the West Coast or the SEC.
Nebraskans think they should be back to where they were.
This week, Pelini also has strangely allowed himself to get into a tiff with former Nebraska star quarterback Tommie Frazier, who said on Twitter that Pelini needs to go. Pelini then said the program doesn’t need Frazier. So Pelini was stupid again, angering the Nebraska family.
On Tuesday, I talked with two former Nebraska players who made it to the NFL to get their take: Vince Ferragamo and Barrett Ruud.
“First of all, I think it’s unfortunate somebody with a hidden tape is leaking audio supposed to be private two years later,’’ Ruud said. “Kind of a weak move.’’
Yes, but are you in agreement with Frazier about the job Pelini is doing?
“No, I’m not,’’ Ruud said. “I’m in Bo’s favor, even though we haven’t played real well the last handful of games. Bo’s done too much for my career, and I think he’s very close to getting it where it needs to be.
“He is a stand-up guy. If he does have a fault, he’s overly passionate about his players. That’s why you’ll find former players like me sticking up for him.’’
Ruud said that Nebraska officials were “playing politician’’ by not supporting Pelini right off. He expected they’d do it eventually, and he was right.
But Ferragamo, a former Osborne player, said he went to a Nebraska game last year and couldn’t believe how simple the defense was playing. He said there was no creativity and any offense could figure it out.
“It was not Nebraska football,’’ he said. “I think something needs to be done. I can’t sit through this anymore.’’
But Ferragamo talked, too, about Osborne’s demeanor and class.
And listening to him say it made me realize why Nebraska fans might honestly think the Pelini tape is a big deal.
It’s the Osborne culture.
“He was always very good with the media, excellent with the boosters, excellent with the community, not only off the field but on the field,’’ Ruud said. “He never used foul language. He didn’t have to. That’s how we all looked up to him. When he was mad, you knew he was mad. But he never needed bad language.’’
Truth is, even Osborne wasn’t exactly Osborne the way he’s remembered now. That great 1995 team had all sorts of issues with the law. Remember Lawrence Phillips?
Whatever. For the most part, Osborne was who Nebraska remembers him to be.
“I think our fans would understand the situation, the circumstances regarding this,’’ Pelini said. “I might lose some, but I think I’ve built enough points with our fans the last five years in how I’ve conducted myself, how I’ve run this program and what we’ve done with this program.’’
I don’t know. If that were true, Pelini’s bosses wouldn’t have waited for fans to tell them whether it’s time to start looking for the next non-Osborne.