Published Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 10:44 pm / Updated at 4:00 pm
football
Shatel: Bo Pelini won't waver, Husker A.D. won't comment and questions linger

Say this for Bo Pelini: The man is never dull.

With two games and 10 days until the end of his sixth season, and no word from the Ivory Tower on his future, a normal coach might walk on eggshells.

Pelini? He trudges forth with a purpose, cracking eggs and grinding shell bits into the turf.

The Nebraska football coach was quoted in a USA Today feature on Wednesday, written by veteran college football scribe George Schroeder, who was in Lincoln for the Michigan State game.

They had a sit-down and Schroeder broached the topic of Pelini's job security, which has been public fodder off and on all season.

Here was the entire quote:

“You know what? People are gonna say what they want to say,” Pelini said. “I really don't care. If they want someone — if somebody wants someone else — so be it. I'll move on.

“I know what I know, and I believe in what we're doing. I believe in how we're doing it. We do it the right way here. That's about it. That's all you can do.”

Now, Pelini did not say he didn't care about his job. He said he doesn't care about all the talk.

But that other line, about if they want someone else, “I'll move on” — is that what a coach says when that coach's future is under the microscope?

Is that what a Nebraska football coach should say? Nobody expects the man to beg. But, if it's over, whatever?

It seemed odd, except this is Pelini we're talking about. He can be defiant, he can be very candid. Smashed eggs and all that.

I contacted Schroeder on Wednesday to get the context of how Pelini made the comment, and Schroeder said it was “matter of fact.”

What struck me here was the timing. And while Pelini has been one to shoot from the hip, I think it would be underestimating the man to say this was not a purpose pitch.

Consider another quote, further down in the story, about how the job speculation is affecting the program:

“It's not healthy for our program,” Pelini said. “It affects you in a lot of different ways. It affects you in recruiting, in a lot of different things, when people are wondering, you know — but it's part of the deal. That's what this profession is.”

No doubt about it: This was Pelini calling out Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst. Not a cry for attention. A call for support.

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Two weeks ago, Pelini told me that he hears weekly from Eichorst, the first-year A.D., with a text or brief phone call. The typical message: Good luck or Go get 'em.

The USA Today comments speak to something else. They draw a picture of two men, a head football coach and athletic director, who don't appear to be communicating or on the same page.

The image does not make Nebraska look good. It looks dysfunctional. The football version of “Modern Family.”

These two men are being paid nearly $4 million annually combined to protect the well-being of Nebraska's No. 1 commodity. They should be working together, not sending veiled messages via USA Today.

I sent an email to Eichorst on Wednesday, requesting a comment on the story. Eichorst promptly replied, declining to comment and citing his policy of never commenting on personnel matters or the evaluation of a program in-season.

As he mentioned to me two weeks ago, Eichorst gives a statement of support for a coach before the season and expects that to hold up.

That's not an unusual policy. With three weeks left in the 2003 season, first-year Athletic Director Steve Pederson would not comment on coach Frank Solich's job, except to say he would be evaluated after the season.

When Tom Osborne took over for Pederson on Oct. 16, 2007 — weeks before he would fire coach Bill Callahan — Osborne said he would support the coaching staff any way he could the rest of the season and said he would evaluate the staff after the season.

A few weeks later, after a 76-39 loss at Kansas, Osborne said he felt bad for the coaches and players, but held steadfast to his postseason evaluation.

After firing Callahan, Osborne revealed that he had given Callahan a “to-do” list — a specific record — required to keep his job in 2008. It was never clear when Pederson decided to make the change with Solich.

So we're left guessing what Eichorst has in mind for Pelini, which is the idea. But apparently the coach is left guessing, too. If Bo knows he's back, why call out the boss?

The silence, as they say, is deafening. But I understand Eichorst's policy. There's merit to it. What if he came out and gave emphatic support to Pelini, as Florida A.D. Jeremy Foley did for coach Will Muschamp in recent weeks? What if the coach still gets fired? Would Nebraska fans not be questioning whether they can trust Eichorst? That's why you say nothing.

Pelini is right about the collateral damage to recruiting, but these things are messy. There's going to be damage.

On the other hand, if Eichorst ends up keeping Pelini, couldn't he just do that now?

Would Pelini's job really come down to beating 6-4 Penn State and 6-4 Iowa? That's what you base the future on? Is nine wins still the magic number? Isn't there a bigger picture here?

To be fair, Eichorst has never hired a football coach. He may be treading very carefully, especially in year one of his Nebraska gig. Things like gauging booster support, raising buyouts, finding a taker, are all important factors in these things.

The situation appears fluid, and Pelini just threw his version of gasoline on it. Is he trying to get Eichorst out of the weeds to make a statement?

The boss says no comment. The coach could do that, too. But that wouldn't be any fun.

* * *

>> Video: The Big Red Today Show, Nov. 19

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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