Steven M. Sipple: Bo should think hard before denying access to assistants

2013-12-27T23:45:00Z 2014-01-01T16:45:08Z Steven M. Sipple: Bo should think hard before denying access to assistantsBy STEVEN M. SIPPLE / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini is contemplating a significant change in his program.

He sounds close to moving forward with it. Dangerously close, I'm afraid.

It's a modification that would have a profound impact on the media horde (up to 40 people) that regularly covers the team, and therefore would significantly affect Husker fans.

Be careful, coach.

As Nebraska prepares for Wednesday's Gator Bowl, Pelini is denying media access to his assistant coaches, coordinators included. He's considering making it a standing policy — no interviews with assistants.

"I just want one voice," Pelini told me after Friday's practice at the University of North Florida. "I just think that's important. I've thought about it for a while and think that's the way to go right now."

One voice. Pelini's voice. This is a relatively young head coach asserting his authority. Taking control of the message. Perhaps minimizing distractions. That makes sense.

This is Pelini going against the grain. Nebraska assistants have been available for media interviews since the mid-1980s, and probably before that. Pelini said he didn't realize that was the case, although I'm not sure it matters to him. I like that Bo doesn't feel compelled to do things just because they've always been done a certain way. I like that he has the courage to make unpopular moves.

He has his own ideas about life. Maybe you've noticed.

However, in this case, I think he would be making a wrong move.

Nebraska fans are intense and savvy. They hunger for information. They want to follow position battles. They want to learn all they can about players, even the third-string center. They want to study an opponent's tendencies.

Husker position coaches long have delivered the goods, generally without stepping out of bounds. That's my read. 

Think about running backs coach Ron Brown no longer taking us into his meeting room and telling us how Ameer Abdullah motivates his fellow backs.

I recall times when Milt Tenopir literally had tears as he discussed an offensive lineman beating whatever odds he faced.

There was a time when Nebraska "beat" reporters met on Sunday mornings (after Saturday games) with an assigned assistant. Those meetings became impractical as the media contingent swelled.

Nebraska's fan base is unique. In our neck of the woods, assistant coaches are household names. We want to hear from them.

Pelini, though, became concerned this season.

"There were times when (media) took things maybe out of context, and people started making assumptions based on what somebody said," said Pelini, declining to cite specific examples.

Pelini said he recently consulted a couple of other head coaches who use, or have used, the "one-voice" style. Bo declined to name those coaches.

"I haven't made any final decisions whether I'm going to do that or not," he said. "But I think there's some merit to it."

It's possible Pelini underestimates the magnitude of such a change. I think, for example, that Nebraska fans want to hear from Tim Beck. They should hear from Beck, through thick and thin. He runs the offense. He occupies a high-profile position in the state's most high-profile business. Yes, it's in many ways a business.

Thing is, Beck's media appearances enhance his profile and perhaps increase his chances to land a head-coaching job. Bo wants his assistants to have those type of opportunities.

I do understand Pelini's concern about assistants' words being manipulated or taken out of context. The Husker media contingent is unusually large. The more microphones and notebooks, the greater the chance for issues to arise.

All head coaches are mindful of the potential for distractions.

But in this case, I think Pelini could accomplish his objectives by further limiting access to assistants, as opposed to cutting them off entirely. As it stands, his assistants are available for interviews essentially one day a week during the season. Perhaps Pelini could make certain assistants available during certain weeks (offense one week, defense the next).

Pelini, by the way, makes it clear he believes in his staff. He likes its chemistry. He plans no changes in coaching personnel.

"You're always looking for ways to get better," he said. "If you ever did tweak anything for any reason, it's just to look for ways to make you better."

Pelini thinks cutting off media access to assistants might be a necessary tweak. I think it would be a wrong move. Shocking, I know. I just hope he fully understands the magnitude of such a decision.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.

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About the writer

Steven M. Sipple | Lincoln Journal Star

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.


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