Osborne hopes for unity as Pelini matter put to rest

2013-09-18T23:05:00Z 2015-01-22T13:46:32Z Osborne hopes for unity as Pelini matter put to restBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Bo Pelini will be coming out of the tunnel with his team on Saturday. What comes after that? Better not to guess in this week of strange theater.

Wednesday's act: After a couple days of contemplating the issue, Pelini's bosses said they believe their football coach was sincere in his apology this week for derogatory comments made two years ago about Nebraska fans.

"We are prepared to put the matter to rest," University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman and athletic director Shawn Eichorst said in a joint statement that also referred to the incident as "unfortunate and deeply concerning."

And Pelini's former boss?

Tom Osborne put his full backing behind the sixth-year Husker head coach in a public statement, and later in a separate interview with the Journal Star.

"I recognize that there have occasionally been controversies, but I have seen a willingness to change, reflect and improve in Bo over the years," Osborne said. "I am very hopeful that the players, coaches and fans will pull together, as unity of purpose has been one of our major assets over the last 50 years."

Osborne told the Journal Star he learned of the infamous audio clip about 14 months after the words were said, about last November or December, near the end of his time as Nebraska's athletic director.

The secret recording of a private conversation Pelini had before his post-game radio interview after the Ohio State game in 2011 caught the coach in an expletive-laced rant about the fans and a couple of media members.

Osborne said it was brought to his attention in the form of an email link.

"I listened to the recording and it was a little bit difficult to hear it, but I got the gist of it, and heard it, and I immediately went and talked to Bo," he said Wednesday.

"I told him, this could certainly be a very negative story to him and the program. He was very concerned. He probably didn't even remember it. This was over a year later. He had not even heard the recording. Neither he nor I were aware there had been one until that moment. So he was concerned, and certainly felt bad about it."

While the incident was "certainly not good," Osborne said he also understood it had been an emotional week for Pelini, whose team was going up against his alma mater Ohio State after losing by 31 points to Wisconsin the week before.

"He had a dust-up in the press, and then Ohio State, which I'm sure was an important game to him," Osborne said. "Big game, there's always an emotional buildup. We didn't play well the first half, and then I think the emotion of the second half. So I think emotionally he was probably pretty well spent.

"He came into a setting where he thought things were confidential and safe and he just vented for a while. I'm sure that two or three hours later he probably would have reacted very differently."

Osborne said he knows Pelini sometimes "blows hot and cold."

"But unfortunately this thing coming up two years later gives the impression that that's all Bo is, and that's really unfortunate."

Osborne also doesn't think the audio -- which found its way to the public Monday when published by Deadspin.com -- reflected what Pelini felt about the fan base.

"Because I had been meeting with him consistently every week," he said. "He didn't have it in for the fans. He thought a lot of the fans. That was an emotional reaction that was not typical of his opinion of the fans and it wasn't his typical opinion of the press."

Osborne did not tell Perlman about the audio when he received it, he said, mainly because it was more than a year old at that time.

"And there are lots of potential issues that come up in an athletic department. Things that could be blown up in the press. And if you ran over to the chancellor every time, that's just not something you do. In this case, it was not an NCAA investigation. It certainly was not a criminal issue. And I'm very well aware that there are certain things you have to report to people.

"It may have been an error on my part," Osborne said. "I just did not, at that point, 14 months after the fact, and knowing Bo, I was quite certain that he and I could handle it. And if it became public, that I would be able to address it and also mention the fact that I had dealt with the issue with Bo."

Pelini's job status seemingly had been in limbo since the release of the rant

Apologizing on Monday and Tuesday, Pelini reiterated several times that the comments were not representative of how he feels about the fans and the Nebraska program.

After practice Tuesday, Pelini said he was still planning to be the coach Saturday. Yet the uncertainty of things was clear when he also said he had not received any assurances of that.

"But you just proceed with the information you have, and I'm the head football coach until someone says different,” Pelini said then.

Perlman and Eichorst did not commit to a final resolution on the matter until the noon hour Wednesday, when their joint statement came out.

While saying they were ready to move on from the issue, the statement also called the Pelini comments "unfortunate and deeply concerning to us, as they would be to anyone who loves this university."

"Our coaches, staff and student-athletes must be held to a high standard and Coach Pelini's remarks were unfair to the legions of Nebraska fans and not what we expect from a representative of this university," the statement said.

But both men also said they have observed and heard from many others that Pelini's demeanor has "significantly improved" since the time of the incident.

"Coach Pelini has given us his assurance that he understands the seriousness and inappropriateness of his comments. We believe he is sincere in his apology and in his regret."

Requested for interviews Wednesday, Perlman and Eichorst both declined further comment beyond the statement.

Earlier in the day, Pelini said in an interview with Bill King on Sirius satellite radio that he has "an idea" regarding the identity of the person who leaked the audiotape to sports website Deadspin.

He said Nebraska is close to figuring out who it was, "if it hasn't been completely determined already."

While the unknown identity of the leaker remains a juicy sidebar to the story, Perlman and Eichorst attempted to turn the attention to this week's game in their statement.

"Our football student-athletes, coaches and staff deserve all of our support and we know the Nebraska faithful will be there for them.”

Nebraska is set to face South Dakota State at Memorial Stadium Saturday, a week after an embarrassing 41-21 loss to UCLA in which the Huskers surrendered the last 38 points, starting the firestorm.

The sting from that defeat at home, and the fallout from this week's events, potentially could leave the Huskers with a bit of a divided fan base regarding Pelini.

But Osborne is hoping, and calling, for a united front.

"We're in a state with not a whole lot of people. Probably the strength of our program has been fan support and the fact that most everybody has been behind us. I hope that will continue," he said. "I don't know. I don't know what will happen. But I know without that community of purpose, it makes things a lot harder.

"So we hope that this won't be something that upsets the apple cart, but we'll just have to wait and see. We'll know more on Saturday."

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.