Pelini thanks Eichorst for support, apologizes for Friday frustrations

2013-11-30T23:10:00Z 2013-12-07T23:53:07Z Pelini thanks Eichorst for support, apologizes for Friday frustrationsBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

After receiving a show of support from his boss Saturday morning, Bo Pelini responded with his own statement later in the day -- one that expressed both his thanks and an apology.

Pelini offered his appreciation to Husker athletic director Shawn Eichorst in particular "for his continued and full support that he has given me and our football program since his arrival on campus."

He also expressed regret for his behavior during and after Friday's 38-17 loss to Iowa, in which he drew a 15-yard penalty when he whipped his hat near the face of an official over what he later called "a chickensh-t call."

"I apologize for reacting emotionally yesterday and for showing frustration both with the game officials and the media," Pelini said in his statement. "I fully understand and respect their difficult jobs, and I regret any and all actions or words which may have shed a negative light on our program and university. Accountability is a core belief throughout our program, and as the head coach, I must set and maintain a high standard."

Earlier in the day, Eichorst quashed some of the speculation regarding Pelini, saying the sixth-year coach would continue to lead the program.

The first-year athletic director also made it apparent it was not a statement he wanted to make at this time, but one he felt necessary because of the heightening chatter about the situation.

"My approach has always been to not comment publicly about our coaches until their full seasons are complete, as I strongly believe it is unfair and counter to best practices," Eichorst said.

"However, given the volume of unfounded speculation and conjecture about our head football coach, I want to reaffirm what I have said many times since I have arrived at the University of Nebraska — that I positively respect, appreciate and support our football student-athletes, coaches and staff, as we do everyone in the Husker family. We very much look forward to our upcoming bowl game and Coach Pelini continuing to lead our program in the future."

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman declined comment when contacted by the Journal Star about the matter.

Asked if there would be further evaluation of Pelini and staff after the bowl game regarding next year, Perlman said: "You'll have to ask Shawn about that."

Chris Anderson, associate athletic director for community relations, said Eichorst would have no further comment beyond the statement.

Pelini, meanwhile, said he was "honored to represent this university and its great fans and I’m proud to lead this program into the future."

Had the staff been let go, the university would have been on the hook for roughly $11.7 million — minus the salaries of whatever jobs the coaches took next — when combining the contracts of Pelini and his full-time assistants.

Pelini himself would have been owed $7.65 million. The coach this year made $2.975 million and will get an additional $150,000 bonus for coaching in a bowl game. His base pay will rise to $3.075 million next year.

There has been speculation about Pelini throughout the season, and it only intensified after the three-touchdown loss to Iowa on Senior Day.

The defeat dropped Nebraska to 8-4 and puts Pelini's record as the Husker coach at 57-24.

After the game, Pelini's interaction with the officials and media gained as much attention as the play between the lines.

It is not known whether Pelini will be reprimanded by the Big Ten for his postgame comments about the officiating.

If Pelini's fiery display on and off the field didn't sit well with everyone, he still maintained a majority approval rating in a poll conducted on the Journal Star website after the game.

The poll question: Should Pelini be the Husker coach in 2014?

Of the more than 12,000 responses as of noon Saturday, about 55 percent said yes, 36 percent said no, with the rest saying they weren't sure.

Certainly, given the recruiting aspects, it was important for Eichorst to voice his opinion one way or another Saturday.

Signing day is just a little more than two months away. Not to mention the Huskers hosted seven official visitors this weekend.

Pelini after the game criticized media for building up the speculation about his future with the program, suggesting it hurt his team, and perhaps recruiting, throughout the season.

"You guys have chosen to make a story of it all year," he said then. "It's impacted our football team. It's hurt our football team. Let's call a spade a spade. If they want to fire me, go ahead. I believe in what I've done. I don't apologize for what I've done. ... Our record since I've been here speaks for itself. This program's heading in a good direction. If you choose to not think so, that's your prerogative."

On the surface, Pelini's win-loss record stacks up favorably with many of his peers. He has the seventh-most wins of any college coach over the past six years, with three 10-win seasons and two nine-win seasons to go along with this year’s record.

But critics will contend that the Huskers have been running in place, consistently winning nine or 10 games each year, but also consistently losing four.

Consistently good but not yet great, Pelini’s teams also have struggled on the big stage, going 8-14 against ranked teams, sometimes in embarrassing fashion. All four losses this season have come by double digits and the memory of a 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in last year's Big Ten Championship Game is still very fresh.

There was also the 2-year-old audiotape, leaked in September, in which Pelini went on a profanity-laced tirade about Husker fans in the moments after a 2011 win against Ohio State.

While some accepted it as the violation of a private moment following an intense week, it took two days until Perlman and Eichorst released a statement saying they were prepared to move past the incident.

A month later came a loss to Minnesota, and speculation began to mount again, continuing to dance in the wind until Saturday's statement.

The speculation was great enough after a loss to Michigan State that Pelini gathered his players to assure them a fan-posted Facebook rumor about him quitting was false.

Despite the four losses, coaches and players say they're close to taking a step up the ladder, with the team returning a lot of young talent on defense next year. There is also the hope that the offense will avoid the injuries that hammered that group this season, including the loss of four-year starting quarterback Taylor Martinez.

As far as junior wide receiver Kenny Bell is concerned, Nebraska's win totals under Pelini speak loudly enough on their own.

"The proof is in the pudding," Bell said. "If you win eight, nine, 10 games every year, especially where I'm from (Boulder, Colo.), are you kidding? If they (the Buffaloes) had a nine-win football season, they would be ecstatic. One thing I would say is just that we're a family. People are saying it's about the wins, but the man has the wins, and the way he's going about it is life-changing to guys around here."

That opinion was echoed during Friday's postgame news conference by other players, who were quick to back their coach.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Rose said Pelini is the kind of guy who goes 12 rounds for his team.

He said players feed off that mentality.

"I know he's a man that is willing to fight for you," Rose said. "And I can respect that and I appreciate that from him."

Now, with some uncertainty at least momentarily set aside, Pelini said it's back to work as his staff looks to gain recruiting momentum and prepare for a bowl game -- likely either the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on Dec. 28, or the Gator Bowl or Outback Bowl, both on Jan. 1.

Not BCS bowls, but important for a program, and staff, trying to generate positive momentum after a season that contained more than its share of negativity.

"Our football staff is hitting recruiting full-throttle and looking forward to the upcoming bowl game," Pelini said. "We are committed to working with Shawn and our entire department staff to continue to build this program and bring championships back to Nebraska.”

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. Follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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Steven M. Sipple

Steven M. Sipple

Steven is the Husker sports columnist for the Lincoln Journal Star.

Brian Christopherson

Brian Christopherson

Brian is the Husker football beat writer for the Lincoln Journal Star.

Brian Rosenthal

Brian Rosenthal

Brian Rosenthal is the Husker men's basketball beat reporter for the Lincoln Journal star.

Brent C. Wagner

Brent C. Wagner

Brent is the Husker volleyball and women's basketball beat reporter for the Lincoln Journal Star.