UCLA vs. Nebraska, 9.14.13

Bo Pelini led the Huskers to an 8-4 record in his sixth season as Nebraska's head football coach.

There is no pleasant way to spin this one.

Bo Pelini got busted by "a tipster."

A lowdown tipster who had audiotape of Pelini launching into an angry, f-bomb tirade about a very passionate and loyal fan base.

The degenerate tipster perhaps made a nice chunk of cash by selling the audiotape to Deadspin.com at precisely the right time. Or precisely the wrong time, depending on your point of view.

What a country.

Somebody was out to get the Nebraska head football coach. They got him good.

Will Pelini run out of the tunnel Saturday at Memorial Stadium to lead his team? Should he get that privilege?

Your answer likely depends on your previous regard for the coach, your social-media savvy and perhaps your grasp of reality.

Who among us would pass the hidden-recorder test?

Even so, Pelini's recorded harangue is a shock to the system, at least initially.

You seldom hear such rugged talk from coaches because, if they say such things, they do so in private. Pelini's comments were in private. Two years ago. In the heat of a moment. But someone made them public. A tipster. A pathetic tipster with a grudge.

Which incenses you more: A passionate coach momentarily losing control in private? Or a calculating tipster determined to destroy a man's career?

Can a coach get fired for this?

F--- that.

Have the guts to fire Pelini for his record, not for this.

Pelini got busted for calling Nebraska fans "fair-weather" in 2011. He said fans "can all kiss my ass" as he goes out the door. He said that day was coming. He said he was pissed off. I deleted several expletives. Deadspin.com doesn't.

Those who know Pelini well knew this type of thing could someday cost him dearly. He's hot-blooded. He's outspoken. He's brazen. He sometimes uses harsh language. I've long wondered if he would say something inappropriate in front of the wrong person, and that person might make him pay, perhaps in a devious way.

The leaked comments reflect Pelini's "us-against-the-world" nature.

So, was I surprised by the report? Not really.

Pelini released a public apology. He provides context. Context is critical in this discussion. He was angry that his team was booed at halftime of the 2011 home win against Ohio State, the biggest comeback in school history. He was angry some fans left at halftime. He was angry about an article written that week about quarterback Taylor Martinez.

Pelini has told me that he was upset that a fan angrily grabbed him by the arm as the coach made his way to the locker room after the game.

Pelini, in a prepared statement Monday night, said the comments in the audiotape "are in no way indicative of my true feelings. I love it here in Nebraska and feel fortunate to be associated with such a great University and fan base. I again apologize to anyone whom I have offended."

Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst, in a prepared statement, said he was "disheartened and disappointed" by the audiotape. Chancellor Harvey Perlman told the Journal Star he was "very disappointed and we're considering what to do and what the impact is on our program."

I don't think this development is reason to fire Pelini. Put it this way: Place a hidden recorder at a chancellor's palatial dinner party and see what comes out of it. Put one at my desk and ... wait, don't.

The problem for Pelini is toxicity level. When Nebraska falters badly on the field, as was the case Saturday against UCLA, and in blowout losses in 2012 and 2011, the mood among the fans becomes downright nasty. Toxic. It happens at a lot of places. To make matters worse, Bo's surly demeanor turns some people off.

The toxicity can become debilitating. It can lead to empty seats. It can lead to phone calls from boosters to the AD. The momentum against a head coach, once it gets rolling, is difficult to stop.

Momentum already was rolling against Pelini.

The weasel tipster seized the moment. 

What a strange Monday.

During his weekly news conference, Pelini spoke of the inherent pressures of coaching at Nebraska. He said it can consume a person. His comments, in retrospect, are particularly interesting -- almost like he knew the Deadspin.com article was forthcoming, though I'm told he didn't see it until about 5 p.m.

He said during the news conference that he had to change the mood in the program. He said he needed to start having fun again.

"I understood when I came back here (in December 2007), this is a different place," he said. "This is a special place. It's a great place. But it's a different place. It's very unique. It can consume you."

He said he didn't want his demeanor to affect whether the players were having fun.

Ah, yes, the players. Another very sad part of this story is the impact it has on players.

I've had more than a few run-ins with Pelini. There is a common thread: His anger is always about something I wrote or said about a player. It is never about him. He has his players' backs with more tenacity and passion than any coach I've ever known.

Of course he was angry fans left early. Of course he had his QB's back.

But somebody wanted to nail the head coach. They did it. The dirtball also hammered the program. The implications will last beyond the Pelini era. Coaches will forever look over their shoulder for this type of sleaze. Hope it all was worth it.

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


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Husker columnist

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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