Gator Bowl, Nebraska vs. Georgia, 1.1.14

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini high-fives Nebraska wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, who was voted the Gator Bowl MVP, after defeating Georgia on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

Meet Bo Pelini, Nebraska head football coach.

What? Don't we already know the guy?

"There is a perception of me out there, but people really don't know me," Pelini said last week during our pre-spring practice question-and-answer session in his office at Memorial Stadium.

How does he think folks perceive him?

"The perception is I'm the guy on the field, the guy on the sideline, and that I'm like that all the time," said the seventh-year Husker coach who tends to, ahem, wear his emotions (all of them) on his sleeve. "I'm not like that all the time. When I'm at home, I'm a husband. I'm a dad. That's who I am."

The way he's perceived bothers Pelini at times.

"I'm human like anyone else," he said. "People will say to me, 'Do you follow @FauxPelini on Twitter and how he portrays you?' I really don't. I don't have any idea what he says or what he doesn't say."

Pelini actually does have somewhat of an idea.

"I've had people tell me what he says," Pelini acknowledged. "Does it bother me? No, it doesn't bother me. But you do wonder if people actually think I'm like that. It's a funny thing, but the reality is there are some people who probably think that's what I'm like.

"It couldn't be any further from that, you know what I mean?"

It must be strange being a high-profile figure in today's society, with anonymous folks — such as the popular (and witty) @FauxPelini on Twitter — actually shaping your perception. Bizarro world, as Pelini likes to say.

"You can't control it," the real Pelini said. "You just live your life and control what you can control. Some things, you can't. But believe me, there are certain things that have come up where I could do better. But you know what? I'm like anybody else. I'm human. I make mistakes. You try to learn from your mistakes and try not to repeat them."

Pelini wondered if he "freaks people out" sometimes when he's so blunt. Thing is, he generally doesn't engage in a lot of boilerplate coach-speak. Many of us like that about him.

Flash back to halftime of the Iowa game Nov. 29, when a TV sideline reporter asked Pelini, "What was your reaction to the two early interceptions?"

He responded: "What do you think? What kind of question is that?"

The reporter asked a horrible question. Just horrible.

It should be noted Pelini was cordial in answering the following two questions as he jogged off the field.

However, "Right after the interview, I was sitting there thinking to myself, 'Oh, God, here we go …'" Pelini said last week. "You live and learn."

He leans back and chuckles.

His learning continues. He's eager to learn more about his team when spring practice begins Saturday. A quarterback competition looms. The defense seems poised for big things. But what about that awful punt-return game? If Pelini feels pressure about his job security, or anything else, he shows no signs of it.

Without further ado, the Q & A:

Q: You've decided to allow media to watch practices this spring and perhaps in the fall. That's a change. You're also considering a permanent "one-voice" approach in terms of media access to your coaching staff. That is, you would be the only coach to talk to media. Why are you considering that?

A: Because I got some things thrown back in my face, things my coaches said to the media that were maybe misconstrued, and it came back on me. If someone (in the media) is going to take one comment a coach makes in a specific situation, and apply it to everything else, I don't agree with that.

Q: So, to be clear, something one of your assistants said was misconstrued, and you were asked about it?

A: An assistant coach was referring to something specific, and the reporter brought it to me like it was a big-picture thing that applied to more than that particular situation. I'm like, "What are you talking about?" I haven't decided 100 percent (on the one-voice approach); it's just the way I'm leaning.

Q: You have said sophomore Tommy Armstrong, who started eight games last season, has a leg up in the quarterback competition. …

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A: Just based on one thing: He has experience.

Q: So what will you look for this spring from redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton?

A: Same thing I'm looking for from Ryker Fyfe. Improvement. I think Ryker and Johnny have tremendous talent. I like them as players. We're going to develop them and give them an opportunity to compete for the job.

Q: Will true freshman QB Zack Darlington practice full-go, with his concussion issues?

A: I will not have Zack get hit in the spring.

Q: As for the defense, what makes you most comfortable about it?

A: Our foundation is good, meaning our guys understand what we're trying to get accomplished. We're so much further ahead right now than what I knew we were going to be going into last season. I mean, it's like night and day. It just gives you more options. You can do more. That — "doing more" — isn't always the answer. But building on a foundation is kind of what this defense is all about. Last spring and fall, we had guys just trying to survive out there.

Q: Are there any specific measures you'll take to address the needed improvement in turnover ratio?

A: Just constantly emphasize it. There's no magic answer to that. It's just something you have to keep working at.

Q: In what ways are you looking to improve special teams, particularly the glaring problems in the punt-return game?

A: If we just catch punts better, the whole perception of where we are special teams-wise changes. That area isn't going to be solved overnight. I think we'll be better. I feel good about the direction we're going on special teams. We'll have a punter (Sam Foltz) who isn't a freshman anymore. Our kickoff coverage and kickoff return have been pretty good. Sometimes things get overscrutinized because of one particular issue or whatever. That's just part of the deal.

Q: Have you considered shuffling staff duties, especially as it relates to special teams?

A: No, not really. We've done some things a little differently. But for the most part, no.

Q: Some folks wonder if, as the boss, you're too hesitant to change the way you're doing things, perhaps even a bit stubborn. Your reaction to such a perception?

A: We make changes all the time. Things always are getting reworked. We look at every aspect of what we do. That's an asinine perception. There are a lot of different facets to what we do, in every facet of the game. For instance, defensively, we change all the time. We're different now than we were two years ago, in some ways. You're always adjusting and looking for ways to make things better.

Q: With a new secondary coach, Charlton Warren, will you spend more time this spring helping the defensive backs?

A: I always spend time back there, so it won't be anything different. I'm thrilled with where he is in his learning. We've spent the past couple weeks going through our cut-ups. He's a sharp guy. I have a high comfort level with him.

Q: Steve Waterfield is now serving as the sports administrator for football, overseeing day-to-day operations. He replaces Jamie Williams. How much impact does that have on your job?

A: You know what? I get good support. And we have good communication between us (coaches) and the administration. I'll leave it at that. That's all I can ask for.

Q: Can you go directly to athletic director Shawn Eichorst if you feel the need? Folks continue to wonder about your relationship with Eichorst.

A: Yes. That's not an issue. Everything we've asked for, we've gotten.

Q: Including the recruiting part?

A: I feel good about the structure we've come up with. We all sat down in a room together — my staff and Shawn and Steve — when recruiting was over and said, "Here's the blueprint we want to put together" and explained why. It's moved forward. … The communication's been really good, a really good line of communication.

Q: You say your program is making progress. As far as Big Ten titles go, what is a reasonable expectation for the program, in terms of frequency of championship seasons?

A: I've never thought about it that way. My goal is to win it every year. That's always our goal. Always will be.

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


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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