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Column: Bo Pelini’s track record and trends not supporting his cause

When it comes to coaching college football I like to look at two things in particular when analyzing head coaches. What is that coach’s track record and which way is he trending? Unfortunately for Nebraska’s Bo Pelini, neither are exactly in his favor right now.

Pelini of course is at the center of a bit of controversy this week, and the timing really could not be much worse. Nebraska was run out of Memorial Stadium Saturday by UCLA, a good team but the Huskers blew a 21-3 advantage and didn’t look like they belonged on the same field in the second half against the Bruins. In the fallout of the loss former Husker and College Football Hall of Fame member Tommie Frazier shared some criticisms about the Huskers coaching staff.

“It’s time to get rid of the defensive play caller, the DC, LB, DL and DB coaches,” Frazier said via Twitter. “I hate saying this but this crap is getting old. How in the hell do you not make adjustments or put your players in the position to compete? If this is what is going to happen for the remainder of the season, count me out.”

Pelini caught wind of Frazier’s remarks and did not shy away from sharing his own thoughts, which caused even more of a stir in Lincoln.

“Since I came back here, I’ve embraced the former players, and if he feels like that, then so be it. We don’t need him. That’s a shame,” Pelini said. “Until you’ve sat in this seat and done it, anybody can have an opinion; anyone can do that. It’s easy to point fingers and stand outside and throw stones, so I just take it for what it is.”

Pelini’s right. It is incredibly too easy for any of us to direct blame and point fingers from behind a keyboard, phone, message board or website. Until we have been in the position of head coach, even those who played the game may not fully comprehend what goes in to leading a program, especially one of the size of Nebraska. That said, firing back and suggesting you don’t need one of the most famous Nebraska players in the history of the program is a bit foolish and it does nothing to help the cause in this situation. But the controversy did not stop there for Pelini. On Monday Deadspin released an audio recording of Pelini from 2011 in which the Huskers coach launched a flurry of f-bombs at media reporters and Nebraska fans and suggested the fans would be sorry when he leaves town. It was two years ago, but that is certainly not the sort of audio a coach ever wants to be leaked. Simply put though, Pelini is the only one responsible for putting himself in that position.

The conversation was supposedly off the record, and it is unfortunate a conversation like this was made public. However, if you are the head coach of a football program and know you are about to be recorded or aired live, you need to know the situation and be aware of your surroundings. I am not naive or innocent enough to believe a coach never drops the f-word or other expletives when having a chit-chat with those he feels comfortable around, but if you are put in the position Pelini is you have to act a different way when microphones are around.

You don’t have to be  good samaritan to be a good coach. How a coach handles himself with the media is far from a concern with me. Nick Saban is as comfortable with the media as a t-shirt made out of sandpaper, but he wins so it does not matter. It is not Saban’s job to be nice with the media, nor is it Pelini’s, but when you allow the commentary of the media to unveil anger and animosity in a media setting, in rarely comes off in your favor. A head coach is supposed to carry the ideals and image of the university he coaches for at all times, and Pelini’s personal feelings have at times gotten in the way of representing Nebraska, a program I said just this weekend was among the classiest in the country.

Pelini is not a dirty guy, from what I know. He is not out trying to scam the system or anything like that, and he doesn’t avoid doing charitable acts. I believe Pelini is a good guy when you take everything in to account. He just has a hot head and lets the steam blow at times. There is nothing wrong with that as far as I am concerned. Should Pelini be fired for all of these incidents covered this week? No, I do not believe so.

Nebraska has won nine or 10 games in each of Pelini’s first five seasons on the job in Lincoln, and it is still likely Nebraska can reach that win total in 2013. Pelini has recorded more wins in his first five seasons than Tom Osbourne did in the early 1970s, but the critic will note Pelini has also coached more games than the legendary coach. Pelini got off to a great start with Nebraska, erasing the painful memories of the short-lived Bill Callahan era and winning his first tow bowl games (he also won one bowl game as an interim coach after Frank Solich was let go in 2003). Since then though Nebraska has been stuck trying to get over the hump. The Huskers have lost all three conference championship games Pelini has coached, tow in the Big 12 and one in the Big Ten, and the Huskers have now lost three consecutive bowl games. That adds up to a 1-6 record in postseason games dating back to 2009 for Pelini and Nebraska.

Over on Crystal Ball Run (link available later) we explored the Pelini situation a little closer. In it I bring up a question we have addressed multiple times before here, which is assessing just what the standard for Nebraska football is today. Is Nebraska a program fully capable of returning to the national championship picture on a routine basis the way they were in the 1990s, or has the game evolved and migrated in ways that will make it nearly impossible for Nebraska to reach that bar again any time soon, let alone on a yearly basis? Would a coaching change be the answer to get Nebraska over the hump?

I do not believe we will ever see Nebraska enjoy the success the 1990s brought, but I do not believe it is impossible for Nebraska to be in the occassional hunt. What I do believe is Nebraska has been good but not great under Pelini. If the powers that be think Nebraska is capable of being a national title contender again, then they will have to change coaches because Pelini is not the guy who will get them there. Pelini will be capable of making Big Ten runs, and if that is the bar for Nebraska then fine.

I expect more out of Nebraska though, and Pelini is not the guy who will make that happen.

About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.