Published Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 10:31 am
Barfknecht: Insulting fans not in Bo Pelini's best interests

LINCOLN — Most coaches at any level of athletics figure out two things early in their career, or they won't have a career.

One is don't tick off former players, especially those who are revered.

The other is don't insult your fan base.

Nebraska's Bo Pelini, who has coached in college and the National Football League for 20 years, has brain-cramped badly in both areas.

On Monday, he responded to comments over the weekend from two-time national championship quarterback Tommie Frazier by saying, “We don't need him.''

Bad idea, even though Frazier suggested that Pelini fire his defensive assistants and tweeted it five hours after he was honored at halftime of the UCLA game. We can argue deep into the night about Frazier's words and timing.

What I want to review is the profanity-filled audio tape of Pelini released Monday to the website Deadspin.

After the 2011 Ohio State game, in which Nebraska recorded its greatest comeback victory in history, Pelini nearly wears out the f-word in taking on The World-Herald sports department — specifically Tom Shatel and Dirk Chatelain — and the Huskers' “fair-weather fans.''

The media criticism part of this we can do away with in a few paragraphs.

Join the conversation on the Big Red Today Facebook page.

Coaches and sportswriters have butted heads since the two professions met, and they will until the end of time. We don't take it personally. Our skins are as thick as our heads.

But one fact must be addressed.

As the audio went public, some World-Herald readers expressed surprise that Pelini would swear so violently in his outburst. Sadly, it was no surprise to many media members in this state.

Multiple newspaper, radio and TV people have been on the receiving end of a Pelini cuss-bombing. My most recent one occurred when I got a call a couple of years ago while walking into Borsheims two days before Christmas. It was so loud and bitter, I had to step out.

Pelini's occasional treatment of the media isn't the story, though. His biggest blunder is his attack in this audio on the fan base.

Nebraska has no beaches, mountains or stay-forever good weather. But the loyalty of ticket-buying, check-writing Husker fans is a natural resource that has sustained high-quality athletics in Lincoln for the past 50 years.

That fan devotion is a priceless commodity. Don't take my word for it. That comes from the mouths of Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, who told me over and over the fans are the real power of red.

When my days as a sportswriter are done, one thing will stand out to me above all else.

Not covering 35 bowl games or 25 College World Series or 10 NCAA basketball tournaments, nor working in some of the cathedrals of college sports from Madison Square Garden to the Rose Bowl with Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium in between.

It will be the utter love of Nebraskans for their Cornhuskers and seeing them show up at the ends of the Earth whether morning, noon or night to cheer “Go Big Red.''

That is as close to a sacred bond as you'll find in this business. Anyone charged with preserving it who tramples on it instead will pay a price. It's up to NU Chancellor Harvey Perlman and Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst to determine just how high a price that is.

* * *

Warning: Audio contain offensive language.

Video: Bo Pelini's press conference following the 2011 win over the Buckeyes:

Video: Bo Pelini's Monday press conference

Reaction: Social media comments on Pelini's rant

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.



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