Published Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 8:59 am
football
Pelini's tirade gets quick fan reaction, while UNL officials take more deliberate approach

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman did nothing to quash speculation Tuesday that Husker football coach Bo Pelini could face disciplinary action for a taped profanity-laced tirade that has again made the coach's fiery demeanor a hot topic across Nebraska and the nation.

Perlman, who in 2010 publicly reprimanded Pelini for his sideline behavior, said in an exclusive interview with The World-Herald that he has no timetable as he and Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst decide their next move on a matter the chancellor called “important.''

“When we feel comfortable deciding what to do, we will do it,'' Perlman said late Tuesday afternoon while in Omaha.

When Pelini was asked two hours later whether a suspension has been discussed and whether he would accept one, the coach said he had not heard anything.

“I fully anticipate coaching this weekend,'' he said in reference to Saturday's home game against South Dakota State. “I haven't been given any assurance, but you proceed with the information you have. I'm the football coach until somebody says different.''

Perlman and Pelini did talk by phone Monday night after the two-year-old audio rant went public — and viral. Perlman on Tuesday declined to discuss the nature of the conversation.

And he also declined to share his feelings on whether the sixth-year coach has grown a lot in the two years since his controversial words were recorded. “It would be awkward,'' Perlman gave as his reason for declining to share those thoughts. “When we make a decision, we'll spell it out.''

Meanwhile, the taped bombshell and a nationally televised Husker meltdown Saturday against UCLA had people across the state debating whether Pelini should face punishment and whether he's the right man to coach the Huskers.

Fans took to social media and radio call-in shows, some calling the coach an embarrassment, others praising his fire and passion. An online poll on Omaha.com found fans split on Pelini. Just under half said he should face no discipline at all, while over a third said they wanted him to step down or be fired.

A Facebook page called “Keep Bo Pelini'' established last year generated lots of words of support and thousands of new followers. And ex-Huskers also rallied strongly to the defense of the coach they frequently laud for his loyalty and commitment to players.

“Coach Bo would do anything for every single one of his players!'' former star running back Rex Burkhead wrote on Twitter. “Thinking about firing him? You've got to be kidding me!''

The controversy began late Monday afternoon when the sports website Deadspin.com posted the Pelini rant, recorded in the wake of Nebraska's dramatic 34-27 comeback win over Ohio State in October of 2011. As Pelini waits with Husker play-by-play voice Greg Sharpe for his postgame interview on the Huskers' radio network, he can be heard venting about Nebraska's “fair-weather'' fans, some of whom had booed the Huskers and left the stadium before the late Husker surge.

“It took everything in my power to not say, 'F--- you, fans. F--- all of you.' F--- 'em,” Pelini says.

He later says fans “can all kiss my a-- on my way out the f------ door. 'Cause the day is f------ coming now.''

Perlman in 2010 had rebuked Pelini publicly after a game against Texas A&M in which network cameras repeatedly caught Pelini verbally assaulting referees. He was also shown giving quarterback Taylor Martinez a verbal lashing. Perlman said at the time that the conduct reflected badly on the school and football program. Pelini publicly apologized.

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Some speculated later that a lack of support from Perlman may have caused Pelini to flirt with the open coaching job at the University of Miami. Both men declined at the time to speak of the matter other than Perlman backing Pelini publicly as the school's coach.

Tuesday morning during his state of the university address, Perlman brushed off reporters seeking comment on Monday's audio disclosure, saying he was still “reflecting'' on the situation.

Later in the day, he told The World-Herald he wouldn't make any decision regarding the matter based “on the emotions of the moment.''

“Fans and others want Shawn and I to be thoughtful and make sure we have all the facts and exhibit good judgment,'' Perlman said. “That isn't done in a 24-hour period.''

Pelini released a prepared statement about the incident Monday but then spoke twice to reporters Tuesday, first on the weekly Big Ten conference call and then after his team's practice.

Pelini said he didn't know whether he would be disciplined. He said there “wasn't much discussion'' yet on the matter during his Monday talk with Perlman and a meeting with Eichorst.

As he had in the written statement the previous day, Pelini again apologized to fans. He said the comments were private ventings at an emotional time, not representative of his true feelings.

“We have great fans,” he said. “I respect them. I respect them for who they are.”

Pelini rejected suggestions that he was less-than-enamored with being at Nebraska, where he has a 51-21 record. He said he's been pursued by other schools but declined chances to leave.

“I've had opportunities to leave Nebraska, so obviously I enjoy it here,” he said. “My family enjoys it here. I don't know where that perception comes from. I've had a good experience here. I've been very active in the community. I have great relationships here … and I have great support here.”

Pelini used the words “disturbed' and ''shocked'' to describe the release of the audio clip, but said he also would not make excuses for his mistake.

“I'm a grown man and I accept responsibility for what I said, but I think we've all said things that we don't necessarily mean,'' Pelini said. “You get frustrated, and you learn from it. That was a long time ago that that happened. I believe I've continued to grow as a head coach in a lot of different ways since that point. I'll leave it at that.''

Those words in some ways echoed those of a prominent Nebraska booster who said now is the time for Husker fans to rally around Pelini and his team.

“It's very unfortunate what he said, but I think Coach Pelini has grown a lot in the last two years,'' said Duane Acklie of Lincoln, chairman of a major Nebraska trucking company and a longtime Husker booster. “I see a new Bo Pelini at this time. Hopefully these kinds of comments will never come again.''

Other boosters also weighed in Tuesday. Dan Cook, another prominent booster from Dallas, said he was very troubled by Pelini's words.

“Whether it's on the record out there or it's taped by somebody, I think this is a very disturbing thing to have anybody talk that way,'' Cook said.

Cook, however, made it clear: “I'm not calling for anybody's head.''

Indeed, no booster The World-Herald spoke to Tuesday considered Pelini's two-year-old rant a fireable offense.

One Omaha booster associated with the program for decades said that while many were disappointed by the incident, it's Pelini's won-loss record at Nebraska that will determine whether he remains as coach. The jury is still out on that, said the booster, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“It's disappointing, but I don't think it should cost a person his job,'' he said. “But there is no question this has got people talking about whether this is the right coach for us.''

John Payne of Kearney, a booster and former member of the NU Board of Regents, said he had no opinion on whether it's time for a change. But Payne said he is losing faith in Pelini, who he said may be “in over his head.''

“It's not a very good situation down there, and Bo has no place to look but in the mirror,'' he said. “I think he means well and gives good effort, but there's something that just isn't right.''

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said Tuesday that he wouldn't weigh in on Pelini or discuss the coach's future.

“I'm going to leave that one to the university,” Heineman said during an interview in Washington, D.C. “They've got to make their own decision on how they're going to handle that.''

One place Pelini has never seemed to lack for support is among his current and former players. Several past players came out strongly for him on Twitter.

“There's no better teacher/father figure/coach/man/leader that I'd want to play for than Coach Bo,'' said former Husker linebacker Will Compton.

Former Husker receiver Brandon Kinnie in defending the coach referenced his own feelings about fans' conduct in the game that prompted Pelini's rant, saying, “It hurt like hell getting booed and seeing fans leave that game 2 years ago against Ohio State only for us to come back and WIN!''

Pelini also got statements of support from his two top assistants.

Defensive coordinator John Papuchis said Pelini has not only won at least nine games in each of his first five seasons, he's also done things the right way, graduating his players and recruiting within the rules.

“I think there's a lot of things that Bo has done for this program, outside of wins and losses, that people should be extremely proud of,'' Papuchis said.

Said offensive coordinator Tim Beck: “It's hard to give your heart and soul to something — and the sacrifices, a lot of times, that coaches make — and have it so easily taken away. Or tarnished, I should say. You can't take away what he's done. But to tarnish what he's done, the way it was done ...''

As for his current players, Pelini said he didn't expect them to be distracted by the week's events as they prepare to play on Saturday.

“Our players are resilient,” he said. “Trust me, they'll be ready to go. It's a strong group of kids.”

World-Herald staff writers Joe Morton and Sam McKewon contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: Henry J. Cordes

henry.cordes@owh.com    |   402-444-1130    |  

Henry's a general assignment reporter, so he could end up writing just about anything, though he usually focuses on public policy matters affecting the state, region or nation.

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