In the wake of Friday’s home loss to Iowa – which was equal parts ugly on and off the field – the noise surrounding Bo Pelini’s future at Nebraska escalated to a fever pitch. The only thing louder than the calls for Pelini to be fired, were for athletic director Shawn Eichorst to say something – anything – regarding Pelini.
On Saturday, Eichorst spoke* and tried to calm the storm. The text of his statement is below
*via press release. A notoriously quiet man, I saw a tweet on Saturday wondering if Eichorst’s own family knows what his voice sounds like.
“My approach has always been to not comment publicly about our coaches until their full seasons are complete, as I strongly believe it is unfair and counter to best practices. However, given the volume of unfounded speculation and conjecture about our head football coach, I want to reaffirm what I have said many times since I have arrived at the University of Nebraska — that I positively respect, appreciate and support our football student-athletes, coaches and staff, as we do everyone in the Husker family. We very much look forward to our upcoming bowl game and Coach Pelini continuing to lead our program in the future.”
A few hours later, Coach Pelini issued a response:
“I want to thank our administration and Shawn Eichorst in particular, for his continued and full support that he has given me and our football program since his arrival on campus. I am honored to represent this university and its great fans and I’m proud to lead this program into the future.
“I apologize for reacting emotionally yesterday and for showing frustration both with the game officials and the media. I fully understand and respect their difficult jobs, and I regret any and all actions or words which may have shed a negative light on our program and university. Accountability is a core belief throughout our program, and as the head coach, I must set and maintain a high standard.
“Our football staff is hitting recruiting full throttle and looking forward to the upcoming bowl game. We are committed to working with Shawn and our entire department staff to continue to build this program and bring championships back to Nebraska.”
Here are my thoughts and questions on these releases:
These statements – especially the one by Eichorst – are a great example of using public relations to your advantage. Clearly, Eichorst could see that this story was not going anywhere, and adhering to his standard practice would only make things worse. So he did the smart thing: he got out in front it, took control of the narrative, and put things back in his terms.
Seriously, look at that statement again. What does it really tell you? Here is the concrete information in there:
- Eichorst would rather not saying about any coach until after the season is over.
- The speculation on Pelini’s job status forced me to say something.
- Eichorst respects players, coaches, and staff – from all sports, including football.
- Eichorst is looking forward to the bowl game.
- Pelini will coach said bowl game.
Anything else you may have taken away from that is speculation and conjecture.
Eichorst’s statement may not meet the textbook definition of the “dreaded vote of confidence” but it is definitely in the family. All we know for sure is that a) Eichorst would rather not say anything until after the season ends and b) Bo Pelini will coach the bowl game.
I love the ambiguous usage of the word “future”. When is this “future” Eichorst speaks of? 2014? 2015? 15 minutes after the bowl game ends? A week from Tuesday? I don’t know how he meant it, but I would not automatically assume that Bo Pelini is your coach for the 2014 season. Heck, depending on when the bowl game is, Pelini may not be the coach when the ball is fumbled…err, dropped, in New York City on 12/31.
My opinion – and it is just that – is Bo only has a job through the bowl game. After that game, Bo will sit with Eichorst and they’ll have their end of season evaluation where Eichorst will have everything (fire Bo, keep Bo but fire some assistants, keep everybody) on the table. I don’t yet know who Nebraska will face in the bowl game, but I do know that Pelini should consider it a “must-win” game if he wants to remain employed at the University of Nebraska.
I’ve seen a lot of people who are absolutely, positively certain that Pelini didn’t write his remarks. Gee, ya think? Sure, the mental image of Bo, dressed in grey hoodie and busted white hat, sitting over his laptop banging out a response with hunt-and-peck accuracy before Mary Pat removes all of the curse words is pretty funny, but no, I don’t think Bo wrote his response.
But I also don’t think that Eichorst wrote his out either. Yes, Eichorst has a law degree, and probably could knock out something like this, but amusing mental imagery aside, let’s not forget that Pelini was an academic all Big Ten player – three times. He’s probably just as capable of stringing together vague, non-conversational sentences as his boss is. But let’s be honest: somewhere in Lincoln there is a Public Relations team that is sitting back with a cocktail after a long day of crafting press releases.
Pelini’s response, to me, feels directed more at recruits than at Nebraska fans. Imagine you’re Bo (or one of his coaches) heading for a big recruiting stretch between now and the bowl game. At every stop you know you’re going to get questions on your future, the blow ups during the Iowa game, and the long-term direction of the program. If the kids and their families/advisors aren’t thinking of them on their own, I can guarantee you that coaches from other universities are placing those seeds of doubt in their minds (“Pelini is going to be fired”, “Bo is a hot head”, “You’ll never win big at Nebraska”).
To me, it feels like this response is something that Bo and Co. can use as a reference to verify that Bo has a future in Lincoln, he’s sorry for what he did, and his goals remain focused on championships before they launch into the sales pitch about the culture of accountability. I say this mostly because, as a fan, there isn’t much in here that I haven’t already seen.
I’d almost prefer it if Bo didn’t apologize for his behavior on Friday. Yeah, we all know that Bo screwed up – snapping at the sideline reporter, getting the unsportsmanlike penalty while almost hitting a ref, and describing a call as “chicken____” – and a public apology is probably warranted. But that doesn’t mean that all Husker fans want to hear it.
There are many fans who were okay with what Bo said to the ABC reporter (ask a stupid question…). A week ago, there were many people who said they wouldn’t be mad if Bo punched the ref who flagged Sam Burtch for his block during Ameer Abdullah’s long run against Penn State.
Aside from those who think Pelini was (at least partially) in the right, there are those who have heard it all before. The apologies, the promises to change, and then the cycle repeats itself. Some fans feel like they are in a Bo-dependent relationship with their coach, and every apology is more hollow and meaningless than the one before it.