In the wake of Nebraska’s ugly 41 – 21 collapse to UCLA, lots of strong statements and opinions were issued by fans, media, and alumni. As one might suspect, most of these opinions were not very positive towards Bo Pelini and his coaching staff.
But among the millions of opinions spoken, printed, or (in this case) tweeted, one stands out:
“After letting it sink in for about 4 hours I still struggling. It’s time to get rid of the defensive play caller, the Dc, lb dl and db coaches. 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. I don’t care if we lose a game but the way we are losing is just not what #Nebraska fans deserve. I have fought, bled, and cried over this program. I didn’t do all that for the program to become what it has today. Time for change!”
Those are strong words from anybody, but they didn’t come from Joe Fan. They came from Tommie Frazier – one of the greatest players in college football history. Quarterback of the 1994 and 1995 National Championship teams. Heisman Trophy runner-up*. College Football Hall of Famer. Short of Tom Osborne, there are not too many people who would get a similar reaction with these remarks.
*That still hurts to type. Tommie was robbed. You know it. I know it. Eddie George knows it.
To make matters worse, Tommie’s remarks came on the same day he was honored at halftime for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Today in his weekly press conference, Bo Pelini was asked to respond to Frazier’s tweet. Pelini said he had not seen the tweet, but was aware of it. Here is his response:
“We have a staff, players and administration — everybody here — who’s busting their butt to do everything we can to win football games and to do everything we can for student-athletes. Since I came back here, I’ve embraced the former players, and if he feels like that, so be it. We don’t need him. That’s a shame. Until you’ve sat in this seat — until you’ve sat and done it — anybody can have an opinion. Anybody can do that. It’s easy to point fingers and stand outside and throw stones. I take it for what it is.”
Ouch. This is one of those classic situations where nobody is right and everybody is wrong. Let’s start with Bo.
Obviously, the money quote: “if he feels like that, so be it. We don’t need him” is what sticks out from Pelini’s response, and it will soon join “gravitate towards mediocrity” in the pantheon of ugly Husker quotes.
In print (or pixels) it looks horrible: a hot-head coach coming off of another blowout loss disrespecting a legendary player. But, the words don’t tell the whole story.
Watch Bo saying the full quote. You’ll notice that he certainly appears to be speaking off the cuff, and in my opinion, looks to be searching for the right words to say. You’ll also notice a lot of pauses, “um”s, and “you know”s in those 60 seconds. His tone and body language is submissive and dismissive; not combative. Reading those words, it is easy to picture Angry Bo spewing spittle, but the video tells a different story.
But regardless of tone, Bo made a big blunder today. He was unprepared.
Surely Bo (or somebody within the University’s media relations team) should have known a question about Frazier’s tweet would come. Of course it would. The media might not lead with it, but everybody knew it was going to come up.
This is complicated by the fact that Bo is not an eloquent speaker. His stammering, pausing response was awkward on its own before he dropped the “we don’t need him” bomb. And that is a failure on Bo’s part. He needed to be ready for the question, and have a prepared, diplomatic response teed up. I’ll let Pelini’s critics do what they will with another documented case of failing to be prepared.
I truly believe “we don’t need him” was not what Bo intended to say. But since he was unprepared and shooting from the hip, that is what we got. That is on Bo.
My hope is that Bo’s words are not taken as a blanket statement that past players aren’t welcome, or that negative opinions should not be shared. We saw enough of that garbage during the Pedersen/Callahan regime, and nobody wants to go back to that time.
But Tommie Frazier is not above criticism in this matter.
First off, Tommie Frazier has every right to say or tweet whatever he feels, whenever he wants. Period.
And yet…he also needs to consider the power the name “Tommie Frazier” has, and how negative comments about the program – even those that could be considered reactionary just a few hours after an ugly loss – may impact his reputation and legacy.
My guess is Tommie Frazier wants to be remembered as one of the greatest players in college football history, not as an all-time great who trashed the coaching staff of his alma mater on social media. As great as Frazier was, he is fortunate to have played in an era before social media*.
*Although one wonders what Jerry Tagge might have tweeted after the 1992 loss at Iowa State…
Does Tommie’s name and legacy mean that he shouldn’t be vocal with his opinion? Absolutely not. But Frazier needs to have both the knowledge and responsibility to understand that his words carry much more weight than almost all former players or coaches. When is outspoken like this, it gets noticed. Nationally. For someone who “fought, bled, and cried” over the program, there is a lot of opportunity to do damage of your own.
I’ve seen some folks implying that Frazier’s bold words were intended solely to promote his weekly analysis web-cast. The last two sentences of his original tweet (“I will comment about the offense this week on Tommie’s X’s and O’s. Trust me you don’t want to miss it.”) could certainly make that point, but I don’t buy it. One of the things Frazier is revered for is his competitive spirit and will to win. While he wouldn’t be the first person to take a strong opinion to drive web traffic (*ahem*), I do not believe that was Frazier’s motivation. If it is, then I’d direct Mr. Frazier to the previous paragraph.
I also disagree with the notion that Frazier shouldn’t weigh in on Nebraska’s coaches because of his own coaching career (fired as an assistant at Baylor; 3-17 as head coach as NAIA Doane College). Yes, by many accounts, Tommie was a lousy coach, but that doesn’t take away his right to an opinion. Let’s face it: if a strong coaching resume was a prerequisite for criticizing football coaches, thousands of message boards, media outlets, and blogs (*ahem*) would be out of business.
So how should have this whole thing have been handled?
In a perfect world, Pelini and Frazier handle it offline. Bo and the football operations staff need to appreciate how big of a shadow Tommie Frazier casts in this state. Every week, there are still hundreds of #15 jerseys in the stands – and those people didn’t buy them because of Steve Octavien, Beau Davis, Willie Miller, or any of the other guys to wear #15 in the last 20 years.
Over the weekend, Bo should have talked to Tommie (or at least reached out) to address Tommie’s concerns privately. Then, during the weekly press conference, say something to the effect of this:
“Given his stature within our program’s history, I have personally reached out to Tommie to discuss his concerns regarding our performance on Saturday, as well as the program’s direction. We agree Saturday’s game did not turn out in a way that either of us wanted, and nobody has lost more sleep over that than me. I respect Tommie Frazier as a player, as a member of the Nebraska Football family, and especially as a person. However, I will not make coaching or personnel decisions based upon input from those outside of our day-to-day operations.”
Tommie gets his concern addressed. Pelini shows respect for a Husker legend, addresses the issue, but firmly states that he’s in control.
Tommie has responded to Pelini with the following: “He’s right, he doesn’t need me. I’m not the answer but he needs someone to help define success for this program. Nebraska fans deserve more.”
I hope this is the end of it – that Pelini and his team go into the their bunker and try to fix their weaknesses before conference play begins, and Frazier continues to do what he does, albeit with some increased tension between him and the program.
I definitely hope we can avoid this from skidding into a worst case scenario: An increasingly ugly war of words via social media that leads to Tommie Frazier becoming the de facto face of the Fire Pelini contingent. Former players, alumni, and fans become alienated, creating tension that further splits a divided fan base, while tarnishing the reputation of one of the greatest players in school history.