I’m out of town on a long-planned trip, but I can’t resist the opportunity to make some comment on what is to me the most surprising Nebraska football coaching development in a good many years; i.e., the summary firing of Coach Bo Pelini before the end of the season.
I would have been startled if a firing had occurred after the end of the current season–but I found it especially hard to understand when a head coach is fired after:
–Assuring his seventh consecutive nine win-or-better regular season.
–And even more surprising when a coach is fired in less than a year after the same athletic director–with presumably the chancellor’s approval–has extended his contract and given the coach a salary increase following the sixth consecutive nine-win season.
It seems to me that former Husker All-American Ndamukong Suh’s comment is perhaps the most pertinent of all. Suh said:
“The leadership issues at the University of Nebraska extend above the head football Coach’s office.”
Questions about the performance of Husker officials above the coaching level are indeed raised by the summary firing of Pelini–officials like Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst and Chancellor Harvey Perlman.
Husker players who offered comments were universally supportive of Pelini and, in a number of cases, bitterly indignant about the way he had been treated. This apparently was of no importance to Eichorst and Perlman.
Among the players quotes:
Former Husker standout Rex Burkhead: “Words can’t explain how much all the players appreciate what you did for us. Love you Coach Bo and thanks for everything.”
Big 10 first team wide receiver Kenny Bell had said earlier: “I would play for Bo Pelini against Satan himself and a team of demons at the gates of the underworld.”
World-Herald reporter Henry Cordes did a splendid job in interviewing knowledgeable sources as to the question of whether Pelini’s summary firing will make it harder to recruit a suitable replacement.
Those whom Cordes interviewed almost unanimously said that the Husker program has such a national reputation that the head coaching job there will attract possible replacements who will not be “scared off” by the summary way (I would say almost brutal way, in my opinion) that Pelini was fired.
Husker fans can only hope that the various sources quoted by Cordes are right and that the Husker program has such a strong reputation that a strong replacement can be found.
Potential fallout from the Pelini firing could raise questions about Perlman’s continued tenure. I’m not predicting this but only mentioning it as a possibility.
After all, Perlman is 72 years old and has served 13 years as chancellor, coincidentally about twice as long as the football coach whose firing he has approved if not initiated. Over that time he built a splendid record of achievement in the academic field but made some questionable decisions when it comes to Husker football, including raising Steve Pederson’s salary as athletic director, then firing him a few months later after he learned that former players didn’t like the way Pederson treated them.
There was also the matter of Pederson’s endorsement of the hiring of Bill Callahan as head coach–a disastrous decision. Callahan was fired four years after compiling a 27-22 record as head coach, including a 5-7 final year. (The Huskers lost to Kansas 76-39, the most points a Husker team had ever surrendered.)
Timing Was Especially Questionable
Timing of Pelini’s firing is especially questionable, as I see it. It follows a come-from-behind victory over Iowa, on the eve of a Husker bowl appearance and at a time when recruiting is particularly heavy.
A crucial question: How many potential recruits might look elsewhere when they learn they won’t be coached by the man who first recruited them?
All in all, it seems to me Pelini’s firing–and especially the way it was handled–raises more questions than it answers.
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