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Pat Harty: Pelini needs to learn to relax

[ 0 ] November 26, 2013 |

In defense of Bo Pelini, he works in fantasy land.

As the football coach at Nebraska, Pelini deals with perhaps the most delusional fan base in college football.

Pelini has led Nebraska to at least nine victories in each of his first five seasons as coach and would do it for a sixth time with a victory over Iowa on Friday in Lincoln, Neb.

To put that in perspective, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has led the Hawkeyes to at least nine victories in only five of his first 14 seasons as head coach. This year’s team, at 7-4, would finish with nine victories if it defeats Nebraska and wins a bowl game.

Ferentz certainly has his critics, although they’ve been silenced to a degree by Iowa’s resurgence this season. But Ferentz also has more job security than most coaches — his contract is guaranteed through the 2019 season — and a large part of the fan base adores him.

Pelini, on other hand, is supposedly coaching for his job Friday, if we are to believe some reports.

“Well, it‘s all relative,” Ferentz said Tuesday when asked about Pelini’s situation. “One thing that’s usually common in sports, it’s never enough. It’s all relative to where you’re at, what level you’re at, that type of thing. That’s a common denominator nationally in all sports, not just football.”

Where Pelini coaches is partly to blame for the discontent. Some Nebraska fans appear stuck in the mid-1990s, when the Cornhuskers ruled college football like Alabama does today.

But Pelini also shares part of the blame for the disconnect that exists between him and Nebraska fans. He brings a lot of it on himself just by so often being a miserable human being. I’ve watched tape of some of Pelini’s press conferences and he’s almost always surly and combative. Other times, he’s condescending, dismissive and rude.

Ferentz probably ranks dealing with the Iowa media on a weekly basis somewhere between having a root canal without painkillers and listening to old tapes of Vanilla Ice. But he still conducts himself in a polite manner, for the most part. He’ll chastise a reporter every now and then, but even that’s done with some civility and restraint.

Ferentz also tries to be funny every so often, including while addressing Pelini’s situation, when asked Tuesday if he thought he’d be in trouble at Iowa despite winning nine games every year.

“I don’t know,” Ferentz said. “I’d like to find out, put it that way.”

Pelini has the disposition of a hungry badger. His personality helped to make him a solid defensive back at Ohio State in the 1980s. And it probably helps him coach in some ways, considering the tough-man approach that goes with football.

But it wears on the fans and it wears on the media.

Pelini avoided punishment for his profanity-laced rant that was released on audiotape to Deadspin in September in which Pelini is heard on tape ripping Nebraska fans and certain members of the Nebraska media.

He supposedly wasn’t aware that he was being taped, but that doesn’t matter to some fans. They’ll hold it against Pelini forever, or until he wins three national titles in four seasons.

Combine the resentment from that incident with the unrealistic expectations at Nebraska and the situation becomes toxic. Nebraska fans are as loyal and as passionate as they come and they deserve respect despite some being lost in time.

In fairness to Pelini, he has another side to him, a warmer and fuzzier side. He’s a husband, father and he owns two dogs. A person doesn’t own two dogs without having a softer side.

Pelini also cares about people, as he showed by having 7-year-old cancer patient Jack Hoffman score a touchdown at Nebraska’s 2013 spring game. Hoffman ran for a 69-year touchdown with the Nebraska players cheering him on from behind.

And it’s not like being polite is the answer at Nebraska. Former Nebraska coach Frank Solich seemed pleasant most of the time and yet he was sent packing, despite winning at least nine games in five of his six seasons and at least 10 games in three seasons.

But being rude to the media and calling out the fans certainly isn’t the answer. Pelini already has enough stress with his high-profile job. He needs to do himself a favor and take a chill pill because life is too short to be miserable at work all the time.


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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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