Bo Pelini is a tough nut to crack.
At Monday’s press conference, Pelini answered questions for 45 minutes. I probably asked Pelini 10 of those questions, focusing on the current state of the program. Not specific positions. Not specific plays at Minnesota. Just general, big-picture stuff.
What intangible differences do you see between this team and great teams you’ve been around?
Do you think the talent level on this team is as good as it was three or four years ago?
Like everyone else, I’m trying to figure out what happened to Husker football since Pelini peaked in 2009-10. Bo sincerely tried to answer those questions — along with dozens of others. He knows this is no time to show hubris or defiance.
But the actual information he shared didn’t reveal much. It didn’t fulfill my curiosity. I don’t get the sense he knows what to do. Worse, I don’t get the sense Bo is getting fresh perspectives.
When I asked Bo if there’s someone he calls after a bad week — a mentor to whom he vents — he said no.
“At the end of the day, what I do is I look for solutions. I try to take the emotion out of it and look at it in a black and white manner. This is where we are. O.K., let’s go. This is what we have to do to keep going and keep looking for ways to make us better.
“I’ve always thought…I just don’t believe in…If I have a question about how to handle a certain situation, I have guys that I can call and lean towards. I’m not someone who looks to vent or complain or do anything else. It is what it is and I’m responsible for it, so — like I tell our players and coaches — man up and take control of it. All you can do is keep working and get better. Roll up your sleeves and go to work. That’s all you can do.”
I respect Pelini’s diligence. And there is a time for perseverance. For rolling up your sleeves and going back to work. For re-committing to what you’ve always done. But times like these he would benefit, perhaps, from having a larger inner circle. From having a veteran head coach or two at his disposal.
I feel like Bo is looking for solutions to micro-problems when the real issues are macro.
>> Losers of four straight, Northwestern is reeling as it comes to Lincoln. Pat Fitzgerald is even catching a little heat in Chicago.
But the situation feels a bit like Nov. 5, 2011. I hadn’t forgotten Northwestern’s 28-25 win in Lincoln. But looking back, it surprised me just how big an upset it was.
That week is the last time Nebraska was ranked in the Top 10 — No. 9, to be exact. Northwestern was 3-5 (it had dropped four straight before beating Indiana the week before). NU was a 17-point favorite! You could make an argument it’s the biggest upset in the Pelini era.
Iowa State 2009 was a bigger underdog according to Vegas odds (20 points). But the Cyclones entered that game 4-3. And NU wasn’t even ranked.
For a Top-10 team to lose to a 3-5 opponent at home? That’s almost unheard of. Two years later, Northwestern returns to Lincoln with a chance to slam the door on the Huskers for 2013 — and likely finish off Pelini’s time in Lincoln.
>> Matt Hayes of the Sporting News is the latest national columnist to weigh in on Pelini. And Stewart Mandel says Scott Frost may need more seasoning before he’s ready to slide into Pelini’s chair, but his credentials are hard to ignore.
>> Following Saturday’s loss to Minnesota, I thought of this piece I wrote in January about Nebraska’s identity. Not much has changed in 10 months.
>> This “Tunnel Walk of Shame” piece, examining the Huskers’ need to modernize, is excellent.
>> Should Craig Bohl and North Dakota State be in the FBS Top 25? Dennis Dodd makes a case.
>> The schedule is about to get much, much tougher for Oklahoma State, Baylor, Miami and Oregon, among others.
>> Well, based on last night’s results, you can forget the Clippers and Bulls making the NBA Finals. Kidding (I think). Forgive my tardiness, but let me offer my NBA predictions for 2013-14.
Eastern Conference Finals: Pacers over Heat
As good as Miami is, you’re asking this team to play a lot of basketball over a four-year stretch. I think Wade continues to deteriorate, the middle remains a soft spot and Indiana’s depth is too much to overcome. I’m not crazy about the Pacer guards, but the front line is easily the best in the NBA.
Western Conference Finals: Spurs over Warriors
The West is harder to project than any conference in my memory. I watched “Open Court” on NBA TV last night and they had seven former stars (Barkley, Kerr, Dominique, etc.) making predictions. I think they picked five different teams out of the West. I’ll stick with San Antonio for now. But OKC, Houston, the Clippers, Warriors and Grizz will put up a heckuva fight.
NBA Finals: Spurs
Bold prediction: The Nets will lose in the first round of the playoffs.
>> The Bulls witnessed again last night how tough it will be to dethrone the Heat — even with a healthy Derrick Rose.
>> A reader did a little homework on the NBA’s time in Omaha. Good read.
>> I’ll be surprised if the Cards push Boston to Game 7. Fenway Park will be electric tonight. And as good as Michael Wacha has been, the St. Louis bats are lost.
>> May be some misty eyes in the Fox booth tonight if the Red Sox win. It’s Tim McCarver’s final broadcast. (Can he take Joe Buck with him?)
>> What were the odds four years ago that Alex Gordon would be a three-time Gold Glover … in left field!?! It’s becoming old hat for Gordon, who better make room in his Lincoln trophy case.
>> Former top-10 pick Rolando McClain is back in Tuscaloosa after walking away from the NFL. Why? He felt like he was going to self-destruct.
>> Blake Lawrence’s online media company looks at the 10 most marketable college athletes. One tweet from Johnny Manziel on behalf of a sponsor would be worth a projected $3,477.
>> Forbes examines what Jim Delany can teach us about critical decision-making.
>> A reputable new study says high school football players are twice as likely to suffer a brain injury as college players.
>> San Diego State’s baseball team scrimmages in full Halloween costumes. I love the bobsledders.
>> Surfing the world’s biggest wave. Wow!
>> Finally, there are too many good emails and tweets to count this week, but I’m going to post two outside perspectives — from an Ohio State fan and an Oklahoma fan who read the World-Herald:
Here’s Foster commenting on my Sunday column, which compared Minnesota’s demise in the 20th century to Nebraska’s potential decline in the 21st:
I have no dog in the race since I am Buckeye fan, but I would point out that things may not be quite so bleak. I offer Notre Dame as the counter-example and suggest that the Age of CFB on TV has changed things quite a bit.
Minny was a CFB Power before CFB was routinely broadcast on TV and long before hype and marketing were omnipresent. Thus, Minny’s brand was never deeply inserted into the Nation’s consciousness.
By contrast, Nebraska rose to prominence in the 70s and 80s just at the time when Universities successfully wrested away from the NCAA the right to televise their games. And, then, Nebraska had a tremendous run of success in the 90s and was constantly on TV. As such, I think the Nebraska football brand is much more solid than Minny’s.
I just don’t see Nebraska vanishing from the ranks of the elite in the same way that Minny has.
Plus, with the new B1G divisions, even a mediocre-to-good Nebraska will still get ranked (who else is there?) and be in the division race each year. That will sustain the brand until the next Osborne. Finally, for their own various and respective (and sometimes competing) reasons, the B1G, BTN and our TV partners ESPN, FOX, ABC need to hype and market to pump up ratings. “Nebraska” moves the ratings needle. That too will sustain the brand until the next Osborne.
Here’s Ed, an OU fan, comparing NU’s current malaise to the Sooner swoon in the 90s:
“I’ve lived in Omaha for 23 years and I’m a Sooner – from Oklahoma and went to OU. I always find the perspective of native Nebraskans interesting when it comes to Husker football. I like Husker football. I think it’s a shame the program isn’t more relevant on the national scene. But what has happened to the Huskers in the 21st century is the same thing OU went through at the end of the 20th.
We won with Gary Gibbs but we didn’t beat anyone of importance. It’s a mystery how we ever got Schnellenberger and poor John Blake was a complete disaster. So we had about 10 years of mediocre to bad before Stoops showed up. Blake had 3 losing seasons in a row before being fired. OU today is not a genuine contender on the national scene. As you say Oregon and Baylor are the sexy teams today.
Rather than make Coach Osborne full time AD you guys went out and got Steve P. He fires Solich as Steve sees the program “sliding into mediocrity” and proceeds to take the program there full speed ahead. Callahan proved he was an NFL assistant. Pelini is not the answer to the puzzle. When Pelini was Co-Defensive Coordinator at OU we got killed in the title game with USC that year. I think Pelini is no more than an average football coach. Anybody can be a defensive “genius” when they have the players he had at LSU. Pelini cares about his players but comes across on TV in interviews or standing on the sidelines as a very unpleasant guy devoid of any personal charm. “Outphysicaled” isn’t a word.
Nebraska is where it is because of poor hiring decisions and guys with money pulling the strings. This new AD isn’t going to make much difference.