Published Monday, November 12, 2012 at 10:47 pm / Updated at 10:56 pm
first downs and second guesses
Shatel: New Pelini shows he’s maturing as coach

If I ever need a lip reader, it’s comforting to know there are several candidates ready to help.

The lip readers were plentiful after Saturday’s Nebraska-Penn State game, in which said observers swore they saw Nebraska safety Daimion Stafford cursing out Bo Pelini on their TV screens.

They had it half-right. Stafford may have been shouting some unprintable words, but they weren’t directed toward his coach. They were meant more for how Penn State had caught Nebraska off-guard with an up-tempo offense the team hadn’t prepared for.

“He wasn’t really yelling at me,” Pelini said on Monday. “He was just upset. He’s an emotional guy. He was upset about the situation, the way the whole play happened.

“I was trying to settle him down for a second. I love the guy. He’s an emotional leader. Let me tell you, it’s an emotional game. That stuff happens. That’s not the first time that’s happened. It happens on the practice field. It’s not big deal to me.

“He (Stafford) was more cursing the situation. I was trying to figure out what happened. Once he settled down and we got on the same page, there were no issues.

“We laughed about it at halftime.”

Pelini was talking to me and Associated Press writer Eric Olson on Monday, after his press conference had concluded, by the press box elevators. He was calm and collected, introspective, philosophical. You know, Bo.

This is Pelini in his fifth year. He’s changed, just in the past month. That’s my observation, though I’m no lip reader.

Gone is the chip on the shoulder. Gone is the edgy tone when he speaks, the defiant ‘What do you think?’ response to reporters’ questions.

I’ve noticed this “new” Bo since the Ohio State loss. Unemotional, cordial, matter-of-fact, willing to explain things. Patient. There’s a maturation going on here.

Maybe he’s been humbled, maybe it was the loud voices in the public about firing the coach. Moreover, I think Pelini has been growing as a head coach and has been on this track for a while. The growth was expedited.

This is the Pelini the lip readers need to know. This is the Pelini the guy who called into the Bo radio show last week needs to hear from.

Pelini’s image as the ranting and raving sideline lunatic is partially well-earned and also overblown. He’s no worse than a lot of coaches on the sideline. He hasn’t had the public relations skills to bail himself out.

Maybe that’s changing. Pelini took some time on Monday to answer some questions and clear some air.

On whether Stafford was being disrespectful: “No. If it gets to the point where it’s disrespectful ... I’ve played the game. I understand how it goes. It’s going to happen sometimes. As a coach in that situation, you have to make sure you don’t make it worse. You give them time to settle down. There is a tremendous respect between my players and myself. It will always be that way. Daimion Stafford and I have a strong relationship and believe in each other.”

On his relationship with his players and the culture of communication with emotion: “It’s crazy. The players know this about me: I treat them like a man until they give me a reason not to. I’ve had players in my office and I’ve lit them up. Usually by the end of that, the next thing I do is walk over and put my arm around them and tell them I’m doing this because I care about you.

“When you have a mutual understanding between players and coaches and the players understand you truly care about them as human beings, then you get away with it. If they think you’re a selfish guy and you are in it for you ... and my players understand myself and the staff are not in it for us. We’re in it for their best interest. You can have those types of exchanges. Someone from the outside might not understand, and to be honest with you, I don’t care if they do understand it.”

On the “Bo camera” on him at all times: “It doesn’t really bother me. I can’t change who I am. People are going to focus on the negatives of my personality. I couldn’t change if I tried. I’m a passionate guy. I love what I do. I love my players. There is tremendous character being built in this program and a lot of it has to do with discipline.”

On his image: “I hope what people appreciate is what you see is what you get. Maybe they don’t see enough because they only see me during competition. But the people I have a problem with are people who pretend to be one thing and are something else. I make no mistake about what I’m in this for and that’s the players. I always have my players’ back. I put a product and group on the field who represent this state the right way, on the field, off the field, in the classroom. I have not compromised those standards one iota at any time for the sake of wins and losses.”

Asked about Texas Tech’s Tommy Tuberville touching an assistant coach last week and whether he had ever touched a player or coach: “I remember it was Oklahoma my first year (2008). Terrence Moore. Someone got a penalty and at one point they were walking away and I grabbed (Moore). Even at that time I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful toward him. People are going to take those things how they want. To a guy on our team, that probably wouldn’t even matter. You can’t do that. It’s just a day and age, you have to make adjustments in this society with TV on you. In the past I might have grabbed (Stafford’s) facemask and said settle down. I’ve learned there are things you can do and can’t do. Some things you walk away from. Let a guy be, let him vent.”

On whether he thinks he has changed this season: “I think I’ve grown a lot as a head coach. I’ve learned over the years, I’ve made some mistakes. I’m an emotional guy. But you have to take the emotions out of it. After Ohio State, the sky was falling. But I knew we had to stay the course. I knew things were fixable. I didn’t have any sense of panic.”

I have two rules on coaches’ behavior: 1) Don’t touch a player. Ever. 2) Don’t get in the way of your team winning. I thought Pelini did that in the Capital One Bowl last year. I haven’t seen that guy this year. In fact, Pelini might be a big reason why the Huskers don’t panic when they fall behind. It’s an older team. Older coach, too.

I’ll disagree with him on this point: I think he should care what Nebraskans think of his behavior. He’s a well-paid representative of a state institution. Some people expect a certain decorum from their head coach. Pelini should at least explain himself when he can. Like he did on Monday.

>> Senior linebacker Will Compton, who was around Pelini and Stafford on the sideline: “That’s just something that happens. As players we were frustrated with how we handled the tempo. There were issues with the calls, not being able to get lined up. All it was was frustration. Nothing was hitting the fan.

“We’re in a war. Bullets are flying. To get your point across, your voice levels have to raise. Nobody is trying to attack each other. We were all just trying to figure it out.”

>> Reached after practice on Monday, Stafford said, “We were just talking about the last series. We gave up a touchdown. It wasn’t nothing. Just talking. They zoomed in and made something out of what it wasn’t. Right after, me and Bo were talking calm, but they just played the piece where we were kind of (yelling).

“We’re one big family. Family members fight. I fight with my dad. I fight with my mom. It’s nothing. I love Bo. I came here to play for Bo.”

>> Tom Osborne always had a sense of timing. Saturday’s home finale against Minnesota is Osborne’s final home game at Nebraska — and the 500th game in which Osborne has participated as an official in the program.

One reader suggested Osborne run out with the team on Saturday while carrying the American flag. I like that. I’m suggesting that Osborne be this week’s honorary coach and stand on the sidelines for his final home game. Complete with red Sansabelt pants and headset.

>> Back in 1998, Texas A&M ruined Kansas State’s chance to play for a national championship and this year the Aggies may have helped K-State play for it. Texas A&M may have helped the Rose Bowl, too. If the BCS title game is Kansas State versus Oregon, the Fiesta Bowl and Rose Bowl would pick at-large teams first, based on whose team is ranked No. 1 in the BCS. If Oregon is No. 1, the Rose Bowl could pick Notre Dame, assuming there’s not a two-loss Pac-12 team still available.

>> Creighton soccer has almost had three seasons. The Jays started out ranked high, came back to earth in the middle of the season, and now are rolling into the NCAA tournament, which starts Sunday at Morrison Stadium. Can they make the College Cup in back-to-back years for the first time? If the seeds hold, their old friend Akron (fifth seed) might be in the way.

>> Not surprised that Omaha was awarded an NCAA second-round basketball tourney for a third time, but I didn’t expect it so soon (2015). Considering the competition of cities and arenas in this part of the country, that’s a good sign.

>> One more and I’m outta here: A major shout-out to the schools and supporters of Omaha North and Gross for their state championship runs. The Vikings and longtime coach Larry Martin will be in their first state title game (against Millard North) while coach Tim Johnk and the Cougars (who play Norris in the Class B title game) are back for the first time since 1983. Both Martin and Johnk have sons who play for them. Why we love high school sports.

Contact the writer:


Contact the writer: Tom Shatel    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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