You never forget that first hot seat. For this correspondent, it was November 1977. I don't recall how Al Onofrio was fired as Missouri football coach. But I'll always remember how he left.
As the beleaguered coach boarded the bus after his final game, a loss to 3-7-1 Kansas, he was accosted by a drunk fan.
“You're a lousy coach,” said the fan.
“You're a lousy drunk,” Onofrio said.
The fan said, “Yeah, but tomorrow I'll be sober.”
In four decades of press box living, I've seen enough hot seats to fill Nebraska Furniture Mart. Most of this came from covering the Bermuda Triangle of the Big Eight — Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri — which threw away coaches on a four-year cycle.
Tom Osborne said he felt a hot seat in 1978 and 1991, though I would debate the temperature. Sooner fans turned up the stove enough on Barry Switzer in 1984 for him to make staff changes and go back to the wishbone or flexbone in 1985.
Nobody in coaching is immune. But some coaches have enough equity built up with the fans to survive, or are bold enough to make changes. And lucky enough for them to work.
For other coaches, it's like quicksand. Once fans and media have tired of a coach, or lost faith in his ability to turn things around, the downward spiral can be fast. Like quicksand in the old movies, it's a relentless descent, until all you see are bubbles.
In today's world of instant Internet reaction and talk radio, the quicksand moves like The Blob.
What's that thing moving toward Memorial Stadium?
The hot seat has found Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini. The Blob is closing in. Nebraska plays Northwestern today, in a battle of licking wounds, and the storyline for NU has become larger than the fate of the 2013 season.
It's about the fate of Bo.
His future has been the talk throughout Nebraska all week. On the Internet and in coffee shops and sports bars. On the “hot seat” websites around the country, he's No. 1. His program is now mocked in the ESPN “Bottom 10,” which is a mind-blowing place for Nebraska football to be.
Nebraskans are getting to be old pros at this, and that's not a good thing. The reset button does not always reward. On the other hand, the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.
I'm not here to debate whether Pelini should keep or lose his job. I'm here to ask a simple question:
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In the next five games, what can he do about it?
With the debate as background noise, the last five games could be awkward and potentially chaotic. Last weekend I wrote that Pelini is on the clock. That means he has time to turn it around his way, too.
But if you look at several factors, Pelini looks to be running uphill to avoid The Blob.
1. You figured he would need to win the Legends Division to state a case. If Michigan State beats Michigan today, the Spartans are in the proverbial driver's seat, with the easier schedule than Nebraska and could take the division even with a loss in Lincoln.
2. Pelini has a new boss in Shawn Eichorst. Neither Eichorst nor Chancellor Harvey Perlman sent out supportive statements after Pelini survived The Audio Tape. The powerful presence of Tom Osborne is no longer around to stop Perlman and Eichorst from making a change, if that's what they want to do.
3. Pelini never worked at building up a stash of goodwill with the fans over the years, and with his comments on the damaging tape, he might be close to bankrupt in the slack department.
4. What does Pelini have to lean on in this time of pressure? He insisted on hiring a young coaching staff, the majority of whom are learning how to win at this level. What experiences do they have to draw from? It can be a fatal flaw for a young head coach, not surrounding himself with experienced hands who have been through the wars of college football.
Mostly, these next five weeks come back to this: What kind of program has Pelini built here? Sturdy? Or a house of cards?
His Huskers have fought back before, and last year's run is a good example. But that has since been overshadowed by the collapse in the Big Ten championship game, and the head-shaking losses this season.
Youth and injuries happen in college football. They're 5-2 with everything in front of them and their whole world watching. Now what?
What do they have to fall back on? What's the identity of this program? What's the culture? What do they do well?
Physical play? Defense? Fundamentals? Doing the little things? Consistency? No, on all counts.
Nebraska can run the ball well when it wants to, but Tim Beck is as inconsistent with staying with that as his predecessor, Shawn Watson.
Pelini's program has an identity off the field: good guys, do it the right way. On the field, his Huskers' identity is they don't seem to have one.
It's a maddening thing, a real mystery, for those who watched Pelini walk on water as the defensive coordinator in 2003. His defenses lost to better talent, like Missouri and K-State, but played with hair on fire at all times.
Lately, brick walls in Lincoln have remained intact. What's the difference?
It's hard to say, but the disconnect was written all over Pelini at his press conference last Monday, as he explained players not performing what they were being taught.
Blame it on the students, blame it on the teachers, blame it on the lesson plan, but it all comes back to the headmaster. Are the players tuning out his message? Would he be better served with different assistants, who have taught a different way?
Would he be allowed to do that? And would Pelini even go that route?
The focus the next five weeks is on this group. These Nebraska players look like they're thinking so much that they're afraid to make mistakes. Sometimes you want to say scrap the stinking scheme and go hit somebody.
You hear that Bo is indifferent, doesn't want to be here, because he's not as fiery anymore. But he couldn't win with the people when he was fiery, either.
You hear a lot of things when there's a hot seat. Almost none of them are true. What you figure out about these things is that you can really believe only one thing. What you see on the field.
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Video: NU coach Bo Pelini after practice, Oct. 31:
Video: The Big Red Today Show, Oct. 29: