Pelini calls Jim Tressel “a president who understands football, who's going to support me, something I don’t know if I've ever had.” Zing!Pelini's last comment likely was targeted at Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman, which drew a lot of comments that Pelini didn't even know Perlman's title. Problem with those statements that the "president" label was clearly tied to Tressel. Was he pointing at former NU president J. B. Millikin? Probably not. But differentiating between the different job titles of Jim Tressel and Perlman was something that's way too nuanced to elaborate on at a press conference.
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) December 17, 2014
Should Pelini have even brought up the past at Nebraska? Probably not, but it's clear to me that the friction between Pelini and Perlman date back to 2003 when Frank Solich was fired. If it wasn't for the fact that Perlman was essentially neutered with respect to athletic department concerns in the wake of the Steve Pederson debacle in 2007, I doubt Perlman would have ever approved Bo Pelini.
Of course, when Dirk Chatelain published a transcript of Pelini's meeting with the team two days after his dismissal, all that became moot. Most of the initial reaction online focused on Pelini's deplorable language and the decision to air his grievances with his players. I have a mixed reaction; it's clear the Pelini didn't pull any punches behind the scenes, and he put his players squarely in the middle of this now-messy divorce. That's not good. It makes Mike Riley's job that much tougher, and in the aftermath, I'm starting to feel that from a non-football perspective, Riley might be the best man for the job after all to soothe the transition for players that were clearly hurt.
One reaction that I simply don't understand and therefore cannot accept is that Pelini, by his actions, doesn't care about the Nebraska program. I believe people are mistakenly using Perlman and athletic director Shawn Eichorst as the program. One thing I learned during the Steve Pederson/Bill Callahan program is that you can love the program and despise the people who are currently in charge. (A "Vichy Nebraska", as I once referenced it at that time.) Pelini's reactions clearly were pointed at those two gentlemen - and not the program.
Step back from the awful language and take another look at Pelini's comments about Eichorst:
Unfair? The words of a bitter man? Perhaps. But here's the thing. Bo Pelini isn't the first to feel that way about Eichorst. Eichorst has left this impression everywhere he has been. From the Miami Herald in September 2012:You don't spend any time with us, our players don't even know who you are. And I said, 'that isn't leadership.'
Last month, noted Pelini critic Lee Barfknecht checked in on Eichorst's history and found the same thing:.At UM -- bracing for NCAA sanctions in the case involving former UM booster and convicted felon Nevin Shapiro -- Eichorst has been one of the most low-profile athletic directors in school history. He was not at UM during Shapiro's wrongdoings, but except for once or twice, has declined to speak to the media since coming to Miami -- and has mostly kept his distance from UM fans and donors. Among the media, Eichorst was known as the invisible athletic director.
But wait, there's more:Regarding Eichorst, we’re forced to say “I hear” a lot because of his ultra-guarded management style, and the layer of old chums he has hired — also not available for interviews — to insulate him.When he was the A.D. at Miami, his nickname was “The Invisible Man.” The past three weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time around Wisconsin, which is where Eichorst grew up and used to work under Barry Alvarez. Folks there wryly ask how we get along with “Silent Shawn.”
Basically, the exact same thing Pelini is being lambasted for saying. Did he err by ranting to the team? I'd tend to agree. But it doesn't change that Pelini is simply telling us the truth.That said, I’ve never seen effective leadership from someone who burrows into his office and sets up policies that almost banish communication — especially in running a high-profile athletic department, and even more so at straight-shooting Nebraska.You can’t lead from behind or the dark.Eichorst told us in August that he has strong relationships with his head coaches. That is counter to what coaches have told me and many others. Some say they can’t directly get a meeting with him. One said the number of books Eichorst has assigned coaches to read has outnumbered his in-person visits to that sport.
Isn't it ironic that on the day that Steve Pederson was yet again fired that a picture of an athletic department in Lincoln under siege from an athletic director who seems to be focusing more on empire building than team building is emerging.
You can't dismiss this talk as being Pelini's sour grapes when one of Pelini's biggest critics is corroborating him. This isn't to say Pelini's critics are all wrong for calling for his ouster; there are plenty of reasons that a coaching change was warranted. (/wisconsinScoredAgain) And the fact that he brought his players into this mess doesn't help either.
But it's starting to look like 2004 all over again around Nebraska athletics. Firing Pelini may have simply been shooting the messenger.
And that's downright frightening.