Monday, April 07, 2008

Are You a Bo-liever?

Tom Dienhart of the Sporting News has a great profile of Bo Pelini, talking about how he gets up at 7 am and drives his kids to school. He talks about his strength in motivating players and gaining their trust.
"I love my guys. I really do. And they know that. I never throw my guys under the bus. If we win, it's because of the players. If we lose, it's because of the coaches. That's how it has to be. It's really pretty simple to play for me. There are no gray areas. It's black and white. If they don't buy in, they can leave."
Refreshing talk at last. We've had four years of throwing players such as LeKevin Smith and Terrence Nunn under the bus. It's time to put that in the past. Last season crumbled as confidence waned. September: 27 points a game allowed; October: 38 points allowed; November: 57 points allowed per game. Dienhart notes how players looked when Pelini was introduced: slouching and listening to iPods. By spring practice, safety Larry Asante was going around saying "In Bo We Trust."

The new Husker coaching staff is oozing confidence and chemistry unlike the previous one. Is it rubbing off on players? Husker fans can hope, and players can say so, but that's something we really won't have much of a read on it until mid-October, and probably nothing definitive until mid-November.

Certainly fans are buying in, whether it's buying "Got Bo?" or "I'm a Bo-liever" T-shirts. General admission tickets for the spring game are now sold out for the first time ever, with only about 4,000 reserved (and mostly obstructed) seats still available for sale.

Springtime is the time for optimism. And certainly last season left a bad taste that every Husker fan wants to get out of their mouth. But wanting doesn't make it so.

Bo Pelini is not going to maintain his 1.000 winning percentage forever. Dienhart rated Pelini the #9 coach in the Big XII, though he also admits he expects Pelini to "shoot up this list quickly." Just because fans think he can do it, just because Pelini knows he can do it, just because Husker fans want or need him to do it doesn't mean it is going to happen.

But if the players do buy in... great things can happen. Back in 2004, when Steve Pederson was being booed off the field, Bob Brown was talking about the belief that he and his teammates had in Bob Devaney when he arrived. At that time, Brown tried to extrapolate that to Bill Callahan, though there was absolutely no evidence that Callahan had earned that belief:
"You believe in your teammates, your system. You have to walk fire for your coach. You can't think you're going to win. You can't hope you're going to win. You can't wish you're going to win. You've got to know you're going to win. It has to be a part of you.

"When these young men walk through that tunnel and touch that field, they have to know they have the finest coaches and go to the finest university. They have to support each other a thousand percent. There's no room for bickering or pointing fingers. You have to be prepared to lay down a withering barrage on the opposition. If you get 11 guys on the same team doing that, I promise you will win."
Has Bo Pelini earned that level of belief? Again, there's absolutely no way to know in April. But when you consider what Nebraska did in 2003 and LSU did the last three years, you've got to believe in the possibility.

Let's check back this fall. Color me cautiously optimistic.

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