Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Bo Pelini is a fiery, in-your-face, aggressive kind of guy. That’s his shtick, and everyone is more or less fine with it by this point.
To date, he has never walked into a press conference and complimented any of the reporters on their nice polos or the way their eyes sparkle. As far as I know, he has also never told a single referee that their striped shirts are slimming or, asked if they lost some weight.
That's just not his style.
He'd rather ignore or dismiss a reporter than to work with them. He'd rather berate an official than to patiently explain his position. And, mind you, part of that forcefulness is what makes him who he is – what inspires his team to try harder and to play with the vigor that they’re renowned for.
People who have followed Nebraska football over the last few years have had to walk a tightrope between being offended by Pelini’s antagonistic nature and respecting the way it has toughened up his players. The way he has conditioned them to roll with the inevitable punches that are common in any college football season, sort of like quarterback Taylor Martinez did last week. Because, you know, getting harassed in classes over a tough loss isn't as fun as it sounds. To be able to bounce back from that kind of abuse speaks to a special kind of grit.
But then there are times, like after the Huskers’ 34-27 historic, comeback victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes, when it reaches a boiling point. During Pelini’s postgame interviews, he was being his typical self – mildly off-putting, not especially engaging and sort of a jerk. Nothing extraordinarily different than what he has been for years now, really, though he hasn't exactly set the bar for cordiality too high.
On this evening, however, it irked Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald so much so, that he felt inclined to write an entire column critiquing Pelini’s hostile nature.
Here is the gist of Barfknecht’s piece:
What makes Pelini's recent behavior newsy is that Nebraska football now operates in a different sphere — the Big Ten.
First impressions matter, and the early returns aren't good.
I've been to Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State for games, and talked with writers from the major Michigan markets about what they think of Nebraska. The Big Ten media corps, after half a season, already has had a bellyful of Bo.
"Bo Buzzkill'' is what ESPN.com Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg labeled Pelini after a bunch of non-answers to teleconference questions about Pelini's ties to Ohio State.
Rittenberg was among the out-of-town media in attendance Saturday night, many of whom were aghast that Pelini would act as he did after a possible season-saving victory.
What does it matter? Well, the routine has consequences.
Like it or not, the sports media set the agenda and tone for how coaches and programs are perceived. Nebraska's current word-of-mouth and ink-on-paper is far from flattering. That doesn't help in polls, bowls and honors voting.
All of this, of course, brings us to the duality that naturally comes with sports and media. The media expects Pelini to understand that it has to cover things truthfully and accurately, and point out the inherent flaws that plague a team no matter how painful they may be to hear. The media, in turn, must understand that after a week of press folk beating up on him and his players -- whose ages range from late teens to early 20s -- the Nebraska head coach probably doesn’t have the warmest regards for reporters – even if they are just doing their jobs.
Pelini's act is old news locally. Since arriving four years ago, he has told us repeatedly he disdains the press and has indicated on occasion he doesn't care what the fans think, either.
This is the point where all the Bo-lievers jump in and say, "Give it up. We don't care if he talks to you. All he's supposed to do is win.''
Our reply is that Pelini can run his football program any way he sees fit, just as we will do our job.
And therein lays the rub. That theory, obviously, works both ways.
So long as Pelini does his job, which is coaching the Husker players, he is doing all that is asked of him. He is not the public relations head of the school’s program. He is not the greeter at the front door to the stadium. He was not hired to fill those holes and, as we can all see, he doesn’t even attempt to.
He does what he needs to do, and the media does what it needs to do. Either party expecting the other to lay down for them is irrational and nonsensical.
Pelini can be abrasive – we all know this. Barfknecht didn’t need an entire article on the matter, he could have simply posted a video of the head coach chewing out his new favorite quarterback a year ago on national television to emphasize that point.
But by the same token, abrasiveness doesn’t really come with ramifications like worse poll standings or bowl placement. And even if they did, Nebraska isn't anywhere near good enough to suffer them at this point. Come the end of the year, the team will end up where it's supposed to end up.
Or would Pelini only have fallen three slots instead of six in the polls after that Wisconsin loss had he been a little sweeter during the postgame news conference?
Look, in perfect world, Pelini would get woken up in the middle of the night and dragged to a camp for disgruntled college football head coaches. A place where they could learn to relieve their aggression towards the press in a more positive way. Or, if not the camp – maybe charm school.
But that won’t happen (unless any of you know a guy?), he won’t change, and neither will the press.
Like an old married couple, everyone should accept each other for what they are and move on.