Nebraska Football: Grading Bo Pelini's Performance at Big Ten Media Days
Nebraska will not win or lose any games at Big Ten Media Days. It will not sign recruits, win championships or earn bowl berths based on a couple of afternoons at Chicago’s Hilton.
But the words of every coach set the tone for his program. The media, the players and the fans are all listening, and it is a coach’s responsibility to use these short press conferences to get the season off on the right foot.
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It is no secret that Nebraska football faces many questions entering the fall. The 'Huskers must replace stars such as defensive end Eric Martin, running back Rex Burkhead and kicker/punter Brett Maher. The defense in particular is undergoing a complete overhaul following the departure of numerous starters.
Yet despite all of the uncertainty, Bo Pelini was able to keep it positive in Chicago. He spoke at length about the talent returning on offense. At one point, he remarked that the 2013 offensive line, which has largely been ignored thanks to the wealth of returning skill-position players, may be the best during his tenure as head coach.
And when speaking about the defense, Pelini chose to focus on the raw talent and athleticism of the new players, not their youth and inexperience.
This is the time of year to build support and excitement for the team. Pelini’s positivity, despite all the question marks, allowed him to do just that.
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Love it or hate it, Bo Pelini stuck to his guns when questioned about his defense, just as he has done countless times before.
Following embarrassing losses to UCLA, Ohio State and Wisconsin last season, Pelini was barraged with questions about his defense. Was it a lack of athleticism? Or a lack of discipline? Or, heaven forbid, was Pelini’s once acclaimed defensive scheme the problem?
When asked what is being done this offseason to cure the 'Huskers’ defensive ills, Pelini’s response was a simple and familiar one: improved execution.
Many will disagree, but Pelini is steadfast in his belief that his scheme is not the problem, nor are his players’ abilities. Instead, he insists that better execution is all the Blackshirts need to return to their old form.
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Truthfully, this is a category in which Pelini will never excel. Unlike so many Nebraska coaches before him, Pelini is never going to light up a press conference with his bubbly personality.
There was no rah-rah speech or visible or audible excitement to Pelini’s demeanor. But there is no surprise there.
His positivity and confidence in this year’s team certainly implies a level of excitement for 2013. But that is just enough to save him from an "F" in outward enthusiasm.
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As is the case with any interview throughout the year, fans tuned in this week to learn something about Pelini or the Nebraska team. They did not watch because they were craving cliches or stock phrases about the challenges that await the 2013 team. No, they wanted news and insights.
They received little of either.
In the face of pointed questions about redshirt freshman linebacker Thomas Brown’s dismissal and solving the 'Huskers’ defensive problems, Pelini, as expected, clung to vagueness and generalities. The only real insight he offered was his mild opposition to the new NCAA rules regarding illegal defensive hits. But even that was clouded by more cliches.
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Almost all of the questions directed at Pelini during the press conference were expected. Inquiries about defensive development, young players and the potency of the offense went according to the script.
But the questioning took a strange turn when Pelini was asked about how he plans to navigate a schedule that calls for five straight seasons in which the 'Huskers open Big Ten play against Illinois.
Visibly caught off-guard by such an odd question, Pelini replied that he had not realized that coincidence in scheduling and then retreated into typical compliments of the Illinois football program and coaching staff.
Undoubtedly stunned by the sheer irrelevance of the question, Pelini kept his composure and did well to formulate a somewhat normal response to an abnormal question.
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Pelini’s performance at Big Ten Media Days went as expected. He was confronted with the questions that the media and fans have been asking since the end of last season. And he offered calm, confident responses.
He may not have inspired a frenzy of 'Huskers passion and anticipation for the upcoming season, but through his positivity and confidence, Pelini created an atmosphere of cool and collected optimism in which the Huskers will begin fall practice.