Nebraska Football: Pelini's Future in Fans' Hands After Deadspin Release of Rant

Patrick Runge@@patrickrungeCorrespondent ISeptember 17, 2013

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 29: Nebraska Cornhusker head coach Bo Pelini reacts to a penalty during their game against the Michigan State Spartans at Memorial Stadium October 29, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  Nebraska defeated Michigan State 24-3. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

On Tuesday, Deadspin released an audio recording of Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini slamming Nebraska football fans in a profanity-laced tirade. You can hear the (very not safe for work) audio here, but the relevant portions of the audio are the following:

"F--- you, fans. F--- all of you. F--- 'em." ... "Our crowd. What a bunch of f---ing fair-weather f---ing—they can all kiss my ass out the f---ing door. 'Cause the day is f---ing coming now. We'll see what they can do when I'm f---ing gone. I'm so f---ing pissed off."

The rant happened as Pelini was preparing for his postgame interview with Gary Sharp on the Husker Sports Network after the Ohio State game in 2011. Nebraska had just completed the biggest comeback in school history, erasing a 21-point deficit to beat the Buckeyes 34-27.

Pelini, already angry about what he felt was an unfair article about quarterback Taylor Martinez by Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald, was reacting to fans leaving the stadium at halftime of the Ohio State game when Nebraska was behind 20-6.

Late on Monday night, Pelini issued an apology, acknowledging it was his voice on the tape, saying he was "venting" and that the comments were "in no way indicative of my true feelings," per Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst and chancellor Harvey Perlman both said they were disappointed by Pelini's comments and were reviewing the situation.

The release of the tape, of course, comes at a terrible time for Pelini. It comes on the heels of Nebraska's collapse against UCLA and less than 24 hours after Pelini responded to Nebraska legend Tommie Frazier's call for his job by saying, as reported by USA Today, "if he feels like that, we don't need him."

So, yeah, not a great couple of days for Pelini.

Some Pelini defenders, like Steven Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star, have attacked the messenger. And they're right; there is little doubt that someone with an ax to grind kept that recording safe until Pelini was at his weakest. The ick factor is high, no doubt.

But that doesn't matter. The information is out there, and the damage is done. So what happens to Pelini now?

That's up to the fans. In 2007, one of the reasons Bill Callahan (and Steve Pederson) were shown the door was because the fanbase as a whole rejected the leadership of the program. Empty spaces started showing up in Memorial Stadium. Donations and suite sales started to dry up. The sellout streak, one of Nebraska's most prized assets, was in jeopardy.

That could happen in 2013. I wrote earlier, before the Deadspin report, that a trust had been broken between Pelini and the fans. That was just referring to fans being able to trust the team to perform well when the lights are brightest.

After the Deadspin article, the breach of trust runs deeper. Pelini was calling Nebraska fans "fair-weather" because they were leaving early from the Ohio State game. In Pelini's eyes, a man who values loyalty above all else, seeing the fans bail on him and his team upset him.

But let's remember the context. In the third quarter of that Ohio State game, Nebraska was behind 27-6. The week before, Nebraska had been run off the field by Wisconsin, losing 48-17. That meant, in Nebraska’s first seven quarters in the Big Ten, it had been outscored 75-23.

That's the kind of performance that would test any fanbase, particularly on a rainy night in Lincoln. And sure, you want your fanbase to stick with you through any adversity. But for Pelini not to acknowledge what he was asking of the fans is shocking in its hubris.

It's a two-way street, a relationship between fans and a team. In a land blessed with neither beaches nor mountains, Nebraska differentiates itself by the white-hot loyalty of its fans to the Scarlet and Cream. But those fans need something in return from their team. At the very least, they don't deserve to be disregarded, particularly by a coach who hasn't been holding up his end of the bargain.

But to me, the more disturbing part of the recording was right at the end. Look again at this part of what Pelini said in a candid moment:

[T]hey can all kiss my ass out the f---ing door. 'Cause the day is f---ing coming now. We'll see what they can do when I'm f---ing gone.

Again, consider the context. Pelini had just knocked off Ohio State, his alma mater, and felt like he was on top of the world. Ohio State had just fired Jim Tressel as head coach, and it was clear that interim head coach Luke Fickell was not going to get the job long term.

The day is coming, Pelini said. We'll see what they can do when (not if) I'm gone, he said.

I'm convinced Pelini thought he had the Ohio State job if he wanted it, and at that moment, he very clearly wanted it. And he was willing to burn the bridges he built with Nebraska and its fanbase to do so.

Is that a wound that winning can heal? According to ESPN's Mitch Sherman, Pelini thinks so. And sure, winning can be a great deodorant, but for it to work in the long term, you have to keep winning at the highest level.

I am reminded of when Creighton basketball coach Dana Altman accepted the head coaching position at Arkansas in 2007, then changed his mind the next day. Altman was never really accepted back into the hearts of the fanbase after that, even when Creighton continued to succeed at a high level. Eventually, three years later, Altman left for Oregon to a collective shrug from the Bluejay faithful.

In a sense, Altman never really returned from Arkansas.

I wonder if the same will hold true for Pelini. Yes, fans will be thrilled to see Nebraska win. And if Nebraska starts winning conference titles and competing for national titles, of course all will be forgiven.

And it should be remembered that Pelini has done a tremendous amount of good for Nebraska, even setting aside the resuscitation of a program left for dead by Callahan and Pederson.

It was Pelini who was instrumental in how well Penn State's first game went after the Jerry Sandusky story went public. It was Pelini who helped honor the memory of Nick Pasquale, a UCLA player who died suddenly prior to the game. It was Pelini who helped engineer Jack Hoffman's touchdown run at this year's spring game, which will always be No. 1 on my list of greatest touchdowns in Memorial Stadium history.

Does the good that Pelini has done outweigh the shocking disregard for the fans—the reason he is the highest-paid employee of the state of Nebraska? That's up to a fanbase that has already had a trust broken with the performance of Pelini's teams. Add in Pelini calling it "fair-weather" right after sellout No. 321 in a row, and it makes the whole package a lot more difficult to swallow.

Forty-eight hours ago, when it was "just" the loss to UCLA to deal with, a particularly smart and handsome analyst said Pelini wasn't coaching for his job. Now he is, I think. If Nebraska fans were on the fence about Pelini's tenure before hearing what he said about them in a private moment, then it's hard now to see how the momentum for his departure gets derailed if Pelini doesn't deliver.

Pelini has said all he can say to mitigate the damage from his comments. But if Pelini is going to survive past 2013 in Lincoln, he's going to need to take some advice from the mentor of his predecessor.

Just win, baby.

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