Taylor Martinez Nebraska Football: Prima Donna QB or Bo Pelini's Scapegoat?

Trae ThompsonSenior Analyst IJanuary 6, 2011

Taylor Martinez Nebraska Football: Prima Donna QB Or Bo Pelini's Scapegoat?

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    Taylor Martinez isn't going anywhere.

    The redshirt freshman quarterback at Nebraska announced yesterday that he is staying at the school, ending rumors and speculation that he would transfer. Martinez finished the year throwing for 1,631 yards passing, and 10 touchdowns, while rushing for 965 and 12 more TDs.

    Martinez helped Nebraska to a top 10 ranking this year, including a win over Oklahoma State. But the Cornhuskers fell apart at the end, losing to Texas A&M and Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game, along with a 19-7 loss to 6-6 Washington in the Holiday Bowl.

    Martinez said in an email he wants to grow from the challenges he faced this season, and that Nebraska is in place to have continued success for many years under coach Bo Pelini.

    At times this year, it seemed like their relationship was healthy, and contentious, leaving one to wonder: Did Martinez become Pelini's scapegoat, or was he just another young, prima donna athlete getting a rude awakening to big time college football? Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines a prima donna as: "A vain or undisciplined person who finds it difficult to work under direction or as part of a team."

    Does that fit Martinez? Time to examine the issue. Here are five reasons he was a scapegoat, and five reasons why he was a prima donna:

Reason No.5 He's a Prima Donna: Can He Take The Grind?

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    Bo Pelini is part of a group of tough, brash coaches who have more of an old-school approach when it comes to dealing with their players. Alabama's Nick Saban is the same way, and Steve Spurrier has been way tougher on his quarterbacks ever since he was at Florida. Legendary college basketball coach Bobby Knight was tough on his players as well.

    Then there are others like Texas' Mack Brown, who has been known to coddle quarterbacks, which is what he did with Chris Simms.

    It's one thing to succeed on a high level against other talented teams, but it says something if you can put up big numbers, win games and thrive under coaches like Pelini, who are known for their outbursts. If that's too much, then maybe Martinez should have looked into playing in the WAC or Sun Belt instead of Nebraska.

    Martinez, at times, looked like this was tailor-made for him, but when it mattered late in the year he came up short.


Reason No.5 He's a Scapegoat: Was He Developed?

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    Earlier this year when it seemed like Martinez was about to take off and was even mentioned as a possible Heisman candidate, Pelini remarked, "The sky is the limit. He's not near his potential." That's great when you realize that, but as a head coach, it's Pelini's job to develop that talent, develop his confidence and make sure he keeps improving.

Reason No.4 He's a Prima Donna: Part Of The Territory

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    Turner Gill, Tommie Frazier, Eric Crouch, Mike Rozier and Johnny Rodgers all have one thing in common: They became Nebraska legends, because they knew how to make plays and produce when it mattered.

    Rodgers, the 1972 Heisman Trophy winner, finished his career with 41 school records, seven conference records and four NCAA records. In 1971, Nebraska beat Oklahoma in the "Game of the Century" thanks in part to Rodgers' 72-yard punt return. He also helped Nebraska win its second national title when he scored on a 77-yard punt return against Alabama in a 38-6 Orange Bowl victory.

    Martinez has the talent to reach that level by the end of his career, but with talented players also come greater expectations. 

Reason No.4 He's a Scapegoat: Losing To The Aggies

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    Much was made about Nebraska's 9-6 loss to Texas A&M in which Martinez suffered a right ankle injury after Nebraska offensive lineman Mike Caputo accidentally stepped on it when Martinez was trying to run. Martinez was taken into the locker room, and trainers examined his ankle. He returned a call to his dad while in there, and the two had a quick conversation.

    When he returned to the field, Pelini was told about the call and he erupted at Martinez. The exchange was caught by cameras. Next day, rumors began flying that Martinez was quitting the team. Nebraska was struggling the entire game, finishing with just three points in the second half.

    Being the starting quarterback sometimes means you're going to have to take the heat when the team struggles to score. 

Reason No.3 He's a Prima Donna: Did He Listen To The Hype?

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    When you're a redshirt freshman, playing for a prestigious program like Nebraska, it would be hard not to ignore talk about being a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. Did that effect Martinez? Who knows. The great players know how to block it out, and know they're judged on wins and losses, making plays and helping their team succeed when it matters most.

    It's easy to think you've arrived and slack off, but the special players usually adopt Tom Brady's attitude of "we haven't accomplished anything yet."

    It's hard to tell if Martinez is already like that, or if that's a mindset he will grow into over time.

Reason No.3 He's a Scapegoat: Not Your Ordinary Coach

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    Bo Pelini isn't the warm and fuzzy type of coach that will make you feel good inside, and who you can picture back-slapping with boosters or having coffee with old-timers.

    The man has some temper issues, dislikes the media and answered questions about Martinez's status for the Big 12 Championship by telling the Lincoln Journal-Star, "I didn't feel that people were entitled to know that he was going to start." 

    Then comes the story from the Holiday Bowl when both Washington and Nebraska had lunch with servicemen aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.

    Both coaches gave out field passes and jerseys to lucky recipients, but then Pelini took it a step further, saying that one lucky person would actually get a chance to call a play during the game. That ended up being Petty Officer 3rd Class Morgan Ryan, a native of Minden, Neb.

    Nebraska lost the game, and when asked by a female reporter about the commitment following the game, Pelini barked, "It was a joke, ma'am."


Reason No. 2 He's a Prima Donna: The Right Approach

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    After a rough game against Texas A&M, Martinez was nowhere to be found (more on that shortly), but it would have been nice for him to come out and say, "You know what, I stunk it up out there, and if I can't get the job done, I deserve to sit and let Cody Green get a start."

    It doesn't take away from your ability if you admit you're struggling and not getting the job done. No one cares about your big game against inferior opponents. They remember what you did against the best teams, and in big-time situations.

Reason No.2 He's a Scapegoat: Watson's The Problem

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    Martinez may have had his bad games, but the bigger problem has been the play-calling of longtime offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, a holdover from the Bill Callahan regime.

    Dirk Chatelain detailed the problems specifically in a story for the Omaha World-Herald:

    "In Bo’s first year, Watson’s offense demonstrated a flaw that dogs it to this day: the inability to identify strengths and weaknesses, focus on a plan for an entire season and execute it. Pelini hired defensive assistants who understood his style and scheme.

    "They laid out a clear (albeit unspoken) vision: Become the best pass defense in America. Everyone seemed to work in unison. Meanwhile, Pelini surrounded Watson with assistants who, other than Ted Gilmore, had never worked with him and had very different schematic backgrounds. They seemed a bit disorganized. 'We knew it was going to be a process,' Watson said in October 2008. 'We’re trying to find our personality.'''

Reason No.1 He's a Prima Donna: Face The Music, Will Ya?

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    Following the Big 12 Championship Game loss to Oklahoma, Martinez disappeared and wasn't available for interviews.

    "He's young and he's stung right now," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "So he's probably not wanting to talk to anybody."

    That's understandable, but Martinez would earn the respect of fans, his teammates and opposing teams by facing the music and answering questions. No, it's not fun, and yes, sometimes the questions are stupid and pointless. It's easy to talk when you win, but it says even more about the kind of person you are when you sit there and politely, thoughtfully answer every question following a tough defeat.

Reason No.1 He's a Scapegoat: Why The Hesitation?

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    Yes, Martinez is the one who operates the offense, but he's also still very young and still is maturing. If Pelini saw him struggling and he wasn't producing, he should have pulled him quicker and used his backup more. There was no need for this to become an issue, and Nebraska still had other talented players to lean on in Rex Burkhead, Roy Helu Jr. and Niles Paul.


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    Read the stories, and Taylor Martinez comes across as a quiet, well-mannered, sharp, intelligent player. A prima donna? Hardly. He's going through the growing pains every college player endures, but it will only benefit him to learn under Pelini and keep getting thrown out there in pressure-filled situations.

    Pelini meanwhile is getting paid a hefty salary to win games, so he faces a whole different kind of pressure. At the same time he needs to keep investing in Martinez, and doing what's necessary to help him develop and grow.