The book, The System, by my good friend Jeff Benedict, is out today. Sports Illustrated is writing a controversial report on how Oklahoma State rose to prominence - through illicit acts. Then there's Bo Pelini. Taking over a program that has suffered, and fans who suffered with it. But fans need to remember why Osborne retired after the 1997 season. He won the big ones - at a price.
I spoke with Bo Pelini and I have worked with the officials in the football offices. These men are very concerned that Nebraska wins, but does it differently than the other programs. Sure, I realize that there will be problems. However, Nebraska, unlike many other times, didn't make Jeff Benedict's book. Nebraska is the reason I even know Jeff Benedict. The program was THAT out of control. But they won the big ones.
Pelini sat with the players when I presented about athlete sexual assault and domestic violence. These were players who were completely respectful to me and asked questions more insightful than many other teams to whom I've presented. They gave their attention and Pelini was visibly moved as he sat in the back row on the left side. And he watched the players' reactions, studying their faces and body language. He thanked me for my courage and my commitment to ending the problem of athlete violence. He thanked me for the time I gave to the players and told me how much it had impacted everyone in the room.
Since Pelini and Osborne's arrival into the Nebraska football program, I have seen a change in their approach to football and their almost hostility to the win at all costs attitude. I would think that the fans, having been humiliated during the championship years, would have the same attitude.
I also understand the need to win games. The need for a team's identity, especially in Nebraska. The Nebraska identity of smash mouth football where opponents were worn down over four quarters is still needed. But I can't wade into those waters from a coaching perspective. Maybe Tommie can. And in many respects, Tommie's comments reflect those of players from that era who take a lot of pride in the on the field accomplishments of the team. Tommie's comments can't be discounted. And for sure, it is widely known that humiliating losses don't bring in Nebraska recruits. Players came to Nebraska because of the football reputation, Osborne, the facilities and everything that was built around football. Osborne, Switzer, Bowden and Paterno made football the arms race it is today. Just being able to play for Osborne was enough. No one cared about the remoteness of Nebraska and the culture shock that awaited. Playing for the Big Red was enough. But it's different now.
So, there's Bo Pelini with his emotional, raw and obnoxious nature that has no patience for off the field antics who says there are things bigger than football. Then there was Osborne, whom I consider a friend, with his quiet, introspective nature who had players frequently on the police blotters and helped craft the football arms race. Do I think you can have an Osborne type on the field team and a Pelini off the field team? Yes. I also think Pelini needs to recognize that the fans frustration comes from really ignoring the foundation, tradition and identity that is Nebraska Football. Ignoring that premise has brought enemies and calls for his firing. Not the profanity or the disrespect.
So, this can be fixed if the embattled coach and the embattled fans can strike a balance. This is a business. Pelini has millions of shareholders to impress and those shareholders merely want a hat tip to the on the field tradition that took years in the making and provided them with an identity. The fans need to accept that those wins came at an embarrassing cost that caused devastation to the lives of innocent people. Move on from there, and let's see what happens.