- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman and athletic director Shawn Eichorst issued a statement on Wednesday in support of coach Bo Pelini, saying he would not be disciplined for a profanity-filled audio recording from 2011 that became public this week.
The statement called the audio "unfortunate and deeply concerning to us, as they would be to anyone who loves this university." But Perlman and Eichorst said that Pelini's "demeanor has significantly improved since the time of this incident" and that they were "prepared to put the matter to rest."
That ended any speculation that Pelini might be suspended for this week's game against South Dakota State or even fired for his F-bomb rant after the 2011 win over Ohio State. And it's the right move by the school's leaders.
Pelini's outburst, in which he lashed out at Huskers fans and some local media members, was a major embarrassment to both him and the university. It also became public at a terrible time for Pelini, who was already facing criticism after the latest big loss of his tenure, the Huskers' 41-21 collapse against UCLA on Saturday. In addition, Pelini had an unfortunate public tiff with former Huskers great Tommie Frazier.
If Pelini had uttered those words last week, or done so in a public forum such as at a press conference or on his radio show, then he deserved to at least be suspended, if not outright dismissed. But that audio recording is nearly two years old, and Pelini was taped without his knowledge when he thought he was having a private conversation (and was goaded on, it sure sounded like, by a highly sympathetic audience). Moreover, Nebraska's statement on Wednesday revealed that former athletic director Tom Osborne knew about the recording more than a year ago and discussed it at that time with Pelini.
Osborne and Pelini would probably have been better served by confronting the issue head on instead of allowing it to be leaked, because it was going to come out sooner or later. And the leaker obviously timed it to create the most possible collateral damage.
Disciplining Pelini now would only have a chilling effect on coaches in the future, making them even more guarded in any type of setting than they already are. A few Big Ten coaches on Tuesday basically said they feel comfortable venting their true feelings only to their wives. To Pelini's credit, he has done a good job of changing his image from the crazed sideline screamer he was seen as a couple of years ago.
He showed lots of heart in having young cancer survivor Jack Hoffman run for a touchdown in the spring game, and he goofed around with his players in a "Harlem Shake" video this spring and a prank involving a cellphone last month. Former players like Rex Burkhead and Ndamukong Suh rushed to his defense on Twitter. And Pelini has seemed genuinely apologetic in his public comments since the audio was released, wisely not running away from the controversy but expressing remorse.
Yes, telling fans -- especially ones as loyal and dedicated as Nebraska fans -- to kiss your rear end is never a good idea in any setting. If Big Red Nation wants to punish Pelini for that, they have a simple solution: Don't show up to this week's game, or any of the next few. Voting with empty seats is the strongest tool in the fan arsenal.
The recorded rant will become a part of Pelini's narrative for the rest of his time in Lincoln. If he fails to lead the Huskers to wins in their big games in November -- Michigan State and Northwestern come to town, while Nebraska travels to Michigan -- then that audio becomes one more brick on the wrong end of the scale regarding Pelini's future. Eichorst could certainly use it as part of his justification to make a coaching change if he so chose.
But Pelini will ultimately dig out of this hole only through winning games. Disciplining him before he has a chance to do that serves very little purpose.
1dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman
2dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
2dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy