Bo Pelini talked about the intense focus Husker football receives in Nebraska at the Big Ten media days in Chicago on Friday and how that presents a conundrum for his team. He says the scrutiny at Nebraska is greater than it is at other places he's coached, namely Oklahoma and LSU. Sure, there's a focus there...but it's not a year-round "barrage" like it is at Nebraska. Sounds negative towards Husker fans, doesn't it? Tom Shatel thought so and wrote about it in the World-Herald yesterday.
But Shatel omitted the following quote that puts it into context. Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star did mention it, and it's an important thing to remember:
"But it just is the way it is. It’s not going away. And believe me, the fans' passion for it, and the media, that’s a positive. But there are issues with that, too, that relate to our football team and how you keep them focused and heading in a certain direction."
Note the emphasis. The fan focus is not a negative, as Shatel tried to paint it. It's a positive. It's a good thing for Nebraska.
It also presents a challenge for Pelini.
Correction: Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald reminded us that his colleague Sam McKewon included that quote in a story published on Saturday. I stand corrected on that point, but I do question why Shatel didn't include that quote in his Sunday column. I still believe that Shatel took Pelini's quote out of context.
"You guys know. Not just the media, but I’m talking with the fan base, or in town. You play good and you’re the ’85 Bears. You lose and the sky is falling. Or you don’t play well and the world’s coming to an end. There’s not a lot of middle ground."
Pelini pointed out what happened last year after the Huskers walloped Michigan State. Nebraska jumped into the Top Ten, and people got excited. Then they went out and played poorly to Northwestern. And the critics came out in force.
Take another example: quarterback Taylor Martinez. In October 2010, some Husker fans tried to make the freshman quarterback a Heisman Trophy candidate. He gets injured, things go badly, and he goes into a slump. And by October 2011, now all of a sudden, he needs to be benched. Or transfer. Or drawn and quartered.
Pelini's solution? Try to isolate yourself from the noise:
"You tell your players: Don’t read the blogs, don’t do this and that. But they’re human, they hear it, they see it,. I as much worry about it when things are going good as when things are going bad … because they ride the waves."
Pelini's somewhat old-school in his thoughts regarding the online networking world. He admitted that someone else in the athletic department manages his rarely used Twitter account. He's banned his players from using Twitter twice now. But even so, he uses Facebook privately to stay in touch with players and recruits.
I understand why Pelini feels the way he does, and is responding the way he does. It's hard to ignore people who are throwing roses or bricks your way, but ignoring it is something you have to do.
And Shatel just reinforced Pelini's point. Many more people will read Shatel's column without the context the Journal-Star provided. [Correction: Or Shatel's colleague provided in the previous day's World-Herald.] They'll get on the message forums, Facebook, Twitter, and the sports call-in shows this afternoon and react to part of what Pelini said. Going off half-cocked and not realizing that the onus is on his team to be able to manage the situation.
If you think Pelini wants Husker fans to tone down their enthusiasm for Nebraska football, you're dead wrong. Shatel started his column yesterday completely 180 from what Pelini apparently said. I didn't have the exact quote; nobody reported on it until Sunday. (Which seems weird that it percolated for nearly 48 hours in this Twitter culture before exploding on Sunday.) The conclusion of Shatel's column is fine; Nebraska needs to get back to a BCS bowl game - not just the Rose Bowl. Nebraska football needs to meet the high standards that fans have set. That's Bo Pelini's job.
Pelini doesn't want his players reading blogs like CornNation? Well, we try to be "middle ground" here, but we're also fans. We get just as irritated after a loss and just as ecstatic after a victory as the rest of Husker fans. But we're serving a different audience. The World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star want you to buy newspapers and pay for their online features; they have to be provocative to get you to spend your money with them. Sports radio and our fellow message boards and blogs want you to interact, and the best way to get that done is to stimulate discussion. Or maybe "controversy" is the better subject.
That's good for the media business, whether you are hard-copy or electronic.
That's bad for trying to get a football team ready to play.
That's where Bo Pelini is coming from. He's got his job. We're doing ours.
Don't confuse the two. They don't run counter to each other, but they don't always compliment each other either.