The start and end of spring football brought Husker fans a different look at Bo Pelini. Typically, fans get the characterization of the hot-headed, angry football coach. Yelling at his players, yelling at the officials, yelling at the media. So it's newsworthy when we see something that doesn't fit that stereotype.
The Harlem Shake during the first practice, with Bo Pelini breaking it down? That's so un-Pelini-like, right?
Bo Pelini in a Harlem Shake video? If I was a betting man I wld have lost every penny I had. youtube.com/watch?v=bGVagr…— David Pollack(@davidpollack47) March 5, 2013
Then in the spring game, it was the heartwarming story of 7 year old pediatric cancer patient Jack Hoffman scoring on a 69 yard touchdown run.
And even before spring practice, Pelini again caught the nation and the media off-guard by taking his son to a Duke/North Carolina game.
Who is this guy, and what has he done with that sociopath head coach that has been on the rampage in Lincoln?
Or maybe, the reality of the situation is that the "sociopath" is a gross misrepresentation of Bo Pelini. That's not to imply that all of the sideline videos of Pelini storming at players and coaches are frauds, but rather, they are only part of the puzzle. And like any puzzle, when you only have a few of the pieces, you really don't have an accurate picture.
This spring, the nation was reminded of some other aspects of Bo Pelini that many people didn't know about. Or forgotten. Back in 2007, Yahoo's Jason King profiled Bo Pelini, the defensive coordinator at then-#1 LSU. As the Bill Callahan/Steve Pederson error entered it's final freefall, Pelini was the hot young assistant in college football. And King painted the same impression that we've seen again this year. The doting father who spends the morning of a huge prime-time game against the defending national champion at his kids' soccer game. Joins his daughter for lunch in the elementary school cafeteria. Loosens up the team by faking a fight with a fellow assistant coach.
Some Husker fans forgot about that Bo Pelini; most probably hadn't even heard about it. It's the same guy. So how do you explain Bo Pelini? He's actually made it pretty simple. He even tells you himself on his "This is Nebraska" web site:
This is Nebraska football. A tradition filled with passion, loyalty, excellence, accountability, and most importantly, family.
That's the program Bo Pelini is building, and building to his specifications. It's incomplete at this point, and certainly games like 70-31 represent a step back from the end goal. But look at Pelini's words, and that might give you a different perspective on Pelini and his behavior.
Passion. Loyalty. Excellence. Accountability. Family.
Screaming at referees? That's passion. Has it been overdone? Absolutely. Pelini will tell you that himself. He's toned it down a bit. But passion is at his core, and it's what Pelini wants - and demands - on the field.
Loyalty? Pelini is loathe to publicly call out his players and his assistants. That earns him criticism from the media with his halftime and postgame interviews, because he isn't going to throw individuals under the bus. Think halftime of the 2012 Capital One Bowl after South Carolina's Alshon Jeffrey caught a "Hail Mary" touchdown pass just before halftime. Think the 2009 Virginia Tech game when Hokie receiver Danny Coale caught an 84 yard pass to set up the game winning score; when Pelini was asked what happened, Pelini turned the question around and asked "What do you think?" rather than call out Matt O'Hanlon. And when the Omaha World-Herald's Dirk Chatelain took a cheap shot at Taylor Martinez prior to the 2011 Ohio State game, Pelini defended his quarterback after the stunning comeback victory.
Excellence is something Nebraska fans are still looking for. Nine win seasons aren't bad, but the magnitude of recent losses rightfully raise concerns. In 2009 and 2010, Nebraska probably claims at least one, if not two, conference championships with a better offense. Then the situation suddenly reversed; Nebraska probably could have claimed conference titles with a better defense the last two years. Accountability? Bo Pelini repeatedly says how he and his coaching staff have to coach better, but that's of little comfort when you see Wisconsin run another jet sweep for a touchdown.
And then there is family. Pelini has stressed that feeling of family throughout the program. The players repeatedly defend Pelini when critics suggest that players are turned off by his methods. Take this comment from Daimion Stafford, after cameras caught Pelini and Stafford having an animated discussion on the sidelines in last season's Penn State game:
"People are making something out of nothing," Stafford said. "Me and Bo both, we know what's going on. We know we're good. That's all that really matters. We're one big family. Family members fight. I fight with my dad. I fight with my mom. It's nothing. I love Bo, that's why I came here."
And family is where Jack Hoffman came in. Rex Burkhead invited him into the Husker family, and he's now a member of it. It doesn't matter who's idea it was, or who had the idea initially. It's Pelini's culture that made it happen. Would something like this have happened during the Bill Callahan era? We'll never know; all we know is that it happened under Pelini's watch.
And that's causing people to take a second look at Bo Pelini. When they do so, hopefully they'll stop to reconsider their past opinions on Pelini and put them into the context of Pelini's philosophy.
Passion. Loyalty. Excellence. Accountability. Family.
Some people think Pelini is hard to understand, especially after he "Harlem Shakes" and let #TeamJack steal the spotlight this spring. But I disagree; just remember those five core elements in the Pelini philosophy, and it all makes sense.
Now, if he can just get his defense back to playing fundamentally sound football, we'll be assured that Nebraska has a winner on the sidelines.