There are times when Bo Pelini reminds me of my dad.
My dad was a football coach. He helped found the Small Fry league in my tiny Upstate New York town. He coached kids between the ages of nine and 13. He taught the fundamentals. He taught trick plays. He taught you how to tackle the old fashioned way – hard and low – to make sure the runner didn’t go one more yard once you made contact with him.
He also yelled – a lot. He yelled at other coaches. He yelled at parents. He yelled at referees. Sometimes, he’d yell at the kids. He didn’t yell because he was an asshole. He yelled because he wanted to see the kids he coached win the way he taught them to win. He took ownership of the knowledge and style of play he passed on to his players.
If any coach, parent, referee or player attempted to thwart his “process”, they got a serious tongue-lashing. It’s just the way it was. It’s just the way he was.
And his players loved him for it.
In that sense, I see a lot of my dad in Bo Pelini. Bo yells – a lot. He yells at everyone. He yells because somebody has pissed him off and become an unnecessary obstacle in “the process.”
Most of us who grew up before the soccer-mom revolution sissified a nation of kids and replaced garden hoses with juice boxes understand football – real football. It’s not a gentleman’s game. It’s not a game for the soft-spoken. It’s a game where you need to get somewhere to win and to get there; you need to inflict violence on those who stand in the way of you doing so.
Your feelings and emotional well-being aren’t really factored into that equation.
For that reason, I think people who share my feelings and experiences in regard to football have a special place in our hearts for those old-school, grab you by the facemask and tell you about yourself coaches.
We have a place in our hearts for Bo Pelini.
Winning over the rest of you hasn’t really been Pelini’s forte since he took over at Nebraska. I hear a lot of comments about how disrespectful he is. I hear people say he has no class. I hear people say he shouldn’t treat his players and coaches the way he does.
Most of the people that I hear say those things didn’t play football. Many of them are mothers who couldn’t imagine a man like Pelini spitting hot fire into the face of their little boy. Many of them wish he were more like Tom Osborne.
Bo Pelini will never win over those people. People who’ve never played the game will never understand his intensity. Mothers who want to shelter their children from someone dressing them down will always be that way – overprotective of their child’s feelings and emotional well being. People who want Pelini to be more like Osborne better pull up a chair and get comfy. The only time Pelini will ever be anything like Osborne from a personality standpoint is when they are both in their final resting places.
There is another segment of the population where the jury is still out on Pelini. I’m not hip to the generational lingo or titles we’ve given to generations since Gen-X, but this generation of young people between ages 13 and 25 who are plugged into the 24-hour news/social media feed are a demographic that Bo Pelini could conquer.
This new generation, for better or worse, speaks their minds publicly without fear of retribution, especially when they think something stinks. Sound like any coach you know?
This new generation learns about people, places and things one Vine or Tweet at a time. Whether it’s a Harlem Shake video or a snarky back-and-forth with the best fake profile on Twitter, Bo Pelini is right there – all up in your social network.
It’s been over two days since Pelini damn near broke the internet by walking out of the tunnel for Nebraska’s spring game holding a cat and raising it Lion King style. ESPN loved it. Everyone who got the joke loved it. If you didn’t get the joke, you did research to figure out why what he did was so awesome, and then, you loved it.
That’s Bo Pelini. Little by little, he’s coming out of his shell – pulling back the curtains on his world. It’s a world that many thought for the longest time was loud, dark and violent like his sideline behavior. We’re now finding out that like most successful people whom are enjoyable to be around in this world, Bo Pelini has a dial and is fully capable of adjusting it according to what’s going on.
When it’s time to work, Bo works. When it’s time to play, Bo plays. When it’s time to yell, Bo roars. I can get on board with that. I think most people can as well.
As volatile as Bo Pelini seems at times, it’s ironic that he coaches perhaps the least complex program in college football – The Nebraska Cornhuskers.
There is nothing — and I mean NOTHING fancy about Nebraska football. Plain red jerseys. White helmets with a block red “N” on each side. Old stadium on the plains.
But they do it right. Nebraska is that program we thought Penn State was before their troubles two years ago. They are the model of college football – from the history and tradition to the dedicated fanbase and their style of play over the years.
You hardly ever hear a fan of a college football team who isn’t a rival of Nebraska say a bad word about the program. I’ve been in places like Buffalo, Charlottesville, Tampa, Tucson and New Orleans where fans of other teams take a moment at a sports bar and acknowledge that Nebraska is on TV and talk about how much respect they have for the program.
So here Bo Pelini sits — at the helm of one of the most nationally respected and admired programs in the country — on the cusp of turning the page on his national image. In the eyes of the people who matter, he’s both the old-school fire-breathing coach who won’t tolerate failure and the lovable dad-like figure who plays along and trolls a Twitter account that trolls him.
The sport of college football has been called by some, including myself, broken and full of dirty car salesman who practice things like dishonesty and over-signing. Bo Pelini is becoming a likable and honest alternative to what has become the norm in a sport that was once great and can be again.
And this reminds me – I need to give my dad a call.
BY J.P. SCOTT ON APRIL 14, 2014
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