LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst did his part Wednesday to cool any speculation about coach Bo Pelini entering the season on the hot seat.
In a 45-minute interview with The Associated Press and reporters from the state’s two largest newspapers, Eichorst said the program is “stable” and that the Huskers have a “seasoned coach who has won a bunch of games.”
Pelini has won at least nine games each of his six years at Nebraska but has never lost fewer than four. The Huskers haven’t won a conference championship since 1999, though Pelini led them to title games in the Big 12 in 2009 and 2010 and in the Big Ten in 2012.
Last year was turbulent. A secretly recorded audio of Pelini criticizing fans in 2011 went public two days after the Huskers blew an 18-point lead in a home loss to UCLA. Pelini nearly struck a sideline official with his cap while arguing a call in a home loss to Iowa, and afterward when asked about his job status, he said, “If they want to fire me, go ahead.”
Eichorst issued a statement of support the next day, and Nebraska finished 9-4 after a bowl win over Georgia. Pelini received a one-year contract extension through February 2019.
“I really enjoy what he brings to the table,” Eichorst said. “He’s the first to admit he’s kind of walked that line a little bit. Everybody is different. You’ve got calm and collected, high strung and everything in between. I try not to make judgments about that.”
Eichorst, who’s entering his second full year after succeeding Tom Osborne, said he has three priorities for every coach at Nebraska.
“Represent the University of Nebraska with honor and distinction, number one. Number two, give our kids, our students, an exceptional opportunity they can’t get anywhere else. And then compete for championships. Everybody wants to win. But you can’t win `em all. And you’ve got to have reasonable expectations.”
Asked if Pelini has met the three priorities to his satisfaction, Eichorst said, “Sure. I think so, yeah. I think folks are well-intended. There is no question about it.”
After the season Eichorst met with Pelini to find out what he needed to be more successful. Eichorst said he granted Pelini’s requests for additional staff for recruiting, aircraft for recruiting and technology for football operations.
“We’ve done everything they’ve asked us to do, within reason, so to me that should be a sign of support right there,” Eichorst said.
Pelini has softened his image the past few months. He carried a cat above his head as he walked through the stadium tunnel before the spring game, a nod to the picture on a parody Twitter account called “Faux Pelini.” A couple weeks ago Pelini surprised players by suiting up in the alternate uniform the Huskers will wear against Illinois next month.
Eichorst pointed out that none of those antics were scripted “on this end.”
Eichorst noted Nebraska’s long tradition of success, which includes five national championships, and said he’s optimistic about the program’s future with the College Football Playoff beginning this season.
“We’ve won a lot of ball games, and we’ve got a lot more ball games to win,” he said. “We’re entering a neat era in college football. I think we’re stable. We have a seasoned coach who has won a bunch of games. We’re resourced the right way. So we should be optimistic. We have good kids in our program. It’s never been about a lack of effort or passion.
“Sometimes you have those magical seasons. You guys have been around a lot of them. I hope to be part of one soon.”