LINCOLN — It’s his staff now. His offense. His team. His fingerprints.
When Nebraska football spring practice kicks off Saturday, the Bo Pelini Era begins anew in many ways. New conference. New challenges.
The Huskers have the official Pelini stamp now. For many coaches, this is the fun part.
Are we having fun yet?
“I feel really good about how it ended up,’’ Pelini said after Tuesday’s press conference. “But the process was really hard.’’
“It’s not fun,’’ Pelini said. “I mean, I lost some guys who were friends. They’re good football coaches. Fortunately, it worked out in such a way that the guys who wanted to get jobs got jobs. I’m really happy about that.
“That was important to me.’’
Pelini is a man of few words and fewer press conferences and public appearances. That will drive some media and fans batty. They want total transparency. No doubt some wanted Pelini to give an hour’s discourse on the new offense, complete with handouts and playbooks.
Or maybe just explain what the new offense is supposed to do. We assume, score.
Pelini did not budge. He refused to give the offense a label or describe it in any detail, other than to say folks will see soon enough what kind of attacking offense he plans to unleash on the Big Ten.
But this is classic Bo. This is the Bo you signed up for. This is the Bo you got. He’s going to do it his way.
You want to know Bo? Don’t pay attention to the words. Pay attention to the actions.
Pelini offered a peek into his soul this winter. Even as people were railing on about how he delayed the announcement of firings and hirings, Pelini was showing his wares.
He didn’t want Watson or Gilmore on the streets until he had helped them find a job. Watson landed a quarterbacks coaching job at Louisville, without Pelini’s help. Gilmore landed at USC with Pelini’s assistance.
“I had a plan the whole way,’’ Pelini said. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do, how I wanted to get there. I wanted to do it the right way for me, and for the guys. People may not agree with how I did it, but I have to do it the way I see fit.’’
Would you do it the same way again?
“Absolutely,’’ he said.
“If I start making decisions based on what the fans want or what the media want ... I have to do it the way I feel is the right way. It may not be the right way for everybody. But at the end of the day, that’s how I had to do it. I stuck with it, and I’m happy I did.’’
An ironic twist: Pelini said Watson wanted to leave. It was an amicable parting.
“I consider Shawn a friend,’’ Pelini said. “He’s a tremendous coach. It got to the point where he couldn’t be right no matter what ...
“There was such a negative air around everything ... It was his decision as much as anything. He had said, ‘I’ve got to move on.’ You get to the point where you get beat up the way he was getting beat up, I mean, he has goals. He’s done a lot in his career. It had become like the snowball was running so fast, it was out of control. He wanted to remove himself from the situation as much as anything else.’’
Pelini touched on several other offensive topics:
On whether the offense’s performance in the past two Big 12 championship games and the recent Holiday Bowl was a reason for the change: “I won’t say at what point, but it became very obvious to me what we had to do. All you’ve got to do is look at the statistics. We had our opportunity to win some football games, and we didn’t. I want to attack people. I want to get after them.’’
On whether Watson was unable to totally let go of the West Coast offense: “Wats is a guy who grew up and was ingrained in the West Coast offense. It wasn’t some of the things we were doing I didn’t agree with. It was how we were getting to it. How we were calling it. I could talk about it, but that isn’t doing anybody any good. At the end of the day, I wanted the offensive system to marry what we were doing defensively. And play off each other.’’
On how he wants his offense to mirror his defensive style: “You have to know why you are doing things. I don’t think you can play this game if you don’t understand the why. You can’t make split-second decisions to play good football and play confident football. That has always been my goal. That hasn’t been reality. That’s my fault. I’ve got to look in the mirror.’’
On why he hired John Garrison to assist Barney Cotton on the offensive line and if that was a reflection on Cotton:
“I talked with several people about it, Coach (Tom) Osborne, Milt (Tenopir). I talked to Barney, and he’s all for it. He’s very excited.
“It’s not what we were doing on the line. It’s how we were doing it. I thought we misblocked some things. I don’t want to start pointing the finger at Wats or anything, but I thought we needed to clean some things up, simplify some things so the players can play fast and aggressive. I don’t know that we always did that.
“I want a higher level of consistency, coming off the ball. I want them to know what they’re doing, so they can play aggressive and get after people.’’
On whether his offense will be physical enough to sustain a long drive to eat clock and finish a game: “You better believe it.’’
On whether he consulted other offensive coaches in the game during this change: “I talked to a lot of people, but I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to get done. And that’s why I went with Tim Beck. He’s smart. He’s creative. He’s extremely intelligent. We see things very similarly. I’m very excited about that.’’
His guys. His way.
“I don’t want to get into that,’’ Pelini said. “No one forced me to hire Shawn Watson or Ted Gilmore. Those guys are good football coaches. But at the end of the day, what was needed in this program right now, on the offensive side of the ball, was a new lease on life.
“The players were very hungry for the change. When negativity follows you, it’s hard to get out from underneath that. I thought the change was necessary. The reason the change was necessary was because I as a head coach didn’t get it done, and I’m looking for the best way to get it done.’’
It’s Bo’s way now. Did he nail it? Time will tell. And actions will speak louder than words.
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