COLUMBUS, Ohio — College football press boxes are dark-humored places to begin with. The level of sarcasm ramps up greatly at 2 a.m. after beating your head against a miserable deadline.
So I had to smile early Sunday morning when an Ohio sportswriter buddy — on his way to the elevator after Ohio State's 63-38 mashing of Nebraska — offered this parting shot:
“Enjoy your coaching search.”
Just a snarky remark, right? Knowing his sense of humor, yes.
But banter among longtime press box denizens often comes in code language, where some truth lies under the layers of gallows humor. So let's decipher some things.
Do I think Bo Pelini is on the hot seat now? No.
Are there warning signs of trouble to come if certain issues aren't resolved? You better believe it, especially when veteran scribes from outside the area who know how a coach's lifespan plays out start asking questions.
Twice in the past month, Pelini's team has been scorched in a night national TV game. Hey, it can happen.
But it shouldn't happen when in both games it was a first-year coach who took over a program with a losing record trouncing a fifth-year coach who has all his own players.
UCLA and Ohio State were road games. So were Wisconsin and Michigan last year. That increases the degree of difficulty. But not as much as the general disorganization the Huskers too often display away from Memorial Stadium.
When adversity strikes NU on the road, the response generally is tepid play followed by a big mistake by someone trying to do too much in one moment.
It brings to mind the old sports axiom “boys win at home, men win on the road.” Be clear, that's not a dig at the players. It's on the coaches to instill that mind-set and model it with true toughness, not bully talk.
Pelini also has had a habit of creating dragons to slay where there aren't any. His job is hard enough without thinking the media are out to get him and that the fans expect too much.
Now, he has invented another problem.
Nebraska confirmed Thursday that it hired Shawn Eichorst from Miami as its new athletic director. When Pelini was asked for reaction, he acted like he had no interest, saying he was thinking about Ohio State.
|THE SOCIAL GRIDIRON|
|Check out the Social Gridiron to see which team's fans made a bigger dent on Twitter during Saturday's Nebraska-Ohio State game.|
Wrong answer. Really wrong answer.
Especially toward the man whose biggest early duty — whether anyone in NU's administration will admit it — will be a thorough evaluation of the football program and its trend line.
A polished head coach would have said: “I've studied Shawn's résumé. It looks strong and I look forward to working with him for many years to make football the best it can be. Welcome to the Husker Family.”
After five years, the head coach has to “get it” better than this.
And if his answer was more out of stubbornness than “getting it,” that's worse.
The general sense of frustration, uneasiness and malaise around Nebraska football right now is painful. Frankly, everybody involved needs a big hug, and someone in leadership ought to rally the red. The season hardly is over. Remember, this is the Big Ten.
Can Pelini do that, without making it an us-against-the-world deal? More importantly, if he tries, will folks believe he truly means it?
» You hope Rex Burkhead gets some good news soon. No one deserves a big senior season more than everyone's favorite Husker. Injuring his left knee twice and seeing big games get away — plus having his beloved Texas Rangers ousted from the baseball playoffs — has led to a restless fall. But no one will handle this with more grace and class than Burkhead.
» If you need another example of how much every down matters, recall early in the second quarter Saturday night when Nebraska led 14-7 and faced a third-and-goal at the OSU 4-yard line.
With a touchdown for a 21-7 lead, the Huskers might have quieted the notoriously fair-weather Ohio State fans in the Horseshoe and taken control of the game. Instead, Buckeye linebacker Ryan Shazier sacked Taylor Martinez for a 5-yard loss, forcing a field goal.
From there, Ohio State scored touchdowns on its next five possessions, and the rout was on.
» In my haste Sunday morning, I incorrectly wrote that Ohio State had played UTEP. It was UAB. Consider this an “initial” apology.
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>> Video: NU-OSU postgame analysis with Rich Kaipust:
>> Video: Postgame press conference with Bo Pelini: