Published Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 11:01 am
FOOTBALL
Osborne knew of Pelini tape last fall; Perlman, Eichorst won't punish coach

LINCOLN — Tom Osborne wouldn't say how or if he disciplined Bo Pelini upon learning of the audiotape that eventually went public Monday, but on Wednesday he recalled telling the Nebraska football coach that it “could really be damaging to the program.”

The audio was first brought to Osborne's attention by Chris Anderson of the NU athletic department last fall, more than a year after the Pelini rant was taped without his knowledge on Oct. 8, 2011, in the aftermath of the Huskers' emotional 34-27 comeback win over Ohio State.

Asked what action followed after the audio was discovered and Osborne met with Pelini, Osborne told The World-Herald: “That'd be between me and Bo.”

“He's an adult person and he knows the consequences,” said Osborne, the NU athletic director at the time. “So we worked it out. My main objective was to try to help Bo and make things better.”

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman and Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst issued a joint statement Wednesday disclosing that there would be no further discipline for Pelini, saying: “We are prepared to put the matter to rest.”

Nebraska returns to the field Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. home game against South Dakota State.

Osborne, who retired as athletic director on Jan. 1 and officially left the department on July 1, decided at the time not to go to Perlman with the audio and said he did not know the future intent of the person who had it. He first told Perlman and Eichorst of his knowledge of the audio after it came out Monday on Deadspin.com.

“It was more than a year old,” Osborne said. “It wasn't an NCAA issue. It wasn't a criminal activity of any kind. I just assumed it was something that we could handle. There are so many things that come up, if you ran over to the chancellor every time some potential time bomb came in front of you … that's all you'd do.

“It may have been an error in judgment on my part in light of the huge uproar this week, but we were all busy with a lot of other things at the time.”

The audio was obtained Monday by Deadspin and posted on the sports website almost immediately. It included Pelini — between his postgame press conference and the start of his postgame interview with the Husker Sports Network — uttering a number of profanities as he commented on two World-Herald writers and Husker fans.

Osborne said most people can relate to a time when they made particular comments and assumed they were private, but he acknowledged that the nature of Pelini's language and tone were upsetting when he heard the audio.

“Obviously I was really concerned about it,” he said.

Osborne, however, said Wednesday that he had seen growth from Pelini in the 14 months between the incident and the audio being brought to his attention. And then in the ensuing time before Osborne eventually stepped away.

“Bo obviously is a hot reactor, but I think he's less so than he used to be,” Osborne said. “I think his sideline comportment is definitely better and not much different than any coach — any coach can get emotional on the sideline occasionally — and I think Bo has become more introspective and open to trying to improve or change. That's part of coaching, to change and adapt.”

Osborne also issued a statement Wednesday:

“While the comments were certainly not good, I realized that Bo had gone through an emotional week and an emotional game and was in a setting where he thought his comments were entirely private. I visited with Bo on a weekly basis and did not find that his attitude toward the fans or the press as expressed by those comments were at all in keeping with what I knew his true attitude to be. He understands that the most important asset the Athletic Department has is the amazing fan support that we enjoy.

“Bo's academic record with the football team has been the best in my recollection. The behavior of his players has been excellent for the most part, he has won three divisional championships and had one of the best win-loss records in college football for the past five years. I recognize that there have occasionally been controversies but I have seen a willingness to change, reflect and improve in Bo over the years. I am very hopeful that the players, coaches and fans will pull together as unity of purpose has been one of our major assets over the last 50 years.”

Pelini was not scheduled to meet with the news media Wednesday after responding to questions Tuesday on the Big Ten teleconference and after practice. The sixth-year head coach is expected to next meet with reporters after practice Thursday.

Pelini said Tuesday that his only interaction with Perlman and Eichorst happened on Monday, and he declined to say if any sort of discipline or suspension was ever discussed.

“I fully anticipate coaching this weekend,” Pelini said Tuesday night. “I haven't been given any assurance, but you just proceed with the information that you have. I'm the head football coach until somebody says different.”

Pelini did a national radio segment Wednesday morning during the “On Campus With Bill King” show on SiriusXM. Pelini told King that “I have an idea” about the identity of the person who leaked the audio, after saying Tuesday that it was still unknown.

“I think we're a lot closer to that, if it hasn't been completely determined already,” Pelini said.

Pelini also told King he was confident about his future at NU, where he owns a 51-21 record but has been plagued by a host of lopsided losses in recent seasons.

“You can't put anything to rest until everybody's on the same page, all the investigation's been done, all the due diligence has been done,” Pelini said in the interview. “That involves more than just me. It involves, you know, there was a lot to this. And so, at the end of the day, it doesn't make any sense to rush to judgment and rush to make statements and that type of thing until everybody can do their job. That's what's being done in this case.”

David Witty, general manager of the Husker Sports Network, has not returned calls to The World-Herald this week.

The 1-minute, 41-second audio came as Pelini talked privately with Husker football play-by-play voice Greg Sharpe and Anderson, NU's associate athletic director for community relations. Some of Pelini's rant had to do with those in a Memorial Stadium crowd that left after Nebraska trailed 20-6 at halftime and 27-6 early in the third quarter before rallying.

Pelini is heard saying: “It took everything in my power to not say, 'F--- you, fans. F--- all of you.' F--- 'em.”

The audio also includes him saying fans can “kiss my a-- on my way out the f------ door. 'Cause the day is f------ coming now.”

Both Perlman and Eichorst said in Monday statements that they were disappointed in the audio and were “in discussions” about how to handle it. At least one booster contacted by The World-Herald referred to the audio as “disturbing.”

In the joint statement released Wednesday, Perlman and Eichorst said they believed Pelini was “sincere in his apology and his regret,” and talked about moving forward.

The Perlman-Eichorst statement released by NU:

“The comments made by Head Football Coach Bo Pelini in 2011, published Monday, are unfortunate and deeply concerning to us, as they would be to anyone who loves this university.

Our coaches, staff and student-athletes must be held to a high standard and Coach Pelini's remarks were unfair to the legions of Nebraska fans and not what we expect from a representative of this university.

Former Director of Athletics Tom Osborne became aware of these comments and the existence of a recording more than a year ago, and addressed the matter with Coach Pelini.

We have observed, and many others have commented, that Coach Pelini's demeanor has significantly improved since the time of this incident. Coach Pelini has given us his assurance that he understands the seriousness and inappropriateness of his comments.

We believe he is sincere in his apology and in his regret. We are prepared to put the matter to rest. Our football student-athletes, coaches and staff deserve all of our support and we know the Nebraska faithful will be there for them.”

Perlman said in an interview that the fact that Osborne had already been aware of the matter and dealt with it was not a consideration for Perlman and Eichorst this week as they decided how to respond to the public revelation. But in the end, they decided no further action was necessary.

Both Osborne and Perlman said Wednesday they do not know who disclosed the audio to Deadspin.

Osborne lived through his share of Husker football controversy during a career that started in 1962 and included time as a graduate assistant, assistant coach, head coach and athletic director. Often he watched time heal all wounds.

So how might Husker fans react to Pelini on Saturday after hearing what they heard?

“It's hard to know,” Osborne said. “I suppose there'll be some people that'll be totally turned off, but I don't suspect that will be true of the majority.”

World-Herald staff writer Henry J. Cordes contributed to this report.

* * *

Videos: Complete coverage of the fallout from the Bo Pelini audio tape:

Contact the writer: Rich Kaipust

rich.kaipust@owh.com    |   402-444-1042    |  

Rich Kaipust is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and some general assignment tasks, including the College World Series and U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.

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