Questions linger around Pelini

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Maybe Bo Pelini was right.

Maybe the media did create this story -- the latest bizarre chapter in Nebraska’s twisted, 16-year roller-coaster ride since Tom Osborne’s 1997 retirement.

Perhaps first-year athletics director Shawn Eichorst never considered firing Pelini. Because if he did, well, the coach gave Eichorst every opportunity on Friday. Pelini dared the Nebraska administration to run him out of town, even after 57 wins in six years and a shot at another nine-win season in the upcoming bowl game.

Maybe Eichorst, less than a year on the job, simply blinked first in offering a statement of support for Pelini on Saturday. Or did Eichorst learn from the Nebraska’s past mistakes and stay with Pelini because the administrator was unsure if he could find a better replacement?

Was it the money, with Pelini owed nearly $8 million if cut loose, not to mention the cost of replacing his staff and hiring a new coach?

Likely, we’ll never know. Beyond his 104-word statement, information from Eichorst or anyone else at Memorial Stadium might be sparse for a while.

Eichorst described the firestorm of conversation that Pelini would lose his job as “unfounded speculation and conjecture.”

Interesting, though, since Pelini seemed worried he was gone.

That’s almost indisputable, based on his actions Friday in berating the officials during his postgame press conference (he can expect a call from the Big Ten next week) and how he gambled uncharacteristically in the game.

He wasn’t himself.

Whether you stood behind Pelini or against him, most people here, after Friday, believed the end was near. Eichorst’s silence only fueled the speculation. Now that seems like water under the bridge.

Good for Bo. Good for his assistant coaches and players, validated by their faith in the program and belief that progress was underway.

Moving forward, there will be a few items that linger:

Don’t read much into the wording of Eichorst’s statement. The AD said he looked forward to “our upcoming bowl game with Coach Pelini continuing to lead our program in the future.”

Immediately after the release of the statement, the questions began: Did Eichorst leave himself room to fire Pelini after the bowl? Was this just a tactic to buy time in finding a new coach, the dreaded vote of confidence? No and no. That’s not how business is conducted in college football with signing day looming in early February.

Eichorst is a laywer by trade. He knows about loopholes, no doubt. But if you want to get rid of a coach, you do it at the end of the regular season. Silly season is upon us. Unless Pelini chooses to leave, he’ll coach the Huskers in 2014.

Don’t expect Pelini to clean house. A faction of the anti-Bo crowd could be swayed to the other side if convinced that he would make staff changes in the offseason to address a few deficiencies. If we know one thing about Pelini, it’s the depth of his loyalty to assistant coaches.

He won’t fire his guys. He might reassign some responsibilities or help coaches find other jobs. But wholesale changes would rank as a bigger surprise than anything in Eichorst’s statement on Saturday.

Nebraska will attempt to address its problems with turnovers and special teams and probably the issues within strength and conditioning that contributed to some of the injuries this season. But it’ll be most of the same people in charge.

Pelini could still leave. Just because Nebraska is committed to its coach, he might not feel the same way. He’s not at the top of many lists of hot coaching candidates, but Pelini might pursue a coordinator job in the NFL or an attractive college opening.

It’s no secret that he’s fed up with aspects of his situation at Nebraska and his relationship with the media took another hit over the past few weeks. Could life under the microscope drive him away, despite a contract that runs another four years? Unlikely, but it’s worth watching.

This may serve as a defining moment for Pelini. Momentum works in strange ways. In 2010 as Nebraska churned forward on its way out of the Big 12, Pelini and his program experienced a rough day at Texas A&M. Pelini threw a fit on the sideline. Chancellor Harvey Perlman admonished him in public. You can argue the Huskers reversed direction in College Station and have yet to fully regain traction.

Might the experiences of this tumultuous season galvanize Nebraska and provide a focus for the Huskers to overcome their problems? As the Big Ten realigns and the Huskers fit into the West, perhaps they’ll find a way to use this year as motivation to rise above Iowa and Minnesota and challenge Wisconsin for supremacy.

Maybe this is when Nebraska finds itself again and the dizzying, 16-year roller-coaster ride rolls to a stop.