Volatility sealed Bo Pelini's Nebraska fate

It was always going to end amid controversy for Bo Pelini at Nebraska.

The extremes defined his tenure in Lincoln. There was no middle ground with Pelini. In the final days, you either loved him or you were done with him. The fiery coach, a product of his blue-collar hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, was a lightning rod -- a walking, talking paradox -- in his time at Nebraska.

Pelini, fired Sunday by Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst, won more than any coach at the school over a comparable period. But he lost four games in each of his first six seasons. The man to whom all other coaches at Nebraska are compared, Tom Osborne -- the man who hired Pelini -- never lost more than three games in his 25 years.

Pelini’s consistency was nearly unmatched. Only Alabama and Oregon can equal Nebraska’s nine-plus wins in each season since 2008. But the losses were big, often in blowout fashion.

Consistent yet volatile. It's a bad mix anywhere, especially in conservative Nebraska.

The high moments were aplenty in Pelini’s time. He graduated his players. He largely ran a clean program. His players represented Nebraska well in the community. And they loved their coach.

The Huskers, on his watch, played with a determination that usually served them well in pressure spots, evidenced by his final moments on the field Friday at Iowa as Nebraska roared back from a 17-point deficit in the second half to win 37-34 in overtime.

Yet he never won a conference title. He never led Nebraska to a major bowl game. He was known as much as anything for his red-hot demeanor -- on the sideline and in interviews. There was the video last year in which he criticized Nebraska fans. It all hurt.

His program appeared to lack direction in the Big Ten years. It never forged an identity outside the dramatic wins and crushing defeats.

On Monday, as Pelini left his weekly news conference, a terse meeting with reporters who sought answers the coach could not deliver, he saw freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El waiting to take his turn in front of the cameras.

Pierson-El, eyes cast down, had lost two fumbles in range of Nebraska touchdowns 48 hours prior in a crushing, four-point home loss to Minnesota on Senior Day.

Pelini grabbed Pierson-El by the shoulders and captured his gaze. Don’t feel bad, the coach said. Don’t even think about it.

On Friday at Iowa, four days later, Pierson-El returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown in Nebraska’s comeback and set up another second-half score with a long return. He was a hero, energized by his coach.

“Coach Pelini just trusted in me and got me to snap out of things and think of the bigger picture,” Pierson-El said. “That’s just one moment. There are so many more like it with him.”

But in the end, this discussion was black-and-white, a common Pelini saying. No middle ground.

“Every season is like an epic,” Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said as he exited the tunnel outside Nebraska’s locker room Friday at Kinnick Stadium.

So true. In fact, the wild ride sealed Pelini’s fate. The roller coaster crashed. It was always going to.

There were too many highs and lows. Too much volatility -- in the coach and the team that mirrored him.