LINCOLN, Neb. -- Did you really expect Bo Pelini to go quietly?
The former Nebraska coach, in audio obtained by the Omaha World-Herald, brashly criticized Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst during a meeting Pelini held with his ex-players at a Lincoln high school Dec. 2, two days after he was fired. The university shot back on Wednesday.
Pelini, in a 30-minute talk with his former players, according to the newspaper report, offered support for the players. Much of his talk, though, focused on Eichorst and the difficult environment he fostered at Nebraska, according to the coach.
“There were agendas, and that goes all the way over to the chancellor's office,” Pelini said, according to the World-Herald. “And between the AD and the chancellor and they want their own guy in here, go ahead. Good luck to ya.”
Pelini was introduced Wednesday as the coach at Youngstown State.
Nebraska announced the hire of Mike Riley from Oregon State on Dec. 4. Pelini’s former assistant coaches have remained in Lincoln to coach the Huskers through the Dec. 27 National University Holiday Bowl. Secondary coach Charlton Warren has accepted a position on Riley’s staff, according to several recruits he has contacted.
Pelini’s profanity-laced comments to the players reveal a significant rift between the coach at the athletic director.
And, let’s be honest, that’s no surprise. The support of Eichorst and chancellor Harvey Perlman appeared to waver in September 2013 after the release of a two-year-old audio tape in which Pelini criticized Nebraska fans.
Eichorst offered a statement of support for Pelini two days after the audio tape was released by Deadspin, though their relationship was always suspected to be icy.
Pelini’s comments in the latest audio leak confirmed the suspicion. He detailed for his former players how Eichorst fired him on Nov. 30, less than 48 hours after Nebraska beat Iowa in overtime to finish the regular season at 9-3.
"A guy like [Eichorst] who has no integrity; he doesn’t even understand what a core value is," Pelini said in the new audio obtained by the Omaha newspaper. "And he hasn’t understood it from the day he got here. I saw it when I first met with the guy.
"To have core values means you have to be about something, you have to represent something, you have to have something that is important to you. He is a f---ing lawyer who makes policies. That’s all he’s done since he’s been here is hire people and make policies to cover his own ass."
Nebraska responded Wednesday with a strongly worded statement, noting that it could not authenticate the Pelini remarks:
"If these comments were, indeed, spoken by Mr. Pelini, we are extremely disappointed," the statement read, "but it only reaffirms the decision that he should no longer be a leader of young men at Nebraska. His habitual use of inappropriate language and his personal and professional attacks on administrators are antithetical to the values of our university.
"His behavior is consistent with a pattern of unprofessional, disrespectful behavior directed by Mr. Pelini toward the passionate fans of Nebraska, employees of the university and, most concerning, our student-athletes. This behavior is not tolerated at the University of Nebraska and, among many other concerns, played a role in his dismissal.
"Any assertion that the campus or athletics administration was not supportive of our student-athletes and our football program are flat-out false and are contradicted by the facts."
Eichorst, who took over for Tom Osborne at Nebraska in January 2013, keeps a low profile in the media and even within his department -– a leadership style with which Pelini disagreed.
"I didn't really have any relationship with the AD,” Pelini reportedly told the players, according to the World-Herald. "The guy, you guys saw him [Sunday], the guy is a total p---y. I mean, he is, and he's a total c--t.”
Pelini told the players his job was often a struggle.
"There were a lot of nights that I would just go home and sit on the bed and sit there and think, 'What the f--- am I doing?' Is this worth it? I felt like it was taking years off my life."
In the Nov. 30 meeting, the athletic director disagreed with Pelini’s assertion that Eichorst had not supported the coach and his program, Pelini told the players.
"I said, 'Hey bud, you can't support someone under a f---ing rock," Pelini said. "I said to do your job at this level, in a place like this, you gotta be a grown-ass f---ing man ... to lead something. I said you can't lead anything under a f---ing rock. I said you don't spend any time with us. Our players don't even know who you are. That isn't leadership."
Pelini obviously never intended for his latest comments to go public, but the coach ought to have known –- after the leak last year -– that nothing he says is entirely private.
Some of what Pelini said, for sure, emerged from the frustration of his firing.
Not open for debate is that Pelini and Eichorst were oil and water. Clearly, Eichorst’s leadership style works for some and not for others. Eichorst was thrust on Pelini two years ago. Cut from different cloths, they had little chance to make it work.
Importantly for Nebraska, the athletic director and his new coach, Riley, seem to be a much better fit. Time will tell if he shares any of the experiences that angered Pelini. And as we know now, there were many.
This final, ugly chapter in Pelini’s career at Nebraska verifies what we already knew: It was time -– probably past time -– for their breakup.