Husker AD stands by Pelini

Laura Beahm/Tribune
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini takes the field with his team
Friday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.

Athletic director Shawn Eichorst issued a statement Saturday expressing support for football coach Bo Pelini and his staff and quashing speculation that the sixth-year coach's job was in jeopardy.

Eichorst, who is in his first full year as athletic director, until Saturday had adhered to his policy of not commenting about his coaches until after their seasons.

"However," he said in his statement, "given the volume of unfounded speculation and conjecture about our head football coach, I want to reaffirm what I have said many times since I have arrived at the University of Nebraska — that I positively respect, appreciate and support our football student-athletes, coaches and staff, as we do everyone in the Husker family.

"We very much look forward to our upcoming bowl game and Coach Pelini continuing to lead our program in the future."

The Cornhuskers are 8-4 — 5-3 in the Big Ten — after Friday's 38-17 loss to Iowa. Pelini is 57-24 at Nebraska. The school hasn't won a conference title since 1999.

Pelini released a statement later Saturday to publicly show his appreciation for the administration's support and to apologize for his behavior during and after Friday's game.

"I want to thank our administration and Shawn Eichorst in particular, for his continued and full support that he has given me and our football program since his arrival on campus," Pelini stated. "I am honored to represent this university and its great fans and I'm proud to lead this program into the future.

"I apologize for reacting emotionally (Friday) and for showing frustration both with the game officials and the media. I fully understand and respect their difficult jobs, and I regret any and all actions or words which may have shed a negative light on our program and university. Accountability is a core belief throughout our program, and as the head coach, I must set and maintain a high standard.

"Our football staff is hitting recruiting full throttle and looking forward to the upcoming bowl game. We are committed to working with Shawn and our entire department staff to continue to build this program and bring championships back to Nebraska."

The Huskers will learn their bowl destination this weekend.

Pelini is under contract through the 2017 season and is paid almost $3 million a year. Pelini's contract is extended one year after each season he receives a positive job review from the athletic director.

Former athletic director Tom Osborne extended Pelini's contract last year just a few days after the 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. It isn't known when Pelini's next job evaluation would be done. Eichorst wasn't available for comment beyond his statement.

Had Eichorst decided to fire Pelini now, the university would have owed Pelini more than $7.6 million, according to his contract.

During Friday's game, Pelini was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after nearly making contact with the head linesman with his cap while protesting a pass-interference penalty. He was terse at halftime with the ABC sideline reporter who asked him a question he didn't like. After the game, Pelini used an expletive to describe the pass-interference call and, while defending his record, said, "If they want to fire me, go ahead."

Pelini, 45, first appeared at Nebraska in 2003 as defensive coordinator for Frank Solich. He oversaw remarkable defensive improvement that season, and after Solich was fired, he was interim head coach for the Huskers' bowl win. Pelini and the rest of the staff were let go after the game, and Pelini went on to be a coordinator at Oklahoma and LSU.

Pelini, coming off a national championship at LSU, was a popular choice when then-athletic director Tom Osborne hired him to replace Bill Callahan after the 2007 season. Pelini never won fewer than nine games, nor lost fewer than four, in his first five seasons.

Nebraska hasn't finished higher than No. 20 in the final Associated Press poll since 2009, and 10 of the Huskers' last 12 losses have been by double digits.

Pelini's temper has gotten him into trouble before, including a reprimand by chancellor Harvey Perlman for a sideline blowup at Texas A&M in 2010 and a profane rant against fans in a 2011 audio recording that went public two months ago.

Through everything, his players have publicly supported him.

"The strives he's made for us, not just as players but as individuals, is huge," offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles said after the Iowa game. "I sure hope he returns, because this program can only go up. I hope he returns because I hope that in 10 years I can bring my wife or my girlfriend and I can say, 'This is Coach Bo. This is who made me who I am.' "

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