Some thoughts on the Huskers and Head Coach Bo Pelini. I’ve been thinking about this since Saturday night. I was thinking about this while awake, this morning, at 1 AM and not able to go back to sleep. I decided to start writing around 4 AM. It’s a bit stream of consciousness. Finished most of it before work, and didn’t post right away. Wanted to make sure I’m stating my thoughts clearly.
I’ve sometimes joked with people that I am an “irrational Huskers fan”. I’m not sure that is the case anymore. Passionate? Yes. Irrational? Not anymore. Not by the standard I’ve seen recently.
As last week progressed, I was less and less optimistic about the Huskers chances against Texas A&M. I didn’t think the Huskers’ offense would be consistent, the team has been fortunate that its fumbles haven’t hurt them more, and I’d become less trusting of the coaches’ comments about Taylor Martinez being fine with his physical health. The day before the game, I was at Amsterdam talking with Phil (one of the owners). We both were pessimistic about the Huskers’ chances to win. We both agreed that if Taylor Martinez wasn’t healthy, or if the Huskers didn’t win the turnover battle, the Huskers wouldn’t win.
This growing sentiment raised a question in me. With Jana and Liam out of town, and Duncan spending the night at his grandparent’s, would I really want to watch the game by myself knowing I’m going to be stressed and agitated? No, I didn’t want to watch the game then.* Am I less of a fan? Some may think so, but after the fact I feel justified.
*Not the first time I’ve done this. During the 1995 Orange Bowl I didn’t watch the fourth quarter of the Huskers’ comeback victory over Miami. Brook Berringer had just thrown an interception in the endzone, in the fourth quarter, and I was sick to my stomach. The feeling of the previous Orange Bowl, where the Huskers lost on the last play of the game, came crashing back to me. I was at a friend’s house, but I just got up and left. I didn’t think I could handle watching another gut-wrenching loss the cost the team the National Championship.
What did I do instead this past Saturday night? I went and saw the new Harry Potter film. Had a great experience seeing it on IMAX while most of the state was watching the Huskers play.
When I came home, I did some writing. I finally went online to see who won and saw the Huskers lost 9-6. I was disappointed the Huskers lost, but I wasn’t despondent like I would’ve been had I watched the game live. After reading some more about the game, I was grateful I didn’t watch it. I probably would’ve been agitated, stressed, angry and who knows what else. I wasn’t, though. I didn’t put myself into a situation where I would be.
The more I read, the video replays I saw online, I thought Coach Bo Pelini had borderline lost control of himself during the game. I found it a bit disturbing. It’s not just the f-bombs he drops, it’s not the yelling, but it’s the pattern of seemingly unbridled emotional acts that are aimed at the people around him during the games. How can one talk about playing with discipline when they don’t show discipline?
It’s interesting to me that some would justify his profanity laced tirades and borderline out-of-control behavior because it was in the heat of the moment and he’s just being “passionate”. Really? You know what happens if your average boss does that in an average office in America? They probably get fired. You know what happens if a parent does that to a child? Their child is taken from them. You can think of many other real life scenarios where the same outcome is bad for the one lashing out. (And not good for the one that is receiving it.) That kind of behavior is not acceptable, regardless of it being in the heat of the moment or passion.* And if there is a pattern of it? You’re really in trouble then.
*Just to reiterate heat of the moment and stressful situations. How many parents have had to fight the sentiment to verbally unload on their kids? How many parents have had to squash the feeling to do something worse to their kids? You don’t think parenthood is stressful?
What’s interesting to me also is Pelini’s actions are not surprising to me. I was conversing with some friends on Twitter, Sunday evening, and remarked how Pelini’s actions toward Taylor Martinez were not surprising. He reacted in line with the way he has reacted in the past during games. There is a pattern. He gets livid. This night was ugly, though. I’m sure outside a game situation he wouldn’t have reacted the way he did, in fact I doubt he is anything like it, but he is in a game situation. No one will know for awhile what Martinez did to set Pelini off, and what the context and history of it is, but was Pelini justified in his behavior? Not just in dealing with Martinez, but how berated the refs and treated others?
In relation to Pelini’s “dressing down” of Martinez, I’ve heard people say that parents can’t protect their children forever. This is true. (Duh.) That people need to realize not everyone in this world is nice and you need to learn to work with them. Also true. Parents need to take a step back and see the big picture and see things from the coach’s perspective. True again.
The more I think about it, though, I do not like how Pelini acted toward Martinez. I’m coming to this conclusion with the facts that are available.
I expect my boys to have to deal with other adults they don’t like. I expect my boys to have to deal with situations that aren’t fair. I expect my boys to have to deal with people in authority who yell at them. I expect my boys to have to deal with people who are angry at them. My hope is that in each of those situations they’d respond the right way.
I’ve heard plenty of speculation about what Martinez may have said or done. I also have known plenty of nineteen year olds, and was once one myself, to know they can rile up adults easily with their actions. No one knows the context of why Pelini did what he did to Martinez. It’s one thing when Pelini yells at a player because they made a bad play, missed an assignment or did something stupid that everyone saw. Everyone can understand that. So why did Pelini unload an f-bomb tirade, and appear almost out of control, at Martinez when Martinez wasn’t even playing? We don’t know yet. But why do it publicly? Was he so overcome by his anger that he completely forgot he was on national tv?
Life is not fair. We all encounter circumstances that are unfair, but we have to rise above them.* 99% of the time if we respond to the unfair situation like a petulant child, it makes matters worse. We aren’t justified to act out of control and angry when something doesn’t go our way. One of the signs of being an adult is rising above those unfair situations. Pelini needs to be an example if he talks about raising up men in his program. He needs to rise above the bad calls that happen in a game. That doesn’t mean not making your case to the refs, but not going ballistic on them either. In most life situations, if people reacted the way Pelini did to stress or something unfair, they’d be in serious trouble.
What’s also interesting to me is how behavior that is unacceptable in most other environments is acceptable in professional and “amateur” sports. People can talk about what they say or do on the football field isn’t how they are in real life. Guess what? What you say and do on the football field IS a part of real life. Those words and actions do have consequences. Expecting people to view you as two different entities, someone on the field and someone different off the field, is not right. You are who you are. Chancellor Harvey Perlman alluded to the fact it’s part of the culture of sports now to have coaches “talking strongly to players”. (A nice way of saying what Pelini did.) If this is the trend, well…it’s a reality. I remember my coaches yelling. They always yelled. In fact, it seemed liked some of them looked for reasons to yell. They cursed. Heck, I remember my junior high basketball coach telling us we “played like s—” after a defeat. None of the coaches I had, though, had f-bomb tirades like Bo. If that’s where the trends are going with coaches, I’ll steer my boys clear of it. While it may be surprising, kids can be prepared to handle life in other ways outside of football and other sports.*
*That last sentence was sarcastic. Of course, some ex-jocks would take offense.
I don’t think anyone in their right mind expects Coach Bo Pelini to be like Coach Tom Osborne in temperament and personality. Nearly all the Husker fans I talk to, myself included, like the passion and commitment Pelini has for the team, program, university and state. We all want to see him succeed. We also understand that people make mistakes, have their moments which they must atone for, and are always growing and learning. If the Texas A&M game was a one-time thing, then Pelini’s anger wouldn’t be the story it is. However, there has been a pattern of anger with Pelini during the games. It’s something many people, myself included, have to deal with and control throughout life. I don’t know many of us that act out the way Pelini did the other night in a stressful situation.
In pressure situations your character is revealed. In game situations, the pressure reveals that Pelini has a problem controlling himself, controlling his anger. In ministry, in life, there are people I know I want to be with when the pressure comes. I also know of people I don’t want to be with when pressure comes.
I’m sure when the game is not happening he is an extremely supportive guy that is a role model and mentor to the players. The players talk glowingly of him.* There haven’t been any major scandals with the players since he arrived. The players represent the university well. He has helped resurrect a program that was on life support in 2007. He’s done a lot for the program, university and state. Husker fans want him to be a great coach that is passionate. We don’t want him to be, as Tom Shatel referenced in his column today, a pariah like Bobby Knight or Woody Hayes.
*When I was college age I had some emotional leaders that led through similar ways. I thought the world of them. As I grew older, I didn’t like that style of leadership as much. It became too much of a roller coaster and you never knew what side you were going to have to deal with in any particular moment.
So, yeah, go see the new Harry Potter film. It’s brilliant.
Go Big Red.