Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is safe for now.
Athletic director Shawn Eichorst issued a statement Saturday expressing support for Pelini and his staff and quashing speculation that the sixth-year coach’s job was in jeopardy following a disappointing regular season.
The Cornhuskers are 8-4, 5-3 in the Big Ten, after their 38-17 loss to Iowa on Friday. Pelini is 57-24 at Nebraska, but the school has not won a conference title since 1999.
The Huskers will learn their bowl destination next weekend. 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.”
A message seeking comment was left on Pelini’s cell phone.
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 wasn’t known when Pelini’s next job evaluation would be done. Eichorst was not 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.
Pelini on Friday did nothing to tamp down speculation that his job was on the line.
He 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.”
The 45-year-old Pelini 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. Turnovers and poor special-teams play have hampered them.
Pelini’s temper has gotten him into trouble. He was reprimanded by chancellor Harvey Perlman for a sideline blowup at Texas A&M in 2010, he went on a profane rant against fans in a 2011 audio recording that went public two months ago, and then there were his in-game and post-game antics Friday.
Though everything, his players have publicly support 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.’ “