Pelini vs. the Press

11 Oct

Were you worried about the prospect of no game during this open week?  Fear not – because a new match-up has been added to the schedule:  Bo vs. the Media. 

A quick recap:  Taylor Martinez had a pretty shaky performance against Wisconsin, prompting calls from some fans that he be benched in favor of redshirt freshman Brion Carnes.  Martinez sat for the media during the weekly press conference and was described as “testy”, “surly”, and “short” with the media.  Bo Pelini and other Huskers (Yoshi Hardrick and Kenny Bell among them) vigorously defended their QB during the week. 

On the day before the Ohio State game, Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald printed a strongly worded column with 10 points on why Bo should bench Martinez.  After Saturday’s amazing come from behind win over Ohio State, Bo was rather testy with Chatelain during his postgame press conference, accusing Chatelain of trying to “rattle” Martinez.  After further questions from Chatelain, Bo told the reporter “I’m done with you…Let’s get somebody who asks a question that’s worth answering.”  On Sunday, the World-Herald’s Lee Barfknecht took some swipes at Bo for his “peevish postgame behavior“.  (note – the second link has an embedded video of the Bo press conference, the “peevish behavior” starts around the 4:50 mark).

Sadly, Bo vs. the Media has become an annual event in Nebraska.  Sure, the circumstances are different every year, but the general plot line is the same:  A media member writes/broadcasts/asks/leaks something that upsets Bo.  Bo responds by firing back at the media member during a press conference or taking away media access to players and coaches.  The media get upset over Bo’s reaction and publicly calls him out for being a jerk.  A few weeks go by (usually with a Husker win involved) and everybody is happy again.

I should probably be clear:  when I say “media”, I’m referring to credentialed “traditional media” members – TV, radio, the World-Herald, Lincoln Journal-Star, etc.  In other words, the folks who are there following and reporting on the team day in and day out.  I’m not referring to the message board posters, bloggers, and online commentators (such as myself) who a) do little to none of the reporting, b) are not doing this to feed our families, and c) have no real stake in the game.  I’m sure Bo has his own brand of disdain for what folks like me do, but I’d be shocked (and humbled) if Pelini has read my work.

Despite this contest playing out every year, the sad truth is there never has been, nor will there ever be a winner.  In fact, both sides lose by playing.  Therefore, here is some unsolicited advice for everyone involved:

Dirk Chatelain:
Overall, your Friday piece on Martinez was fair and well-defended – even if I think a few of those 10 points were a stretch.  In general, I like your columns, as you usually come at things from a unique (albeit not always popular) perspective.  From the reports I heard, your actions during the postgame press conference were professional.  That said, you have gained a reputation for being an instigator to Bo.  Maybe that is part of your job, maybe it isn’t, but I’ve found it is easier to work with difficult people when you don’t push their buttons.

I know that you as a media member you probably feel that you do not owe Bo anything.  But, when getting ready to publish a piece like your 10 point takedown of Martinez, which insinuates that Bo’s future at Nebraska is very directly tied to Martinez’s performance, it might not be a bad idea to give Bo a heads-up phone call.  Tell him:  “Hey Coach, I’m going to be running this piece tomorrow.  I know you will disagree, but I hope you can understand that I am not attacking you or your players, I’m simply providing a different point of view.” 

Who knows, Bo still may chew your ass, but wouldn’t you prefer to have that happen over the phone (or in his office) than during the post game press conference of a nationally televised game, in front of your peers?  The media, and especially the reporter-coach relationship, has changed in the last 10 years, but hopefully professional courtesy has not gone away.

Lee Barfknecht:
You’ve been around long enough to know that there are a ton of Husker fans who will never, ever like you – most likely stemming from your decision to vote Michigan #1 on your 1997 AP ballot.  I’m a fan of your pull no punches writing style, and look forward to your weekly conference power rankings.  Yet, I (and many others) believe you take great pride in tweaking Husker fans – especially those with Big Red blinders on.  That’s fine.  The fan base will survive if somebody tinkles in Big Red Kool-Aid every so often. 

I get that you are an “old-school” guy who came up in the days when a coach would go have a beer with you at the bar, and Pelini’s behaviors are a slap to the access you once enjoyed.  But quit it with the public reprimand of Bo’s behavior.  Your column on Sunday comes across like a cross between a little kid tattling on the playground bully, and an over-protective Mama Bear fighting a battle that is not yours to fight.  If Dirk has an issue with how Bo spoke to him, I’m sure the OWH editors would be happy to let him respond.  Otherwise, move on.  There is a fine line between reporting the news and being the news, and you crossed it.  I just don’t think you care.

Other Media Members:
I get it.  It is incredibly frustrating to have to deal with Crabby Bo, Angry Bo, or “What do you think?” Bo.  His short, terse answers are the polar opposite of the insightful quotes you would like to use in your articles. 

Even though you are competing with all of the other beat writers/reporters for the public’s eyes and ears, you guys also stick together for the “greater good” that we all learned about in Journalism School – protecting the freedoms of the press, the rights of the media, etc.  So when Bo takes his annual swipe at one of your brethren, you rally together and use your platforms to air your grievances through the perspective of the latest situation.  Solidarity, brothers! 

But here is a little secret about Bo:  when he feels like he or the team are being attacked, he goes into “bunker mode” and creates an us-against-the-world mentality that usually works great for the team.  Meanwhile, you don’t have anything to write about.  I’ll tell you the same thing I told Barfknecht:  report the news, don’t be the news.

Bo Pelini:
Oh Bo.  Really?  Did you need to stare down Dirk?  I’m sure the adrenaline from a huge comeback was still surging, but seriously?  The guy is just doing his job.  Unfortunately for you, that job includes giving his opinion – in Nebraska’s largest newspaper, and on different radio shows – analyzing your team, players, and their flaws and weaknesses.  He gets paid to look at the data, see trends, draw conclusions, and write about them in a manner that people will have a definite reaction.  Sometimes that opinion is going to rub you the wrong way – especially when the team is struggling or calls out an individual player (such as a QB). 

At times like that, you should consider taking the advice that I’m sure you give your players:  Don’t read the papers.  Turn off talk radio.  Stay off the websites and message boards.  Understand that it is not personal; it is something they are doing to feed a huge hunger for information, which is created by the interest in, and success of, your program. 

One of the things you told Dirk on Saturday was you “could care less” about what he wrote.  Obviously, that is not true.  You care.  A lot.  You have proven time and again that you will stand up and defend your players.  And I’m sure your players appreciate you having their back. 

But here’s the thing:  you can have Taylor Martinez’s back without making a scene about an unflattering article.  When you read something you do not think is fair about one of your players, contact the journalist.  Express your concerns and feelings (politely and respectfully) and let him know your side of the story.  Then, let the player know what is going on so they know that you have gone to bat for them.  Heck, have the kid in the room when you’re talking to the reporter if that is what it takes.  My point is you can handle some of these things outside of the public eye. 

Because as Lee Barfknecht said in his column, “the sports media set the agenda and tone for how coaches and programs are perceived.”  That is more than a thinly veiled threat – it is the truth.  During a rough 7-5 season, the media can be your friend, explaining the reasons why you lost close games, or they can be your worst enemy, bringing up all of your past failures.  In a state where football is a year-round topic of conversation, and in a profession where very few coaches leave on their own terms, it wouldn’t hurt to have some influence makers on your side.

Husker Fans:
One simple piece of advice:  don’t take sides.  Instead, use your influence to work for things that benefit both sides – and ultimately, us as fans.  Push Bo to provide more access, more insights, and to be gentler with the media.  Push the media to be respectful of Bo’s boundaries and not to whine every time they get their hand slapped.  Remember, you and I have a large thirst for knowledge and information about everything going on within the program.  Both the media and Bo are crucial to feeding that need.

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2 Responses to “Pelini vs. the Press”

  1. Chuck October 12, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Great post. Totally agree on just about every point.

    However with regard to the “heads up phone call”….do you really think Bo is taking calls from Dirk Chatelain?

    I realize that’s a suggestion that Osborne made on his radio show, but Osborne was a guy who, despite not loving the media, had a professional relationship with them. That type of things works with a guy like Osborne. But Bo? Bo has no such relationship.

    As you said, Dirk doesn’t “owe” Bo anything, but a phone call might be a professional courtesy. Unfortunately Bo hasn’t allowed a professional working relationship to exist….You can’t expect a one-way relationship like that….you can’t think that a guy is going to give that to Bo with no reciprocation from Bo.

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