Bo Pelini and his defensive assistants stayed calm in win over Wisconsin.
By Randy York
One thing about Bo Pelini: His team may be coming off a massive disappointment at Ohio State and preparing for a 6-1 Northwestern team on the road, but he still minces no words. Twelve questions into his regular Monday press conference, Nebraska’s fifth-year head coach was asked if he wanted a quiet team last week during the season’s only bye weekend.
“I wanted an angry team, and I think that’s what I got right now,” Pelini said. “It’s how you deal with it. You could have a varying amount of emotion. It’s how you channel it going forward. That’s what’s in front of us.”
Pelini was not using the word angry here as a negative term. He was using it as a positive way for players and coaches to vet their anger with the right person to the right degree, at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way. Even Aristotle says having the right kind of anger is not within everybody’s power, and it definitely is not easy.
12 Angry Men Agree on One Simple Process
For some reason, hearing Pelini talk about the benefits of an angry team channeling its emotion for a better outcome makes me remember a telecom seminar in Mansfield, Ohio, in the late 1980s. I was writing a corporate magazine story on how employees deal with angry customers. To dramatize the process, the presenter did a very wise thing. He showed a 96-minute movie called 12 Angry Men in three separate segments.
The film tells the story of a 12-man jury that had to make a decision in a murder trial that was based on reasonable doubt. In a nutshell, the movie explored all kinds of techniques to build consensus, get everyone on the same page and develop a process they could all live with, sort of like what Pelini faced last week with every Husker offensive and defensive unit. The No. 12 man was Pelini, who played the role of jury foreman, doing everything in his power to create the right mindset amongst men, so they could deliberate about what’s right and then move in that direction.
Only three minutes of that classic movie is spent inside the courtroom for public view. The other 93 minutes were spent inside a private room where every juror analyzed every piece of evidence. The more they talked, the more annoyed and the more fractured they became. But once they started thinking with brutal honesty – the same kind of honesty Pelini said coaches and players used last week – they went from two separate 8-4 votes to a unanimous decision, and every man played a role in it.
Knowing How to Be both Angry and Good
The 12 angry men proved, I guess, what a prominent Protestant clergyman said long ago: A man that does not know how to be angry does not know how to be good. Or perhaps Nebraska reinforced what an American diplomat once said: “Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything … but when they get angry, they bring about a change.”
That’s the kind of anger Pelini wants, and the interesting thing is he’s showing little, if any anger himself to arouse his team’s anger. He must agree with an American president who once insisted that you can only be angry with those you respect.
“I think a lot of it comes down to execution no matter what your emotions are, no matter what your motivations are,” Pelini said Monday. “It comes back down to your preparation and executing. Sometimes in life, you have to get hit in the mouth to pick up your resolve and get back to the realization that it’s not just going to happen to me for whatever reason. You’ve got to earn it. You get what you earn in this world. It just doesn’t happen on Saturday. It just doesn’t happen for those 60 minutes. It’s all the things that go up to allowing you to have all the success.”
Bo: It’s Still about Focusing on the Process
“It’s why I have the philosophy of just staying focused on the process and the day-to-day of what’s going to allow you to do that,” Pelini added. “I understand. I’ve been around this game long enough to know that you can get off kilter really quick and when you do, this is a humbling sport. You’ve got to have tremendous respect for the game that we play. It’s the ultimate team sport, and you have to be hitting on all cylinders, and you have to prepare accordingly for whatever situation you are going into, knowing that if you aren’t hitting on all cylinders, you can get humbled at any second.”
Pelini knew what question was coming next: Does he question his own process after a result like the Ohio State game?
“No,” he said emphatically. “I believe in my process, and I’ve been coaching long enough that I know what I’m trying to do. I know that the process works. Obviously, I question and I turn over every leaf. I turn over every rock to find out where we got off of that process and why what happened. There’s a lot that goes into it. I’m not one who just looks at it and says it just happened by chance. You’ve got to continually look for solutions and ways to make it better so it doesn’t happen again.
“Some things you can put a finger on; some things you can’t put a finger on,” Pelini added. “At the end of the day, it’s not magical. It comes back down to preparation and execution and continuing to educate your guys on how important that is. You continue to develop a better understanding of what you’re doing and fundamentally doing what you’re taught to do. That falls back on the coaching.”
Bo’s Boiled-down Definition of Process
Pelini said he’s looked at what he needs to fix now and what he believes can be fixed later. “As a head coach you think about all those things, especially during a bye week when you have a lot of time to think,” he said. “I’m not going to get into all that right now, but you go through everything short term and long term.”
One reporter asked Bo to define process, and he obliged immediately:” Do everything in your power that day to be the best that you possibly can that day,” he said.
Best Way Not to Get Hit in the Mouth
Let’s end with another question: How do you get a team in shape so it doesn’t get hit in the mouth? “That’s a good question,” Bo said. “That’s athletics. That’s competition. That’s sports. We’re not alone, I promise you that. You watch across athletics. That is the greatest challenge you have as a football coach. It’s how you get 140 guys every week going in the exact same direction, preparing a certain way, believing everything you say, having total respect for the game and your job and everything that goes into it to prepare yourself for that particular week.”
The Huskers get back on the field Saturday at Northwestern. Kickoff for the ABC regionally televised game is 2:30 p.m. For Nebraska, Operation Bounce Back will not be about being angry or getting even after the Wildcats upset the Huskers, 28-25, last year to snap a three-game winning streak. Winning will depend on the Huskers doing everything in their power to be the best they possibly can. The result will be a reflection of how they’ve practiced last week and this week … nothing more and nothing less.
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