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Bo Pelini's positive perspective means more to college football landscape than leaked audio

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports
.

Could Bo Pelini be fired amid recent criticism?

Courtesy of a 2-year-old secret audio recording, everyone heard Nebraska coach Bo Pelini this week at his emotional, arrogant and profane best (or worst). The guy tends to get unhinged – on the sideline and elsewhere.

That's Bo. So too is this though.

Through the years, Pelini has actually shown himself to be one of the most well-adjusted and self-aware coaches in sports, a man of perspective and perception that stands in juxtaposition to his expletive-filled rant about Nebraska fans and media. It perhaps underscores the immense pressure that comes with trying to run a major program.

[Related: Tommie Frazier calls for Bo Pelini's job | Pelini bites back]

Consider Pelini after his Cornhuskers traveled in 2011 to Penn State. It was just days after indictments were handed down in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual assault case. Joe Paterno and a slew of administrators were just relieved of their duties and everyone was overwhelmed with the thought of so many abused kids. There were lots of questions and few answers.

The game went on because that's what people in sports do – they rarely see anything bigger than the games and the money that comes with them. It wouldn't be fair to the players, people rationalized. Nebraska won that day, 17-14, but Pelini wasn't pleased.

"I didn't think the game should have been played, for a lot of different reasons," he said afterward. "I look at my job as a football coach as to educate and to prepare the kids that come into the program for the rest of their life. That's what we are; we are a university system.

"I thought that this game gave us an opportunity to show that the situation going on is bigger than football. It is bigger than the football game that was just played. It is bigger than the young men that played in the game that would have missed it had they called it off.

"It's about education and putting things into perspective, what the situation is all about. Hopefully, the fact that both teams sat up and prayed together put that in perspective a little bit.

"It's about doing what's right in society. It's about doing what's right and wrong. Trust me, when I tell you, I don't know the specifics of the situation and I am not judging anybody. But the fact is young kids were hurt, and that's a crime in itself.

"It is a lot bigger than football, the NCAA, the Big Ten and anything else. I think that at least, that's why I think going in, the game shouldn't have been played."

It may have been the most adult thing said that entire week.

[Forde-Yard Dash: The week that error and ineptitude ruled college football]

And here's Pelini in April of this year, when he looked at the annual spring game – a glorified intrasquad scrimmage – and wondered if something more valuable than setting the two-deep could come out of it.

So he had his staff call up a man named Andy Hoffman, whose 7-year-old son, Jack, suffers from brain tumors and seizures, and ask him how far the boy could run. Ten yards? Twenty?

It turns out you can put Jack in a Cornhusker uniform, hand him the ball in the middle of Memorial Stadium and he can run forever – or at least 69 yards. Pelini called for Jack to get the handoff and go right.

By the end of the gallop, both benches emptied and the kid caravanned in for a touchdown that could cause even the calloused to cry. In a meaningless "game," Jack Hoffman may have scored the most meaningful touchdown in Nebraska history.

"It's what we try to teach [the payers] every day: that there's a much bigger picture out there other than football," Pelini said after the game. "There just is. Sometimes, that gets lost with everything that goes into college football. There's so much pressure and so much at stake. Sometimes our kids feel like, 'Wow! Football is tough and it's difficult. Football is hard.'

"But when you compare it to what a 7-year-old like Jack is going through, it pales in comparison. They should look up to the heavens every day and be thankful."

And here's Pelini last week, before UCLA came to town to deliver the comeback defeat of Nebraska that caused some fan to get so angry he leaked out an old tape of Pelini swearing in an effort to undermine his job status.

The Bruins were mourning the death of sophomore Nick Pasquale, who passed after being hit by a car in California the prior Sunday. UCLA created patches with Pasquale's No. 36 to put on its jerseys to honor and remember him.

Pelini ordered the same thing put on the back of the Nebraska helmets. It sat right next to each Cornhusker's number. Before the game, there was a moment of silence for Pasquale, and the Nebraska student section released 200 gold and blue balloons into the Lincoln sky.

This was no longer about just a game between two teams. It was a symbol of unity. Pasquale played for everyone.

"That's a lot bigger than any football game," Pelini said.

Pelini isn't the only coach capable of seeing beyond the sidelines, he just seems to be one that does it more often, in more pronounced ways than most – or all.

Even before the tape of him unloading on fans hit Deadspin.com, it's always been a strange dynamic.

He's often a lunatic during games, often difficult in private, often intense with everyone. The 45-year-old needs to work on it. His personality isn't becoming of him. At least, until, he isn't difficult and combative and selfish. Until he delivers profound wisdom and a sense of comity to college sports.

Maybe it's the pressure of the job. Maybe it's the struggle with dealing with expectations. Maybe this is just Pelini, capable of huge emotional swings.

One thing is clear though: The guy who may wind up fired – now or later – in part because he was caught losing all context in a moment of passion and bravado, the guy who looks like he takes football far too seriously, is also the guy who keeps delivering proper perspective and proportion to a sport in desperate need of more.

This is a tough business, college football.

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