Monday, March 30, 2009

Pelini contract extension -- is the timing right?

Let’s hear it, Husker fans: “We got Bo! We got Bo! We got Bo!”

It wasn’t long ago that we were saying: “We want Bo! We want Bo! We want Bo!”

We got him in December 2007. Now we really got him.

Bo Pelini is now set to earn $1.851 million dollars annually as the Huskers football head coach. The pay raise is substantial for Pelini, and moves him in to the middle of the Big 12 in terms of salaries for football coaches. Athletic director Tom Osborne cited the program's progress in Pelini's first year as the primary reason for the increase.

Pelini's initial contract paid him $1.1 million annually. The Huskers went 9-4 in his first year as coach but most importantly the team won six of its final seven games. His record was at the top when it comes to first year coaches around the country. Yes, much better than overhyped first-year head coaches Rich Rodriguez. Very impressive 3-9 record at Michigan, Rich. Yes, much better than that all impressive 4-8 record that Rick Neuheisul put together at UCLA. Both coaches = frauds.

Even more telling than Nebraska’s 9-4 record was that the team was improved in several key areas.

Also, and this should not go unnoticed, Pelini’s assistant coaches also received a hike in pay with offensive coordinator Shawn Watson making the biggest leap. Watson, whose contract called for $225,000 in 2008, will earn $375,000 in 2009. How’s that for new president Barack Obama’s stimulus package?

Don’t underestimate the assistants getting a pay raise. Granted, some assistant coaches want to be head coaches but if they are taken care of well enough as assistants they might be content to stay in that spot. Pelini values as much – just like Tom Osborne did.

Is $1.851 million a lot of coin? Well, it’s not chump change. If Bo wants to take his family out for a prime rib dinner at Misty’s, he won’t be driven to the poor house but it’s not totally exorbitant either. Not when Baylor’s Art Briles is slated to earn $1.8 million and Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads is scheduled to earn $1.15 million. Not when Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops is paid $3.8 million a year for his team to be MIA in BCS bowl games. OK, they have been there in body but other than that it’s hard to quantify their existence. Memo to Stoops: You should have saved some of those 60 point efforts in place of that gigantic 14-point performance against Florida in the BCS title game.

OK, yes $1.851 million is a fair amount of coin but we needed to secure Pelini long term.
The fact that head football coaches at Baylor and Iowa St. was making more than the Nebraska head football coach in my book wasn't right.

Yes, you can also argue that the move was premature on Osborne’s behalf to give Bo a pay hike. Yes, we could have made Bo wait say halfway through the 2009 season to make sure 2008 was not an aberration.

After all, we did get burned by giving Bill Callahan a contract extension after we beat Nevada 52-10 in the 2007 season opener only to watch the season go to hell in a handbag at 5-7 by season’s end. Callahan was out the door. As in dismissed.

Going into 2007, however, Callahan had as many detractors as supporters despite Nebraska winning the Big 12 North Division (its first since 1999) and reaching a New Years Day Bowl Game in 2006. You can also argue that we underachieved in 2006. USC, Texas, Oklahoma, and Auburn were very beatable, yet we came up short in each game. The blowout loss to an average Oklahoma State team was not good either. Nebraska should have won at least two of those games if not three or four. There were plenty of indicators for people to base reservations on with Callahan, and those people proved correct. Yours truly was proven wrong. I'd like to see you put out any indicators that Bo doesn't have things on track.

Point being, Callahan’s contract was extended despite having limited success. The best team he had went 9-5 in 2006 but 3-4 down the stretch. Pelini, however, did much more than get the Huskers to go 9-4 and win six of their last seven games. Pelini inherited a group of kids that had a sagging confidence level. The truth of the matter is that Bo cares about the kids. Sure, he might give them tough love. He’s got no patience for kids being knuckleheads. He’s rough around the edges but if he loves you, there’s nothing he won’t do for you.

If the Huskers are to become that premier college football program again, I think making Pelini the sixth highest paid coach in the conference is totally fair. The prestige factor by itself should warrant such a pay hike.

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