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His job status in question, Nebraska's Bo Pelini 'turning over every stone' to elevate program

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — Nebraska coach Bo Pelini had to know he would be peppered with questions about the state of his program following a second straight loss characterized by another embarrassing defensive performance.

At one point Monday during his weekly news conference, he interrupted an inquisitor and pleaded, "Could we talk about Iowa, please?"

Reporters obliged him, but only briefly, and then returned to the topic that has Nebraska fans preoccupied for a second straight November. It is Pelini's job status, not necessarily the Hawkeyes, that folks around here will be talking about over Thanksgiving dinner.

"I turn over every stone, and I'm looking to try to get over the proverbial hump," Pelini said. "I know this — and I think it's one of the great things about being here — people aren't going to be happy until you win them all. And you know what, neither am I. I'm really not. That's how I'm wired, too. To think I'm not working my butt off to make that happen, that's what I want to have happen. I want to win them all, and I want to win a national championship here."

Whether he'll be given an opportunity to keep trying at Nebraska is up to athletic director Shawn Eichorst.

Last year, Pelini found himself in hot water at midseason over leaked audio in which he went on a foul-mouth tirade against fans and media, and he was believed to be on the brink of being fired after a poor finish.

Pelini all but dared Eichorst to fire him during his news conference after the loss to Iowa, and then the Huskers beat an injury-depleted Georgia in the Gator Bowl. Eichorst gave Pelini a one-year contract extension, through February 2019. If Pelini were to be fired after this season, his contract entitles him to a settlement of about $7.5 million, though the amount would be reduced if and when Pelini got another job.

PHOTO: Nebraska NCAA college football head coach Bo Pelini speaks during a news conference in Lincoln, Neb., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. Nebraska plays Iowa on Friday. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Nebraska NCAA college football head coach Bo Pelini speaks during a news conference in Lincoln, Neb., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. Nebraska plays Iowa on Friday. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Pelini is 65-27 at Nebraska but has never had fewer than four losses in a season. The Huskers, at 8-3, will reach at least nine wins for a seventh straight year with a victory at Iowa or in a bowl.

Though the Huskers have reached conference championship games three times under Pelini, Nebraska's league-title drought now dates to 1999.

Pelini said he's made changes every year in an effort to elevate the program. Some of the changes have been noticeable and others have not, he said.

Known to be fiercely loyal, he initially demurred when asked if he would fire any assistants if it meant he could keep his job. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck, in particular, has come under fire.

"Would I fire somebody to save my own job? No," Pelini said. "But would I fire somebody who I thought deserved firing? Yes."

Pelini, whose reputation is as a defensive specialist, said tackling problems and other breakdowns have plagued the Huskers throughout the season but haven't cost them until the last two weeks. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon ran for a then-FBS record 408 yards, and Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner confounded the Huskers on zone-read option keepers this past weekend.

Wisconsin and Minnesota were the first back-to-back opponents in the Pelini era to rush for 250-plus yards. The Huskers are 81st nationally against the run and 49th in total defense.

"Believe me, I point the thumb. I don't point the finger at the players," Pelini said. "I'm responsible for this thing."

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