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T A D    S T R Y K E R
January 15, 2010

In a world where perception and reality collide, I give the edge to reality. But I try not to be blind to perception.

The reality is that Bo Pelini is getting paid a salary package of about $1.8 million per year, which is no worse than the middle of the pack among Big 12 football coaches. But the perceptions can come from many different angles.

Some perceive that Pelini will be hired away if the University of Nebraska doesn’t give him a significant raise. I think this view is somewhat alarmist. Will Pelini skip town with four years left on his contract because Turner Gill is getting paid 10 percent more at Kansas? I’d say it’s very unlikely.

Pelini wasn’t on the short list to replace Pete Carroll at Southern Cal, and I doubt that he’s on the short list anywhere else, either. He hasn’t built enough of a record yet to satisfy the corporate-minded decision-makers at most high-level programs.

On the other hand, some perceive that Pelini is already overpaid compared to other university employees, like academic department heads and professors. I think this view is unrealistic, considering that Pelini is essentially the CEO of a football program bringing in large amounts of money that directly benefit the university.

Here’s the reality. Nebraska is going through rough financial times that would be much rougher if the state had not been fiscally conservative over the past decade.

And here’s the view that I think makes the most sense right now.

This is a high-profile state job we’re talking about. In fact, it may be the most prominent position in Nebraska. Have you checked the news lately? This is a time when high-profile state employees are having their salaries frozen, or even cut back. That’s the reality here in Middle America, where common sense usually prevails when it comes to financial matters.

Consider the fiscal environment Nebraskans are living in. Earlier this month, the Platte County Board of Supervisors voted to freeze its own salary level. In December, the same thing happened in Hall County. In Lincoln County, the Board of Supervisors actually voted to reduce its own salary figure in 2011. I could go on. I wish it weren’t the case, but it’s belt-tightening time around here.

It would not be good stewardship for the university to raise Pelini’s salary now. Fiscal conservatism makes sense during a financial downturn.

Pelini may deserve a raise, but so do a lot of other Nebraskans who won’t be getting them this year. In fact, a lot of Nebraskans who have excellent job skills are unemployed. It’s not a good time for the state’s flagship sports program to increase its spending in such a prominent way. That perception has to rule for the time being.

Pelini had a generous and well-deserved raise last year, and so did his assistant coaches. That should be sufficient for now. And frankly, I’d recommend deferring his next one until he brings back his first conference championship — even if the state were not in the midst of profound budget problems.

Perhaps most importantly, Pelini strikes me as a man whose word you can count on. In December 2007, when Osborne offered him the keys to the Nebraska football program, it was widely reported that Pelini told his LSU players he was leaving to accept his “dream job.” It would be hard for me to leave a dream job if I were pulling down $1.8 million a year in a place where the cost of living is as low and the quality of life as high as Nebraska.

Sure, I know that Mack Brown makes $5 million a year. Does that mean Nebraska needs to adopt the excesses of Texas?

Remember when the university had to break its contracts with Steve Pederson and Bill Callahan? That was largely because Chancellor Harvey Perlman prematurely raised Pederson’s salary and extended his contract. In turn, Pederson then prematurely raised Callahan’s salary and extended his contract. History has taught us it’s best to take a fairly conservative approach to this sort of business.


Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at [email protected]. | Archive