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Nebraska's Bo Pelini: 'I'm real ... I am who I am'

There was a cat. There was a buddy. There was a couch. There was a tweet with 10,000 retweets.

These things have nothing or everything to do with this week's coverage of recruiting and National Signing Day, depending on your view of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.

Having Pelini as one of the 20-plus coaching guests on CBSSports.com's Signing Day show provided a chance to humanize the guy who, if judged solely from sideline demeanor, chews glass and plots hat-swinging revenge at refs.

On the show, colleague Bruce Feldman asked Pelini about his off-field personality (more on that in a minute).

I asked about the cat -- specifically, the exchange with @FauxPelini, a parody account of nearly 75,000 followers (more than Pelini himself).

Pelini, in perhaps our most introspective interview of the day, gave the full Pelini on how it went down. He was sitting around watching the national title game and one of his buddies brought up the @FauxPelini account.

"Thought it'd be pretty funny. I've always kind of ignored it. It amazes me the amount of people that follow it. So I said, ‘You know what, I don't' really follow the whole things, but heck, let's see what happens here.' I was shocked at the type of response that it got. I wasn't really anticipating that. I was just doing it because I thought it'd be pretty cool."

From the touching Jack Hoffman touchdown to a self-effacing tweet, Pelini does things away from the field that would be considered normal and sensible. But it might still be surprising to some people when he does these things because all they see is the on-field snarl that rarely dissipates. The facial intensity boils like tar on a hot day. That also goes for press conferences, where Pelini can basically dare his athletic director to fire him after an ugly regular-season-ending loss to Iowa.

Now that Pelini stretches his Nebraska tenure to a seventh year, not many have had a better start to 2014.

Pelini got poured on all of last season -- the profanity-laced Deadspin video fueling the vitriol, but maybe he's hitting his stride.

He knocked off a storied SEC program in the Gator Bowl, he kept supercharged running back Ameer Abdullah for one more year – a major upset considering the record number of early defections and the short shelf life of running backs – and he went viral twice, including this lovely airport picture.

Who knows if Nebraska's signing class, ranked No. 35 nationally, will help usher Pelini to his first Big Ten title. Pelini's consistency has been unreal with between nine and 10 wins in each of his six seasons, but Nebraska fans still clamor for that true breakout year.

Pelini reflects on his tenure and his recruiting approach through one prism: Reality. "I'm real," he said about how he talks to recruits.

The youngest of eight kids learned how to "do things the right way," which is camouflaged by his sometimes surly approach on the field and in interviews. Come talk to the people in Lincoln about how he treats them, he says. He promises positive results.

"The way the media wants to portray you, the way they want to exaggerate things -- let me tell you, I ‘ve been coaching a long time and I've been around sports for a long time, anybody who walks onto the field when competition begins is different than they are off the field," Pelini said. "You're not like that all the time. I think people in this community and mainly around the state recognize that. They understand who I am and what I stand for and I live it every day. I'm not somebody who's going to go out there and put out a false front. That's who I am. I am who I am. I think people who really know me respect me for that. That's the way I believe it should be."

Pelini owns up to angrily swing his hat over an official's call in the Iowa game -- he was frustrated -- but he doesn't see other coaches getting criticized for similar behavior.

"They want to show you when you get upset on the sideline or whatever, but unfortunately for me it gets very over-exaggerated where maybe I see another coach doing the same thing and they just brush by it or they don't even make a comment on it," Pelini said.

Big smiles and polished press conferences can help coaches win favor, but Pelini has never played that game. Fair or not, that authenticity probably has hurt Pelini in the court of public opinion because I'm not sure everyone wants a coach who's real. They might not be ready for that. They want to be told everything's fine and "Let's Go (insert team mascot here)."

But Nebraska coaches and players love it. If Pelini wins a Big Ten title, his realness -- the very thing that made for an uncomfortable fall -- will be a catalyst for the breakthrough.


Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.
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