LINCOLN, Neb. — Bo Pelini says he hasn’t been told if he’ll return for a seventh season as Nebraska’s head coach and that he isn’t spending any time worrying about it.
"If they want to fire me, go ahead," Pelini told reporters after the Cornhuskers’ 38-17 loss to Iowa on Friday to finish the regular season 8-4. "I believe in what I’ve done. I don’t apologize to you. I don’t apologize to anybody, myself or this staff. My record, our record since I’ve been here, speaks for itself. And this program is heading in a good direction.
"You choose not to think so, that’s your prerogative. All I know is myself, this staff, the people who have been associated with this program since I’ve been here can look themselves in the mirror and feel good about what they’ve done."
Though Pelini is 57-24 at Nebraska, his performance has been heavily scrutinized in the wake of bad losses to UCLA and Minnesota.
The question is whether first-year athletic director Shawn Eichorst believes Pelini is moving the program in the right direction. Pelini is under contract through 2017 and makes almost $3 million per year.
The Huskers haven’t won a conference championship since 1999, and they were eliminated from the Big Ten Legends Division race two weeks ago.
In addition to a run of blowout losses dating to 2011, Pelini came under fire in September after an audio of his profane tirade against Nebraska fans went public.
Eichorst, who has a policy of not commenting on a coach while his or her team is in season, has given no hint about how he’s leaning.
Pelini’s volatile sideline antics, which have been kept under wraps most of the season, were back in full force Friday. He was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct in the third quarter after he protested a pass-interference call on linebacker Zaire Anderson. Pelini took off his hat and nearly hit linesman Steve Matarante as he punched the air with his left fist.
Pelini said the official flagged him because he got too close to him, but made it clear — with the help of an expletive — he thought it was a bad call.
"I’ve never seen anything like that before," Pelini said. "I’ve done a lot worse than that, and I saw (Iowa coach) Kirk Ferentz over on the other side acting a lot worse than I act. I didn’t see a flag come out on him. The bottom line is they knew they blew the call. They blew it. They blew that call over there on that third down. And everybody in the stadium knew it. They didn’t man up enough to pick that flag up."
The Huskers (5-3 Big Ten) won their fewest regular-season games since 2008, Pelini’s first year, and lost three home games for the first time since 2007 under Bill Callahan.
Iowa (8-4, 5-3) capitalized on field position, starting seven of its 15 possessions inside the Nebraska 50, and converted two of the Huskers’ three turnovers into touchdowns.
Fifth-year quarterback Ron Kellogg III, who was making his first career start on senior day in place of injured Taylor Martinez and Tommy Armstrong Jr., threw interceptions on back-to-back possessions in the first quarter. The Huskers couldn’t get anything going offensively until late in the first half, and by then they were down 14-0.
Kellogg passed 15 yards to Quincy Enunwa to pull the Huskers within 24-17 early in the fourth quarter. But Ameer Abdullah, plagued by fumble problems all season, lost the ball on the Huskers’ next possession. The Hawkeyes took advantage of another short field to go up 14 points.
Pelini’s team battled through injuries to six offensive linemen, and Martinez, the fourth-year starting quarterback, was limited to four games because of a mysterious foot injury. Kellogg, who threw the Hail Mary to beat Northwestern and led an overtime victory at Penn State last week, got the call Friday because of a lingering ankle injury to Armstrong.
The Huskers continued to struggle with turnovers and shoddy special-teams play.
Pelini declined to answer directly when asked if he had made a case to keep his job.
"You guys have chose to make a story of it all year," he said. "It’s impacted our football team. It’s hurt our football team."
Junior receiver Kenny Bell said he and his teammates support Pelini’s return.
"I would play for Bo Pelini against Satan himself," Bell said, "and a team of demons at the gates of the underworld."