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Nebraska's Pelini 'lives and learns' after flops

If Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is stressed about his team's dismal finish last season, staff turnover and the challenges that await in the Big Ten, he isn't showing it.

"This is a tough profession, and you go through your ups and downs," Pelini said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's part of the deal. I'm not content, but I do see steady progress in how we've gotten better in a lot of areas. I just want to get over the hump. It wasn't any harder than any other year."

Even if it seemed that way sometimes.

The 43-year-old Pelini is 29-12 in three seasons, and the Cornhuskers have been seen as a program on the rise most of that time.

But Nebraska lost three of its last four games last season and Nebraska's chancellor admonished Pelini for a sideline meltdown at Texas A&M. The offense flopped for the second year in a row in the Big 12 championship game and again in an embarrassing Holiday Bowl loss to Washington.

Pelini parted ways with offensive coordinator Shawn Watson in January — he won't call it a firing — and promoted running backs coach Tim Beck as part of a drawn-out staff overhaul.

"I've learned a lot, I've been through a lot," Pelini said. "You know as well as I do that it's not an easy place to coach. We haven't won a championship yet, but we've come a long ways in three years. I'm proud of that."

The schedule-makers did Nebraska no favors for its first season in the Big Ten: road games at Wisconsin and back-to-back at Penn State and Michigan, and home games against Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa.

"I don't worry about who we're going to play," Pelini said. "I look at it as they have to worry about playing us."

Big Ten opponents know what they're getting from a physical Nebraska defense that's been one of the nation's best the last three years.

Offensively, the Huskers are a mystery.

Beck and Pelini have been vague when discussing the new system, and it's doubtful they'll show more than the bare essentials in next week's spring game. Pelini has said he likes a physical style, and Beck has said it will be up-tempo. Beck also has said he has simplified the system.

Pelini said he has no regrets about retaining Watson from Bill Callahan's staff.

"I think that was the right choice, the right thing to do that first year and early on," Pelini said.

The Huskers averaged 35 points and 450 yards a game in 2008, with Joe Ganz throwing for 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns. Production dropped to 25 points and 323 yards a game in 2009 with Zac Lee. The Huskers averaged 31 points and almost 400 yards last season with Taylor Martinez, but the elusive quarterback was hurt the second half of the season and the offense failed to produce in the most important games.

"There are certain things I think we needed to do to fix it to get what I wanted and what I envisioned," Pelini said. "I didn't do a good job of getting that done."

Watson is now quarterbacks coach at Louisville. Pelini said he and Watson agreed the assistant couldn't stay after last season.

"There became an air of negativity offensively, and that was affecting our players, so I thought a change of system was something we needed as much for the offense's psyche as anything else," Pelini said.

"Let's face it, (Watson) went through a tough time. People were being hard on him. No one wants that. At the end, he chose to go and felt it was the right thing for him. Fortunately, he ended up in a good spot."

Receivers coach Ted Gilmore, another holdover from the Callahan staff, left to take the same job at Southern California. Rich Fisher, a prep school coach in Massachusetts, is the new receivers coach.

Pelini said he's "lived and learned" when it comes to his own job performance.

In the 9-6 loss at Texas A&M, cameras caught Pelini ripping into officials after several of the 16 penalties called on the Huskers.

"You feel like your football team is being wronged, you're going to stand up and fight," Pelini said. "Maybe I didn't approach it the right way, but that's my nature. I fight for my players." Pelini also was shown dressing down quarterback Martinez on the sideline, poking him with his left index finger just above the collar.

The day after the game, chancellor Harvey Perlman said Pelini's foul-mouthed tirades reflected poorly on the school, and Pelini publicly apologized for "getting personal" with the officials.

Perlman and Pelini met to discuss the coach's sideline blowup. The chancellor said Monday that he has no concerns about how Pelini will conduct himself in the future.

"Last year's over and we're looking forward. There's no problem," Perlman said. "I'm confident. I think he's a great coach and he's going to do us proud."

Pelini also had to deal with rumors about Martinez's status. When Martinez didn't show up for a workout the day after the A&M game, it fueled talk that he had quit. Speculation about Martinez's commitment to the Huskers continued into the offseason, until he put out a statement saying he planned to stay.

"He's not the first player I've gotten after, and he won't be the last," Pelini said. "When I get after somebody, I get after him because I care about him."

Pelini said the reserved Martinez, a redshirt freshman last season, might have been overwhelmed by his situation.

"He came in as a freshman quarterback. I think sometimes people forget that," Pelini said. "All of a sudden he had early success and everybody wanted to make him a Heisman Trophy candidate. He had a lot of development to do. That had a lot to do with how the season went. That's reality."

Pelini acknowledges his volatility, but said his behavior hasn't tarnished the image of him or Nebraska. He said he's been well-received by high school coaches and prospects in recruiting.

"There isn't a bad perception of Bo Pelini out there, I don't believe," he said. "People know who I am, what I represent. When you deal with this politically correct society we live in today, where people blow things out of proportion, the people who are involved in athletics don't get caught up in all that. That's more for the media and people who have never competed a day in their lives."