The Coaching Search: Bo Pelini

Written June 23rd, 2011 by Eric

The next stop on our tour of potential Ohio State coaches leads us to Nebraska to consider one of the big names for the job.

Welcome back to the Big Ten!

Ever since his meteoric rise in the college coaching ranks six years ago, Mark “Bo” Pelini has been a well known name for the top spot in Ohio State football.  Though he hasn’t ever explicitly said so, having been raised in Youngstown, Ohio, and having graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School, Pelini has likely been a Buckeye fan for life.

Of course, it also helps that he played ball there.

Recruited by Earle Bruce, Pelini spent most of his days on the field as a free safety under John Cooper.  He was a starter in his last two seasons (1989, 1990) and Co-Captain his senior year.  Clearly the Scarlet and Gray runs deep in his blood.

After his playing career, Pelini jumped straight into the coaching circuit.  He spent a year as a Graduate Assistant at Iowa, followed by another year as the Quarterbacks coach of his old High School.

He then jumped into the professional leagues, coaching DB’s at San Francisco (94-96) for three years before coaching Linebackers for the Patriots (97-99) and Packers (00-02).

Pelini took the Defensive Coordinator position at Nebraska in 2003 under Frank Solich.  Solich was a solid coach for the Cornhuskers, but he simply wasn’t getting it done on the field – despite having a better starting record than his predecessors.  Solich hired Pelini in a shakeup of his staff that netted him a solid start in 2003.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to stave off the pink slip.

What you probably don’t remember is that Solich was fired before the bowl game.  Bo Pelini was named the interim head coach of the Cornhuskers for the 2003 Alamo Bowl against the Michigan State Spartans.  Pelini lead the Huskers to a 17-3 win over John L. Smith’s 8-4 Spartans.  The game was a defensive battle the whole way, particularly in the second half where neither team was able to score a single point.

While Pelini applied for the Nebraska head coaching position, the spot was eventually given to Bill Callahan – an absolute disaster of a head coaching hire.  Callahan went only 27-22 in his 4 seasons at Nebraska – generally considered one of the worst 4 year stretches for the program.

During that time, Pelini went back to his Defensive Coordinator position.  He first appeared for one season under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma – which ended in the 55-19 national championship shellacking at the hands of [redacted by the NCAA].  Pelini then took over as the coordinator for Les Miles defenses at LSU.  His last game with the Tigers was a 38-24 defeat of…you guessed it…the Buckeyes in the National Title Game.

Pelini has thus far coached the Cornhuskers for three seasons.  All three seasons have lead to Big 12 North Championships, and Pelini has managed to win two of his three bowl games (three of four if you count his interim job).

In the last two seasons, the Cornhuskers have played in the Big 12 Championship game, losing both times.  The first was the famous battle with the Texas Longhorns that ended in a one point loss.  That result is considered controversial, as Texas quarterback Colt McCoy had thrown the ball out of bounds and the clock had appeared to have run out.  Instead, one second remained, giving Texas the chance to kick the game winning field goal.

In Pelini’s second try, just last season, the Huskers fell prey to Bob Stoop’s Sooners in another close fought affair.  Nebraska fell 23-20 after failing to score in the second half, allowing the Sooners to pick up a pair of fields goals to secure the win.

All in all, Pelini has had a very successful tenure thus far as a Head Coach.  His 31-12 record (including his interim win) is particularly good considering the hole left for him by his predecessor.  Pelini faces a new challenge now, leading the Huskers into the B1G conference and potentially playing in a division stronger than the Big 12 North – though that remains to be seen.

As a coach, I absolutely love Pelini’s mentality.  He’s an intense, animated person as we’ve seen with the video of him chewing his quarterback out last season.  He demands a tough, physical style of football from his players – focusing on the running game and strong defense.  He plays a style not unlike Tressel, expecting his defense to snuff out the other team enough to scrape out a win.  Unfortunately, so far his offense hasn’t quite been good enough to get the win every single time.

Pelini would make for a fantastic hire by the Ohio State athletic department if they were so inclined to go after him.  Fortunately for Cornhusker fans, though, the likelihood that Ohio State would poach off of a fellow conference team is nearly zero.  While hiring a coordinator to a head coaching position might be ok (though not recommended), hiring an conference opponents head coach would be a major faux pas that I believe the school would never make.

Moving into the Big Ten might just have been the best decision the Nebraska Board of Trustees has ever made – for more reasons than one.

Playing Career

Free Safety, The Ohio State University, (1987-1990)


  • Graduate Assistant: Iowa 1991
  • Assistant Coach: QB: Cardinal Mooney HS 1993
  • Defensive Backs Coach: San Francisco 49ers 1994-1996
  • Linebackers Coach: New England Patriots 1997-1999
  • Linebackers Coach: Green Bay Packers 2000-2002
  • Defensive Coordinator: Nebraska 2003
  • Interim Head Coach: Nebraska 2003 Alamo Bowl
  • Defensive Coordinator: Oklahoma 2004
  • Defensive Coordinator: Louisiana State 2005-2007
  • Head Coach: Nebraska 2008-current

Why Pelini could be the next coach of the Buckeyes:

  • Having been raised in Ohio, Bo has lived the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry.  It only helps that he then played four years for the Buckeyes.  He knows what it’s about.
  • He has 20 years of experience in the coaching profession at both the NFL and Division 1 levels.
  • He has championship experience, having helped coach the 49ers to a Super Bowl Victory, along with leading Nebraska to two straight Big 12 Championship games.
  • He has experience coaching both sides of the ball, having spent a year as a Quarterbacks coach at his former High School.
  • He has done a fantastic job in a tough situation, returning a down-on-their-luck (for them) Nebraska program back into a National name and regular contender.
  • He has taken Nebraska to a bowl game in every single season he’s been the head coach.  (This used to mean more when it required more than a winning record).

Why Pelini wont be the next coach of the Buckeyes:

  • He’s gone 1-3 in games against Michigan while a player, including 0-2 as a starter.
  • He’s the head coach of another Big Ten program.  While it’s not impossible for the Ohio State administration to seek a coach at another Big Ten school, it would be highly inappropriate.  I very much doubt they’ll take that road.
  • Bo Pelini may not even want to leave the Nebraska job.  He’s done great things at the school and seems to have the fanbase behind him.  Its doubtful he’d want to leave a place where he’s clearly destined to leave a great mark.


  1. JimNo Gravatar
    June 23rd, 2011 at 7:31 am

    In many ways, Pelini reminds me A LOT of Luke Fickell… if Tressel hadn’t departed prematurely and Fickell was able to be a co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach for a few more seasons.

    Fickell is obviously less experienced at this point, but other than length of time in the coaching game, the two are very similar… particularly in the intensity department, even though I doubt we will see Fickell screaming in a QB’s face on the sidelines anytime soon.


  2. HuskerRodNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 9:09 am

    As an obvious Husker fan and one of many years, I would like to say how refreshing it is to see a well written article without bias or hate as an undertone when talking about the Huskers or someone associated with the Huskers. Too often these blogs can get extremely nasty and hateful in a hurry. OSU is a class organization and as a new member of the Big Ten, I know we will enjoy the new found kinship in this conference and we look forward to many years of tough fought, yet cordial, battles between our teams. With that said, I too am a big fan of what Bo Pelini has done here at Nebraska and I hope you are right in your opinion that Bo will not make the jump to Ohio State (although it has to be tough for him to not want to return to his alma mater….but as someone who has returned to their alma mater in my coaching career, it is not an easy thing to do!). I have not heard the reason previously concerning not going after Pelini as your coach because we are both in the same conference, but I like your style and your sense of right and wrong, unlike our former conference. I can’t wait to move on to bigger and better things and get the “ball rolling” in our new found home in the Big Ten!


    JimNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Thank you for the kind words. Pelini’s connections to Ohio are already paying off for you guys on the recruiting trail (Greg McMullen), and nothing does more for success in the Big Ten, or the entire Midwest for that matter, than recruiting Ohio well. You’re off to a good start.


  3. GregNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 9:27 am

    Well written piece. I also believe Pelini would be an excellent fit for OSU but doubt it happens.
    Almost a lateral move and in-conference? Na.


    JimNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Potential NCAA sanctions would have an impact as well. We are obviously hoping for the best on August 12th, but any bowl game bans or scholarship reductions would weigh heavily on Pelini or any other coach’s decision to come on board.

    At the same time, Ohio State is arguably a top 5 coaching destination in college football, and weathering the storm would seemingly be worth it for most coaches.

    I don’t think Pelini will come to Ohio State, but stranger things have happened.


  4. Jeff VNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I have been a Husker fan forover 50 years having attended my first game when Bob Devaney was just starting at NU back in the early sixties. Tom Osborne was an unpaid graduate assistant on the inaugaral 1962 Devaney team. I’ve experienced 3 Heisman winners and 11 National Championship Bowl games with the Huskers winning 5 of them. The last 5 years of Osborne’s coaching career (1993-1997) were the greatest in the HISTORY OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL. The Huskers went 60-3 over that span, played in 4 National Championship games and won 3 of them. They lost to Florida St 18-16 in 1993 when they missed a 45 yard fild goal on the last play or they would have won 4 NC’s.

    Although I respect Ohio State and am extremely excited about the Huskers joining the B1G, I see no way Pelini leaves Nebraska for Ohio St. Great fans, great stadium, great tradition aside, the Buckeyes are in for a lengthy penalty from the NCAA. It will be worse than USC’s…. I can see at least a 2 year TV ban (bad for the conference), a three year bowl ban (also bad for the conference)and at least 30 to 40 scholarship reductions for 3 or 4 years (bad for Ohio St). This will set Buckeye football back for at least 8 to 10 years.

    Plus Pelini has been given a contract extension at NU and with the departure of Tressel (how sad for him and the fans), he is the second highest paid coach in the B1G. Nebraska’s fan support and facilities are also second to none. Pelini will be at Nebraska for as long as he wants and he truly loves the school and his AD Tom Osborne.

    Good luck in the coming years and GO BIG RED!


    JimNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 10:24 am

    I don’t believe any of your predictions for penalties are even remotely likely (particularly the TV ban, in this age of million dollar television contracts, that is laughable, if nothing else the NCAA has proven that they value the almighty dollar above all else), but I guess we shall see.

    I’d like to hear your explanation as to why Ohio State’s transgressions warrant an exponentially harsher punishment than USC, if you would care to elaborate.


    HuskerPGANo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    I’ll tell you why I think the OSU penalty could be harsher than USC. Head coach cover-up.

    That lone piece is why Tres is gone, and I think the NCAA wants to send an even harsher message to coaches, AD’s, and Compliance dept. No Potential MNC season or Heisman candidate at QB is worth major sanctions and your job.

    That is the lone reason I feel that the NCAA COULD POSSIBLY be harsher on OSU than USC


    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Yup- that concerns me too… and it’s why we’re watching the Tennessee hearings so closely.


  5. KentNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Depends if the fans get on his case or not and the administration lets him coach! I love his FIRE!! But there are others who view this as an embarrassment! I view a losing record as an embarrassment! Let Bo be himself! NU will go far!!


  6. Jeff VNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 10:57 am

    No offense taken. Let me explain in two words…. Tressel lied. He lied to the NCAA. He lied to his school admin. He lied to his coaches. He lied to his fans. There are multiple infractions at Ohio St under Tressel’s entire career and unfortunately, the school and players and fans are going to pay for it. There still may be more to come.

    You may be right about the no TV ban but after that, Ohio St is going to get hit very hard. And the infractions are NOT exponentially higher than USC’s. Even if it ends up only being the same two year bowl ban, forfiture of all wins in 2010 and 30 scholarships (just like USC) for 3 years, it will severely hurt Ohio St. Just look at USC in the last 2 years under the dark cloud of NCAA investigation over the last two seasons. They finished 9-4 in 2009 and 8-5 in 2010. And this EVEN BEFORE the scholarship reductions. It will happen to Ohio St too. Recruting will suffer greatly in quality and in numbers. I am not alone in this assessment.

    But good luck in the coming years and GO BIG RED. See you in Lincoln on October 8th.


    JimNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:20 am

    I will just counter with the fact that Jim Tressel is no longer the head coach at Ohio State, a move that was clearly made to lesson any future sanctions from the NCAA.

    I think there are many things that work in favor of the Buckeyes in this situation, and several that clearly do not. Being an Ohio State fan, I like to focus on the positives.

    I guess we will have to wait and see as I said before. In the mean time, I would like to direct you to this “Infractions Scorecard”.

    The media has been outstanding at reporting every new allegation in excruciating detail… they haven’t been so good at following up when those reports are proven to be BS.

    Luke Fickel repeated it again and again in his press conference, the perception of Ohio State’s football program and the reality are two very different things right now.

    As an example, here’s a little pop quiz: how many infractions was Ohio State nailed with following the Maurice Clarett affair in 2003-2004?

    I’ll save you the trouble and answer for you. Zero. Ohio State was found to have committed zero infractions after three separate investigations into the program.

    I have a feeling most people don’t know that. Like I said, the media isn’t so great at following up on their reports of impending doom.


    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:32 am

    As a public service, we here at tBBC (OK, Eric) are working on both an overview of the “accusations” and the “findings” regarding Ohio State (similar to what our friends at the OZone have done, but with more awesomeness) as well as a chart that compares the Letter of Allegations (NCAA violations) and sanctions for Southern Cal, UNC, Boise State, Tennessee, Ohio State, (and hopefully Oregon and Auburn).


  7. MackNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 10:59 am

    How can you write stuff like this with a straight face:

    “Why Pelini won’t be the next coach of the Buckeyes:
    He’s gone 1-3 in games against Michigan while a player, including 0-2 as a starter.”


    EricNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Easily. Check out what I wrote about Lovie Smith

    There’s a reason ESPN called it “the best rivalry in all of sports” a couple years ago (though, clearly it’s fallen on hard times which Michigan sucking so badly).

    OSU fans will happily tell you (and mean it) that going 1-11 is a successful year if we beat Michigan.

    Therefore, a coach’s record against Michigan actually means something to us. The fact that Bo was there for a win is a lot better than poor Lovie Smith, who only lost to TSUN.


  8. Big Red TruckersNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Um yeah, Auburn should be getting the fire hose before anyone, but That Ain’t Happened Yet. OSU might get a bit of smack down from the NCAA, but not as bad as what they’ll get from the Blackshirts in Lincoln this fall. Hopefully OSU gets back at top form quickly in any case, I hate hearing excuses.

    Here’s hoping OSU hires Urban Meyer!…seriously, what a perfect fit.


    JimNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:12 am

    You, sir, are a master of the backhanded compliment.


    EricNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:13 am

    We’ll be getting to Meyer next week. Stay tuned!


    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Whoo!!! Hiring Urban Meyer Next Week!1!1!!!1!1


    Big Red TruckersNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Urban has had great success at a comparable institution, seems to have the type of demeanor that OSU fans admire(Senator-ish), and will bring a faster, more-aggressive + less-conservative, brand of football to the program and the conference….which Nebraska is also arriving at the Big Ten conference front door armed with.

    Now, if only Old Joe Paterno would retire, and PSU hire some young stud coach, the B1G will be primed for re-invention top-down…such a transition is needed if the new-look Big Ten is to have success moving forward against the other top conferences between the white lines. (READ: WINNING NAT’L CHAMPIONSHIPS.)


    EricNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:42 am

    I agree we need a reinvention for the league – though I think Fickell is a sufficient reinvention for the Buckeyes. I’ll save my thoughts on Urban Meyer for next week’s article.

    Unfortunately, the day Joe Paterno retires is the day the world comes to an end.

    Here’s how I see it coming to an end (worked out with a friend a couple years ago): he will pass away on the sidelines of a big game, they’ll bury him at the 50, and continue with the game.


  9. Big Red TruckersNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Over the past 50 college football seasons, there are ten teams that have won 400 games or more. Four of those teams now play in the Big Ten. They are (in order): Nebraska [#1 - 474 wins], Ohio State [#2 - 439 wins], Penn State [#3 - 436 wins], and Michigan [#8 - 417 wins].


  10. Brutis BuckeyeNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:13 am

    As a life long Buckeye fan I have to laugh a little when it comes to Jeff V and his 2 year ban from tv and everything else he wrote about Ohio State . The only thing OSU has been found guilty of is players recieving cash for tattoos , in NO way was this used to get recruits , there is a difference . Tressel lied to the Ncaa , NOT GOOD AT ALL BUT , those are the only two things found . The NCAA is leaving the so called car scandle up to the state of Ohio BMV . They have made a 60 page report finding NO wrong doing . The 8 new players reported by Sports Illustrated have been cleared , some have hired lawyers and it looks like a class action might take place against S.I. . SO , where everyone comes off thinking DEATH PENALTY and LOSS of TV FOR 20 years is beyond me . I’m sure the rumors of this case has made it even worse than it is , not that lieing to the ncaa isnt bad enough . I cant wait for the reaction of the sports world when the NCAA comes down with less than severe punishment aka ( DEATH PENALTY – LOSS OF 40 Scholarships – NO TV FOR 2 YEARS ! ) lol


    Jeff VNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:37 am

    I didn’t say deathy penalty but trust me, Ohio St will get hard. Nothing less than what USC received. Tressel lied to the NCAA and then tried to cover it up. The latter more embarrassing and convictive than the former. Hate to see it happen to any school, but Tressel really has put Ohio St in a bad way with the NCAA.


    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:48 am

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head- this whole thing hinges on Tressel. The University has said as much, and the NCAA response did not include LOIC or FTM. However, it could be that those designations are reserved for programs with issues in multiple sports (UNC did not get LOIC, in spite of the magnitude of their transgressions).

    Many feel that the NCAA’s Ban Hammer will be firm, but not USC harsh based on the fact that the University has removed the source of the problem, and has not been seen as a problem itself- USC’s worst enemy was it’s own response and aggressive “Come and get us” stance.


    JimNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Actually, Ohio State self reported Tressel’s knowledge of the situation as soon as they became aware of it, ironically while digging through his old emails doing research on Nebraska’s addition into the Big Ten.

    Yahoo’s ‘breaking’ of the story was leaked from the NCAA compliance office after Ohio State’s administration had already self reported it.

    That is, um, the exact opposite of a cover up (for comparison, USC stonewalled the NCAA for five year, isn’t it amazing how the NCAA investigation into USC lasted years and Ohio State’s lasted a month or two?).

    And to reiterate, the man who did cover his knowledge of the situation up is no longer with the program.

    But go on, keep telling us how bad the punishment is going to be, you clearly know more about the situation than we do. And seriously, go check out the infraction scorecard I linked to above.


    Jeff VNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    I didn’t mean to stir up a hornet’s nest with you Jim but apparently I have. I really no of no one outside of the Ohio St family that doesn’t believe Ohio St’s penalties from the NCAA will be less than USC’s. And they aren’t just avid fans of the game like me. I see a general consensus from those in the know outside of Ohio St that the penalties will be very damaging.

    Hate to see it happen, but it will. Don’t just trust me, trust the NCAA.


    MaliBuckeyeNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    No worries, Jeff- we’re glad to have a variety of opinions hereabouts. Especially one that seems to work for the Committee on Infractions. :D

    Here’s my two sides on this matter-
    1) The NCAA is looking to make examples of programs in order to “fix” things (See USC/Boise State). Ohio State is screwed.
    2) The NCAA is completely dependent on programs to self report and work proactively with them, otherwise everyone would pull the “deny and obfuscate” path (or as we call it, “The SEC Way”). Ohio State has been incredibly proactive in this, to the point where they turned in the most popular and successful coach in the program’s history, and eventually removed him from the position. Ohio State is going to be punished, but not hammered.

    As I look at the second, I think- “If OSU works with the NCAA and still gets crucified, what message will that send to other schools?” Essentially, it will be “don’t break the rules (duh), but if something happens, it’s better for the University to cover it up than it is to work with the Association”.


    Brutis BuckeyeNo Gravatar
    June 27th, 2011 at 3:25 am

    I agree with everything up until …. Tressel the most successful coach in programs history . Jim Tressel is in NO way as Great as WAYNE WOODROW HAYES ! lol Not even in the same ball park . But I agree with everything else and if you are on the young side I cant say I blame you for thinking so much of the Vest .

  11. HuskerRobNo Gravatar
    June 24th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Interesting article.

    I agree that Bo will be a Buckeye for life. No matter what you do in your professional career, you rarely have the passion you have from your college days.

    It’s truely unfortunate what OSU is going through and I wish them the very best. I’d hoped to see N v OSU game with both teams at full strength this year. It doesn’t look like that will happen for a few years.

    Best wishes on your season and all that you’re going through with the NCAA.


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