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.
Free Safety, The Ohio State University, (1987-1990)
Why Pelini could be the next coach of the Buckeyes:
Why Pelini wont be the next coach of the Buckeyes: