It may not take long now to find out just how serious Pelini was about a statement he made in the emotional aftermath of winning the 2007 national championship at LSU.
After his last game as LSU’s defensive coordinator, Pelini was headed to Lincoln to rebuild what Steve Pederson and Bill Callahan had destroyed. He called Nebraska his “dream job” as he announced his decision to his players in the locker room after his Tiger defense wrecked Ohio State in the BCS title game.
He has gone 30-12 in three years at Nebraska, restoring the Blackshirts tradition to its proud place among the college football elite and narrowly missing a pair of Big 12 championships along the way. But we all know that what looks like a dream job can change due to circumstances; after all, just a few months ago, Pelini allegedly looked into the coaching job at Miami and although I can’t think of a worse fit for either Pelini or the Hurricanes, you’ve got to assume Bo was serious.
After Jim Tressel announced his resignation May 30 as Ohio State head coach, ESPN, both Kirk Herbstreit and Bruce Feldman mentioned Pelini’s name second after only Urban Meyer when they started talking about possible replacements.
Within hours after Tom Osborne announced Pelini as his choice for the Nebraska job, the speculation began about how long he would stay. Immediately, two jobs surfaced as the most likely Pelini would leave for – Ohio State and LSU. Last December, the speculation game was briefly ramped up when it looked like the LSU job would come open. Now the Ohio State job likely will be available, although let’s at least leave room for the possibility that the Buckeyes, who already have announced that co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is interim head coach through at least the end of 2011, will win an unprecedented seventh consecutive Big Ten title and keep the status quo.
If things don’t go well this fall for Fickell, it seems likely the Buckeyes will do all they can to persuade Meyer, an Ohio native, to come to Columbus with his two national titles and sterling reputation as a program builder. Meyer likely would outshine the upcoming NCAA probation that will descend upon Columbus, at least enough to continue to bring top-flight recruits to Ohio State.
To this point, things have worked out to make it very unlikely that Pelini will leave to coach at his old alma mater. In fact, it looks to me like only a rather implausible set of circumstances would send Pelini to Ohio State. If you’re in the camp that believes the Nebraska offense will be continue to be rather pedestrian this fall with Taylor Martinez at quarterback, an unproven offensive line in front of him and a bunch of question marks at wide receiver, you shouldn’t expect to see Pelini put on the scarlet and grey next December. I can’t imagine Gene Smith hiring Pelini if Nebraska fails to win the Big Ten on its maiden voyage through the conference, not with coaches like Boise State’s Chris Petersen and TCU’s Gary Patterson out there, or maybe even Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, a former Ohio State assistant.
But if Nebraska comes in and runs the table against one of the toughest conference schedules anywhere, wins the championship game Dec. 3 in Indianapolis and tops off the season with a victory in the Rose Bowl, Ohio State probably would make Pelini a very attractive offer – but only after Meyer turned the Buckeyes down.
On the other hand, if Nebraska goes 5-3 in the Big Ten and fails to win a conference title, Smith won’t give Pelini a second look. Smith is under pressure to keep OSU football a national power, and he won’t go after anyone who has not proven he can win on the national level. Pelini, who has yet to coach in a BCS bowl, is not there yet. Moreover, Pelini has gotten some negative national press because of his sideline demeanor, most notably in College Station, Texas, last November.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say Nebraska does well enough this fall to make Pelini the top candidate in Columbus. Would Bo take the job?
I believe Pelini is no more likely to leave Nebraska than Stoops is to leave Oklahoma – in fact, possibly less likely. Stoops seemingly has one of the best jobs in college football, but he has been there, done that. He has won a BCS title at OU, and has more Big 12 championship rings than will fit on one hand, yet is underappreciated by many Sooner fans because he “can’t win the big one.” A new challenge might look good from that vantage point. Pelini has laid the groundwork for an excellent run of success at Nebraska, but would have no more than a single conference title. Would he leave just as he is building momentum?
Pelini has not really accomplished much yet at NU, but is set up to do some real damage now that he is surrounded by his own hires. My main takeaway from spring practice is that Pelini is just approaching world-class speed as a head coach. He seemed more relaxed with his team, his staff and even the media.
Nebraska is well positioned to take over as a leader in the Big Ten. Ohio State is staring probation in the face. With Michigan and Ohio State unsettled, a coaching staff shuffle coming soon at Penn State and instability creeping in at Iowa in the aftermath of the Kirk Ferentz winter conditioning fiasco, there is no better time for the Cornhuskers to come into the Big Ten. Looks to me like the Huskers are set up to battle Wisconsin for Big Ten supremacy over the next five years.
Anticipating this possibility, Osborne has raised Pelini’s salary twice, and probably would do it again. Pelini knows that Osborne wants him to stay. That has to mean something. Will it keep him in Lincoln if Gene Smith and Ohio State come calling? I think so.
Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker is a longtime Nebraska sports writer, having covered University of Nebraska and high school sports for more than 25 years. He started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org