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Comfort awaits Bo Pelini in Youngstown return

12/16/2014

Bo Pelini is going home. What a stunner. Yet it makes perfect sense.

Nebraska’s coach of the past seven years likely could have held out for a bigger job than Youngstown State. Pelini went 67-27 in Lincoln and won nine games every season -- the first coach at a Power 5 program fired for on-field performance after such a victorious run.

He owns experience as an NFL assistant and as a successful coordinator at LSU and Oklahoma. More dominoes are set to fall this year. Surely, another brand-name program, perhaps motivated by the union last week of Gus Malzahn and Will Muschamp at Auburn, would have extended Pelini an offer before the room went quiet in the 2014-15 version of musical coaching chairs.

But Pelini was content with Youngstown State, a traditional FCS power with a 20,630-seat stadium and a legend in the president’s office.

The prospect of working near Jim Tressel likely appealed to Pelini. Tressel won four Division I-AA crowns at YSU from 1986 to 2000 before he left for Ohio State and returned this year to run his old university.

Pelini was comfortable, after all, alongside Tom Osborne at Nebraska. Osborne, who won three national titles in Lincoln, hired Pelini in 2007. They worked in a building named after the former coach. And it never appeared to bother Bo.

Not much bothered him, in fact, about coaching. He was at his best in Lincoln on the practice field and the sideline. Sure, he lost his cool once in a while, but that’s just Pelini. He never wondered how to act on Saturday.

Sunday through Friday could give him trouble. The anti-Pelini crowd argued that he operated more like a coordinator than a CEO.

Last month, two days after Wisconsin gouged Nebraska for 59 points and 581 rushing yards, Pelini failed to explain, now somewhat famously, his postgame comment that he didn’t look at the “big picture” in performing his job.

There was an easy answer waiting for him. A time existed for big-picture talk, he could have said. In the wake of a five-touchdown loss, he needed to focus on his players and how to fix their lapses. But he didn’t find the words, just like the answers to other big-picture questions avoided him in his time at the school.

Pelini grew to accept his role as the face of the corporation that is Nebraska football. But was he ever comfortable with it?

Maybe in this final year, yes, though it was too late to reverse some of the habits and stagnation that ultimately led to his ouster.

Pelini will be paid $150,000 a month by Nebraska through February 2019, minus his YSU earnings.

Yes, he could have waited for a more prestigious job. But Youngstown State offers a chance for him to get comfortable in a hurry. He grew up there. He is a product of the region’s blue-collar vibe -- a favorite son who remained charitable to the community, like many others who made it big out of the northeast Ohio coaching cradle.

Youngstown is a fighter’s town. Ray Mancini and Kelly Pavlik are rooted in its history. The city, with a population that has dwindled to 65,000, has refused to go down in the face of adversity.

That is Pelini. In Youngstown, he will face a fraction of the media attention to which he’s accustomed. Many of the distractions in place at a Big Ten school just don’t exist in Youngstown. The expectations remain high -- and Pelini never had trouble with expectations.

It was the peripheral challenges that bothered him. In Youngstown, he can focus on coaching, relationships and the fundamentals of football.

He ought to thrive at home.