On The Lighter Side: Bo Pelini

Ohio State's own Bo Pelini had one chance to lead his own football program for one game when he was named the interim head coach at Nebraska for the Bowl game at the end of the 2003 season. But now he's settled in at LSU and he's looking forward to leading another defensive unit through a stellar campaign. Pelini recently returned to Cardinal Mooney High School as an instructor at their annual 'Camp of Champions' and he spoke with Gary Housteau about his career...On The Lighter Side.

On the official web site for Louisiana State University athletics, Bo Pelini, the new defensive coordinator at the school, is referred to as being one of the most respected defensive minds in football.

Pelini was after all a three-time Academic All-Big Ten Honoree in addition to being a four-year letter winner and a captain of the 1990 Ohio State football team.

His stellar coaching career since he left Ohio State as a player includes a brief stint in high school as an assistant for one year at his alma mater, Cardinal Mooney, before moving on to a nine-year career in the NFL as an assistant coach with three different teams. And during the past two seasons, Pelini has been the defensive coordinator at Nebraska and then the co-defensive coordinator at Oklahoma in the college ranks.

Pelini was recently back at the site of his humble beginnings as a camp instructor to benefit the school that initially helped to make it all possible for him.

"I feel very fortunate to have gone to Cardinal Mooney and walked those halls and played here for four years," Pelini said. "Other than the upbringing that I had at home and the great parental guidance that I had and the great family support that I had, I believe this place played a significant role in where I am today."

It's been a whirlwind type of career for Pelini as a football player and a coach. Before his playing career as a defensive back at Ohio State, Pelini starred at both football and basketball at Mooney, leading his team to the state championship game in 1985 as a quarterback on the school's gridiron team.

"I feel very fortunate. I've had some great opportunities both as a player and a coach to be around a lot of quality programs and quality coaches," Pelini said. "I've had some great experiences but it's been rough. It's been a lot of hard work. But I've really enjoyed it and I hope to keep it going. We think we're going to be pretty good this year down at LSU and I look forward to it."

Not long after coaching in the national championship game at Oklahoma against USC, Pelini joined the Tiger staff under new head coach Les Miles who took over the reins from Nick Saban who departed to the NFL. Pelini said that he's really starting to get acclimated to his new environment.

"I feel we had a good spring," he said. "There's always that feeling out period that you have between the players and coaches but it's going well. It's about as good as it can be right now and I think it's going keep getting better. I look forward to doing some great things there."

Just two seasons ago Pelini was in the process of doing some really good things for the defense at Nebraska under Frank Solich when things abruptly went awry. Pelini's defense led the entire nation in pass efficiency that year and was ranked second in the nation in scoring (14.5 ppg) in addition to being number 2 in the nation in takeaways and first in the country in turnover margin at +1.77 per game.

When Solich was fired at the end of the 9-3 regular season, Pelini was named interim head coach of the Cornhuskers and presided over a 17-3 victory against Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl. But when Pelini was passed over for the permanent head coaching job at Nebraska, he moved on to Oklahoma to become an assistant to his fellow Cardinal Mooney alum, Bob Stoops.

"It was what it was," said Pelini in regards to what happened to him at Nebraska. "I take a lot of pride in what I was able to do there. We got a lot done in a short amount of time. I felt that when I left the program it was better than when I came in and I take a lot of pride in that. They decided to go in another direction and there's nothing you can do about it. But it was a good experience for me. It was a good one year."

But that taste of being a head coach and running his own program someday still lingers on.

"Absolutely, I think I'm ready to be a head coach and, God willing, when the opportunity presents itself I feel that I'll be ready," Pelini said. "I don't feel like I take a back seat to anybody and I look forward to getting the opportunity someday to run my own program."

That one year under Stoops at Oklahoma was another invaluable learning experience.

"We're good friends and obviously he's a great football coach and it was a great experience," said Pelini who didn't get to coach against Stoops in his one year in Lincoln. Nebraska did not play Oklahoma in 2003. "I know I'm a better coach today than I was a year ago because of that opportunity to work with Bobby."

Although he considers himself to be very fortunate for everything he's accomplished in his relatively young career, Pelini can't really single out one specific thing as being the high point of his career.

"I've been at some great places and I've enjoyed every stop along the way," he said. "Obviously winning the Super Bowl was special. I enjoyed my year at Nebraska, I got a chance to run my own program there for the Bowl game. But I've had a lot of great opportunities and great experiences and I really can't pinpoint one in particular."

Just being a captain of the Buckeyes would be a tremendous thrill in itself for so many Ohio natives who once dreamed of playing at Ohio State as a youngster. It's certainly a place that Pelini would consider returning to someday in some coaching capacity if the opportunity every presented itself. His name has often surfaced over the past couple of years as a possible coaching addition to Jim Tressel's staff.

"Obviously Ohio State has a special place in my heart. I really enjoyed my time there," he said. "I would hear all the (coaching) rumors too and I got all the phone calls but who knows what will ever happen down the line. But you kind of get caught up in the place that you are and where you're working and doing your job.

"But I always try to check the scores and hope that Ohio State always is winning their games as long as we don't play them. I've never had to coach against them except for that one year as a graduate assistant (at Iowa) and I'm happy because that would be a hard one to have to go in there and play against Ohio State. It's a special place with a lot of special people and they're fortunate to have Coach Tressel there."

And Cardinal Mooney is so similar to Ohio State in so many ways for Pelini.

"It's about tradition and everything else but it's also about people," he said. "Programs like Ohio State and Cardinal Mooney attract quality people and that's what wins. Ultimately you can talk about talent and everything else but you win with quality people."

And that's precisely what has made Pelini such a valuable coaching commodity. He's been nothing but a winner in the coaching ranks since his playing days ended in the Horseshoe, the venerable stadium that he would love to return to someday.

"I was recruiting in Columbus last year and I hadn't been in the Stadium since it was finished," Pelini said. "I rode by campus on purpose and I went there and I couldn't get in, it was all locked up. But I did see it from the outside and I look forward to seeing it again on the inside. Who knows, maybe someday I'll get a chance to be a coach on that sideline."

Ohio State fans would prefer it to be the sideline closest to the banks of the Olentangy.

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