The current Nebraska head coach and 1990 Ohio State football captain addressed a group of high school coaches in Columbus for the annual Ohio High School Football Coaches Association, and the parallels between the philosophies of Pelini and current Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel were not hard to see.
"My No. 1 job at the University of Nebraska is not to win but to prepare young men to be successful for the rest of their lives," Pelini said early in his speech at Value City Arena.
He said in Lincoln he and his staff ask their players to compete all the time in everything they do, assuring them that the principles involved in leading good lives will translate to good Saturdays during football season.
Pelini even said when he took the UN job prior to the 2008 season he called Tressel to speak with him about how to glorify some of the great traditions from the Cornhusker program's history, something Tressel has done in his time as head coach at Ohio State since 2001.
After his talk was finished, the 42-year-old Pelini even flashed Tressel's trademark diplomacy when asked the inevitable question about one day replacing Tressel when the 57-year-old steps down from his post.
"I don't worry about that," Pelini said during a brief session with a handful of local reporters. "I don't look into the future. Fortunately, they have a great coach. Coach Tressel will be here for a long time. They've got a great staff. All I worry about is what I'm doing in my current job."
Pelini said he regularly makes it to the area to visit family that lives nearby, but seeing the football facilities is something else.
That helped motivate the choice to accept the speaking engagement for the OHSFCA clinic.
"I don't do very much of these," Pelini said. "Your time is limited, but obviously it's different when Coach Tressel called and asked me to come here. This place is pretty special to me. It was an honor to come here, a chance to come back home."
With all the uncertainty swirling around the college sports landscape these days, some have floated the idea that Pelini could eventually receive regular opportunities to visit Ohio Stadium not as a quest but as a foe.
Though the teams do not appear on each other's schedules any time in the near future, that could change if the Big Ten expands and taps Nebraska as a new member, something that has been floated amid myriad scenarios, particularly if the conference would choose to add five teams.
"Obviously, the Big Ten has a lot of things going for it," he said. "The Big Ten Network is huge. There are tremendous institutions. They compete not only athletically but also academically. I think it's the right time. They've looked at expansion, and it seems like that's the way it's going to go. Because of all the things the Big Ten brings to the table, they can attract some quality schools to join the conference. I think it's just the way things are moving right now.
"One thing I've found out is if you look at it the Big Ten has really been kind of the leaders. They have been out there doing things that a lot of the other conferences are trying to catch up to with the television contracts and things like that. So if there is one league that would step out there and take that chance and see how it works out, it would probably be the Big Ten."
Asked if Nebraska could fit in the conference of his alma mater from academic and athletics standpoints, Pelini replied, "I think Nebraska could be a fit anywhere. Just look at the traditions on the field and off the field. With everything they bring to the table, they could fit for anybody, but that's up to the powers that be to make those decisions. That's way above my pay grade."
Regardless of what conferences they are in now or what the future might hold, Pelini acknowledged seeing plenty of parallels between his program in Lincoln and Tressel's in Columbus.
"There are some differences, but there are a lot of similarities. I think the biggest similarity, the thing you look at is I think you have two programs that try to do things the right way," Pelini said. "They're going to win, but they're not going to compromise their values and their integrity to accomplish winning. I think there's a lot to be said for that in this day and age."