Nebraska chooses LSU assistant Pelini as new coach
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Bo Pelini is the new coach at Nebraska, leaving the defensive coordinator post at LSU for a job many Cornhusker fans thought he should have been given four years ago.
Interim athletic director and former head coach Tom Osborne announced Pelini's hiring Sunday, after introducing Pelini to the players.
"We need a head coach with strong defensive credentials and great leadership," Osborne said. "We were also looking for someone who can inspire confidence and get players to play with great effort.
"And, of course, we also wanted our new head coach to understand our traditions, including the importance of our walk-on program and the importance of football in this state."
It's the first head coaching job for the 39-year-old Pelini, who spent three years at LSU orchestrating one of the nation's top defenses. He replaces Bill Callahan, fired Nov. 24 after the Huskers' second losing season in four years.
Unlike Callahan, a former NFL coach many Nebraska fans never felt comfortable with, Pelini doesn't come to the football-crazed state as a stranger.
He was interim coach after Frank Solich was fired following the 2003 regular season and went on to coach the Huskers to an Alamo Bowl victory over Michigan State. As he walked off the field in San Antonio, Husker fans chanted "We want Bo."
"It's something I've worked a long time for," Pelini said Sunday of becoming a head coach.
Expectations are high at Nebraska, where football is king and the Cornhuskers are the only big-name program in the state. Pelini said he won't concern himself with the expectations, but appeared ready to embrace them.
"One of the unique aspects of this job ... is everything it means to the state," he said.
"It's like one big family."
Pelini said a contract hasn't been finalized, and he wouldn't discuss what he might be paid.
Osborne had said that the next coach didn't need to have Nebraska ties. Pelini was only at Nebraska in 2003, but his no-nonsense style of coaching defense and fiery demeanor quickly made him a beloved figure.
Husker quarterback Joe Ganz said Pelini's fiery style was apparent in a players-only meeting before he was officially announced as head coach. Osborne consulted with players and coaches who have worked with him and said he found the same thing.
"All of them are very impressed with his ability to inspire people," Osborne said.
Osborne had interviewed Pelini and Buffalo coach Turner Gill, a former star Nebraska quarterback and longtime assistant at the school. Osborne also reportedly spoke informally with Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe.
Pelini had been a candidate for the Nebraska job after Solich's firing and was interviewed by former athletic director Steve Pederson, who elected to go with Callahan.
Pelini's first task will be to resuscitate the Huskers' "Blackshirt" heritage.
The past four years have seen Nebraska sustain some of the most embarrassing losses in program history.
The Huskers finished 5-7 after losing 65-51 at Colorado, a game in which they squandered an 11-point lead. The dismal season followed one in which it reached the Big 12 championship game, and also featured a 76-39 defeat at Kansas, the most points allowed by a Nebraska team.
At LSU, Pelini has coached defenses that ranked No. 3 in the nation three years in a row.
The Tigers have surrendered about 284 yards per game this season, and the 33 turnovers they forced is tied for fourth in the country.
The 2006 Tigers led the Southeastern Conference in six defensive categories and ranked among the top five nationally in four. That group also had streaks of 16 and 10 quarters without allowing a touchdown.
The 242.8 yards LSU allowed per game in 2006 were the fewest surrendered by a Tiger team since the 1976 squad allowed 233.1.
In 2004, Pelini served as Oklahoma's co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, helping the Sooners to the national championship game against USC.
Pelini had spent eight years as an NFL assistant before Solich hired him from the Green Bay Packers in 2003. Pelini said he may ask some current and former Nebraska assistants to coach under him, but declined to name potential hires.
When last at Nebraska, Pelini led a defense that tied the school record with 47 turnovers. The Huskers were No. 2 in the nation in takeaways and tops in turnover margin at plus-1.77.
Under Pelini, Nebraska also led the nation in pass efficiency defense (88.66 rating), ranked No. 2 in scoring defense (14.5 ppg), No. 11 in passing yards (177.8 ypg) and No. 11 in total defense (297.2 ypg).
Pelini played safety at Ohio State from 1987-90. He was a three-time selection to the Academic All-Big Ten team as well as serving as team captain as a senior in 1990.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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