Shortly after becoming Nebraska's defensive coordinator in 2003, Bo Pelini was asked why the job was better than the NFL position he left behind -- Packers linebacker coach.
"Because," Pelini said confidently, "I took it."
Nebraska's new head coach has the bravado. That was never an issue. The question is whether he has the experience. AD/interim head coach Tom Osborne searched far and wide for a replacement for Bill Callahan and settled on LSU's defensive coordinator. He came up with a candidate who has never been a head coach to run a program that needs to be nursed back to health quickly.
Pelini, 39, is expected to be introduced early next week. He comes in as the program's winningest coach (1-0). After Frank Solich was fired following the 2003 regular season, Pelini took over as interim and guided the Huskers to an Alamo Bowl victory. He was a fan favorite but wasn't the choice of then-AD Steve Pederson, who wanted a change of culture.
A lot of good that got him. Four years later, Bill Callahan produced as many losing seasons as bowl games. And Pelini was once again the fan favorite.
Is it Pelini's time? In 2003, he was deemed by some as too inexperienced, too immature, not "presidential" enough to be head coach. That has changed, at least in the minds of his supporters at Nebraska. His LSU defenses have been ranked among the top three nationally in each of Pelini's three seasons. The Tigers' defense has slumped in the second half of this season, allowing an average of more than 30 points per game in the past six heading into Saturday's SEC championship game.
|If Tom Osborne wants a fiery leader for the Cornhuskers, he'll get one in Bo Pelini. (AP)|
Pelini once chased down former Kansas State coach Bill Snyder after a game and chastised him for running up the score. In the bowl game as head coach, he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after coming off the sidelines to argue a call. But after that game fans chanted "We Want Bo!" They loved the fiery attitude.
Now for better or worse Pelini and his attitude are in charge of Nebraska football. Osborne reportedly interviewed only two head coaches -- Buffalo's Turner Gill and Wake Forest's Jim Grobe.
The question is not whether Pelini is mature enough at this point. It is whether he is good enough. The Blackshirts defense -- renamed "Blackskirts" this season -- finished near the bottom of the national statistics. Kansas ran up an all-time high 76 points against Nebraska -- and could have scored 90.
Talent will have to be recruited. Experience as a head coach will have to come on the job. Not unlike the man who hired him. Osborne had never been a major-college head coach until Bob Devaney passed him the baton in 1973.