Tuesday, Apr. 1, 2003
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STEVEN M. SIPPLE COLUMN: Pelini ready to make mark at NU

Yeah, he's the staff "outsider." But Bo Pelini has no time to ponder the distinction.

Nebraska's new defensive coordinator has a system to install as spring practice looms just more than a month away.

Of course Pelini would've liked to coach with his brother Carl, whom Nebraska head coach Frank Solich bypassed earlier this month in favor of ex-Husker Jimmy Williams for the job as linebackers coach. Of Nebraska's six new full-time coaches, five had previous ties to the program.

Then there's Bo.

What's done is done, Pelini says. He's moved on since the Williams hire. That's how he operates. No messing around. No B.S. He has a house in south Lincoln.His wife and two children arrived in town last weekend. He's here, OK. He's working. He's adapting. He's a Husker.

Nonetheless, some predictPelini will leave town after a couple of seasons, maybe even after the coming season. After all, he's regarded as an up-and-comer.

"Time will tell,I guess," Pelini said Saturday.

But he said a short stint in Lincoln "isn't my intention."

As for being the staff "outsider," Pelini said, "I can't worry about that at this point. To me, that's something that can distract you, and there's a lot of work to be done here in a short amount of time. I'm just concerned about getting the job done."

It's a daunting task, indeed. Nebraska's defense ranked 55th nationally as the Huskers stumbled to a 7-7 record in 2002. Intrigued by the challenge, and impressed by NU's tradition, the 35-year-old Pelini was lured from the Green Bay Packers to replace fired coordinator Craig Bohl.

It's become clear that Pelini possesses a hard-edged, no-nonsense attitude -- just what Nebraska's defense needed. Pelini is nothing if not succinct. He gets to the point more quickly than a Nolan Ryan fastball, and Pelini can be as intimidating as one of Ryan's high-and-tight heaters.

Pelini now has had time to watch film of Nebraska's defense in 2002. Well?

"They were 7-7, so they didn't play well enough," he said flatly.

However, Pelini said, he's careful to avoid judging his players individually based on last season's performance.

"That would be unfair because I don't know exactly what they were being asked to do," Pelini said. "I wouldn't want to put anybody in the doghouse before I see how he responds to the new system and the new style of coaching."

Pelini declined to offer detail about the "new system," though he did say Nebraska's base alignment will remain a 4-3. However, there apparently will be significant changes elsewhere.

"From what I've seen on film, it'll be dramatically different," Pelini said. "To the naked eye, I don't know how dramatically different it'll look. But it's a different system -- that's all I want to say."

Pelini is careful to avoid dwelling on Nebraska's struggle in 2002. "Ican't concern myself with that at all," he said. What's more, Pelini insists he didn't harshly criticize the 2002 Husker defense last month when he and his fellow defensive coaches met with the defenders for the first time.

According to a widely circulated e-mail, Pelini ripped the players' effort in a profane session. Pelini called the e-mail "bogus."

"Ijust introduced myself," Pelini said. "It was a short meeting to let them know exactly what's expected."

And that is?

"Excellence, top to bottom, in everything they do," Pelini said.

Pelini, meanwhile, is getting used to the lay of the land. For instance, he now has a decent understanding of the Blackshirt tradition. But he said those coveted black practice jerseys signifying first-team status won't be handed out liberally. Last August, Bohl awarded 15 players with the jerseys.

"I don't know if we'll give out that many or not," Pelini said. "From what I understand, it's something you have to earn."

It'll be interesting to watch how Pelini responds to the scrutiny that goes with his job. At $131,000 per year, Bohl's pay wasn't commensurate with the pressure he endured. At $200,000, Pelini's salary is more appropriate.

In 2003, Husker fans will demand improvement. Patience will be in short supply.

Pelini is adjusting to life in the limelight. As linebackers coach in Green Bay, he said, Packer fans pretty much left him alone. Here, it's another story. He goes to Nebraska men's basketball games and sees himself on the big screens, the crowd cheering.

"I guess I am a little more in the limelight now," Pelini said grudgingly. "It's OK ... It's not something I prefer."

Pelini commands respect with his stern and confident demeanorand his coaching background. Remember, he was hired at age 25 as a secondary coach with the San Francisco 49ers. In 1994, his first season with the Niners, they won the Super Bowl.

Pelini seldom wears his title ring.

"I'm not much of a jewelry guy," he said.

Somehow I'm not surprised.

Guess I'm getting to know the "outsider."

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


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Press Box Perspective
New Nebraska defensive coordinator Bo Pelini says the Huskers will employ a vastly different alignment in 2003 compared to what the Huskers used in recent seasons under former defensive coordinator Craig Bohl.

But don't look for Pelini to diagram his plans for all to see this spring, or even in August when preseason camp begins.

Nebraska, you see, could benefit from the element of surprise Aug. 30, when the Huskers open the season at home against Oklahoma State.

This is Pelini's first go-round as a defensive coordinator. So it's not as if opponents can go back to films of previous defenses for clues.

"It could be helpful," Pelini said. "I would sure like to know what my opponents are doing."

Nebraska, which also features a new offensive coordinator, faces a formidable task this spring in implementing all the changes. Indeed, one wonders if the magnitude of change could possibly overwhelm players and ultimately become a disadvantage.

"It depends on how guys respond and take coaching," Pelini said. "If they want it badly enough, there's plenty of time to get done what we need to get done."

-- Steven M. Sipple