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Published Friday, February 22, 2008

A comfortable, fit Pelini 'humbled' to be NU coach

By Terry Douglass

Bo Pelini was happy at LSU.

Serving as the Tigers' defensive coordinator for the past three seasons, Pelini was one of the highest-paid assistants in the country. And while he certainly had aspirations of one day becoming a head coach, Pelini wasn't going to leave a good gig in Baton Rouge, La., for just any job.

Then, Tom Osborne came calling. The legendary, former Nebraska head coach turned athletics director made Pelini an offer he couldn't refuse.

"When Coach Osborne presented this opportunity to me and we talked about it, it became obvious that this was where I needed to be and this was where my family needed to be," Pelini said. "Because what I've learned over the years that I've been coaching is this: It's about the people."

Pelini knew exactly what he would be getting into if he rejoined the pressure-filled atmosphere in Husker Nation. He was the defensive coordinator for Nebraska during the tumultuous 2003 season when Frank Solich was fired after a 9-3 regular season.

But after Osborne's offer, Pelini said he couldn't imagine himself anywhere else. Never mind that expectations at Nebraska are almost always lofty.

"They should be," Pelini said. "When you have the support that's sitting here throughout the whole state of Nebraska, to me, the sky's the limit."

Pelini was in Grand Island Thursday afternoon for the Central Nebraska Big Red Luncheon at the Heartland Events Center. Along with Osborne, Pelini was joined by his entire coaching staff at the event, which drew an estimated crowd of 1,100.

Pelini told the gathering that he was humbled by the opportunity to be the head coach at Nebraska. The 40-year-old native of Youngstown, Ohio, added that he considers his job a tremendous responsibility and that he's here to serve the football program, his players and the people of this state.

Osborne, who fired former coach Bill Callahan after Nebraska's 5-7 season in 2007, said the fiery Pelini and his strong defensive resume simply seemed like the right man at the right time for the program.

In talking with coaches and players who had worked with Pelini in the past, Osborne said he failed to find anyone with a negative opinion of Pelini. A winner of 255 games and three national titles during his 25-year head coaching career, Osborne said he liked Pelini's ability to communicate, motivate and the fact that Pelini's defenses have had a knack for creating turnovers.

The low-key Osborne also said he likes Pelini's passion.

"That was a problem throughout my coaching career," Osborne said. "I was presumed to be too bland, too nice and wouldn't be able to win the big one, but we've got a guy now who won't be too bland and too nice.

"We have rectified that problem."

New Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler, who worked with Pelini at LSU, said he has no doubt that the Husker players will soon take on the personality of their new head coach.

"There's not a more fierce competitor in the sport," Ekeler said. "You want to talk about somebody who hates to lose, hate isn't the right word. That man despises it."

With Nebraska having suffered through two losing seasons in the past four years under Callahan, Pelini said he wants the program to return to its roots.

"I heard somebody talking about the new tradition, and I don't believe that," Pelini said. "I believe it's back to THE tradition that's the old tradition. There's nothing new that I'm bringing here. I want to lean on what this place has been built on for a long time."

Pelini stressed that rebuilding Nebraska's football program is going to be a process.

"Things don't happen overnight and there are no quick fixes in life," Pelini said. "You have to build a foundation, you have to do things the right way, you have to get everybody on the same page, you have to develop relationships, you have to build trust, you have to develop accountability in all areas and that takes time."

However, Pelini said he's encouraged that things are already headed in the right direction. He said he's been impressed with the players the Huskers already have in the program and is excited about the program's new recruiting class, which will include 30 walk-on players.

"It's a tremendous group of young men with high character and a lot of talent," Pelini said. "Our job is to develop that talent."

And Pelini said he thinks he has the coaching staff to do just that.

"They're not only good football coaches we're going to be on the cutting edge X- and O-wise but they have men of great character, they're great communicators and great teachers," Pelini said. "At the end of the day, our players are going to know that we care about them."

Since taking over full time at Nebraska after helping LSU capture a national championship, Pelini and his staff have started work on building a culture he hopes to instill at Lincoln. The chief concept for his players: Do things the right way in every aspect of life and be accountable for everything, from the minute they wake up in the morning until they go to sleep each night.

"Everything counts," Pelini said. "You can't let one part of your life slip and expect to make up for it later in the day. We're not just preparing them to win on Saturday afternoon, we're preparing them for life after football as well because it all goes hand in hand."

As for next season, Pelini said he's not one to make predictions in terms of wins and losses. However, he did offer one promise for 2008.

"When our team takes the field, you're going to have a group of men out there who will go out there and play with their hearts and they're going to play with passion," Pelini said. "That's what football is all about and how that translates into (wins) and (losses), that will take care of itself."

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09/01 Nevada @ Lincoln
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