What started as a rumor a week ago became a reality yesterday, when Youngstown State made headlines by announcing the hiring of recently dismissed Nebraska head football coach Bo Pelini to the same position.
Pelini, a Youngstown native, returns to his hometown after spending seven successful yet turbulent years in Lincoln, a tenure that saw the program win at least nine games each season and post a record of 67-27. Despite the impressive consistency - only Oregon and Alabama can match Nebraska's nine wins a year during the Pelini Era - the Huskers struggled mightily on the big stage under Bo, going 8-17 against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and falling in three conference title games, including a 70-31 beat-down at the hands of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship in 2012.
Whether or not a program like Nebraska should have fired someone as successful as Pelini is still up for debate, especially when one considers they finished 5-7 without him in 2007, the last year of the ill-fated/shambolic Bill Callahan regime, and haven't won less than nine games since. The halcyon days when Dr. Tom Osborne was in charge - when the team won the Big 8 and competed for a national title on an annual basis - are virtually impossible to recreate outside of Tuscaloosa in the current college football landscape, and any expectation of such a consistent return to glory is unrealistic.
In reality though, Pelini didn't get fired for failing to bring UNL a sixth national championship - which not coincidentally was the reason Osborne's successor Frank Solich was axed in 2003. Instead, it appears his inability to relate to the media, his lack of control over his temper, and the lack of a statement win over the better part of a decade had dried up nearly all available good-will, and three more losses in conference to Michigan State and especially in shameful fashion to the Badgers and Minnesota with what on paper appeared to be a superior team meant the writing was etched on the wall.
No, Bo and UNL were a match doomed to fail, a fact that made the five-year contract extension the school signed him to after last season seem presumptuous at the time...and downright foolish in hindsight.
With that said, no matter what you think about Pelini's merit as the head man at Nebraska, it's clear that this is a huge coup for university president Jim Tressel and Youngstown State. After all, even though the Missouri Valley is the premier FCS conference in the nation, and even though Pelini has said this isn't a step down - "Football is football," was his quote from today's press conference - you'd be mad to say this is a lateral move, especially given the state of Penguin football at the moment. Pelini has won a Super Bowl and a BCS National Championship as an assistant in San Francisco and LSU, respectively, and despite his shortcomings, it's easy to see that he's overqualified for the position he's taking.
Ironically, Pelini's new team is a bit reminiscent of the program he just left, a former football dynasty that's fallen on hard times of late. After winning four national titles under Tressel in the late 80s and 90s, Youngstown has made the FCS postseason just twice since 2000, finishing outside the playoffs again after going 7-5 overall and 4-4 in conference this season.
The lack of recent success led to the dismissal of Eric Wolford, who went 31-26 in five seasons for the Penguins, but despite the underwhelming win-loss record, it's pretty obvious that Wolford hasn't left the cupboard bare. The Penguins return their top skill players at every position to a team that was 7-2 before dropping their last three games, including two of the league's most dangerous running backs in Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb, a young quarterback in Hunter Wells who shined at times as a true freshman, and a top-tier receiver in Andrew Williams, who almost eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in only 11 games last year. Add in the talent that Pelini's reputation and his close ties to the Ohio River Valley football pipeline will surely bring in, and it's very possible the Penguins won't need much time to return to the upper echelon of the conference.
Regardless of success, however, one thing's for certain; life will never be boring with Bo around.
Whether it's the sideline tirades, coach-against-player competitions in spring games, or the national Twitter sensation that is @FauxPelini, the man has a way of drawing attention, even if it seems to be the last thing he's looking for. No matter your opinion of Pelini as a coach, it's hard to deny that the Valley's going to be a more interesting place because of him and likely will be a stronger conference as well, which given the top-to-bottom strength it displayed this season is a scary thought for Valley teams and those outside the conference alike.
Time will tell if Pelini can make Youngstown an instant contender, but even if he doesn't reach the heights his new boss accomplished years ago, I have a feeling that nine wins will be enough to maintain his post this time around.
If he continues to hit that nine-win mark, FBS schools will surely be calling sooner than later, and no matter Bo's loyalty to his hometown, his competitive nature and his desire to prove himself again as a big-time college coach will surely win out.
So with that in mind, here's some advice: enjoy the Pelini Era at YSU. Will Bo change the Valley Football landscape? Possibly...but no matter the number of wins and titles he earns at Youngstown, he's sure to bring interest and divide opinion throughout his time there.
Welcome to the Valley, Bo. You just made an already exciting conference a little more interesting.