Former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini had success in the Big Ten before Nebraska fired him. Could he be the next program-builder at Purdue?
Although the Cornhuskers are sitting at 6-0 this season and lead the Big Ten West division under Mike Riley, one could argue that Bo Pelini never should have lost his job at Nebraska.
Could Pelini’s college football head-coaching fate lead him to another Big Ten West school?
According to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, a person who coached under Pelini believes that Purdue could be an ideal landing spot for Pelini, who is currently the head coach at Youngstown State. The Ohio native is 5-1 in his second season leading the Penguins, with the lone loss being to unbeaten West Virginia.
The Boilermakers fired Darrell Hazell on Sunday after compiling a 9-33 record in West Lafayette—the same number of wins that Pelini averaged per season in Lincoln. And Pelini would reportedly relish the chance to get back into a Power Five league.
“He would definitely be interested in this job,” the source told 247Sports. “I think he would make a more immediate impact more than any other guy I believe. He would change that culture real quick.”
There is no denying the success Pelini had in Lincoln. Was it to the level of legendary coach Tom Osborne? Of course not. But Pelini at least shared a division title four times during his tenure, which spanned the Huskers’ time in the Big 12 and Big Ten. And dynasties such as the one Osborne led are few and far between these days—unless you live in Tuscaloosa.
There will certainly be a large segment of Purdue fans that believe Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck would be able to turn the program around in a relatively short amount of time. While Fleck’s credentials are unquestioned, he has put himself in a position to be a little picky if, and when, he chooses to go take a Power Five job. Former LSU head coach Les Miles is also a candidate that a large segment of Boilermaker fans would love to see roaming the sidelines—for a variety of reasons. But Pelini may be the wisest choice.
While new life desperately needs to be injected into Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturdays, making strong the argument for a rising Power Five assistant or a credible, successful head coach from the MAC, Pelini understands the workings of the Big Ten from his time in the league. Furthermore, Pelini is a flat-out winner. Keep in mind that Nebraska was 5-7 the year before Pelini arrived, and he won nine games his first season.
The former LSU defensive coordinator compiled a 67-27 mark in seven years leading the Huskers, and his teams always finished with at least nine wins. However, he didn’t have the strongest relationship with the program’s leaders above him, so a change became easier to make despite annually fielding a competitive team.
Through his experience at Nebraska, Pelini knows what it is like to recruit at a place that doesn’t exactly have a hotbed of talent surrounding the campus. It’s tough to recruit to West Lafayette, but Joe Tiller went 87-62 and took the Boilermakers to a Rose Bowl. If you find the right type of player for your scheme and are adept at developing these players behind a strong staff, you can be successful. Pelini’s Huskers teams didn’t exactly have a Tommie Frazier or a Johnny Rodgers, but he won with a lot of solid, if not spectacular, players.
Following the 2014 regular season, Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst stated that Pelini hadn’t won “the games that really mattered” against upper-tier opponents. However, no head coach in the history of a Power Five program had been let go for on-the-field performance after winning as many games in his first seven years. Only Alabama and Oregon had averaged nine wins per year during the same span that began in 2008. While every AD would like to oversee an undefeated football team, Purdue isn’t expected to beat top-tier programs such as Ohio State and Michigan on an annual basis. So, in that sense, Pelini wouldn’t have to worry. Still, no one can dismiss the winning results he had in Lincoln.
We’ll see how Pelini’s second season back in his hometown ends up, and it will become more clear over the next few weeks what type of head coach the Purdue search committee is searching for to fill the void. This is a hire that Purdue needs to get right, as the school is investing millions into getting better football facilities. It appears that the administration is becoming more serious about fielding a better product each and every fall.
Pelini knows how to get his type of player into a program, and he should fare well against the likes of Minnesota and Iowa—second-tier Big Ten football programs—for some of the Midwest players that don’t end up going to Ohio State and Michigan.
Fleck and Miles would work in West Lafayette, but Pelini would too.
It’s a safe choice, and it just may be the right one.