One of the nation’s most successful coaches over the past six seasons, Bo Pelini has guided Nebraska to six consecutive nine-win seasons and a bowl appearance each season while leading the Husker program.
Four of Nebraska’s eight conference foes were ranked at the time of the game, including the Huskers’ 24-3 victory over No. 9 Michigan State on Oct. 29, that gave Nebraska a win over a top-10 opponent for the second straight season. A win at No. 12 Penn State in November represented the highest-ranked team NU had defeated on the road in 14 seasons. In addition to the ranked teams, seven of the Huskers’ eight Big Ten opponents played in a bowl game, and nine of Nebraska’s 11 FBS opponents reached the postseason.
Individually, several Huskers flourished under Pelini’s coaching in 2011. Lavonte David was chosen as a first-team All-American, the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, and he also became just the fourth Husker to be named a finalist for the Butkus Award. David, who was only the fifth Blackshirt to post back-to-back 100-tackle seasons, was also a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Lott Trophy. Despite playing only two seasons at Nebraska, David ranks fourth in school history in career tackles.
Fellow Blackshirt Alfonzo Dennard battled through injuries to earn the Big Ten Defensive Back-of-the-Year award. David and Dennard’s honors come on the heels of a Husker being named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in both the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Pelini’s leadership helped NU overcome the challenge of playing in a new conference in 2011, while featuring a first-time offensive coordinator and four new assistant coaches. The Huskers also dealt with their share of injuries, among them playing without Dennard for the beginning of the season and losing 2010 All-American Jared Crick for the year in October.
During the Huskers’ 2010 run, Pelini also guided Nebraska to wins over ranked teams in back-to-back weeks knocking off Oklahoma State and Missouri in late October to take control of the Big 12 North. The victories marked the first time NU had defeated top-20 teams in consecutive games since 1999. The win at No. 17 Oklahoma State marked the highest ranked team NU had defeated on the road since 1997, while the victory over seventh-ranked Missouri in Lincoln was the highest-ranked team NU had defeated in nine seasons.
Pelini’s expertise has always been defense, and the 2010 Blackshirts reflected his defensive acumen. The Huskers ranked 11th nationally in total defense, after finishing seventh in that category in 2009. Nebraska also finished in the top 12 in pass efficiency defense, passing yards allowed and scoring defense.
In 2009, Pelini guided Nebraska to a 10-4 record and the Big 12 North championship. The Huskers posted their first 10-win season in six years and were ranked No. 14 in both final national polls, NU’s highest ranking at the end of the season since 2001. Nebraska fell just one point and one second short of its first Big 12 title in a decade, dropping a 13-12 decision to second-ranked Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. Nebraska capped the year with a dominant 33-0 shutout of Arizona in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, giving Pelini the third of three straight bowl wins to open his head coaching career.
Nebraska’s path to the conference title game was not an easy one. After a pair of disappointing October losses, Nebraska stood 4-3 overall and just 1-2 in Big 12 play. However, for a second straight year, Pelini did not waver, using his steady process to get his team back on track as Nebraska played its best football to close the season. The Huskers reeled off five straight wins to end the regular season, including three road victories, and captured the division title by two games.
The resurgence of the Nebraska program under Pelini has been due in large part to defensive improvement – Pelini’s area of expertise before taking over as head coach. Just two seasons removed from ranking near the bottom of several Big 12 and national defensive categories, the Blackshirts ascended to a position as one of the nation’s most dominant defenses in 2009.
Nebraska led the nation in scoring defense in 2009, allowing just 10.4 points per game, while pitching a pair of shutouts. The 10.4 points per game marked the lowest average allowed by Nebraska since the Blackshirts also led the nation by allowing 9.5 points per game in 1984. The 2009 season also marked the first time NU posted two shutouts since 2003 when Pelini served as defensive coordinator, and the 2009 Huskers held eight of 14 opponents to 10 or fewer points.
The Blackshirts also topped the pass efficiency defense and red zone defense lists and ranked in the top 10 nationally in sacks, rushing defense and total defense. The 272.0 yards per game allowed ranked as NU’s best since 1999.
Under Pelini’s guidance, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was one of the most decorated defensive players in college football history. The first defensive lineman to be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in 15 seasons, Suh finished fourth in the voting. He was also the first defensive player to be named the Associated Press Player of the Year, and was a unanimous All-American. Suh’s hardware included the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik awards. The award-winning season for Suh came just two seasons after LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey won three major national awards and was an All-American while Pelini served as LSU’s defensive coordinator. Suh and Dorsey are the only players in the past 15 seasons to sweep the Nagurski and Bednarik awards.
Pelini guided the Huskers to a 9-4 record in 2008, capped by victories in the Huskers’ final four games and six of the season’s final seven contests. The late-season surge allowed Nebraska to earn a share of the Big 12 North championship, and the Huskers picked up their ninth win with a 26-21 come-from-behind victory over Clemson in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl. The win was a fitting conclusion for a team that developed a toughness that was a direct extension of its head coach.
Pelini’s nine wins were the most nationally among first-time head coaches in 2008. Nebraska won its final four games of 2008 to carry the longest winning streak into a season since 2000. The 6-1 run to close the year tied for the best by an NU team since 1997, and Nebraska won its final four games for just the second time since 1997.
The biggest gains were made on defense, where Pelini implemented his proven system. Nebraska improved its total defensive average by 126.9 yards per game and finished second in the Big 12 in total defense. The run defense allowed 116.5 yards per game, nearly cutting its average from 2007 in half and finishing in the top 25 nationally in that category. The Blackshirts also posted 35 sacks, nearly tripling the total of the previous season.
The successful first season for Pelini came as a result of his ability to quickly implement his attitude and leadership into the program. Nebraska Athletic Director and Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne named Pelini the 28th head coach in Nebraska football history on Dec. 2, 2007. Pelini wasted no time instilling a disciplined approach on and off the field, while also embracing the traditions of the Cornhusker football program. Pelini built a coaching staff with close ties to both the Pelini family and the Nebraska football family. The Nebraska staff currently includes three former Husker players.
Pelini immediately showed the discipline to handle multiple tasks following his hiring. While quickly taking charge of all aspects of the Nebraska program, Pelini was also committed to finishing what he had started at LSU. Pelini returned to Baton Rouge in mid-December of 2007 and successfully orchestrated the Tigers’ defensive game plan for the BCS National Championship Game against Ohio State. The 38-24 win was keyed by a defense that forced three turnovers and had five sacks.
Following the championship victory, Pelini turned his full focus to Nebraska. His first order of business in Lincoln was to pull together the Huskers’ 2008 recruiting class. Pelini successfully organized and led a recruiting charge that allowed Nebraska to sign a talented and balanced recruiting class that February.
Pelini also understands the importance of the storied Nebraska walk-on program, and has integrated it as a key part of the Huskers’ recruiting plan. The Cornhusker staff has welcomed more than 115 walk-ons to the program in Pelini’s first six recruiting classes, and will continue to make the walk-on program a focus in future years.
Pelini has also reached out to two groups that form the backbone of the tradition-rich Nebraska program-its former players and its passionate fan base.
Former Cornhuskers have rallied behind Pelini’s blue-collar approach. In turn the head coach has opened his door to those who helped build the program. Pelini has made a strong effort to connect with former players and those past Cornhuskers have become a fixture in the football offices and at practices.
Pelini has made regular public appearances around the state, reaching out to the nation’s most loyal fans. The widespread support for Pelini has been evident at every stop and his simple, humble approach is a perfect fit with Nebraskans. The support for Pelini has been evident since his arrival, beginning with 80,000 fans at the Red-White Spring Game in April of 2008 to loyal followings on the road, at bowl games in Jacksonville and San Diego and the 2009 and 2010 Big 12 Championship Games in Arlington, Texas. That continued in 2011 and 2012 as Husker fans have followed the Big Red through its first three seasons of Big Ten Conference action.
That hard work and discipline does not end on the field. Pelini’s players have excelled in the classroom as well since he took over the program. Among Nebraska’s 23-player 2013 senior class, 19 student-athletes had earned their degree before the Gator Bowl, and all 23 are on track to graduate by August of 2014. Overall, 123 of 130 players in Pelini’s first six senior classes are on track to earn their degree by August of 2014.
The wide-spread success Pelini has enjoyed in his first six seasons in Lincoln should come as no surprise. Prior to being named head coach, Pelini enjoyed five seasons as college football’s most successful defensive coordinator. But the success story started much earlier during Pelini’s youth. The youngest of eight children, Pelini grew up in the hard-nosed town of Youngstown, Ohio. Pelini’s parents instilled the discipline at a young age that has guided Bo to success both in and out of athletics.
Pelini’s passion for athletics began in Youngstown. After a standout prep career at Cardinal Mooney High School, Pelini went on to Ohio State. A hard-hitting safety, he was known for his passionate and relentless play. Teammates recognized his leadership and elected Pelini a team captain as a senior.
The tradition of being part of winning programs did not end after Pelini’s playing career. His coaching career has featured success at every stop along the way. A Super Bowl ring and a national championship are part of Pelini's impressive resume.
That coaching resume included a one-year stop as defensive coordinator at Nebraska. During the 2003 season, Pelini quickly learned the traditions of Nebraska football and its passionate fan base. In turn, Husker fans recognized the discipline and passion instilled by Pelini in the Blackshirt defense.
His first stop in Lincoln marked Pelini’s first full-time college coaching job. During that 2003 season, Pelini engineered a dominant Blackshirt defense. The energized, relentless unit finished among the Big 12 and nation’s best in nearly every defensive category.
Pelini began his second tour of duty at Nebraska in 2008 with a victory on his resume. His first tenure in Lincoln was capped by serving as the interim head coach for Nebraska’s dominant 17-3 win over Michigan State in the 2003 Alamo Bowl. In the win, the defense held MSU to just 174 total yards and a first-quarter field goal.
More defensive dominance followed in Pelini’s next two stops at Oklahoma and LSU. Pelini served as the co-defensive coordinator on Bob Stoops’ staff at Oklahoma in 2004, helping the Sooners win a Big 12 title and reach the national championship game against USC. Oklahoma finished the season ranked sixth nationally in rush defense, 11th in scoring defense and 13th in total defense.
In his three seasons as the defensive coordinator at LSU from 2005 to 2007, Pelini’s dominant defenses helped the Tigers compile a 34-6 record, including the 2007 BCS national championship and the Southeastern Conference championship. The BCS title game in January of 2008 marked the third time in four years that Pelini was a part of a team that played in a BCS game.
The play of Pelini’s defenses was a key part of LSU’s success. The Tigers ranked third in the nation in total defense in 2007, surrendering an average of 288.8 yards per game. LSU also ranked in the top 25 nationally in pass efficiency defense (3rd), passing yards allowed per game (9th), rush defense (14th) and scoring defense (17th). Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey was the nation’s most decorated defender in 2007, earning the Outland Trophy, the Lombardi Award and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, while safety Craig Steltz earned All-America honors.
Pelini’s defenses have a history of swarming to the football. LSU forced 36 turnovers in 2007, the third-most takeaways in the country. The Tigers’ 2007 defensive success was the standard for Pelini at LSU, as each of his three LSU defenses ranked No. 3 nationally in total defense.
Pelini’s 2006 unit surrendered just 242.8 yards per game, the fewest by a Tiger team since 1976. A pair of Tigers earned first-team All-America honors, including Dorsey and safety LaRon Landry, who went on to become the sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins.
In 2005, the Tigers allowed just 266.9 yards per game, and ranked in the top 10 nationally in all four major defensive categories, including third in total defense, scoring defense and pass efficiency defense. Kyle Williams and Claude Wroten were both first-team All-America selections.
Overall, the 11 college teams Pelini has been a part of have compiled an impressive 113-34 record, winning at least nine games every season. His defenses have posted 10 shutouts and held the opposition to seven points or less 41 times.
Before joining the Huskers in 2003, Pelini had nine years of NFL experience, one season at a Division I university, and one year in the high school ranks. Pelini broke into the NFL in 1994 as assistant secondary coach for the San Francisco 49ers. With the 49ers, Pelini coached in the Super Bowl, helping San Francisco to a 49-26 win over San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX. Pelini held that position for three years before moving to the Patriots. He spent three years as New England’s linebackers coach under coach Pete Carroll, helping the Patriots to a 27-21 record and two playoff appearances.
After three years with the Patriots, Pelini moved to the Packers, coaching linebackers for three seasons. In three years in Green Bay with head coach Mike Sherman, the Packers posted a 33-15 record and advanced twice to the playoffs. In 2002, the Packer defense ranked fourth in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 188.4 yards per game.
Pelini got his start in coaching in 1991, serving as a graduate assistant coach at Iowa under Hayden Fry. From there he moved into the high school ranks, serving as quarterbacks coach at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio in 1993 before taking the leap to the 49ers.
A standout free safety at Ohio State from 1987 to 1990, Pelini earned four letters for the Buckeyes. He was coached by Earle Bruce in 1987 and John Cooper his final three seasons. Pelini helped the Buckeyes to a 15-8 record over his final two seasons as a starter, and he was a three-time selection to the Academic All-Big Ten team. As a senior co-captain Pelini received the “Bo Rein Award,” given annually to the Buckeyes’ most inspirational player.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in business marketing from Ohio State in 1990, Pelini completed his master’s degree in sports administration at Ohio University in 1992. Pelini and his wife, Mary Pat, have three children, a 15-year-old son, Patrick, and two daughters, Kate, 13 and Caralyn, 11.
The Bo Pelini File
Head Coaching Experience
Assistant Coaching Experience
Bowl and Playoff Experience
NCAA Defensive Rankings Under Pelini