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Bo Pelini wasn't the only one who invited Bob Stoops to speak to 800 coaches at Nebraska's annual spring football clinic on Friday. Carl Pelini was part of that decision, too.
And if you knew what Oklahoma's head football coach did for Bo's older brother, you'd understand why Carl was so eager to give Stoops - who just may be the one most responsible for his college coaching career - a little payback.
Rewind the clock to the late 1980s when Carl was the outside linebacker coach for Ron Stoops Sr., Bob's late father. Ron was then the defensive coordinator at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio.
Because Carl was a seventh-grader when Bob Stoops headed off to Iowa for college, he never really got the chance to develop a relationship with him.
That, of course, changed when the elder Stoops died shortly after a dramatic football game against one of its two arch-rivals - a tragedy that forced the hard-charging Stoops and Pelini brothers to step off life's fast track so they could mourn one family's father and another's friend, coach and role model.
Carl still remembers going to the Stoops house when Ron Sr. died and establishing a strong bond with Bob, who returned home from his coaching job at Kent State at the time. The two may have been five years apart in age, but that tragic end for someone they both revered unified their spirit and their hearts.
One Casual Comment Leads to One Simple Opportunity
That next spring, when everyone got back together to launch the Ron Stoops Sr. Scholarship Dinner, Bob and Carl reconnected, and before the two departed, Carl surprised himself by telling Stoops that someday he wouldn't mind coaching in college football himself.
"I just made one comment to him at one time, but he never forgot it," Carl recalled. "When a graduate assistant's job came up at Kansas State several months later after Bob had become an assistant under Bill Snyder, he called my mom to track me down."
Carl was vacationing at Lake Erie at the time, and when he finally connected with Stoops by telephone, he had to make a quick decision. Stoops asked him if he wanted the job. Carl said "absolutely". The kicker was he had exactly seven days to finish vacation, go home, pack up and arrive in Manhattan. Stoops told him not to worry about a place to stay. He could stay at his house and look for another place later.
Here's where Carl Pelini's golden college football opportunity gets interesting. Seven whirlwind days after accepting that first-chance opportunity, Carl drove all night. He showed up at Bob Stoops' front door in Manhattan early one morning, just like his "good friend" had asked him to do.
Carl laughs calling himself Bob's good friend because in all honesty, Bob was basing his newfound relationship with Carl on Carl's close relationship with his late father and his younger brothers.
We also should point out that just about the time Carl arrived in Manhattan, Stoops was ready to leave town on business.
Stoops Has the Most Understanding Wife in the World
"I will never forget showing up at Bob's house early that morning," Carl said. "He was going on the road for a few days and on his way out the door, he looks over his shoulder and says: 'Oh yea, Carol (his wife), Carl is going to be staying with us for awhile'.
"He gets in his car and leaves, and here I am, every bit as dumbfounded as Carol," Carl recalled, admitting he can laugh about the story now only because it had a good ending.
"I lived with Bob and Carol for months and months and months," Carl said, remembering how awkward it was when it started. "Carol was like the whole Stoops family. She wanted to help people out. That's just the way the Stoops are. They were great, both of them. They just totally opened up their home to me, and I will always be grateful for the way they helped me get started in college football. We ate dinner together, walked the dogs together ... it was a fun time. That's just the kind of guy Bob is. Their whole family was like that. They're just very loyal, very giving people."
The Stoops and the Pelini families were, are and always will be close, tight, together. They share roots, values, memories, tears, heartaches and triumphs.
That's why, on the bus ride to the airport after Nebraska's heart-breaking 23-20 loss to Oklahoma in the last Big 12 Championship at Cowboys Stadium, Carl Pelini calmed himself down and sent a truly close friend a text to congratulate him and his team on their championship performance.
"I will never forget how Bob communicated right back to me," Carl said. "This isn't verbatim, but his comments were something like: 'It'll be good now because we can all get together more and share ideas and help each other out."
Big 12 Rivals Finally Can Break Bread, Game Film
Friday, that's what Bo Pelini, Carl Pelini, Bob Stoops, Brent Venables and others did - get together to talk football and share secrets.
"It's great to be able to discuss techniques and share ideas with those guys," Pelini said. "I think Bob was excited to get us out of his conference. He's told me over and over and over again that even though he hated Nebraska leaving the Big 12, our relationship can be more enjoyable again."
The Pelinis and Stoops don't have to be the Hatfields and McCoys anymore. They can go into each other's homes and break bread, not to mention film at the same time.
"This is just a natural outgrowth of our close friendship," Carl said. "We're no longer in the same conference, so we're no longer rivals. We get to go out and visit in the off-season ... talk football ... exchange ideas ... tell each other something we already know, but with a different slant. We can make each other better."
The exchange is mutually beneficial because Nebraska and Oklahoma have two very different systems and two very different ways of looking at things. "We're great resources for each other," Carl said, "because we can look at our different systems and see how they might marry up."
Make no mistake. Whenever the Pelinis and Stoops would meet on the field, they would block out everything and compete doggedly, but afterwards, they have always been close friends and always sought each other out to express their respect and show their love for each other.
Tim Beck Another Part of Youngstown Connection
Stoops was as excited to be in Lincoln Friday as the Pelini brothers were to host him. The Pelinis and new Nebraska Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck are old friends with Youngstown roots. "They're guys I know and now I can watch them practice," Stoops said.
"It's just ironic now that we're in different leagues and can get together more and share more," Stoops said. "You always pick up different things when you watch somebody else practice."
We end this column with a little secret that has not been public knowledge. In their last go-round in the Big 12 Conference, Nebraska and Oklahoma shared ideas on different league opponents.
"Being in different divisions, we were able to do that," Stoops said, "so we helped each other get into the championship game."
Once there, of course, it was every man for himself.
Not anymore, though, now that Nebraska is transitioning into the Big Ten, where Bo played as a Buckeye and Bob as a Hawkeye.
There is, of course, a possible exception to this new level of ultra-close friendship.
What if, for instance, NU and OU somehow land in a BCS national championship game ... together?
We already have the answer.
If that happens, based on strong evidence, you can bet there would still be some hugs and text messages, not to mention a ton of respect that would stretch all the way back to Youngstown.
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Voices from Husker Nation
Great article on the Stoops and Pelini friendship and the idea exchanges. Great read. E.J. Militti, Chicago, Illinois
We all create our own fate, and I'm sure that Carl Pelini is glad he shared a personal goal with Bob Stoops and grateful that Stoops could help him achieve it. As a Nebraska fan, I'm glad that Stoops took the time to help Carl because he's doing a wonderful job as our defensive coordinator. Reading this makes me want to cheer for Oklahoma now more than ever. Steve Thomas, Overland Park, Kansas
Once I saw the bold-faced line "Stoops has the most understanding wife in the world", I had to read why, and I would agree that she qualifies. It was an interesting column on the sacrifices coaches make to get where they want to go. I'm sure the climb up the ladder is never easy, but Carl's road to Nebraska showed someone who had to turn on a dime to get his first opportunity - something he's now teaching his players. Please keep writing about the human side of sports. It makes me want to read. Marsha Miller, Omaha, Nebraska