SAN DIEGO - It was like a slice of film straight out of a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. Two Youngstown, Ohio, natives, who grew up together and came within a whisker of guiding their teams into BCS bowl games this year, met the press here Tuesday at the Omni Hotel.
They discussed the roots and the beliefs they share and the vision they have "to make some noise" in pursuit of a 2010 national championship, regardless of which young team wins Wednesday night's nationally televised Pacific Life Holiday Bowl showdown at Qualcomm Stadium.
Pelini and Stoops didn't need Urban Meyer in the room to explain why balance has been buried in their respective psyches since the day Ron Stoops suffered a massive heart attack during a triple-overtime high school game in 1988. Only 54 years old, he died in the ambulance.
Four of Stoops' football coaching sons from the hardscrabble steel town of Youngstown, Ohio, weren't the only young men shattered by the news.
"Mike's father was a second father for me," Pelini said of the legendary defensive coordinator at Cardinal Mooney High School, where the Stoops and the Pelini families spent seemingly every waking moment studying defensive formations.
They were so addicted to that year-round challenge, if you didn't know better, you'd think Bob and Mike and Mark Stoops and Bo and Carl Pelini were figuring out how an "X" could cancel an "O" at the same time they were learning the alphabet.
When Ron Stoops died, Carl, Nebraska's defensive coordinator, was coaching with him at Cardinal Mooney. Bo, a sophomore at Ohio State at the time, still remembers being in Bloomington, Indiana, when a Buckeye assistant knocked on his door on game day to deliver the news.
"He had such an impact on my life," Pelini said of the Pelini patriarch. "He was such a part of my life, it hit home with me. My dad had a couple of heart attacks and some multiple bypasses. So there's some heart disease in my family also. You have to watch it."
Two Intense Friends Strive for Life Balance
That's why both Pelini and Stoops are always striving to achieve balance in a life that can consume head coaches. Both help drive their kids to school every day. Both work out almost daily. Both will make it home for supper whenever possible and work the X's and O's after the kids go to bed. Both make every effort to attend important school functions with their kids.
Not surprisingly, Pelini and Stoops think it's a myth that coaches need to be in the office before 5 and go home about midnight.
Pelini, in fact, recalled listening to the radio one morning when a commentator said Tony Dungy would never win a Super Bowl because he's not a grinder and has too much balance in his life. "I'm sitting there driving into work, and I'm thinking that attitude is everything that's wrong with the coaching profession," Pelini said, taking particular pleasure in Dungy coaching a Super Bowl champion after moving from Tampa to Indianapolis.
"If you're spending 18 or 19 hours a day coaching football, you're doing something wrong," Pelini concluded. "It's not rocket science. It doesn't take that, and if it does, then I need to go find another profession. I'm not going to go down that road."
Head coaches who grew up like brothers and support each other on football/life issues never forget poignant memories, but they showed they can laugh, too, even on the day before a big game.
Mike Stoops, for instance, was asked about brother Mark coaching his last game as Arizona defensive coordinator before becoming Florida State's defensive coordinator. "He's made 90 percent of the calls over the last six years, but I take credit for all the good ones," Mike said.
Stoops mentioned that he and Bo once lived together when they were graduate assistants at Iowa, but thought it best not to share details.
When one reporter pressed Pelini for a comment, Nebraska's head coach smiled broadly and said: "Just like what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happened in Iowa City will stay in Iowa City."
Notes, quotes and anecdotes gleaned from Tuesday's Press Conference and the Holiday Bowl Kickoff Luncheon that drew a capacity crowd of 1,700 at the San Diego Convention Center:
Bo Pelini, whose Huskers came within one second of beating Texas and playing TCU in the Fiesta Bowl: "If you're not going to play in a national championship game or a BCS game, the Holiday Bowl stands up to any bowl game. Nebraska and Arizona are two programs that can line up against any team in the country. I believe you have two programs here tomorrow night that are here to stay. Only one team can come out on top, but I think you're going to see both teams next year come out and make some noise."
Mike Stoops, whose Wildcats are a double-overtime loss from replacing Oregon against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl: "It's been fun being here with Bo. Our friendship will go way beyond this game. We respect and share ideas of what we like to do defensively. Bo has helped me in a lot of ways. He's helped me become a better coach. I think that's what all good coaches do in the off-season if they've having problems with a certain scheme - try to find better ways to do things. You have to stay ahead of the game now because offenses change so fast."
ESPN Reporter Erin Andrews, on poking her head into a huddle to witness the incredible intensity of both Pelini and Stoops: "On the sidelines, even I get jacked up listening to them."
ESPN Analyst Jessie Palmer, on Pelini's fast start at Nebraska: "He's the first coach to win at least a share of a division title in his first two years as a head coach in the Big 12."
Palmer, on Pelini's impact: "Wherever he's been, there is great defense. In 13 games this year, Nebraska gave up 14 offensive touchdowns."
Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman, offering another name for this year's Holiday Bowl: "The finals of the Cardinal Mooney High School Playoffs."
Perlman, to University of Arizona President Robert Shelton: "Since it's against NCAA rules to bet on a game, I suggest that if Nebraska wins, President Shelton spend January in Nebraska, and if Arizona wins, I spend January in Arizona."
Nebraska Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh, asked by Palmer if he has "enough juice left" to play in the Holiday Bowl after spending so much of December attending banquets and collecting awards: "I can't wait for tomorrow night. I'm ready to play a football game."
Husker Center Jacob Hickman, asked if he has any advice for Arizona players who have to block Suh: "Good luck. When he went to Sea World this week, you couldn't even see Shamu because Suh was covering one of the whales."