Friday, May 29, 2020

Dallas Clark, T.J. Hockenson: Iowa Under Ferentz A Fertile Ground for Tight Ends

May 27, 2020
Written by Rick Brown

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Dallas Clark came to Iowa as a walk-on linebacker. He left as a first-round NFL draft pick.

Clark sat out as a redshirt in 1999, then saw his first action in 2000. He had six tackles, logging his most significant time on special teams. He was moved to tight end in 2001. 

Clark was awarded a scholarship before the 2002 season, when he started every game for a team that won the Big Ten title and finished 11-2. He then passed on his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft, was selected by Indianapolis with the 24th pick and helped the Colts win Super Bowl XLI. He was a first-team All-Pro selection in 2009.

Clark also won the 2002 Mackey Award, presented annually to the nation’s top collegiate tight end.  He is one of the great stories of the Kirk Ferentz coaching era at Iowa, a small-town kid with big dreams who reached the pinnacle of his sport.

Each year, the Big Ten now presents the conference’s best tight end with the Kwalick-Clark Award. It is jointly named for Penn State’s Ted Kwalick and that former walk-on linebacker from Iowa.

In 2018, Iowa’s T.J.Hockenson won that award. He also joined Clark as a first-team all-Big Ten selection and a winner of the Mackey Award. Another small-town Iowan, Hockenson was also redshirted his first season at Iowa. He, too, left early for the draft. And he was a first-round pick.

Iowa has always had a reputation for producing quality tight ends. That reputation was polished even more in the last few seasons.

George Kittle has gone from a fifth-round draft pick in 2017 to a player regarded as the best tight end in the NFL.

Kittle has 2,945 receiving yards, the most in NFL history by a tight end in his first three seasons. He reached 2,000 career yards in just 33 games, tying for third fastest in NFL history behind Mike Ditka (30 games ) and Kellen Winslow Sr. (31). Kittle set an NFL record for most receiving yards (1,377) by a tight end in 2018. He was a first-team All-Pro choice in 2018 and has already been selected for two Pro Bowls.

Iowa also became the first program in the nation to have two tight ends selected in the first round of the same draft in 2018. Noah Fant, a semifinalist for the Mackey Award, went to Denver with the 20th pick. Hockenson went to Detroit with the eighth pick.

The April issue of Sports Illustrated tabbed Stanford as Tight End U., with seven players drafted in the last decade. An eighth, Colby Parkinson, went in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Iowa and Miami of Florida tied for second.

While that remains a subject for discussion, NFL scouts will continue to check out Iowa on an annual basis. And the Ferentz era has been productive by NFL standards.

Eleven Ferentz tight ends have been drafted since he became head coach in 1999 – Clark, Hockenson and Fant in the first round, C.J. Fiedorowicz (2014) and Tony Moeaki (2010) in the third round, Scott Chandler (2007) in the fourth round, Austin Wheatley (2000) and George Kittle (2017) in the fifth round, Brandon Myers (2009) and Tony Jackson (2005) in the sixth round and Erik Jensen (2004) in the seventh round.

Three more former Hawkeye tight ends made it to the NFL through free agency – Zeron Flemister (60 games, 38 catches from 2000-2005), Allen Reisner and Henry Krieger Coble.

And how all these tight ends got to Iowa includes some interesting stories. Moeaki, Fiedorowicz and Fant were the most highly regarded prospects out of high school.

But Chandler was just a two-star prospect out of Southlake, Texas. After making 93 catches over his last two college seasons, he was drafted in the fourth round by San Diego. He played 90 career games for the Chargers, Buffalo and New England, with 39 starts and 205 catches for 2,379 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Hockenson was a two-star prospect when he committed to Iowa as a junior at Chariton High School. He was elevated to a three star by the time he signed his letter of intent.

Myers, a multi-sport star at Prairie City-Monroe, had committed to Northern Iowa before Iowa made a late recruiting push. After being named first-team all-Big Ten as a senior in 2008, Myers played eight NFL seasons with Oakland, Tampa Bay and the New York Giants.

He played in 115 games, starting 63, with 199 catches for 1,954 yards and nine touchdowns.

The Kittle story is a movie waiting to happen. He was born Oct. 9, 1993, at University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in Madison, Wis. Wisconsin’s football team was hosting Northwestern at nearby Camp Randall that day, and the Kittles could look out their hospital window and see the stadium. George’s dad, Bruce, played football at Iowa. His mom, Jan, was a basketball standout at Drake (1,846 points).

George grew up a Wisconsin fan. He was in the stands on Nov. 13, 1999, when running back Ron Dayne ran for 216 yards against Iowa and set an NCAA Division I-A rushing record. Ferentz was in his first season as Iowa’s coach. That 41-3 loss was part of a 1-10 season.

George played his prep football at Norman High School in Norman, Okla., where Bruce was coaching on Bobby Stoops’s staff at Oklahoma.

Wisconsin never recruited George. Iowa gave him a look, but hadn’t offered when signing day arrived.

George wore a Hawkeye t-shirt to school that day, hoping things would change. They did. Ferentz called and offered a scholarship. And the rest, they say, is history.

Sam LaPorta made some history of his own in 2019, becoming the first true freshman to start a game at tight end under Ferentz (Wisconsin).  The former standout at Highland High School in Highland, Ill., who caught 68 passes for 1,457 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior, had no Power Five offers until Iowa came calling. His other offers came from Yale, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois, Lindenwood, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois and Western Illinois.

A year later, LaPorta made six catches for 44 yards against USC in Iowa’s winning 49-24 performance at the Holiday Bowl.
As Ferentz is fond of saying, Next Man In.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Legacy Of Browns Kicker Phil Dawson

Phil Dawson spent 2 decades in the NFL and became of the one most consistent kickers in NFL history
He also became a well-known face of the Cleveland Browns.
After being cast aside by the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots, Dawson won the Browns kicking job in 1999.
He logged 14 seasons in Cleveland before spending 4 in San Francisco and 2 with Arizona.
He then signed a one-day contract to retire with the Browns.
“There’s no greater sports town in America than Cleveland,” Dawson said.
We take a look at how it all started for Dawson how he became one of the best Browns players off all-time.

Dawson Secures his Fate in High School

Phillip “Phil” Drury Dawson was born on January 23, 1975 in West Palm Beach, Florida.

As a youth, Dawson’s family moved to Texas where he was able to showcase his athletic skills, particularly on the football field.
While attending Lake Highlands High School in Dallas, Dawson earned his letter in football.
(Incidentally, this is the same high school that former Browns and Ravens kicker Matt Stover had attended).
Using his slight frame to the best of his ability, Dawson made his mark as a kicker and offensive tackle.
Unfortunately, before his senior year began, Dawson injured his knee in a preseason scrimmage.
After considering season-ending surgery, he decided that he could still serve his team as a kicker and elected against the surgery.
His teammates would be glad he stuck around.
Playing at his soon-to-be-future college, the Wildcats faced a tough Nacogdoches High School team in a 1992 playoff game at Texas Stadium.
With only seconds remaining in the game, Dawson was called on to attempt a 52-yard field goal try.
His strong leg was on display even then as the kick was true and Lake Highlands advanced with a 31-28 victory.
For his efforts that season, Dawson was recognized as a high school All-American as well as the Southwest Region Offensive Player of the Year by SuperPrep.
After graduating high school, Dawson matriculated to the University of Texas.

Dawson is a Longhorn

Dawson redshirted his first year at Texas and then took over the kicking duties for the Longhorns for the next few years.
He quickly made a name for himself during his first season as the ‘Horns kicker,’ netting 80 points.
Dawson also set a program record when he converted 54 point after attempts without a miss.
The following year, he led Texas in scoring and was named an honorary All-American.
That 1995 season was notable when the Longhorns faced number 14th ranked University of Virginia in October.
Once again, Dawson came through in the clutch with a 50-yard field goal into 30 mile an hour winds as time expired.
Texas players then stormed the field, and Dawson, with a 17-16 victory in hand.

During his junior and senior years, Dawson’s prowess as a kicker was proven every week and he was named First-team All-American both years.
He was also selected All-Big 12 First-team in 1996 and Second-team in 1997.
Despite the accolades and the skillfulness he showed in Austin, Dawson was not selected in the 1998 NFL Draft.
He would have to find his way to the NFL some other way.

The NFL (Eventually) Gives Dawson an Opportunity

Because of his consistency and dependability in college, the pros were aware of Dawson.
Shortly after the ‘98 draft, the Raiders reached out and signed him as an undrafted free agent.
He wasn’t in Oakland very long, however, and the team released him soon after.
Then, despite having the stalwart Adam Vinatieri already on their roster, the Patriots signed Dawson to a contract shortly after departing Oakland.
He was then relegated to the Patriots practice squad and did not appear in a game for them in the ‘98 season.
In 1999, Dawson was a free agent again.
This time fate and opportunity came calling in the form of the Cleveland Browns.
Cleveland was returning to the NFL as an expansion team after a three-year hiatus.
Dawson was signed to provide a leg for their newly assembled team.
As it turned out, the signing would produce immediate, as well as long-lasting, dividends.
During Week 5 of the ‘99 season, Dawson scored what would be his only NFL touchdown on a fake field goal against the Bengals.

Five weeks later, he kicked a memorable 39-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

As a member of the Browns for 14 seasons, Dawson had a number of memorable moments and individual seasons.
In particular, the 2005 season stands out as he missed only two kicks the entire year (27 of 29).
He repeated the feat again in 2009 (17 of 19) and 2012 (his last season in Cleveland, 29 of 31).
At one point, Dawson set a Browns record for most consecutive field goals made (29).
He also holds the team record for most field goals made in a game (6) and most field goals made in a season (30 in 2008).
In 2007 and 2012, Dawson was named a Second-team All-Pro and he also made the Pro Bowl roster in 2012.
During his time as a Brown, Dawson made 234 field goals, tying him with Lou “The Toe” Groza.
However, Dawson’s name will forever be etched in NFL lore for something that happened in 2007 and led the league to adopt a new rule.
 The “Phil Dawson Rule”
On November 18, 2007, Cleveland and Baltimore were in a dog fight.
The Browns had dominated much of the game until a 16 point Baltimore rally in the 4th quarter.
Down by three, the Browns needed Dawson to make a 51-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.
After the kicked ball hit the left upright and the rear, curved stanchion, it bounded back onto the field in front of the goal posts.

The referees ruled the kick was missed and the game was over.
The Ravens made their way to their locker room to celebrate.
Meanwhile, the referees huddled together to discuss the sequence of bounces and the location of the ball during the kick.
Eventually, head referee Pete Morelli ruled that the ball went over the crossbar and whatever happened after passing over the crossbar did not matter.
Then, the officials had to make sure they covered their tracks.
Since NFL rules did not permit the play to be reviewed, Morelli announced that the play had been reversed “after discussion” (instead of “after further review”).
The Ravens were told to return to the field to play the extra session.
During overtime, Dawson was called on again and this time he made a rather uncomplicated 33 yard field goal to win the Browns sixth game of the season 33-30.
A month later, the Browns faced the Bills in Cleveland where Dawson kicked two field goals in blizzard conditions.
Those two field goals (plus a safety) were the only points scored in an 8-0 Cleveland victory.
However, during one of the field goals, the ball again hit the rear stanchion.
Soon after, the Cleveland press began calling that part of the goal posts “The Dawson Bar.”
Both instances were so rare that the NFL adopted the “Phil Dawson Rule” before the 2008 season.
In part, the rule says that field goals and extra points that hit the uprights or the crossbar will be permitted for review.

San Francisco, here I come…

After spending parts of three decades with the Browns, the team let Dawson walk after the 2012 season.
He was quickly snatched up by San Francisco in March of 2013.
During his first season as a 49er, Dawson made 27 consecutive field goals and also scored 140 points, the second-most points ever in a single season in team history.
That season Dawson also made 32 field goals, a personal best, and even experienced his first playoff appearance.
In a Wild Card matchup against Green Bay, Dawson kicked the game-winning field goal to give the 49ers a 23-20 victory.
He remained a consistent presence in San Fran for four seasons and his time as a 49er included his 400th career field goal against Jacksonville on November 20, 2016.

Dawson is a Cardinal 

Once the 2016 season concluded, Dawson was released by the Niners.
He was not unemployed for long.
Shortly after leaving San Francisco, he signed with Arizona in early 2017.
In a Week 12 contest against the Jaguars that year, Dawson kicked a 57-yard field goal (his longest ever in a regular-season game) en route to a 27-24 win.
He ended up making four field goals that day and was named the NFC Special teams Player of the Week.
As a member of the Cardinals, Dawson became just the 11th player in league history to appear in 300 games.
In late November of the 2018 season, he was placed on Injured Reserve after sustaining a hip injury.
Then, after two decades in pro football, Dawson decided to call it a career.

Retiring as a Brown

(Photo By Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

Once he made the decision, Dawson thought it would be fitting if he retired with the city he called home for 14 years.
On August 21, 2019, he signed a one day contract with Cleveland and officially announced his retirement from the NFL.

“To have the opportunity to come back home and retire with the organization and the city that I love is incredibly meaningful to me,” Dawson said in a release from the team at the time. “It only seems right to have the opportunity to do this with the fans that have been so good to me and my family.”
During his retirement ceremony, Dawson shared a memory of a conversation he had with Groza during his first training camp with the Browns.
“…my first training camp here I was summoned over to the tent, and Mr. Groza wanted to speak with me. I could not believe I was getting a chance to speak with Mr. Groza. He said some very nice things, and I finally had the nerve to ask a question and I said, ‘What do I do in the stadium?’
He goes, ‘You know those flags on the uprights?’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ He goes, ‘They tell you which way the wind is blowing.’ This is going to make headlines: Mr. Groza was wrong because I can’t tell you how many times I looked at those uprights and one flag was pointing that way and one flag was pointing that way. Not every day you get to correct a Hall of Famer.”
During his NFL career, Dawson appeared in 305 games and finished ranked eighth in league history with 441 field goals made and 11th with 1,847 points scored.
Since retiring, he has primarily been living with his wife and three kids in Texas where he finally gets to see his family on a semi-regular basis.
 Although, he can’t quite stay away from the game he loves.
On March 6, 2020, Dawson was hired as Special teams Coordinator at Lipscomb Academy in Nashville where he will serve on the staff of head coach (and former NFL quarterback) Trent Dilfer.

Perhaps former Brown Joe Thomas summed up Dawson’s career the best after Dawson retired:
“Phil Dawson is synonymous with some of my favorite moments as a Cleveland Brown. From him hitting the stanchion on the goalpost in Baltimore to the Snow Bowl game in Cleveland where he made two field goals in 40 mile winds and blizzard conditions. He was the definition of a professional. I always admired the way he went about his business. He is a true class act and a great teammate, friend and family man.”

Friday, May 22, 2020

Back on the Bayou, an Unfiltered Bo Pelini Is Ready for His Second Act

Returning to college football’s big stage, Pelini speaks candidly on a perception he says is unfair and a future he believes is bright.

MAY 21, 2020
BATON ROUGE, La. — Bo Pelini is the last member of the LSU football team left in the school’s operations building. Across the street at Tiger Stadium, everyone else is feasting at the program’s annual pre-spring crawfish boil. That might appeal to some, but not Pelini, an Italian Midwesterner who much prefers red sauce over mud bugs. The crustaceans are too much work for too little payoff, he says.
Anyhow, he’s stuck in that office of his because an interview is running long, and he seems fine with it (whether that’s to avoid crawfish or not, who can say). The interview, in fact, is running so long that dusk approaches through the window over Pelini’s right shoulder, signaling the end of the final day before the reigning national champions begin spring practice. In an emblematic moment, the sun quite literally sets on the history-making 2019 Tigers, and it will rise hours later on a vastly different group (as it turns out, the coronavirus would shut down everything a week later). Three-fourths of LSU’s 2019 starters are gone, including 14 NFL draft picks; a handful of high-profile analysts left for full-time gigs; and two coordinators, Dave Aranda and Joe Brady, departed for big paydays.
There is a new but familiar face in these Cajun lands, and he’s sitting right here with a member of the media, a group that over the years, he feels, hasn’t treated him as kindly as he’d like—partially his own doing of course. From expletive-filled rants to explosive sideline exchanges, Pelini’s name for the vast majority of the college football public elicits an image of a snarling, red-faced man whose vocabulary is dependent on four-letter words. But there is no screaming during this interview. There is no yelling. There is no cussing. There is only Bo Pelini—misunderstood and mislabeled, he says—setting the record straight on the world’s perception of him and answering a couple of pointed questions: Why hasn’t a man with one of the best résumés of any fired college head coach gotten another big-time shot? And is he capable of doing it one day?
“I don’t think there’s any question I can,” Pelini says. “Everybody talks about wanting to win, but let’s face it, there are other things involved when these hires are made. I mean, there are always other agendas. I think sometimes people in college football are so concerned about the opening press conference that they forget: You better win football games.
“All the way back to when I was the defensive coordinator at Nebraska (in 2003), there was always an adjective in front of my name,” he continues. “The fiery Bo Pelini... the this Bo Pelini and that Bo Pelini. It got blown out of proportion. It was like every picture taken of me was me yelling at a ref. Most people never got to know what I stand for and who I really was.
“If somebody wants to win,” Pelini concludes, “they should call me.”


Back during Pelini’s first stint as LSU’s defensive coordinator, from 2005 through ’07, Gino Marino would encourage the coach to try something different when he ventured into Gino’s, a 54-year-old Italian restaurant in Baton Rouge. How about the veal parmigiana? What about the seafood cannelloni? But no, Pelini always said, he wanted his regular: Italian salad, spaghetti and meatballs with linked sausage and laurence bread.
Pelini dined at Gino’s a couple times a week back then. So naturally that’s where he ended up on his first night back in town this January. “He’s like a damn rock star now,” says Marino. “He comes in to eat and everybody comes and thanks him for coming back.”
Indeed, Bo is back on the bayou. As college football goes, Pelini has emerged from the shadows, stepping out of the FCS level and back onto one of football’s brightest stages—a place that originally launched his head coaching career 13 years ago, when his national championship-winning defense catapulted him to the gig at Nebraska.
This place, though, never really left him. He refers to Baton Rouge as his “second home,” likening its people to those in his native Ohio—blue-collar Catholics with a passion for football. He spent the last five years in Ohio as head coach at Youngstown State, a mission primarily to raise his children in his own hometown. His youngest daughter has just one more year of high school there, his son is in college at Notre Dame and his oldest daughter studies acting in Manhattan. He’s virtually an empty nester with his high school sweetheart, wife Mary Pat.
If Pelini’s coaching career were a game, this was the 52-year old’s halftime. Now, here’s the second act. The expectations are sky-high. “The LSU roster seems even better than the one he won the national championship with (in 2007),” says Joe Ganz, a longtime Pelini assistant who played for the coach and worked with him at Nebraska and Youngstown State. “Hopefully LSU continues to be as good as they’ve been, and he can get another crack at being a Power 5 head coach.”
The last time he sat in such a chair, Pelini coached Nebraska from 2008–2014, leading the program through an arduous transition from the Big 12 to the Big Ten while winning nine games a year. In those seven seasons, the Cornhuskers were 66–27, had zero losing seasons and never finished worse than third in their division. In five seasons since Pelini’s firing, the Cornhuskers are 28–34, have had four losing seasons and never have finished better than third in their division. He never lost more than four games, never won less than nine and his winning percentage (70.9%) is one of the best in FBS history among fired head coaches. In fact, during Pelini's seven seasons, only three FBS programs won at least nine games over that stretch: Alabama, Oregon and Nebraska. “Hopefully now people have some sense of appreciation for what we did there,” Pelini says, “because it’s not easy.”
In the last decade, plenty of head coaches have been fired with career records north of .500. Some are still searching for another FBS head gig. Among those, Bo Pelini’s winning percentage stands as the best

However, with Pelini, there is more to consider. He remains a polarizing figure at Nebraska. Few ride the fence. You like Bo or you don’t like Bo. The fan base is split on Pelini’s attitude—passionate vs. angry—and on his success—seven bowls vs. zero conference titles. In 2013, a rift began between the coach and fans when Deadspin published leaked audio—two years after it was recorded without the coach’s knowledge—that captured Pelini disparaging Cornhuskers fans for leaving a game early. One particular line stands out now given Nebraska’s position post-Pelini: “We’ll see what they can do when I’m f------ gone.”
Soon, a fissure developed too between Pelini and the Nebraska administration, led by new athletic director Shawn Eichorst. During a news conference in 2013, Pelini didn’t help matters when he challenged his own bosses to fire him. And then a year later, they did. After his firing, a second audio recording emerged, this one from Pelini’s private meeting with Nebraska players, where he was obscenely colorful in attacking Eichorst, who’d blocked him from saying farewell to his players on campus.
A column in the Lincoln Journal Star this spring suggested that Pelini was surreptitiously recorded behind closed doors by a rat, a plot at first to turn fans against him and then to smear him during his exit. “I’m not trying to go out of the way to defend him,” says Tom Osborne, the legendary Nebraska coach and athletic director who hired Pelini in 2007, “but those were two things where he didn’t openly come out in public and say things unseemly. Some people felt that they tried to make sure those (recordings) did not go unnoticed. For some people, it would have never gotten public.”
The leaked recordings, the sideline demeanor, the brash press conferences—they all helped to build an image of Pelini that Bleacher Report described thusly in a 2015 story: “He is a true rant specialist and one of the most bitter coaches around.” While Pelini is partially to blame for his own label, he contends that it is unfair. He vehemently defends his style, attributing it to a game-day passion that extends three decades back to his days as a free safety at Ohio State. He’s not the apologetic or regretful type. He stands firm on his approach, instead pointing the finger at a label based on a few sideline outbursts and a rocky final 18-month marriage with Nebraska. In short, “he’s not going to change,” says Ganz.
Greg Nelson/Sports Illustrated

And maybe he doesn’t need to. Pelini has his own suggestion on his image: Get to know his players and you get to know the real Bo Pelini—the motivational coach and teacher, not the screaming, fire-spitting sideline stalker. A half-dozen of his players rave about him—his passion, his intensity, his drive. One of those includes Taylor Martinez, the former Nebraska quarterback who Pelini famously blistered in a finger-pointing sideline episode caught on ESPN cameras during a 2010 game at Texas A&M. Reached earlier this month, Martinez says he’s long past the incident and calls the coach a “fatherly figure.”
Osborne says Pelini’s episode with Martinez—rampant then on television and in newspapers—painted a bullseye on the coach. He became the target, always the focus of television cameras. His outbursts, reactions and rants stole headlines. “Perception can become reality,” Pelini says. “I always say that people… you’ve got to get to know them. I think you can say that in so many areas of life. Sometimes I think people write things, say things and do things and they don’t really think of the ramifications of it. In this world, if something is written or said, it creates this persona that doesn’t go away. It’s something that’s always out there.”
Greg Shelley sees this in coaches across the country—their intense passion materializing into an unfavorable label. Shelley, a sports psychology professor at Ithaca College in New York and a graduate of Nebraska, has worked with dozens of FBS athletic programs in a consulting role. “With that passion and drive and fiery attitude, there’s a line, and when you cross it, all the sudden it’s a negative,” Shelley says. “For a lot of coaches, that’s a hard line to walk. It’s a hard line for all of us to walk.”
There are plenty of examples of a coach’s game-day passion crossing the line. Think of Bob Knight’s infamous chair toss in 1985 or Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly grappling with his own assistant strength coach during a sideline episode in 2015. Even the great ones have these moments. Former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes once drop kicked a sideline chair. Nick Saban, for all of his championships, has compiled an even more lengthy list of expletive-filled sideline clips. In a somewhat fitting twist, Pelini is now working for a man who rebounded from his own firing and rebuilt a public perception not unlike Pelini’s own.
Ed Orgeron is now a title-winning, baby-kissing genius who’s transformed into a public relations pleasure, a far cry from the failed Ole Miss coach who’d launch into Red Bull-fueled rages. Orgeron’s makeover began away from the field. As interim coach in 2016, he stopped driving his black Hummer, instead adopting a more sleek SUV. He began catering to media members and flourished on a number of public platforms, appearing in commercials with key political figures, retaining an active Twitter account and, through fiery locker room speeches, endearing himself to a fan base that at first resented his hire.
The real makeover took place on the field: He won a national championship. And so poof went the memories and images of the crazed Ole Miss coach.
Some inside the industry believe the Pelini-Orgeron marriage has the potential to be explosive—two hot-tempered, loud personalities both with expertise on defense. Carrie Cecil, one of the nation’s leading consultants for coaches on reputation and brand management, sees otherwise. She believes Pelini went to the right place to start his climb to another major head coaching gig. The LSU community, she says, will rally around a man with fiery passion and defensive prowess. “We all love a comeback story and great coaches are hard to come by,” Cecil says. “I’m excited to see how Coach Pelini starts to shift and shake off the negative stereotypes from the past, but he has to be an active participant in his own brand rescue to be a head coach again. And I think Coach Pelini will do that.”
Maybe that started back in his hometown. In five seasons at Youngstown State, no serious public incident arose off the field. On the field, the Penguins went 33–28 and advanced to the FCS championship game during Pelini’s second season. Ganz believes time at the lower level made Pelini a better coach—a humbling experience for sure. Accustomed to commodities of major college football, Pelini coached a team with 20 fewer scholarship players than he had at Nebraska, was forced to share a training room with other sports and had to maneuver around a budget a fraction of those at the FBS level.
But for Pelini specifically, the path back to the top may involve scrubbing that perceived image of a scowling, fire-spitting man. In this internet-centric world, that’s not so easy. Google Bo Pelini and of the first two dozen generated photos, six of them show the coach berating an official. Two show him smiling. “Bo is intense. No question he was somewhat volatile at times,” Osborne says, “but there were people who saw a different side of him. He could be the nicest guy in the world. If he let people see that side, it would work out differently for him.”
There are other things to consider, too. Pelini’s mad-man image spawned a host of memes on social media, including a popular parody account. The @FauxPelini Twitter account, with its 664,000 followers, has become popular enough that The Athletic, a subscription-based digital sports platform, has started publishing written works from the account’s operator. During that interview in his office, Pelini airs his grievances about someone using his name to fill the college football masses with satirical humor. “I think it’s ridiculous. There’s an example of somebody who sits behind his computer every day. It just sticks in my craw,” Pelini says. “I don’t think the guy means it that way. It’s funny and some people find it to be funny and I thought it was funny for a while, but after a while, it’s like, you know, I don’t find it funny.”
Pelini isn’t necessarily searching for his next big gig. He’s quite happy being back in the SEC manning a defense loaded with five-stars. In fact, the coach says he turned down 11 job offers during his time at Youngstown, but most if not all of them were college assistant jobs and NFL staff positions. Meanwhile, more than 55 head coaching jobs at the Power 5 level came open during that stretch. Head coaching hires run in cycles, says Gene DeFilippo, a former college administrator and the executive director of Turnkey Sports and Entertainment, one of the most widely used coaching search firms. For the last several years, DeFilippo says, the popular hire in the industry has been the young, smart offensive guru, but he senses that changing.
Lately, more experienced, once-fired head coaches are landing Power 5 jobs. He cites hires this cycle of Karl Dorrell (Colorado) and Greg Schiano (Rutgers), along with a slew of similar men hired over the last two years: Les Miles (Kansas), Mike Locksley (Maryland), Mack Brown (North Carolina) and Herm Edwards (Arizona State). “Bo Pelini will get another chance,” DeFilippo says.
At LSU, Pelini is beginning the process of putting talented pieces in the right places. Ganz describes this as having 10 ferraris in your garage and “you don’t know which one to take out,” he laughs. Pelini, of course, has experience in choosing correctly. His three defenses at LSU never ranked worse than third in the country and led the SEC in two of those three seasons. He’s overhauling a unit this offseason from a 3–4 to a 4–3, a transition that Orgeron compares to the offensive transformation the Tigers experienced last offseason with quarterback Joe Burrow and Brady, the wunderkind guru who left LSU to take the offensive coordinator job with the Carolina Panthers.
This is a point of contention in Baton Rouge. Orgeron expected Brady to remain on staff. The 30-year-old had even signed a memorandum of agreement, a document binding him to a contract with the school. But it also included a clause allowing him to leave for a college head coaching job or the pro ranks. A day after the national championship win over Clemson, Orgeron learned of Brady’s departure while on the 90-minute bus ride from the championship site, New Orleans, to Baton Rouge. “I found out from somebody else that it was going on,” Orgeron says in an interview in his office in March.
Aranda left days later to be the head coach at Baylor, for which Orgeron had in place a plan. In fact, Orgeron reached out to Pelini in December when Aranda was a top candidate for another head job, Utah State. A month later, Pelini’s phone buzzed with a second message from Orgeron, among others. “I didn’t even know (Aranda) was looking at the Baylor job and next thing I know, my phone is blowing up from people down here,” Pelini recalls. “Coach O texted about having a conversation. I mentioned it to my wife and she said, ‘You’re going to listen, aren’t you?’”
LSU athletic director Scott Woodward, a longtime acquaintance of Pelini, believes the Tigers' new defensive coordinator will take pressure and stress off of Orgeron. For one, Pelini is more of a disciplinarian than his predecessor. He also specializes in the defensive backfield and linebackers, leaving the defensive line for the expert himself, Orgeron. “The sky's the limit for Bo,” Woodward says of Pelini’s future, “but I think he’s content right now at being the head defensive coach in Baton Rouge. He has a great record and memories here.”
Indeed, this is a special place for the Pelinis. After all, to this day, the program continues a tradition Pelini started in 2005. Once a week during the football season, the coaching staff dines on Gino’s takeout. After Pelini left for Nebraska following the 2007 season, the ritual took a brief hiatus before then-coach Les Miles, superstitious as ever, phoned Gino himself to re-establish the tradition. The Tigers needed the red sauce.
“We didn’t have the spaghetti last week!” Gino remembers Miles yelling over the phone. “We almost got our ass beat!”
Pelini during his first stint with LSU in 2007.
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

The interview is winding down, finally. Pelini stares across his desk with that patented glare, the sun further dipping below his right shoulder and that crawfish boil across the street awaiting his entrance (they can wait). Talk of what he calls his unfair perception is over, replaced by a lighter topic: his basketball skills.
For years, Pelini led pickup games with staff members wherever he coached. These games got intense. That fiery Bo Pelini from the sideline appeared on the court. Those days are done. A back injury a few years ago sidelined him for good. He refuses to play, even though he acknowledges that he still could in a limited role. But that’s not Bo Pelini. He doesn’t present a limited version of himself—in coaching, in basketball and in life. Perception or not, you get the full Bo Pelini or you get nothing at all. “That,” Ganz says, “is just the way he’s wired.”

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