It’s a little bit ironic, don’t you think? Nebraska pushed Bo Pelini out for never going better than 9-4. Four losses, no more, no less, in all six of his seasons except the final one, when he was pushed out after a 9-3 regular season. In five seasons since his dismissal, Nebraska has been worse. The 2017-18 teams went 4-8 — the worst back-to-back showing by the Big Red since 1960-61. The 2019 team is 4-5, meaning they’ll need to beat either No. 13 Wisconsin or No. 18 Iowa to avoid three consecutive losing seasons for the first time in nearly 50 years.
Nebraska’s high point post-Pelini was 2016 when they went, you guessed it, 9-4.
Though Nebraska has struggled to find its way since firing Pelini, Pelini hasn’t exactly thrived either. He quickly found work at Youngstown State and in five seasons under Pelini the Penguins are… well, they’re okay.
Nearly five full seasons in, Pelini is 32-27 in Youngstown with one FCS playoff appearance and no Missouri Valley Football Conference titles. That playoff appearance, in 2016, did see the Penguins advance all the way to the FCS title game, but in hindsight that looks more like a case of catching lightning in a bottle than anything. Remove those four wins and he’s 28-27. This year’s team is 5-5 and 1-5 in MVFC play. This is likely to mark the fourth season (out of five) that Youngstown finishes with no more than six wins, and finishes sixth or lower in its conference.
Another twist of irony: Youngstown State pushed out Eric Wolford to hire Pelini when he became available in the winter of 2014. In his five seasons in Youngstown, Wolford went 31-26, and 7-5 in 2014.
Nebraska and Youngstown State both thought they could upgrade by pushing out their head coach — one firing Pelini, the other hiring him — and both have largely been proven wrong.
This dynamic is, ironically, a case of history not exactly repeating itself, but echoing. Nebraska fired Frank Solich for the sin of going 9-3 in 2003; the school thought it could do better than the 58-19 record Solich put up in his six seasons. Nebraska hasn’t approached those heights since then, while Solich rebounded as the head coach at Ohio. In fact, he’s still there, coaching the Bobcats, 15 years later.
And maybe that’s the case for Pelini, too. At 51, he’s still got plenty of good years ahead of him, and maybe he’d like to spend each of those years in Youngstown. It’s his home town, after all, and the story upon his return was that Pelini could send his kids to the same high school he once attended — a rarity in college football.
If that is the case, well, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s far more to college football than what happens at the FBS level. But there was a time when Pelini was one of the central personalities in major college football — remember the cat? — and now he’s gone, unlikely to return.