A week after being named Youngstown State’s new defensive line coach, former Florida Atlantic coach Carl Pelini filed a defamation lawsuit in Seneca County, Ohio, against an ex-assistant who alleged Pelini used drugs, claims that led to his resignation in October 2013.
Youngstown State’s new head coach is Pelini’s brother, Bo, who was fired from Nebraska last fall.
In Carl Pelini’s lawsuit filed Monday against Matt Edwards, now the defensive coordinator at Tiffin (Ohio) University, Pelini alleges that Edwards knowingly signed an affidavit that was false and that Edwards also made verbal statements that caused "injury, harm, damage to reputation and other damage to [Pelini] as a result of these false statements." Pelini is seeking damages in excess of $25,000. In October 2013 Edwards provided an affidavit to Florida Atlantic officials alleging that he had observed Carl Pelini use marijuana and cocaine, claims Pelini has denied emphatically.
Edwards did not immediately respond to SI.com’s requests for comment Wednesday.
Carl Pelini told SI.com that he waited to file his defamation lawsuit because he didn’t want ongoing litigation to be a deterrent to possible job opportunities.
“It’s been a very frustrating time,” Carl Pelini said. “An embarrassing time. There’s a lot of false information and misinformation out there. Everybody seems to have a theory as to what happened. I feel like this is going to be an opportunity for me to go under oath and state the facts as they really happened.”
Bo Pelini, who was fired as Nebraska’s coach in late November after seven seasons, told SI.com that he and Youngstown State did their “due diligence” on Carl Pelini before bringing him aboard.
Bo Pelini said his brother passed three drug tests after the allegations surfaced (he provided two of the negative test results to SI.com) that he had used drugs and provided Youngstown State with additional information, which backed up Carl Pelini.
“Carl is a phenomenal addition to this staff with his experience and character,” Bo Pelini said. “It’s time he got back in this profession because there’s so much he can add. It’s unfortunate that he’s had to live under a cloud due to some false accusations that were made over a year ago.”
Carl Pelini had most recently been teaching English composition at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Neb., but has not coached since he resigned from Florida Atlantic in November 2013.
“I’m a coach and I love coaching,” Carl Pelini said. “Getting back in the meeting room and back on the field, that’s all I’ve wanted. People wonder why I’ve stayed quiet and not been more aggressive, but ultimately, I wanted to be hirable again. I wanted to allow Youngstown State or any perspective employer to have some input on how I went forward. Different employers may have looked at it differently. I wanted to make sure this was approved before I went forward.”
After a Florida Atlantic investigation into the allegations that Pelini used drugs, the university later gave him a letter that stated his resignation was withdrawn. It also said he was terminated because he “failed to timely report certain conduct of a member of your staff, as required under your contract.” (Former Florida Atlantic defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis was also accused of marijuana and cocaine use.)
In an interview with SI.com in March 2014, Carl Pelini emphatically denied that he used drugs and made it clear that he was not fired for that reason. He said that Edwards made those allegations after he confronted him when Pelini suspected he was engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a woman named Allison Stewart.
When contacted by SI.com that March, Edwards repeatedly declined to comment about the alleged relationship and later asked why it was relevant to the story. In two phone calls, Stewart didn't comment when asked repeatedly if she had engaged in a relationship with Edwards, but reiterated her claim that she had witnessed Pelini using drugs. Later, in a text message, Stewart denied having an affair with Edwards.
Carl Pelini’s move to Youngstown State, which competes in the FCS, is a homecoming for him. He and his brother, Bo, are from Youngtown, Ohio.
Carl Pelini was defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at Nebraska for four seasons under his brother until leaving to become coach at Florida Atlantic in late 2011. He had a 5-15 record in his two seasons with the Owls.
Carl Pelini has plenty of Ohio ties. He got his start in coaching at his alma mater, Cardinal Mooney High in Youngstown, from 1987-88 and coached from 2000-02 at Austintown-Fitch High, which is just outside of Youngstown.
He was also defensive line coach at Ohio from 2005-07. Bo Pelini won at least nine games in his seven seasons at Nebraska, but was fired in December.
The defensive-minded Pelini brothers will try to take Youngstown State back to the postseason for the first time since 2006. Youngstown State’s president is former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who won four national titles with the Penguins before leaving for the Buckeyes in 2001.
“There’s a lot of good things going on here,” Bo Pelini said. “The enrollment is up. The season ticket sales are going through the roof. There’s lots of momentum. People are really excited. They’re hungry and really want to win. They’re excited about the prospects of getting back in the playoffs and competing for national championships.”