UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
More Sports

Juggling act

He has an office in Lincoln, Neb., one floor below a coaching-legend-turned-congressman-turned-athletic director, with a nameplate reading "Bo Pelini" sitting on the desk. Nearly 1,000 miles away in Baton Rouge, La., Pelini has desk and another office, this one with a view of LSU's practice field.

Pelini is charged with restoring a proud program that's coming off a season in which it seemingly hit historic lows on a weekly basis. At the same time, he is preparing a defense to battle Ohio State for the national championship. He could land himself a spot on Heroes for his ability to be at two places at the once but the man who is currently both Nebraska's new head coach and LSU's defensive coordinator says there's nothing superhero about this juggling act.

"If you set out and know what you have to accomplish and what time frames you have, it's not that difficult," Pelini said. "It's not like [getting the Nebraska job] was a surprise. I was able to plan for it and get prepared and I feel good about it."

The day after LSU beat Tennessee for the SEC championship, Pelini was on Nebraska's campus, standing at a podium in front of a banner with a massive red "N" behind him as he was announced as the Cornhuskers next coach. He spent the next two weeks putting together his staff and on the recruiting trail. But the day after the NCAA's mandated "dead period" in recruiting that runs from Dec. 17 to Jan. 1 began, he returned to LSU with the blessing of Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne and the school's administration to help the Tigers prepare for the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 7.

For a guy who preaches character, it was the right thing to do.

"I have a tremendous amount of love and respect for these guys," Pelini said. "We're close and we started something together and we're aiming to finish it together. "I owe it to them. I would never have felt right [if I left them before the game]. It would have felt like I was walking out on them."

He is back to finish the job and two-time All-America defensive end Glenn Dorsey, the most decorated defensive player in school history, says the team is thrilled. "It means a lot because on defense he's the commander-in-chief," Dorsey said. "You always feel like you're going to play your best game because you've got a great coach who can put you in places to make the right plays."

It's that ability to build a defense that made Pelini the logical pick to take over a Nebraska team that was 112th in total defense in 2007 and gave up 37.9 points per game, including 76 to Kansas, the most points the Cornhuskers have allowed in their 117-year history. The performance was so uncharacteristic of Nebraska that players and coaches made a joint decision to strip the Blackshirts off their iconic practice jerseys. The first thing Pelini will try and do is rekindle the unit's fire.

"There's a lot of things that goes into it, but the first thing is about the attitude and the effort that is necessary to have success on defense and when we build that we'll be able to move on," he said.

Pelini's staff will look familiar to Cornhuskers fans. The coach who led Nebraska to a 17-3 win over Michigan State in the '03 Alamo Bowl after Frank Solich was fired has hired four members of Solich's staff, including Pelini's older brother, Carl, who will serve as defensive coordinator. Also returning are Ron Brown (tight ends), Barney Cotton (offensive line) and Marvin Sanders (secondary), though he has yet to hire a running backs coach.

Pelini is retaining two members from the staff of Bill Callahan (who was fired after going 27-22 in four seasons) in recruiting coordinator Ted Gilmore, who will also coach receivers, and more important, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson.

The return of Watson, who will take over play-calling duties, means the Cornhuskers may be sticking with Callahan's West Coast offense, at least for now. The complicated, oft-criticized scheme had shown improvement in Callahan's last three seasons, going from 96th in total offense in '05 to 14th in '06 to 11th in '07. Pelini says scrapping the current system isn't necessary, though he could add some new wrinkles.

"I think there will be some elements that will stay in place and there will be some things that will change," he said. "Obviously you don't need to trash everything, they had some success on offense and I understand that and I'm smart enough to know there's some good things they did."

Like quarterback Joe Ganz's seven-touchdown performance in a 73-31 win over Kansas State, the most points the Huskers have scored in 10 years. "I think we'll get better," he said. "They had a rough season last year but they're really just one season off playing in the Big 12 title game."

Consider Pelini well-schooled in all things Nebraska. Credit his time as defensive coordinator and interim head coach in 2003 -- along with the influence of Osborne. The legendary coach who led the Huskers to three national titles in his 25 years was named interim athletic director after the firing of Steve Pedersen, but recently had the interim label removed after he signed on through 2010.

"It's unbelievable," Pelini said. "You have a guy who's a legend in the coaching business. He's right in the office right above me and he's there for me to bounce things off, to ask for advice."

On Pelini's second day on the job, he and Osborne hit the recruiting trail together. Osborne, who was named interim head coach before Pelini's hiring, was demoted to interim assistant coach to allow him to continue recruiting under NCAA regulations.

"We went out one or two whole days and that was a fun thing," Pelini said. "It's been fun just having him around and having him be a part of things and just getting his perspective and advice. There's no man that knows more about the University of Nebraska and its traditions and what makes it special."

Amid those recruiting trips, hiring his staff and finding some time to watch every play the Ohio State offense has run this season it wasn't all easy. Pelini spent his 40th birthday away from his wife and three children.

Now back in Baton Rouge his attention is squarely on LSU -- most of the time. "We're ready to go and my focus right now, about 95 percent of the time, is on playing a good team in the national championship game," Pelini said.

But after that, it's right back to that desk in Lincoln.

SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.