Bo Pelini
Bo Pelini
Title: Head Football Coach
Alma Mater: Ohio State, 1990

Bo Pelini, a Youngstown native who has been one of the most successful college coaches at the highest level, guided the program to the Division I National Championship Game in just his second season in 2016.

It was the program's first appearance in the title game since 1999 and the seventh in school history. The way the Penguins stuck together during a trying season shows just how committed his student-athletes are to the process. And that togetherness and toughness helped them reach the championship game despite never being ranked in the top 10 during the regular season.

The Penguins posted an 8-3 regular-season mark and finished third in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. YSU reached the playoffs for the first time in 10 years and with nothing to lose, and peaking at the right time, it went all the way to the final game.

After opening with a 38-24 win over Samford at home, YSU manhandled third-seed Jacksonville State on the road 40-24. A quarterfinal matchup against Wofford tested the Penguins' mettle. YSU trailed 9-0 and forced overtime with a late field goal in the fourth quarter. Neither team scored in the first OT before the Guins went in front 30-23 in the second. The defense stepped up and stopped Wofford on its possession sending YSU to the semifinals.

Traveling to No. 2 seed Eastern Washington, YSU faced a five-hour flight - spending seven-and-a-half on the plane - and a tremendously talented football team. Again, the Penguins trailed in the fourth quarter, 31-20, but hung around and down four in the final minutes put together a drive that had a storybook ending. At the EWU five with just six seconds left, Hunter Wells pass to the end zone was caught by Kevin Rader with one second remaining. Rader's mystifying catch saw him pin the ball on back of a defender and as he tumbled to the ground held on for the touchdown and a 40-38 win.

In the National Championship Game, YSU ran into a talented James Madison team that faced a less daunting road to the finals and a lot fewer travel miles. The Penguins came up short 28-14, but in true fashion for the year, fought to the end scoring a touchdown with 10 seconds left.

The fact YSU made the playoffs, let alone the title game, is a testament to Pelini, his coaching staff and the players.

YSU started three different quarterbacks - had four win games - used three different tailbacks, three placekickers and never had their entire defense together at any point during the year.

The Penguins started the year 4-1 before losing at South Dakota State and being down to one quarterback. The next week they beat Indiana State without scoring an offense touchdown then dropped a contest at North Dakota State. After that loss in the Fargodome, Pelini gave a passionate speech to the team in the locker room and from that point on, YSU won six straight games to reach the title game.

YSU finished the year with a 12-4 overall mark and was second in both final polls. Senior DE Derek Rivers was a second-team All-American to headline the program's individual success. Rivers was drafted in the third round by the New England Patriots and Avery Moss was selected by the New York Giants in the fifth round. TB Jody Webb finished as the school's all-time leader in all-purpose yards as well.

The 2017 campaign once again showed the resiliency of the program. The injury bug hit the Penguins hard at quarterback and a revamped defense was forced to step up to have another successful year.

YSU started three different quarterbacks and on three occasions, a starter was lost for the game because on an injury on its opening offensive series. However the offense responded time and time again led by first-team All-MVFC selections junior TB Tevin McCaster and senior OT Justin Spencer.

For the year, the Penguins averaged 29.7 points and 411.1 yards per game. The Guins dominated time of possession keeping the ball for 31:55. In 2017, YSU led the FCS allowing just 143.7 yards per game, a 46.7 completion percentage and only eight touchdowns. It was the second time in three years the Penguins ranked No. 1 in the country in fewest passing yards allowed.

In the season opener the Guins showed their moxie. Down 21-0 at halftime to Pittsburgh, YSU rallied with two fourth-quarter scores to force overtime. The Guins came up short but the game showed they were up for the tasks that lie ahead. A three-game win streak followed with wins over playoff qualifiers Central Connecticut and South Dakota State. Against the Jackrabbits, YSU dominated the contest holding the ball for more than 45 minutes despite losing starting QB Hunter Wells early in the contest.

The road didn't get any easier following the win over then fourth-ranked SDSU.  YSU faced three more future playoff teams in the next three weeks. The Guins dropped those three contests by a total of 11 points, two of which were on the road. The Penguins rebounded down the stretch to win their final three games of the year and finish 6-5.

In 2015, YSU finished 5-6 in his first campaign with five of the losses coming by a combined 23 points. The Penguins opened the season with a strong showing against Pittsburgh. YSU put up 37 points against the Panthers, the second most they would surrender all year.

The Guins followed that with two non-conference victories before winning 31-3 at South Dakota. It was the largest margin of victory in a conference game since 2009. Then against FCS playoff No. 2 seed Illinois State the Guins came up just short dropping a 31-29 contest to the Redbirds. 

YSU closed out October with a win at playoff qualifier Western Illinois to stay in the postseason hunt heading into November. After a big home win against Missouri State, the Guins dropped three-point contests in the final minute to North Dakota State and Indiana State.

The defense benefited the most from his take over as head coach in 2015.

YSU allowed just 288.7 yards of total offense per game the lowest total by the program since 2002. The Penguin defense allowed just 116.7 yards passing per contest, the lowest total since 1976 (116.1). The 41.1 completion percentage by the opposition was the lowest by an opponent since 1980 (40.6). The 83 pass completions allowed were the fewest since 1976 (79). The 145 first downs allowed were the fewest since 1975 (129).

In the FCS, the Penguins finished first in fewest passing yards allowed, tied for first in fewest first downs allowed, were fifth in pass-efficiency defense, seventh in total defense and ninth in third-down conversion defense. 

Pelini began his duties as the seventh Head Coach in Youngstown State history on Dec. 17, 2014, bringing with him an impressive 21 years of coaching experience.

One of the most respected defensive minds on all levels of football, he is a graduate of Youngstown’s Cardinal Mooney High School and returns his hometown with some of the most impressive credentials in all of college football.

Of Pelini’s 24 years on the sidelines, 15 have been either as a head coach or collegiate coordinator while nine were as a defensive assistant in the NFL. He was an assistant coach for a Super Bowl Champion (San Francisco) and a BCS National Champion (LSU). Altogether, he has coached in 12 bowl games, 11 NFL playoff games and six conference-title contests.  

Overall, the 14 college teams Pelini has been a part of have compiled an impressive 145-52 record, winning at least nine games in all but two seasons. His defenses have posted 11 shutouts and held the opposition to seven points or fewer 49 times.

He is 90-43 in 10 full years as a head coach. In his three seasons with the Penguins, Pelini owns a 23-15 record.

Pelini became just the sixth coach in FBS history at a Power Five conference (Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) school to win nine games in each of his first seven campaigns. The others in the group include Osborne (Nebraska), Barry Switzer (Oklahoma), Earle Bruce (Ohio State), Steve Spurrier (Florida) and Mack Brown (Texas). Pelini and Alabama’s Nick Saban were the only two FBS coaches to notch nine-or-more wins in each season since 2008.

Nebraska Career

Pelini spent seven years as the Head Coach at the University of Nebraska where he guided the program to nine wins or more in each campaign, including 10 victories on three occasions. He posted a 67-27 record with the Cornhuskers and guided NU to four divisional titles in his tenure as head coach. Overall, he had a winning percentage of .712. His 67 wins trail only Tom Osborne and Bob Devaney on the NU wins list. The Huskers had 22 NFL draft picks as well.

Under his guidance, Nebraska was one of three schools to win at least nine games in each of the past six seasons, joining Alabama and Oregon. In his seven full years on the Husker sidelines, Pelini won 66 games, which was one more than Osborne did in his first seven campaigns at NU.

NU won 10 games in 2009, 2010 and 2012, and it appeared in the Big 12 Conference Championship Game in 2009 and 2010. The Huskers won the Big Ten Legends Division crown in 2012 and made the school’s lone appearance in the Big 10 title game that year.

Most recently, he led Nebraska to a 9-3 campaign in 2014 and a berth in the Holiday Bowl. The Huskers posted a 5-3 conference record marking the seventh straight season they had a winning conference record. Two Huskers (DE Randy Gregory and WR Kenny Bell) earned first-team All-Big Ten accolades, three were chosen as second-team honorees and six players were honorable-mention all-conference choices this past season.

One of his most high-profile players was defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who finished his career as one of the most decorated defensive players in college football history. The first defensive lineman to be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in 15 seasons, Suh finished fourth in the voting in 2009. He was also the first defensive player to be named the Associated Press Player of the Year, and he was a unanimous All-American. Suh’s hardware included the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik awards. The award-winning season for Suh came just two seasons after LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey won three major national awards and was an All-American while Pelini served as LSU’s defensive coordinator.

Not to be overshadowed with the on-field success were the academic accolades that were a key part of his Nebraska programs. In seven years, NU had 11 Academic All-America honorees (five first teamers), 20 CoSIDA Academic All-District selections and an impressive 145 student-athletes who earned academic all-conference honors.

Among his first six senior classes, 122 of the 132 student-athletes earned their degrees. That number should reach 136 of 146 at the conclusion of the 2014-15 academic year in May. Of the 14 seniors he coached in 2014, all are set to earn their degrees, including 13 who will graduate by the end of the fall semester.

Collegiate Coordinator Success

Pelini took over the Nebraska program after a highly successful five-year run as a collegiate defensive coordinator, including orchestrating NU’s defensive efforts in 2003. Pelini picked up his first college head coaching victory as NU’s interim coach in the 2003 Alamo Bowl against Michigan State.

Following his one year at Nebraska, Pelini served as the co-defensive coordinator at Oklahoma in 2004, helping the Sooners to the Big 12 title and BCS title game.

More defensive dominance followed in Pelini’s next two stops at Oklahoma and LSU.

Pelini served as the co-defensive coordinator on Bob Stoops’ staff at Oklahoma in 2004, helping the Sooners win a Big 12 title and reach the national championship game against USC. Oklahoma finished the season ranked sixth nationally in rush defense, 11th in scoring defense and 13th in total defense.

He then followed with three seasons as the defensive coordinator at LSU. In 2007, the Tigers won the BCS National Championship by knocking off Ohio State, 38-24.

In his three seasons as the defensive coordinator at LSU from 2005 to 2007, Pelini’s units helped the Tigers compile a 34-6 record, including the 2007 BCS national championship and the Southeastern Conference championship. The BCS title game in January of 2008 marked the third time in four years that Pelini was a part of a team that played in a BCS game.

The play of his defenses was a key part of LSU’s success. The Tigers ranked third in the nation in total defense in 2007, surrendering an average of 288.8 yards per game. LSU also ranked in the top 20 nationally in pass efficiency defense (3rd), passing yards allowed per game (9th), rush defense (14th) and scoring defense (17th). Dorsey was the nation’s most decorated defender in 2007, earning the Outland Trophy, the Lombardi Award and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.

Pelini’s defenses have a history of swarming to the football. LSU forced 36 turnovers in 2007, the third-most takeaways in the country. The Tigers’ 2007 defensive success was the standard for Pelini at LSU, as each of his three LSU defenses ranked No. 3 nationally in total defense.

Pelini’s 2006 unit surrendered just 242.8 yards per game, the fewest by a Tiger team since 1976. A pair of Tigers earned first-team All-America honors, including Dorsey and safety LaRon Landry, who went on to become the sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins.

In 2005, the Tigers allowed just 266.9 yards per game and ranked in the top 10 nationally in all four major defensive categories, including third in total defense, scoring defense and pass efficiency defense. Kyle Williams and Claude Wroten were both first-team All-America selections.

Professional Ranks

In addition to his five seasons as an assistant at the collegiate level, Pelini coached in the NFL for nine seasons, serving three years each with the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers. In 1994, he was part of the 49ers’ Super Bowl Champion squad.

Pelini started in the NFL in 1994 as assistant secondary coach for the San Francisco 49ers. With the 49ers, Pelini coached in the Super Bowl, helping San Francisco to a 49-26 win over San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX. Pelini held that position for three years before moving to the Patriots. He spent three years as New England’s linebackers coach under current Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, helping the Patriots to a 27-21 record and two playoff appearances.

After three years with the Patriots, Pelini went on to coach the Packers’ linebackers for three seasons. In three years in Green Bay with coach Mike Sherman, the Packers posted a 33-15 record and advanced twice to the playoffs.

Pelini got his start in coaching in 1991, serving as a graduate assistant coach at Iowa under Hayden Fry. From there he moved into the high school ranks, serving as quarterbacks coach at Cardinal Mooney High School in 1993 before taking the leap to the 49ers.

Before Coaching

Pelini was a team captain and four-year letterman as a safety at Ohio State from 1987 to 1990. He was coached by Bruce in 1987 and John Cooper his final three seasons. Pelini helped the Buckeyes to a 15-8 record over his final two seasons as a starter, and he was a three-time selection to the Academic All-Big Ten team. As a senior co-captain Pelini received the “Bo Rein Award,” given annually to the Buckeyes’ most inspirational player.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in business marketing from Ohio State in 1990, Pelini completed his master’s degree in sports administration at Ohio University in 1992.

He and his wife, Mary Pat, have three children, a son, Patrick, and two daughters, Kate and Caralyn. Patrick is a student-athlete at Notre Dame. He is a member of the Fighting Irish football program.

Year School Record
2017 Youngstown State 6-5
2016 Youngstown State 12-4
2015 Youngstown State 5-6
2014 Nebraska 9-3
2013 Nebraska 9-4
2012 Nebraska 9-4
2011 Nebraska 10-4
2010 Nebraska 10-4
2009 Nebraska 10-4
2008 Nebraska 9-4
2003 Nebraska 1-0
    90-43