March 7, 2012

Pelini, NU coaching staff evolving in fifth season

Now entering his fifth season as head coach at Nebraska, Bo Pelini has a pretty good idea of what he wants out of his coaching staff.

Possibly more so than any other year he's been in Lincoln, Pelini's staff - which has been shuffled quite a bit over the years, including the departure of his brother and defensive coordinator Carl Pelini - seems to has more continuity than ever this season.

During his pre-spring press conference on Tuesday, Pelini talked about the evolution of his staff over the years and how much has changed in terms of what he wants out of his coordinators and assistants and a new emphasis on an open line of communication.

While Pelini obviously has a very good relationship with offensive coordinator and fellow Youngstown, Ohio, native Tim Beck, he said he's especially happy with the bond and relationship he has with his defensive coaches.

Even with a first-year defensive coordinator in John Papuchis, a first-year defensive line coach in Rick Kaczenski, a second-year linebackers coach in Ross Els and a defensive backs coach who hasn't even been hired yet in Terry Joseph, Pelini said he couldn't be more excited about the young defensive staff he's assembled this season.

"I love our staff on defense," Pelini said. "I like what we are doing. I like to hire the best people. Obviously you're looking for good football coaches and good people. Guys I believe can recruit and for the most part, guys that see eye-to-eye with the way I want to do things. I'm also looking for guys that think outside of the box and guys that are willing to speak up and disagree. All of those things are important to me. I think we have a good mix and like I said, I like our staff. I like it a lot."

The idea of having coaches who weren't afraid to challenge Pelini on ideas and schemes was a big part in his hiring process over the past two seasons. While he's regarded by many as one of the top defensive minds in college football, Pelini said having different and fresh takes were crucial to developing and growing as a defense.

"I don't want to surround myself with a bunch of people who will tell me I'm right all the time because I'm not always right," Pelini said. "We are all working toward the same goal. I want people who will work together and speak their mind, but when you walk out of the room, you aren't being disagreeable. When you walk out, you want to be on the same page and stay on the same page. I just believe that is important.

"From my time when I was young in this profession and just getting started, I've seen both ways. I believe the right way are the guys that are willing to speak their mind and put out an idea and if they think something is wrong, have an idea why it is wrong. That is the right way of going about it. I see that happen throughout our staff. You also have to have the right type of people. I mention that. You have to have people who aren't ego-driven. A guy who brings up an idea but someone disagrees, it isn't looked at as an attack on his personal character.

"In the end, we are all working together for the same thing. You have to check your ego on the way in the door when you walk in and you're part of a team, not just as a football team but as a coaching staff and how it relates to the players. All of this is important to get where you need to be."

While Papuchis is making his debut running Nebraska's defense this season, he has worked with Pelini more than anyone on NU's staff when you consider his four years in Lincoln and then his three seasons as a graduate assistant at LSU while Pelini was the Tigers' defensive coordinator from 2005-07.

One thing Papuchis said he always noticed about Pelini was his willingness to listen to input from everyone around him, even if they were just a lowly G.A.

"He is a good leader, a very strong leader," Papuchis said. "But at the same time, he's interested in the team concept, and he wants input from everybody. I've been with him a long time, and even as a graduate assistant when I was with him, he was interested in everybody's thoughts - my thoughts as a G.A. along with all the other coaches.

"That's kind of always been the way he's operated, and I think that brings out the best in everybody. Bo's an exceptional defensive mind. I think having him in our room makes us better, because he's one of the best in the country. But he's certainly open to ideas, and I think that's the strength of his leadership."

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