Pelini showing no emotion on return visit to Ohio State
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — To Bo Pelini, Nebraska’s visit to Ohio Stadium this week is strictly business.
There’s no time for something as frivolous as admitting to fond memories of his playing days at Ohio State.
That was the Nebraska coach’s message Monday when he was asked if taking his No. 21 Huskers (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) into the “Horseshoe” to play the 12th-ranked Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0) made him feel nostalgic.
“Why would it?” he said.
When it was suggested that lots of folks have a soft spot for their alma mater, Pelini said he once did — but not anymore.
“I’m at a different time in my life, a different place,” he said. “I mean, I have a job to do. That’s all I’m concerned with.”
Pelini didn’t play on vintage Ohio State teams. The Buckeyes were 25-18-3 over his four years (1986-90), never finished higher than a tie for third in the Big Ten and went to two bowls. Earle Bruce, who recruited Pelini out of Youngstown, Ohio, was fired and replaced by John Cooper after the 1987 season.
Bruce recalled Pelini as having an advanced understanding of the game. Cooper has said he barely remembers Pelini.
Pelini was the starting free safety his last two years and was a team captain as a senior.
First-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer was a graduate assistant on the 1986-87 Ohio State teams. Meyer and Pelini also crossed paths in the Southeastern Conference, when Meyer was head coach at Florida and Pelini was LSU’s defensive coordinator.
“We’re both northeast Ohio guys,” Meyer said Monday. “Have a really good relationship with Bo. Lot of respect for him as a player… He was a really tough guy, just like his personality is now.”
Old football players are famously passionate about where they went to college, none more than men who once played for the Buckeyes. Watch player introductions on NFL games, and chances are Ohio State alums will say they went to “THE Ohio State University.”
“I do have pride in where I went to school and my career there,” Pelini said. “That has nothing to do with Saturday. It doesn’t really make any difference what happened back in ‘86 to ‘90. That’s a different time in my life.”
Linebacker Will Compton said he thinks Pelini purposely downplays talk about his Ohio State roots because it would be a distraction.
“He thinks about it as his family going against another opponent that’s in the way of what we want to do,” Compton said. “That’s coach Bo. He comes to work every day. He doesn’t get caught up in the outside. It’s about what goes on behind our close doors and within our family.”
Running back Rex Burkhead said he’s sure deep down the game is a little more meaningful to Pelini. Last year in Lincoln, the Huskers overcame a 21-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Buckeyes 34-27 in the greatest comeback in school history.
“He grew up there,” Burkhead said. “It would be a special win for him. It was a big win for him last year. At the same time we have to approach it like another game.”
Pelini said Ohio Stadium is a “great venue, great environment, a tremendous tradition.”
“It’ll be a good place for our kids to play,” he said.
But Pelini said he didn’t know when he last was in the “Horseshoe.”
“A long, long time ago,” he said.
AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller contributed from Columbus, Ohio.