Husker Head Coach Has Ties to Iowa

Nov. 22, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Bo Pelini is in his fourth season as head football coach at the University of Nebraska, where the Cornhuskers have won nearly 75 percent of the time since 2008. Pelini will face the University of Iowa for the first time as a head coach Friday, but he is no stranger to the Hawkeyes and their football program.

Pelini’s first coaching job after finishing his playing career at Ohio State was as an offensive graduate assistant for the UI and Hayden Fry in 1991.

“I had a great experience there,” Pelini said. “I had just graduated and was getting into coaching, and I thought getting an offensive perspective for a year would be a good idea.”

Pelini played free safety for the Buckeyes from 1987-90.

“Coach Fry hired me, and I worked with coach (Don) Patterson, because he coached quarterbacks and receivers,” Pelini said. “I worked with receivers most of the year and helped out with the quarterbacks. I had a good time; we were a pretty good football team.”

Iowa finished the 1991 season ranked 10th in the country with a record of 10-1-1 after posting a 13-13 draw against Brigham Young in the Holiday Bowl. Pelini assisted with two of the great names in UI school history — quarterback Matt Rodgers threw for 2,275 yards that year, and Danan Hughes caught 43 passes for 757 yards and eight touchdowns.

The UI didn’t offer a master’s degree in sports administration, so Pelini left Iowa City after a year and earned an M.A. from Ohio University in 1992. In 1993 he returned to his alma mater, Cardinal Mooney (Ohio) High School, as an assistant coach, and he has been fulltime in the coaching profession ever since. He made stops in the NFL (San Francisco, New England, Green Bay) before returning to college football with Nebraska, Oklahoma and LSU. He replaced Bill Callahan as Nebraska’s 32nd head coach.

Pelini’s connections to the UI do not stop there. He was recruited by the Hawkeyes, and since he was close friends and high school teammates with the Stoops brothers (Bob, Mike and Mark Stoops were all Hawkeyes), he seriously considered attending Iowa.

“I visited and really thought about it,” Pelini recalls. “I almost came; Iowa was right up there at the top of my list.”

Instead, he enrolled at Ohio State, where Pelini will be forever etched in Hawkeye history. It was Pelini who was the final Buckeye defender to attempt to tackle UI tight end Marv Cook near the end zone on what turned out to be the final points of a 29-27 Hawkeye win in Columbus in 1987.

“I was on the other side of the field, and they threw the ball and it looked like our guy was going to pick it off,” Pelini said. “He tripped and fell down. I think we hit Marv right about the 1-yard line. I didn’t think he got in, to be honest with you. It was really close. It was crazy.”

Ohio State led 27-22 with 16 seconds remaining in the game; Iowa was facing fourth-and-23 from the Buckeye 29. UI quarterback Chuck Hartlieb completed a pass to Cook on the right sideline at the Ohio State 9. Cook broke one tackle, sprinted to his left and absorbed two more hits — one by Pelini — before falling into the end zone. It was Iowa’s first win at Ohio State since a 16-7 decision on Nov. 14, 1959.

Pelini is quick to point out that he received revenge as a senior in 1990 inside Kinnick Stadium. That’s when Buckeye quarterback Greg Frey completed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Olive, who got behind Hawkeye All-American Merton Hanks, with :01 remaining to give Ohio State a 27-26 win. (The Hawkeyes still played in the Rose Bowl that season).

Pelini and the Cornhuskers host UI head coach Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes on Friday, Nov. 25, in the first-ever Heroes Game inside Memorial Stadium.

“Now that we’re in the Big Ten, it’s our closest proximity game,” Pelini said. “Iowa’s brand brings a lot of respect because they have been good ever since coach Fry took over that program (in 1979).”