Pelini just close enough to Nebraska to get a good heckling

VERMILLION, S.D. (AP) With a black-and-white photocopied picture of Bo Pelini’s snarling mug slapped on the side, Dave Zimbeck’s motor home served as the unofficial, ahem, welcome wagon for the deposed Nebraska football coach at the DakotaDome.

Pelini brought his new team, the Youngstown State Penguins, to this town seven miles north of the Nebraska state line to play the South Dakota Coyotes on Saturday. Zimbeck’s tailgate party was up and running hours before kickoff, and the return of Pelini was the theme.

Under that uncomplimentary picture of Pelini was a list of ”Bo Knows” categories that Zimbeck came up with on Friday night: ”Anger management, how to slam a revolving door, the `N’ doesn’t stand for knowledge (or nice).”

This area lies deep within the Cornhuskers’ sphere of influence, and fans like Zimbeck were lying in wait. They haven’t forgotten Pelini’s signature sideline meltdowns, his dour demeanor and the leaked audio recordings of him ripping the fans and famously using vulgarities to describe the athletic director in his final meeting with players.

The Youngstown bus pulled up two hours before kickoff, and Pelini stepped off and never looked up as he descended a ramp into the dome. As Pelini disappeared, a college-aged man who might have consumed an adult beverage or three stood at the top of the ramp and yelled unpleasantries at him.

”Just missed him,” the man said to a friend, turning around to go back to tailgating. ”I was hoping to have a word with him.”

Pelini told reporters in Youngstown this week that he saw no significance in his coaching a game so close to Nebraska, where he never won fewer than nine games in his seven years but left as a polarizing figure nonetheless.

Pelini typically doesn’t publicly discuss his experience with the Huskers. A Youngstown athletic department spokesman said during the week that Pelini would do no interviews about topics outside the game against the Coyotes.

Asked after his team’s 31-3 victory if he noticed the reception from the sign-toting fans, Pelini said: ”No, I could care less.”

With the Youngstown bench flanked by the student section, Pelini was right at the center of the part of the stadium that houses the ”Coyote Crazies.” They joined right in the heckling. Among their signs: Bo as ”Dr. Evil,” Bo alongside ”Harry Potter” villain Lord Voldemort, topless Bo holding a cat, Bo getting pecked by penguins, Bo in a bad Christmas sweater.

Crazies director Mackenzie Huber, a junior from Vermillion, said her 500-member group began planning a month ago for Pelini’s appearance. Fans and alumni contributed $400 for the professionally printed signs, many of which played off a meme originating with a picture of him holding a cat on a parody Twitter account.

Before the game, Huber yelled: ”Bo, did you bring your cat?” Pelini turned and gave her a quick look. She was happy.

”Our goal is to get in the head of the other team. So this is our kind of stuff,” Huber said. ”I wouldn’t call myself a `Bo-liever,’ but I’m not against him, either. He’s perfect for heckling. That’s why we love him.”

Then there was Joni Freidel of Vermillion and her poster of Pelini with devil’s horns superimposed on his head. The poster was displayed on one of the homecoming parade floats a few hours before kickoff. As she walked into the dome, she said it was inspired by Batman and the Penguin – ”good vs. evil.” On the flip side was the ”good” in the form of a smiling USD coach Joe Glenn.

Zimbeck, the fan who brought the motor home, is an attorney from Sioux Falls has been a South Dakota season ticket holder for about 25 years and calls himself a casual observer of Nebraska football.

”I knew he was coming into an environment in Vermillion where there are a lot of Cornhusker fans. The fan base didn’t appreciate Bo, so I knew this was going to be a hostile environment all the way around,” Zimbeck said.

A year ago this weekend, Pelini was getting the Cornhuskers off to a 5-0 start in their Big Ten opener against Illinois in front of 91,000 fans in Lincoln. Saturday, there were about 10,000 in the stands as he coached a game in the Missouri Valley Conference, the toughest in the Football Championship Subdivision but a steep drop from where he once was.

His separation agreement with Nebraska requires the school to pay him $128,009 a month through February 2019. Youngstown pays him an annual base salary of $213,894.

Zimbeck figured Pelini could take some ribbing.

”His standard of living hasn’t suffered,” Zimbeck said.

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