FRISCO, Texas (STATS) – Bo Pelini is making his hometown proud.
Maybe even more than he did while never recording a losing season as coach in seven full seasons at perennial national power Nebraska.
Pelini just completed his second season as Youngstown State coach, losing 28-14 to James Madison in the FCS Championship game Saturday. Things didn’t end the way he had hoped, but after going 5-6 in his first season, the improvement no doubt rates among the best storylines of the 2016 FCS season.
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“I’m proud of them,” Pelini said of his Penguins, underdogs who weren’t given much chance in the postseason. “The way they fought and came together for the program.”
Though the title-game defeat is obviously a disappointment, Pelini took the Penguins to the playoffs for the first time in a decade and then to an eighth championship game appearance. He didn’t allow his team to let injuries or late-season suspensions to key players keep it and the overall program from succeeding.
“I believe deeply in building a culture and having a culture of accountability, of hard work, of how you go about your business,” he said last month.
There are Penguin players who were there before Pelini arrived that believe that attitude and approach are big reasons Youngstown State is back in the FCS (Division I-AA prior) spotlight it once owned while winning four national titles under Jim Tressel – now the school’s president – in the 1990s.
“I think that (it’s) always a work in progress, but it’s moving in the right direction,” Pelini said. “That’s something you’ve got to work hard at each and every day, building your program. I think we’ve done that well.”
And Pelini is well aware there is plenty left to be done, even though the program took a major step this season. The experience gained could prove beneficial considering Youngstown State will lose a number of solid seniors.
Pelini just turned 49, a baby in terms of college coaching years, so another shot as a head coach at the FBS level remains a possibility should that be the way he intends to go.
At the moment, it appears his place and passion is wearing that gray hoodie in Youngstown – the place where he was born, coached high school ball and now appears poised to lead its university’s team back to greatness after a 12-4 season.
“I have confidence that I could have success wherever I go,” Pelini, who is 84-37 all-time, said in the days leading up to the championship game. “I think (that) one thing I’ve proven is that I’ve been able to win football games and know how to do things the right way.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities because of the background I’ve had and growing up here, and all the things that have gone along with it.”