By Dan Hiner
The Bo Pelini era has officially begun for the Youngstown State University football team, and contrary to expectations, the beginning of the football season hasn’t started with yelling at players, foul language and the anger many thought would bring a negative light to the football program.
The team opened practice on Aug. 4 and the fans and media have had several opportunities to see the new look for the Penguins.
After being fired from the University of Nebraska, Pelini took the head-coaching job in December 2014. Pelini, who had a number of rants and outbursts during his time as the Cornhuskers’ head coach, has appeared more relaxed during the spring practices and summer camp, and it appears the change in scenery had a positive impact on the Youngstown native.
“I don’t know about fresher, but it is a little bit different. I enjoyed the fact that our media day obligation to the league was a 15-minute press conference or phone call. That was a breath of fresh air for me personally,” Pelini joked during the team media day. “I’m enjoying this — this was the right move for me and my family. I feel fresh and I’m excited to be starting. I also understand that there is a lot of work to do. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s a tough conference, our schedule it going to be a challenge.”
Pelini retained offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Shane Montgomery, and offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo. For returning quarterback Hunter Wells, maintaining the key members of the offensive coaching staff was important for his development in the midst of the new coaching regime.
“Going in, I didn’t want an offensive change,” Wells said. “I really like coach Montgomery, he does a great job with the offense and he prepared us well for the games. It’s huge that he ended up staying. Coach Carmen [Bricillo] ended up staying — all the protections and everything, it’s easier for me to focus on what I need to focus on rather than learn new stuff with reads.”
Pelini made a name for himself as a defensive minded coach, helping Louisiana State University, Oklahoma University and Nebraska State University become one of the top defensive teams in all of college football during his time with the programs.
Junior linebacker Jaylin Kelly said there hasn’t been a major change to the defense, but there is an added energy and enthusiasm to the program from both the players and the coaching staff.
“I feel like the team chemistry has gone up. The effort and competition [has increased], we got more depth. At any time your spot could be taken. The coaches are coaching more. Not much has changed, but everybody wants it more,” Kelly said.
The coaching staff has made one thing clear throughout camp. No job will be given. They must be earned.
Wells said he didn’t want to consider himself the starting quarterback until the coaches told him that he was officially named the starter for the season opener at Heinz Field against the University of Pittsburg.
Pelini said the coaching staff is trying to find out what some of the new players have to offer — the practices leading up to the season opener will determine who will play in the first game.
“There’s a lot we need to figure out between now and Pitt,” Pelini said. “If you want to play, you put it on film and if you want to be on the bus heading to Pitt or you want to be on that field when the ball kicks off then you got to earn it. Hopefully we have enough competition where that can make us all better. We need to develop. We need to get better as a football team in every phase.”