Penguins, not Pelini, make headlines


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by Joe Scalzo - "A blog about YSU Penguin athletics, not the insides of penguins."   | 155 entries"> Untitled document

Last week, when Bo Pelini was getting ready to speak to about 100 people at a Curbstone Coaches dinner, he turned to me and said, “Have you been anywhere in Youngstown that doesn’t have a 50-50?”

Later that night, he was asked if Youngstown State would ever put names on the back of the jerseys. He laughed and said, “That’s way above my pay grade. Have they ever had their names on the shirts?”

Not since the 1970s.

“Then I don’t think it’s happening.”

Wouldn’t it be easier to differentiate between the players?

“Try being a new coach,” Pelini said. “It’s no fun calling a player, ‘Hey 26!’”

When another fan asked if he was going to lead the team through the tailgate lot before the games, something Eric Wolford did the last five years, he asked if Jim Tressel ever did it. (No.)

“I know he won a couple national championships not doing that,” he said. “I can be a little superstitious.”

I mention this because, so far, this is about as colorful as I’ve seen Pelini get.

Covering Bo was supposed to be like covering Donald Trump. Volatile. Outrageous at times. Unpredictable. Entertaining.

Instead, it’s been like covering Tom Coughlin. A little on the gruff side, but mostly pleasant. Professional. And far less unpredictable than Wolford, who could lose his voice screaming at practices (particularly in his first season), then say just about anything during his interviews.

It’s made for a more relaxing training camp — and a more enjoyable one.

“It’s way more fun,” sophomore wide receiver I’tavious Harvin said. “Last year was all business but this year it’s business and you’re having fun at the same time. You’re doing something you actually love again.”

Added wideout Andrew Williams: “The coaches interact with you more. They’re more like a friend, I guess you could say. They’re buddy-buddy on and off the field. You feel like you can talk to them.”

Wolford’s contract status, and YSU’s playoff drought, hung over the program the past few years, as Wolford won enough early games to excite the fans, lost enough late ones to frustrate them and said enough dumb things to repel them. Pelini did the same thing at Nebraska.

Both coaches were trying to live up to the expectations set by legendary coaches in the 1990s. Like Wolford, Pelini has embraced those expectations, talking about winning conference titles and competing for national championships. But no one expects that to happen this fall, not in a league with four-time champion North Dakota State and last year’s runner-up, Illinois State.

All Pelini needs to do is what got him fired at Nebraska — win nine games. If he can go 8-3 (or even 7-4) in the regular season and win a playoff game or two, it would help win back a fan base that’s gotten used to spending Saturdays on the couch watching Ohio State.

Like Pelini, the nationwide perception of YSU is different than the reality. The Penguins have made the playoffs just once since Tressel left after the 2000 season, yet they were still picked to finish fourth in a conference that sent five other teams to the playoffs last year.

That’s the power of having Tressel as your president and the most famous coach in the FCS walking your sidelines. YSU may not have names on the backs of the jerseys, but at least fans are again paying attention to the one on the front.

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