A calm start for Bo Pelini at YSU
by Joe Scalzo - "A blog about YSU Penguin athletics, not the insides of penguins." (Contact) | 155 entries
Ten thoughts on Bo Pelini's first week of spring practices:
1. When Youngstown State hired Bo Pelini back in December, I did a half-dozen radio interviews with stations in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.
On one of them, the host asked me, "Isn't Bo kind of a [feminine cleaning product that comes in a bag]?"
Once I stopped laughing — it's amazing what you can say on sports talk radio — I said, "Honestly, he's always been OK with us."
Three months later, that's still true. Pelini may be famous (or infamous) for his temper, for ranting against his boss/Nebraska fans in secret recordings and for his fake Twitter account (Faux Pelini), but in person, he seems pretty normal. And not just with the media. When I ask people who work with him every day (coaches, administrators, players), the phrase I hear more than anything else is down-to-earth.
Now. Pelini hasn't lost any games. His team hasn't been called for any holding penalties or personal fouls. He hasn't been asked any pointed questions in postgame press conferences.
But if you didn't know his reputation, you'd never guess he's supposed to be a fire-breathing dragon. During practices, he's more of a teacher than a screamer.
By comparison, Eric Wolford spent his first few weeks at YSU peeling the paint off the goalposts, one four-letter word at a time. (He became more of an observer over his last few years.) One of Wolford's defensive coordinators, Joe Tresey, spent most of his two-year tenure screaming some variation on the phrase "Are you [unprintable synonym for pooping] me?????"
"Contrary to maybe popular opinion, I'm not a screamer and a yeller out on the practice field," Pelini said. "I believe you have to teach. Like I told the team, the times I'm gonna get after you is when I see a lack of effort out there."
2. I think Pelini is enjoying being out of the Nebraska spotlight. He told me he usually had about 25 reporters at his Nebraska practices, which is more than you see in the NFL.
There were about a half-dozen for his first YSU spring practice, then two of us at the second. He spent the first few minutes of that second practice joking with a reporter about wearing a North Carolina jacket.
"We've got to get you a Duke shirt," he said.
Pelini played football at Ohio State, but he was on a camp team in high school with former Duke standout Phil Henderson, so he started rooting for the Blue Devils when Henderson got to college. (Before that, Pelini was a UNC fan because he loved Michael Jordan.)
Pelini also roots for Duke because he's a big fan of Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski.
"I just have a lot of respect for Coach K," he said. "He does things the right way."
3. Here's senior TE Kintrell Disher on Pelini: "He's a great guy. I don't see what everybody else is talking about. He's a cool, calm, collected guy. He's a people person. He greets you. He just shows us that he's here for us and he's here to make us better.
"When I found out it was him [who was going to replace Wolford], I was asking other guys about him and they said he's a players' coach. He's real down-to-earth."
4. And here's senior WR Andrew Williams on Pelini: "I'd say he's laid-back. Ain't too much yelling. We know what we need to do."
5. YSU doesn't have a designated special teams coach. Pelini said secondary coach Richard McNutt will "lead the charge" when it comes to special teams but he kind of likes a coach-by-committee approach.
"There's gonna be a number of different coaches who have different responsibilities for special teams," he said.
(Side note: Pelini really likes McNutt, who coached with Jim Tressel at Ohio State.)
The Penguins lost kicker/punter Joey Cejudo to graduation, so there's a lot of young guys in camp vying for those jobs, including four local players: sophomore K Connor McFadden (Poland), redshirt freshman punter Nick Sheely (Fitch), redshirt freshman P/K Vlassios Pizanias (a Hubbard grad who played at Toledo last season) and freshman K Zak Kennedy (who graduated from Cardinal Mooney in December).
Wolford's special teams were awful his first year, pretty good in 2013 and a mixed bag last fall. It seemed like YSU always had at least one breakdown in every game.
6. Speaking of special teams, you can expect at least one story on holder Tanner Garry this spring. Dude's hilarious. After one contact drill during Tuesday's practice, he started screaming, "THEY DIDN'T WANT ME IN THERE, DID THEY? DID THEY?" Then he lowered his voice and said, "Because I would have broken my neck."
7. Defensively, Pelini is stressing two things: aggression and attention to detail.
After fielding a disastrous defense under Tresey in 2013, YSU ran essentially the same scheme last fall but simplified the concepts so guys could play faster. (Part of the problem: Wolford preferred recruiting athletes to football players.) The Penguins' defense was much better last fall, although some that was because a lot of the defensive players hated Tresey's guts and much preferred playing for Jamie Bryant.
Considering Pelini's background, I'd expect this year's defense to be even better, especially since there's more talent and experience on the defense than at any point in Wolford's tenure.
"The defense is a lot more aggressive," junior DE Derek Rivers said, when I asked him to compare last year's scheme to Pelini's. "It's heavier. We use our hands a little more, so you've got to be stronger. You've got to be tough."
8. Rivers was a freshman on that 2013 defense. Here's how he compared that defense to now.
"I feel like everyone wants to get better," he said. "I don't feel like we had that two years ago. Last year we had a little bit because we had a little more leaders on the team. This year, I can see it. Everyone wants to get better. We want to do better. I see other people leading and I feel like this should be a better year."
9. Spring practice is a lot more laid-back than fall practice, so here's a bunch of funny quotes left over from my notebook:
Quarterback Hunter Wells, on whether his teammates rib him about growing out his hair: "Nah, it's more Coach [Shane] Montgomery than anybody. It was in an awkward stage for awhile, but it's finally growing where I want it."
Linebacker Dubem Nwadiogbu on Wells' hair: "He looks like a hippie. Just kidding, I love his hair. Makes me wish I had it."
Disher (a South Carolina native) on getting used to snow: "It was hard. I never drove in snow before I got here. I never seen it till I got here. I'm getting used to it. All I have to do is bundle up and get me a scarf."
What about skiing or building snowmen?
"I still don't ski or build snowmen," he said. "If the snow's heavy, I'm in the house trying to stay warm. I'm only out if I've got to be."
10. Former YSU WR Jelani Berassa started his coaching career this spring as the wide receivers coach at Delaware State under head coach Kenny Carter, who was YSU's wide receivers coach last season.
Here's where some of Wolford's other assistants ended up:
- Defensive line coach Tom Sims has the same job at Pitt.
- Safeties coach Mike Zordich is a secondary coach at Michigan.
- Tight ends coach Dan Gerberry is a graduate assistant coaching tight ends at West Virginia.