There was just something about the stare, the look, of Bo Pelini in postgame press conferences that made the reporter think about the ensuing five minutes. Like, you better be on your journalistic game or this guy will gouge your eyeballs out with the dull pen sitting on the podium in front of him.
Did we enjoy it? Absolutely. Bo answered questions with sincerity and honesty and with a quiet intensity that made those moments feel big time. The former Youngstown State head coach never did beat North Dakota State in the five years he was with the Penguins, so, to be fair, we never saw the victorious side of Bo.
But, in the losses, he was fair.
Now he’s gone, out the door to the $2.3 million a year job as the defensive coordinator at defending national champion LSU. Bo probably tired of making the $200,000 for the one year he drew that salary from Youngstown; the other years padded with the buyout from the University of Nebraska.
That was always my No. 1 thought why he would leave his hometown school. Once an FBS coach gets used to making north of $1 million a year, it’s pretty hard to live in the low-budget world of the FCS.
And, let’s be fair: Bo was so-so at Youngstown. He had a 33-28 record. After an unexpected run to the FCS national title game in 2016 as an at-large selection, the Penguins were not much of a national threat, much less a Missouri Valley Football Conference title threat. His conference record was 18-22 and his best finish was in 2016 when they finished third.
Which is why Youngstown should think about its next hire in those terms.
Hiring these former FBS big names who are no longer employed doesn’t always work out. Missouri State hired University of Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, and The Steck lasted five years and resigned after a 13-42 record.
The Bears didn’t waver, hiring fired FBS and former NFL head coach Bobby Petrino. I never saw the resumes on the Missouri State athletic director’s proverbial desk, so perhaps it was the best avenue for the Bears. I suppose when you haven't made the playoffs since 1990 that you're looking for somebody to light an immediate fire.
But when it comes to hiring fired FBS guys, it's not a road well traveled.
The Bison struck gold with fired Nebraska defensive coordinator Craig Bohl, who took a sleeping program, woke it up and started what would become one of the greatest dynasties in college football history. It’s still going.
Bohl was hired in 2003 and NDSU’s days of hiring a Bohl-like candidate are probably over. The Bison have found a formula that works, hiring from within for the head coach in defensive coordinators Chris Klieman and Matt Entz. And going with Division II or FCS guys for their assistants.
The only NDSU coach who was once a full-time assistant at an FBS school is offensive line coach AJ Blazek. But Blazek also spent twice as much time at Fort Hays State (Kan.) and Winona State (Minn.) than he did at Rutgers.
The makeup of the NDSU staff is much more Winona than it is Nebraska. Bison coaches spent a combined 18 years at Winona State.
There was a time when FBS coordinators would jump at a chance to be the head coach at an FCS school, like in 2014 when Jay Hill went from the Utah offensive coordinator to the head coach at Weber State. No longer. The salary differential is too great, especially at the Power Five schools where offensive and defensive coordinators routinely make around $1 million per year, or in the case of Bo, more than double that.
There just aren’t many fired FBS guys out there trying to make another run at coaching in the FCS. Take the Missouri Valley.
Southern Illinois tapped young assistant and former player Nick Hill to resurrect the Salukis after several years of not measuring up. It’s taken time, but Hill had SIU on the doorstep of the playoffs this year.
South Dakota State found success with longtime head coach John Stiegelmeier. Indiana State is making strides with Curt Mallory, an unproven assistant under Bohl at Wyoming. Illinois State hired Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack in 2009, with Spack looking for a job after legendary Boilermakers head coach Joe Tiller retired.
Mark Farley has been at Northern Iowa for most of his coaching career. South Dakota got Bob Nielson to come over from Western Illinois. The Leathernecks, meanwhile, promoted assistant Jared Elliott.
Those FBS name guys? Montana is taking another run at fired UNLV head coach Bobby Hauck and that seems to have promise. We'll see how Mike London (fired at Virginia) does at William & Mary. Missouri State, however, has the ultimate litmus test in Bobby Petrino.