The numbers are not on Bo Pelini's side as he heads from Youngstown, Ohio, to Baton Rouge, La., and LSU. For all the expectation and attention showered on Youngstown State's football program in the five years the combustible coach led it, the Penguins were 18-22 in Missouri Valley Football Conference games under Pelini.
That is the exact league record Eric Wolford compiled as the Youngstown State coach in the five seasons prior to Pelini's arrival.
Pelini was 0-5 against North Dakota State, 1-4 against South Dakota State, 1-4 against Illinois State and 2-2 against Northern Iowa. It means Pelini was 4-15 against the top four programs in the MVFC.
Pelini was 0-4 in games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams, but 11-1 in nonconference games against opponents from the weak Northeast Conference, Pioneer Football League and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
By any objective measure, Pelini's time in Youngstown was underwhelming other than a playoff run in 2016 that took the Penguins to Frisco, Texas, for the Football Championship Subdivision title game. Whether that five-game stretch outweighs the other four-plus years enough to call Pelini's tenure a success is up to those in Youngstown to decide.
Opinion: Pelini did not leave the program better than when he took it over, which should be a deciding factor in whether his reign was successful or not.
Still, that doesn't mean Pelini's time at Youngstown State wasn't entertaining for those of us who didn't have to deal with him on a daily basis. The coach was as close to a celebrity as an FCS conference can get — motorcycle-riding adulterer Bobby Petrino down at Missouri State gets that mantle now — and he generally made games more enjoyable to cover, if only because you never quite knew when the top was going pop or how he was going to react after games.
Villains are always more fun to write about than angels.
Pelini was a villain for North Dakota State fans since he and his brother Carl, the team's defensive coordinator, blew their stacks over a pass interference call called on the Penguins late in a 2015 game in Youngstown. He was red-faced and angry when speaking with the media after that game.
- McFeely: Pelini is blunt as always but what else can he say?
- McFeely: Bison have nightmares in Youngstown, but always snap awake
- Pelini dismisses close Bison-Penguins games in recent years
In subsequent postgame sessions, though, Pelini was calm, honest and often insightful. After the Penguins lost 24-3 in Fargo in 2016, the coach lamented his team's offensive impotence and promised "big changes." He delivered. The Penguins improved and went to Frisco.
After a 17-7 Bison victory in Fargo in 2018, Pelini touted NDSU quarterback Easton Stick as a future NFLer and said he'd help Stick however he could.
After a 56-17 Bison blowout in Youngstown, a calm Pelini explained that his team "got our ass kicked in all three phases of the game."
From a media standpoint, Pelini answered the questions that were asked of him — usually in a blunt, no-nonsense and often entertaining fashion. Unlike former Missouri State coach Dave Steckel, whose prickly personality was a tiresome burden after games, Pelini didn't seem offended by difficult questions after difficult losses.
Pelini was simply more interesting than your usual MVFC coach because of his personality and history. He just couldn't recruit well enough, particularly on offense generally and at quarterback specifically. His teams started fast and faded as the season ground on.
Youngstown State's experiment in hiring Pelini didn't return the Penguins to their glory days, save the 2016 playoff run, but the football program and the MVFC will be less interesting without him, if only because of the celebrity entertainment value. Whoever replaces him — a young up-and-comer, if the Youngstown State's administration is smart — won't match that.