What’d been rumored for about a week now was confirmed today, as LSU announced the hire of Bo Pelini as its next defensive coordinator, replacing the outgoing Dave Aranda.
Pelini had previously run the Tiger defense from 2005-2007, before leaving to become Nebraska’s head coach, where he was 67-27 through seven seasons. From his rather unceremonious departure from Lincoln, he has since gone 100-55 in five seasons at Youngstown State.
Delly had a few more details on the contract later this afternoon:
More specifics on Bo Pelini's deal with #LSU: three-year contract at $2.3M a year, sources tell @SINow.— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) January 27, 2020
Should put him inside the top 3 among assistant coach salaries.
Just six years ago, Pelini made $3.075M his final year at Nebraska - as head coach.
That’s a step below what Aranda was making, but still high up there. I don’t suspect you’ll see LSU pay much less than that for a defensive coordinator for a while now. Scott Woodward is known for being a big spender as an athletic director.
As for the move itself? While Ed Orgeron has certainly earned my benefit of the doubt — and yours as well — I have to admit I’m a little skeptical of this move.
Obviously, Pelini had great results here — all three of his LSU defenses finished in the top 10 in S&P+ — but they had moments that always left me with bad tastes in my mouth. He was a natural bully; when he had an offense on the run he would really turn guys loose and give them hell, which is generally a good pairing with a dynamic offense. But some very mediocre quarterbacks like Brandon Cox and Jonathan Crompton had more success than they should’ve at times. And the Wildcat might as well have been calculus to his 2006 and 2007 defenses. Remember Danny McCray covering slot receivers one on one?
But more so, this just seems like a weird fit on the sidelines. Pelini’s cantankerous personality is obviously well known; Nebraska fired him because they thought he was, for lack of a better word, an asshole. And while players generally loved the guy, he had a bad habit of belittling subordinates. I’ve heard more than once that the lack of respect players had for assistants Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto stemmed from the lack of respect Pelini tended to show them. That style just isn’t going to fly with the type of program Orgeron has run here, especially with assistant coaches like Corey Raymond and Bill Johnson. Neither one of those guys are going to put up with that kind of treatment, and if I’m a betting man Orgeron would probably have their back.
Furthermore, Pelini was noted as hostile to recruiting at times during that tenure, which contributed to some depth problems later on, in my opinion. That’s another quality Orgeorn’s not going to tolerate. A coordinator doesn’t need to be beating the bushes on the trail, but he does need to add value with talent evaluation, and help close on prospects.
Now, all of that said, it’s important to note that all of this happened 12 years ago. At a minimum, Pelini’s attitude on recruiting certainly changed during his time at Nebraska. And the way that job ended, one would hope, offered some perspective on some of Pelini’s personal issues. If there’s one thing we all should learn from what’s happened here with Orgeron, it’s that coaches can learn from their mistakes, and be better for it. Plus, it’s not like Orgeorn is going to be unaware of any of these issues coming in, and they’ve certainly been discussed in the vetting process.
I am inclined to dismiss the concerns about his understanding modern offenses. Pelini hasn’t been out of the game, he’s been working at the FCS level and I’m sure he was very active in defensive game-planing at Youngstown. Plus, there’s usually more offensive innovation and variety, due to heightened talent discrepancies at that level.
In terms of style, Pelini has generally preferred a 40-front look, although he’s been flexible at times when he has tweener end/linebacker types at the edge. He definitely prefers to work out of a cover-one, man-to-man base with a much more aggressive approach. Lot’s of blitzing and zone blitzing.
Ultimately, few coaches are really static in 40- or 30-front looks — Brent Venables at Clemson is an example, moving to more of a 30 base this year — and the “Under” front Pelini prefers would fit LSU’s personnel. Aranda used that look quite a bit this year in sub packages with K’Lavon Chaisson as a defacto end on the weak side. Nothing would really change for Tyler Shelvin on the nose, but one would think Neil Farrell would transition well to more of a three-technique tackle.
Pelini will certainly inherit the nation’s top cornerback in Derek Stingley; a safety in JaCoby Stevens that would fit into his blitzing schemes a lot like LaRon Landry back in the day; and a couple rising potential stars at linebacker like Damone Clark and Marcel Brooks.
Another angle to Pelini’s dynamic will be his contrast to Aranda’s more understated, cerebral style. Creating more of a break from that style might be a good thing for the players. You never want to see a new coach as just trying to recreate what the last guy did, better to be doing things his own way. And while Pelini may be known for being loud and boisterous, he was much beloved by his players. The change-up may have its benefits on that front.
Change is constant in college football, and that’s usually accelerated after winning a championship. Assembling quality staffs is one thing, and now we’ll see how Orgeron maintains that quality through transitions.