Decision to stay, or go, is on Pelini

The speculation began before the season even started.

Before the epically embarrassing loss to Butler. Before there was a quarterback controversy. Before the team was eliminated from playoff contention.

People have wanted to know what’s next for Bo Pelini since last season ended.

It’s a valid question. The fiery coach of the Youngstown State football team has a contract that expires in February and, maybe of equal importance, the oodles of money he was still being paid from his buyout with Nebraska also stops rolling in around the same time.

He has a big decision to make, and frankly, so does YSU.

It’s hard to imagine the Penguins not wanting him back. He was considered one of the top defensive minds in college football when he was ‘D’ coordinator at prominent programs such as LSU and Oklahoma. He also spent time coaching in the NFL during his career, and he certainly had other, more high-profile schools wanting his services after the he was fired from Nebraska him following the 2014 season (where he compiled a 66-27 record from 2008 to 2014). And he still chose YSU.

At the same time, Pelini’s appeal has deteriorated to some fans — and maybe some administrators — given his 27-22 record during a four-year tenure. Sure, he took the Penguins on a memorable run to the national championship game in 2016, but he has two losing seasons mixed in, and the other was just a 6-5 campaign. This makes his time at YSU hard to gauge, especially after a disappointing 4-7 finish this year.

Still, it’s hard to see the Penguins doing better than Pelini. His name holds credibility with potential players and coaches. He’s still a defensive mastermind who turned one of the conference’s worst units into one of the nation’s strongest. And, he’s a Youngstowner.

Short-tempered but hard-working, the guy graduated from Cardinal Mooney High School, played for Ohio State and came back to the Mahoning Valley when more lucrative options were available. I don’t see the university rewarding his loyalty by turning their back on him after an up-and-down four years.

Furthermore, delusional fans who think Jim Tressel or Bob Stoops is coming out of retirement to take over need to come back to reality. The pickings aren’t the same as they were in 2001, when Tressel left after building a football dynasty.

The luster from the 1990s has dissipated. The tradition will always be there, but the excitement brought on by four national championships is no more. To sell people on Youngstown State, you need a high-profile coach like Pelini and top-of-the-line facilities, and YSU possesses both, for now.

Pelini’s decision will likely fall on him, and that’s where the speculation really runs rampant.

Everyone will act as if they know what he wants to do over the coming weeks, but I find that hard to believe. Pelini isn’t exactly the most social person. He’s not rude, but he’s not going to shoot the breeze with the average person or member of the media just for the heck of it. In other words, he’s not going to divulge which way he’s leaning to anyone outside of his family and close friends.

Pelini has to weigh the thoughts of his family (he’s married and still has a son and a daughter attending Mooney) along with his own personal and professional aspirations. Finances are another matter. He can make significantly more money as a defensive coordinator at a big-time college program (something tells me Ohio State would take him right about now) than he will as the Penguins’ head coach. That said, he’s made quite a bit of cash during his lifetime.

If he decides to stay, some changes need to happen. The fact that he wasn’t overly social was part of the problem in regards to the last four years. Attendance at games has not increased like so many expected when he was hired. In fact, crowds were downright pathetic this year. His namesake has lost the novelty, and not being out in the community — shaking hands and kissing babies, so to speak — doesn’t help fuel a Penguins revival.

He also needs to improve his coaching staff. There are definitely some young, up-and-coming coaches within the current group, but this year’s team had too many problems not to point to coaching. It’s easy to blame Pelini, but a head coach is only as good as the assistants around him. When Pelini had his brother, Carl Pelini, and former offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery at his side — two well-known, successful coordinators — YSU went to the FCS Championship. When he didn’t, the Penguins were an average team.

When all is said and done, Youngstown State would be foolish not to hope to retain Pelini’s services. His knowledge of the game and ability to rein in potential recruits outweigh any perceived flaws. And yes, I know, he’s a hothead on the sideline, and frankly, he has made some bad decisions as far as that goes, but I don’t see that as a reflection of his overall character. A few dust-ups shouldn’t define him as a coach.

In my mind, Pelini has unfinished business in Youngstown. It’s up to him if he wants to finish it.