Pelini, Penguins work on contract

YOUNGSTOWN — It doesn’t look like Youngstown State University football coach Bo Pelini is going anywhere. In fact, he’s bringing another Youngstown native home to join him.

Despite speculation that Pelini might leave when his four-year contract expires on Feb. 28, YSU athletic director Ron Strollo said he and Pelini are “working on his contract” and that the two parties are on the same page.

“We’re just working through and starting to look at language so when his contract expires at the end of February we’ll have one in place,” Strollo said.

Pelini’s tenure has been up and down.

A 5-6 season in year one was followed by a trip to the FCS Championship in 2016. The Penguins finished 12-4 and reached the national title game for the first time since 1999, when Jim Tressel was at the helm. YSU looked poised to return to prominence, but the Penguins went in the opposite direction.

YSU finished 6-5 in 2017 and fell to 4-7 this past year. Strollo admitted there is plenty of room from improvement, but he believes he, Pelini and his staff are on the right path.

“Obviously both of us were disappointed in last year,” Strollo said. “(We’re) trying to figure out what I can do better, he can do better. How do we get this ship headed back in the right direction and developing that plan? That’s really what our time has been committed to.”

Pelini has been linked to other coaching jobs within college football just about every season since he took over at YSU.

The Cardinal Mooney graduate and former Ohio State Buckeye was the head coach at Nebraska for nine seasons before taking over the Penguins. He had three stints in the NFL and also was a defensive coordinator at LSU and Oklahoma, among other positions.

The Youngstown native declined to discuss his future and his contract situation during the season, leading to speculation he may leave.

“Every year that Bo has been here, someone who’s had that much success in college football, has been contacted or been talked to by other institutions for other positions,” Strollo said. “But really, nothing’s different this year than any of the other four years he’s been here.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of discussion out there, but it’s been business as usual for us.”

One area Pelini has excelled in is recruiting players from the Mahoning Valley.

The Penguins have numerous local stars on the team, such as Dra Rushton of Liberty, Jake Coates of John F. Kennedy, Michael Belcik of Girard and most recently, Girard quarterback Mark Waid decommitted from Fordham University to join YSU. There are other players from Cardinal Mooney, Ursuline, Hubbard, Austintown Fitch, South Range, Boardman, Valley Christian, Canfield, Poland and West Branch on the team.

Pelini also has swayed several high-profile transfers during his tenure, and he added another to that list on Friday. Former Hubbard graduate and West Virginia University offensive lineman Matt Jones announced via Twitter that he is pursuing a graduate transfer to YSU.

Jones posted a thorough letter on the social media network explaining his decision and his excitement to come back to the Mahoning Valley.

“It was the first place I fell in love with the game, the place where I began to grow as a player and a person, and the place where I am surrounded by the people, places and traditions in which I hold most dear,” he said.

“In order to perform at my highest level, I have to be my best self and I truly believe that I am my best when I am home.”

Jones was a two-year starter at center for the Mountaineers, who recently hired Neal Brown as their coach after Dana Holgorsen left for the University of Houston. Jones could fill a big void for the Penguins, who lost two all-conference offensive linemen to graduation, including center Vitas Hrynkiewicz.

Strollo is excited to see such a strong local presence within the Penguins football team.

“Clearly, the core of our program is always circled around student-athletes from a 60-mile radius or so,” he said, “and I think Bo, his staff and myself believe that in order to stay competitive and have the success that we want to have, that’s gotta be where the core nucleus has to come from.”