By Jason King, Yahoo Sports
December 20, 2007
"It's nice," Pelini said, "to be home again."
Thing is, Louisiana isn't home anymore – or at least it won't be in another three weeks.
By then Pelini's duties as LSU's defensive coordinator will have come to an official end, and instead he'll be sitting in his plush new office in Lincoln, Neb. – the one designated for the Cornhuskers head coach.
Pelini was hired Dec. 2 to replace Bill Callahan, and until this week he hadn't returned to Baton Rouge since. But now, with the blessing of Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne, Pelini is back on the LSU practice fields, helping the Tigers prepare for their showdown against Ohio State in the BCS title game Jan. 7.
Pelini spent the last three seasons at LSU after one-year stints as an assistant at Oklahoma and Nebraska. Under his tutelage the Tigers' defense has been regarded yearly as one of the best in the country.
This year's unit produced two first-team All-Americans in tackle Glenn Dorsey and safety Craig Steltz. LSU will enter the BCS title game touting an 11-2 record, with both losses – to Kentucky and Arkansas – coming in overtime.
"You can't be half-in on something like this," Pelini said of preparing for the bowl. "You have to be full-go. I'm ready. I know what I'm doing.
"It's an exciting time. Fortunately, it works out good schedule-wise with the (recruiting) dead period. Now I have time to dive into it and go win a national championship. At the same time it's not going to take away from what I was hired to do at Nebraska."
Hectic as things may be in Baton Rouge these days, it's probably nothing compared to the whirlwind that defined Pelini's first few weeks on the job at Nebraska.
Pelini's introductory press conference came less than 24 hours after LSU defeated Tennessee in the SEC title game. After that it was all a blur for Pelini, who had to juggle recruiting trips with get-to-know-you meetings with each of his new players.
"It's time to go to work," Pelini told the Cornhuskers at team gathering prior to his press conference. "It's time to get things back on track."
The Cornhuskers finished 5-7 last season under Callahan, but in 2006 they played in the Big 12 title game.
"It's hard to say right now, but I don't think (the program) is in that bad of shape," Pelini said. "They just played for a Big 12 championship a year ago. It's not far off. Honestly, I haven't had a heck of a lot of time to evaluate the state of the program or the players yet. There have been too many other things to take care of."
Along with improving Nebraska's play on the field, Pelini knows he must also help mend some of the wounds that Nebraska's previous staff and administration caused throughout Husker Nation.
Former All-Americans – such as Johnny Rodgers, Jason Peter – as well as some big-money boosters said they felt alienated by the previous regime. Things got so bad that, in October, chancellor Harvey Perlman fired athletic director Steve Pederson and replaced him with Osborne, who has agreed to serve in the role until 2010.
"For whatever reason there was a sense of disconnect," Pelini said. "I don't know if it was the athletic director or what. But whatever happened, there was division there. (Osborne) decided it was time to make a change for a lot of reasons.
"It seems like the people have rallied around the changes that have happened. The whole state is ready to come back together and rally around the football program. Now we have to do our part. There's a lot of work to be done."
Considering he has Nebraska's legendary coach as his athletic director, Pelini said he couldn't have walked into a more ideal scenario.
"He's a great person to have in your corner," Pelini said of Osborne. "The guy is obviously a legend. He's been extremely helpful and very supportive every step of the way. He's always there to offer advice and his perspective on things. It's great to be able to bounce things off of him."
Not that Pelini has had very much face time with Osborne – at least not yet. Most of his first two weeks were spent cavorting around the country, meeting the recruits who committed to Nebraska under Callahan's watch while trying to convince some new ones to visit Lincoln.
It hasn't been easy. Five recruits decommitted from Nebraska over the weekend.
"You just have to get in front of them and let them get to know you," Pelini said. "There's a lot of uncertainty with some of them. A few wonder if you even want them anymore, so we have to establish relationships with them.
"The response has been pretty positive, but you can't fix things overnight."
Pelini said he couldn't be more eager to put in the time, but first, there's the matter of the BCS national title game in New Orleans. As happy as he is to be in new position, Pelini said he can't help but be a bit sentimental about leaving his old one.
"I felt like I had the best assistant coaching job in the country," Pelini said. "I always said that I wasn't going to take just any head coaching job. I was going to wait for the right one. I was going to wait for one with the right people and for one that was a great situation. I wanted to go to a place that my family would be proud to call home for a long time.
"I've found that place."
"Sometimes you just have to move on," he said. "It's never easy. The relationships and the love I have for these players will extend way beyond this game. They'll be a part of me for the rest of my life. I had a great time here.
"And it's not over yet."
Updated on Thursday, Dec 20, 2007 10:50 am, EST