Auburn coaching rumors: Would Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini be a good fit on the Plains?

Eric Francis

If Auburn fires head coach Gene Chizik, Nebraska's Bo Pelini could be interested in a return to the SEC.

Plenty of names have been thrown around as potential candidates to replace Auburn head coach Gene Chizik if and when he is fired. Jimbo Fisher, Charlie Strong and Gus Malzahn have been most consistently linked as possible choices, but many agree that if the job is available, it could go to a coach that has yet to be named. One coach that fits that description is Nebraska's Bo Pelini.

In a recent column for Sports Illustrated's National Football Post blog, Dave Miller suggested Pelini as a possible candidate. The Nebraska head coach's name hasn't been mentioned all that much as a potential hire at Auburn, but Miller says Pelini should at least be contacted:

This past summer I talked to a veteran Big Ten observer who believes that Pelini desires a bigger job and would strongly consider a return to the SEC given the right situation. While it is unknown if either party would be interested if there is an opening on The Plains, Gogue should strongly consider reaching out to Pelini, who is 47-18 overall in Lincoln and 27-11 in conference play (Big 12 and Big Ten).

For many Auburn fans who prefer hard-nosed, defense-first football, Pelini would be an ideal candidate. He is familiar with the SEC after spending three years as a defensive coordinator at LSU, and in his time on the sidelines, he has earned a reputation for having a volatile temper and an intolerance for anything that isn't done his way. Looking at his resume, Pelini has a background that should draw the attention of anyone looking to fill a coaching vacancy:

1994-96: San Francisco 49ers, defensive backs

1997-99: New England Patriots, linebackers

2000-02: Green Bay Packers, linebackers

2003: Nebraska, defensive coordinator

2004: Oklahoma, co-defensive coordinator

2005-07: LSU, defensive coordinator

2008-present: Nebraska, head coach

While Pelini's coaching stops are impressive, some of his numbers are even better. At LSU, his defenses ranked second, first and second in the SEC, allowing 14.2, 12.6 and 19.9 points per game from 2005 to '07. At Oklahoma in 2004, the Sooners allowed 16.8 points per game, ranking first in the Big 12. And at Nebraska in 2003, the Cornhuskers ranked first in the Big 12, giving up 14.5 points per game. When Pelini took over as head coach in Lincoln, Neb., in 2008, he had to recover from the disaster that was the Bill Callahan era. The 'Huskers gave up 28.5 points per game, which ranked sixth in the Big 12, but in 2009 and '10, Nebraska allowed 10.4 and 17.7 points per game, ranking first and second in the conference, respectively. However, since moving to the Big Ten, Nebraska's defense has faltered. Last season, the Cornhuskers allowed opponents to score 23.4 points, ranking seventh, and this year, opponents are averaging 25.0 points, which ranks ninth.

Bo Pelini's Defenses By The Numbers
School, Season Scoring Defense Conference Rank Total Defense Conference Rank
Nebraska (DC), '03 14.5 1 292.2 1
Oklahoma(co-DC), '04 16.8 1 299.0 1
LSU (DC), '05 14.2 2 266.8 2
LSU (DC), '06 12.9 1 242.8 1
LSU (DC), '07 19.9 2 288.8 1
Nebraska (HC), '08 28.5 6 349.8 2
Nebraska (HC), '09 10.4 1 271.3 2
Nebraska (HC), '10 17.4 2 306.8 2
Nebraska (HC), '11 23.4 7 350.7 7
Nebraska (HC), '12 25.0 9 343.3 6

How do Nebraska fans feel about their coach? While some are happy, others believe it's time to move on. As James Stevenson at Corn Nation points out, Pelini's detractors claim undisciplined teams, roster deficiencies in Year 5 of his tenure and favoritism shown toward certain players and coaches as reasons to send the head man packing.

They believe Bo's teams are undisciplined, committing too many penalties and turnovers. They believe the deficiencies on the roster are Pelini's fault, given that this is year five of his program, and question both his recruiting acumen, strategy and work ethic. They howl about cronyism and favoritism both in staff choices and on the roster itself.

In the second game of their Big Ten schedule this season, the Cornhuskers gave up 63 points in a loss to Ohio State, one of the worst defensive performances in school history. Needless to say, that's alarming for a team with a defensive-minded head coach. Stevenson says that loss was the point when the anti-Pelini crowd began hoping for a total meltdown, one that would result in the head coach's firing. But five games later, Nebraska is 6-1 in conference play and is in the driver's seat to claim the Legends Division title and advance to the conference championship game. Now, Pelini's critics are hoping a potential Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth will draw the attention of other schools in need of head coaches -- like Auburn -- and that he will vacate for greener pastures at season's end.

Now, after the Comeback Kids have surged into the driver's seat of the conference on the heels of four double-digit second-half come-from-behind Big Ten victories, the detractors have only one hope: just win.

If Bo Pelini manages to win the conference championship this year (and beating a seemingly surging Wisconsin team for a second time on a neutral field will not be a sure thing) - he may find himself to be in demand. Given the high amount of job openings this season, a 50-18 Bo Pelini coming off the heels of a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl berth would be a hot candidate on the market.

Would Pelini be a good fit at Auburn? He certainly has his pros and cons. Looking at his coaching pedigree and defensive statistics through the 2010 season, Pelini would be a no-brainer. He has NFL experience, and he's coached at big-time college programs, producing wins and great defense at every stop. As a head coach, he is 47-18 overall and 27-11 in conference play, and barring an upset loss to either Minnesota or Iowa, Pelini will have a chance to give Nebraska its first conference championship since 1999.

Of course, hearing 'Husker fans complain of cronyism, favoritism and undisciplined teams isn't a good thing, and the 2011 and '12 editions of the Nebraska defense have been mediocre at best. Plus, Pelini hasn't exactly been lighting it up on the recruiting trail as a head coach. Since he took over in 2008, Nebraska's best class, 2011, was ranked 15th in the nation by Rivals. The Cornhuskers' 2013 class is currently ranked 34th, and Pelini's five complete classes in Lincoln averaged out to a ranking of 24. Say what you will about Chizik, but he proved that Auburn can complete for the best recruits in the country. Would Pelini have more success on the trail offering Auburn's amenities, or would he bring classes ranked in the mid-20s to the Plains.

Bo Pelini's Nebraska Recruiting Classes
Year Rivals Rank Four- and Five-Star Players Average Star Ranking
'08 30 3 of 28 2.96
'09 28 5 of 20 3.25
'10 22 8 of 21 3.24
'11 15 11 of 19 3.53
'12 25 6 of 17 3.35

Pelini isn't the perfect candidate to replace Chizik, but there really isn't a perfect candidate available. Whether it's Fisher, Strong or Malzahn, each coach has his flaws, and each coach has his proponents and detractors among the Auburn fanbase. Arkansas is already reportedly targeting the Nebraska head coach, and if Miller is right, Pelini is interested in returning to the SEC. One would have to think if Auburn showed interest, he would favor the Tigers' resources over the Razorbacks. And since Auburn players, especially on defense, have too often looked soft or unfocused or ill-prepared during Chizik's tenure, the fire and brimstone Pelini would bring to the team could work wonders. Who knows if Auburn will make the call to Lincoln, but if the idea that a currently unnamed coach could wind up being in the mix is correct, there are far worse options than Pelini.

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