Pelini Reaches Out for Recruiting Help
By Paul Myerberg // Feb 23, 2012
Bo Pelini’s fire burns deep, burns long and burns bright, and it’s this never-ending stream of energy that is Nebraska’s greatest strength and, at times, the program’s greatest weakness. You’ve seen the latter in College Station, when Pelini – Bo, and also Carl, now at Florida Atlantic – lost his cool in a penalty-laden loss to Texas A&M. You saw it against Texas in the 2009 Big 12 title game, when Pelini’s gasket burst over the second that wasn’t; there’s red, Nebraska red and Pelini red, and the colors get darker the farther you move down the line. But it’s this energy and drive that also doubles as one of Nebraska’s assets, helping the program overcome many of its own built-in disadvantages.
It’s a trickle-down sort of energy: Pelini’s attitude drifts down to his staff, which in turn drifts down to his players, helping create Nebraska’s own brand of football physicality. And while the Cornhuskers have yet to return to its glory days-era level of success, Pelini has won at least nine games in each of his first four seasons – after Bill Callahan, this is cause for celebration.
Surprisingly, however, Pelini’s energy when it comes to football itself hasn’t exactly translated to the recruiting trail. It seems as if the two aren’t mutually exclusive; the energy Pelini devotes to football, one would think, would make him a non-stop stove of energy when it comes to reeling top recruits into Lincoln. But that’s not the case.
Nebraska hasn’t done terribly: Pelini’s most recent class hovered around the top 25 nationally, depending on your recruiting source of choice, and he clearly has an eye for somewhat under-the-radar defensive talent. Former linebacker Lavonte David fits that bill, as does former defensive back Dejon Gomes, among others. Under his watch, Nebraska has seemingly brought in enough talent to continue winning nine games every season in perpetuity.
But that’s not enough: Nebraska wants more, and deserves more, in a sort of statewide-birthright sort of way. And to reach that next level, the Cornhuskers need to start bringing in the sort of five-star, can’t-miss prospects that separates the elite from the merely very good. For now, the program falls into the second category.
So here we lie, soon to enter Pelini’s half-decade mark in Lincoln, and Nebraska has two options: improve its recruiting efforts or be happy with occasionally competing for conference titles yet remaining outside the national title picture. Obviously, the program wants to be an annual factor in the national championship hunt. But to get there, it’ll take a significant alteration of how Pelini and his staff approach the year-round recruiting game.
As Steven Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star detailed yesterday, Pelini has already identified that an issue exists. The issue, in specific, is that Nebraska draws early interest from the sort of prospects that eventually go elsewhere – to the SEC, U.C.L.A., U.S.C. and the like – come national signing day. These yearly disappointments led Pelini to hire an outside company to address how his staff works through the recruiting quagmire.
“Pelini has enlisted help from an outside firm of research professionals to help his staff’s efficiency in the recruiting process,” writes Sipple. “It’s his first go-round with such a method.”
Pelini told Sipple: “They’re working to help us to not only ask the right questions, but teach us what to listen for when we ask the questions and get more insight in the limited amount of time we’re with recruits.” This is recruiting simplified, an approach that, hopefully, will lead Pelini and his staff to be more productive with the time they have on hand when it comes to recruiting.
One situation that needs immediate mending is the concern listed above: Nebraska remains in the hunt for talented recruits but comes up short late in the game, leaving the Cornhuskers reaching for second-tier prospects – when compared to the national recruit who said no – to fill out its class.
Perhaps the outside firm has already made an impact. As Sipple noted, Pelini “hopes [that Nebraska] is about halfway finished with its 2013 class by summer’s end.” This is a somewhat dangerous game, seeing that better prospects might arise later in the year, but this new approach could be of enormous benefit if Nebraska identifies its top recruits early in the game.
One thing that won’t change, and will never change as long as Pelini runs the show, is the search for prospects with the sort of mentality that won’t wilt under his never-quit, non-stop brand of energy. While “mental toughness” can be developed, Pelini told Sipple, Nebraska is looking for the sort of player capable of continuing this Pelini-era tradition.
Credit Pelini for bypassing his own stubbornness to address his program’s most looming weakness. Among the Nebraska fan base, the two prime complaints revolve around offensive line play – position coach Barney Cotton is vilified without pause – and inconsistency on the recruiting trail. As the nation’s elite programs prove on an annual basis, a high-powered recruiting engine can offset any and all other concerns.
Tags: Bo Pelini, Carl Pelini, Nebraska, Recruiting
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