On the morning of the biggest game of his career, college football's top assistant coach is standing on a grass field, watching a bunch of 8-year-olds play soccer.
Across town, many of the 92,000 fans who will attend LSU's showdown against defending national champion Florida are already stirring gumbo and guzzling Miller Lite in the parking lot at Tiger Stadium.
But to Bo Pelini, that game is no more important than the one he's at now – mainly because his son, Patrick, is among the players trying to kick the ball into the net.
"It's fun watching your kids grow up," Pelini, who also has two daughters, says later. "Baseball, t-ball, gymnastics, ballet. I try not to miss anything."
LSU's defensive coordinator pauses for a moment and grins.
"But," Pelini says, "I do think a few people get freaked out when they see me standing on the soccer field the morning of such a big game."
Those people obviously underestimated Pelini, who helped LSU maintain its spot atop the Associated Press poll with a 28-24 win over Florida.
Head coach Les Miles said he knew he'd gotten a gem when he plucked Pelini away from Oklahoma following the 2004 season.
Miles was the head coach at Oklahoma State when Pelini was at Nebraska. After watching game tape, Miles thought he'd figured out a way to expose the Cornhuskers' defense.
"But when we played them," Miles said, "they ended up using a totally different scheme. They beat us, and after that I started watching more and more of their film. He was coming up with different plans every week. Each game it evolved."
Miles knew he wanted that kind of strategist on his staff, and he was also impressed by the newspaper articles he read about the way Nebraska's players got behind Pelini and urged the administration – albeit unsuccessfully – to hire him as their head coach.
"Those players wanted him to be there, and that said a lot," Miles said. "At that point I had never met him, but I knew I wanted him on my staff."
Count me as one who would much rather have the BoShirts back in Lincoln rather than Coz's WoeShirts. Pelini detractors like to bring up Missouri, Texas, and Kansas State as some sort of proof that Pelini isn't that good. Obviously, those fans weren't paying much attention to those games:
- Missouri: Nebraska turns the ball over 3 times inside their own 10 yard line, leading to 3 touchdowns. Nebraska loses by 17.
- Texas: Vince Young? Cedric Benson? A lot of NFL teams have problems with these guys.
- Kansas State: Yeah, the Wildcats ran free in the 4th quarter. But not nearly as bad as they ran free over Oklahoma (that season's "greatest team ever") to win the Big XII Championship.
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