Rising star Pelini says he's not using No. 8 Nebraska as a 'steppingstone job'

Bo Pelini is heading into his third year at Nebraska. Based on his track record, that means it must be about time for him to move again.

The only place Pelini plans to go is to the Big Ten in 2011, and he's taking his Cornhuskers with him.

Forget that for now. Pelini's got big plans for the Huskers' last go-round in the Big 12.

They won six of their last seven last season, came within a second of knocking off Texas in the Big 12 championship game and are favored to win the North Division again this year.

They'll start the season No. 8 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll, their highest preseason ranking since 2001, and some pundits are giving them an outside shot of playing for the national title.

The 42-year-old Pelini has never held a job for more than three years, and he rightly pointed out that as an assistant he wasn't in control of his job security. Still, he likes to joke that the best explanation for his work history is that he's not always the easiest guy to get along with.

"I don't know if anyone wants me around more than three years," he said.

Given how Pelini has returned Nebraska to national relevance so fast, the fans are more than willing to put up with Pelini's cantankerous side. They consider him a godsend after Bill Callahan struggled.

Pelini's quick resuscitation of the Huskers has landed him on the short list of hot coaches, a fact he reluctantly acknowledges.

Another big year, and Pelini could be mentioned for prominent job openings. But he said if he does his job right at Nebraska, he could see himself staying in Lincoln for a long time.

"I don't think Nebraska is a steppingstone job," he said. "It's a great job. You have all the things necessary to win. We have a great athletic director, we have great support. I love my staff. I'm happy.

"Am I going to say you would never ever look or talk to somebody? That's crazy to make an ultimatum like that. But we're not looking."

Pelini has had seven jobs since getting his start as an assistant secondary coach with the San Francisco 49ers.

Pelini, who was Frank Solich's defensive coordinator at Nebraska in 2003, returned to the Cornhuskers for his first head coaching job after LSU's national championship season in 2007.

With Ndamukong Suh in the middle, Pelini shored up a Nebraska defense that went from 112th nationally in 2007 to seventh last year.

Pelini's first team went 9-4 — a four-win improvement over Callahan's 5-7 mark in 2007 — and shared the division title with Missouri and beat Clemson in the Gator Bowl.

The Huskers took it up a notch last season, going 10-4 with wins in six of the last seven games. The only loss in that stretch was the gut-wrenching 13-12 defeat to Texas in the Big 12 championship game.

Nebraska closed out the year with Suh being honored as the AP national player of the year and a Heisman Trophy finalist, not to mention a 33-0 rout of Arizona in the Holiday Bowl.

As good as things are going, the concern among the Huskers faithful is that Pelini will be lured away someday, maybe by LSU or Ohio State.

Pelini's defenses at LSU never ranked lower than No. 3 nationally in yards allowed, and he produced six first-team All-Americans. Pelini has instant credibility in the Bayou State.

The Big Ten is Pelini's old stomping grounds. He grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and played free safety at Ohio State.

Pelini pooh-poohs talk about him succeeding Jim Tressel.

"I'm just happy coach Tressel is there. I think he'll be there for years to come, and I think he should be," Pelini said.

He added, "For me to sit there like I'm going to campaign to be the next head coach at Ohio State, that's crazy. That's a slap in the face to coach Tressel, to the guys that are there.

"I'm hoping to build this into something like he has going there. Then you feel there is no reason to ever leave here."

John Cooper, Ohio State's coach for Pelini's last two years of college, said Pelini's work ethic and competitiveness have carried over from his playing days.

"With his background and the success he's had," Cooper said, "I'm sure he'll have many, many opportunities."

Pelini likes to say his team is nowhere near where he wants it to be, and he says the same about himself as a coach.

His comfort zone is on the practice field and film room and in the cocoon of his players and assistants. But at any big-time program, the head coach's job requires interaction with the public and dealing with the media.

Pelini acknowledged that the nearly constant attention his team receives in the state wears on him. He's not comfortable doing speaking engagements, and he can be testy with the media, as evidenced by his recent three-day media lockout during preseason camp.

His sideline decorum also has made many a mild-mannered Huskers fan cringe. He's regularly in the ears of sideline officials, and a profanity-laced tirade during the 62-28 loss at Oklahoma in 2008 made for a popular YouTube video.

Last year, after officials put 1 second back on the clock at the end of the Big 12 title game — enough time for Texas to kick the winning field goal — Pelini lashed out on the tunnel on his way to the locker room.

"BCS. That's why they make that call," Pelini yelled, referring to how the victory sent the Longhorns to the BCS national championship game.

Pelini said he's trying to rein in those outbursts.

"I'm still an emotional guy," he said. "All the different experiences, you learn from them and fix them as they come up. When they come up the second time, you hope you handle it differently."

Sure, Pelini is rough around the edges. But he gets a break because he's winning, and he's doing it with a physical style of football that Big Red fans came to love when coaching greats Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne were in charge.

"I'm still learning every day," Pelini said. "Let's face it: I've made my share of mistakes. You hope as you move along, you learn from those mistakes and it makes you a stronger and better coach.

"I think I'm a better coach this year than I was a year ago at this time. I hope a year from now I'm saying the same thing."