Carl Pelini helped turn around Nebraska’s defense. He’s now taking on a significantly bigger challenge.
Pelini was hired Monday by Florida Atlantic, where he’ll become the second coach in program history and is replacing the now-retired Howard Schnellenberger. Pelini and FAU agreed to terms on a deal late last week, and the university's trustees formally approved the hiring Monday morning.
“At the end of the day, I felt that the guy I would trust with my career on the line also is Carl Pelini,” FAU athletic director Craig Angelos said Monday.
Pelini’s deal is for five years, starting with a $450,000 base salary in his first season and, with annual raises, would be worth a total of $2.49 million at its completion. In any season where the Owls sell more than 12,000 season tickets, Pelini would get at least another $100,000, and is eligible for other bonuses such as bowl appearances, conference titles and meeting certain academic standards.
FAU will likely make him earn that money.
The Owls finished this season 1-11, tied with Akron, Indiana and New Mexico for the worst record in major college football, and were one of only five clubs nationally not to win a single game within their own conference.
Pelini was to be formally introduced at a Monday afternoon news conference. He is the brother of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini.
“It is a very big hire for this university because it is a very visible hire for this university,” Angelos said.
Trustees met by teleconference to discuss the hire before it became official, and none of them aired any complaints about the move. Angelos also assured trustees during that call that Pelini is “comfortable” with the pool of money the school is making available to pay for the hiring of nine assistant coaches.
“He’s a guy that will roll up his sleeves and take whatever he’s been given and make it better,” Angelos said.
In that respect, he sounds more than a bit like Schnellenberger, who founded the FAU program from the ground up, oversaw the transition from what was then known as Division I-AA to the major-college level, led the Owls to a pair of bowl appearances—winning both—and a Sun Belt Conference title. In October, the crown jewel of the program opened, a 30,000-seat on-campus stadium that Schnellenberger spent years trying to get done.
Trustees got packets with Pelini’s sales pitch over the weekend, coming away duly impressed.
“Frankly, if he does three-quarters of what he says in here, it’s pretty amazing,” FAU trustee Bob Rubin said. “Craig found the right guy.”
When Pelini arrived at Nebraska in 2008, he inherited a defense that ranked 112th—out of 119 ranked teams—nationally the previous season in yards allowed. The Cornhuskers got better in a hurry, ranking seventh in 2009 and 11th in 2010 in total defense.
Pelini was a graduate assistant for Nebraska’s defense in 2003. He was Minnesota State’s defensive coordinator in 2004, an assistant at Ohio from 2005-07 and then moved back to Nebraska in 2008. He played two seasons at Columbia before transferring to Youngstown State, and holds masters degrees from Kansas State and Ohio State.