THE FALL OF BO PELINI: A TARNISHED LEGACY IN BATON ROUGE?

Updated: Dec 28, 2020



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By LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

@LonnPhillips

On Friday, I received word of the expected funereal march....no matter what the outcome on Saturday night vs Ole Miss, Bo Pelini would be ousted as defensive coordinator, only 10 months after accepting the $2.3 million, 2 year contracted position and moving back to Baton Rouge for the first time in 12 years....yet I spent a whole weekend in suspended disbelief, looking for the truth...it was so sudden and shocking I..... can't keep writing this sentence pretending that this was some volcanic shock...

In the grand scheme, Coach Orgeron wants LSU to be a winner ready to beat Alabama, but you don't achieve anything coming close to winning (LSU were barely .500) when you allow legendary amounts of yards, points, humiliating big plays & highlight reel gutpunches to talented young defenders or the fanbase as the college football world mocks Pelini's literal "attempted desecration" of LSU's legacy of great defenses...including Bo's own 2007/08 unit...


When news of his hiring first spread, there may have been dissenting voices (as there always is with any or every Tigers hire), yet the majority of the fanbase were pumped to see National Champion Bo Pelini return to the helm...in fact, many of those same people who swear they were "never on board" with the Pelini hire believed in Coach Orgeron so deeply (along with the Tigers' bevy of metamorphic talent on the defensive side circa February 2020) that most fans weren't too concerned.

In fact, most were skeptical about the offensive firepower continuing rather than Pelini holding his own in 2020's SEC landscape.

No one was predicting catastrophe...no one was saying 500+ yards to Missouri...

No one assumed this secondary / LBs would give up 623 passing yards to a quarterback who didn't even finish the season on a team who won 2 games...

Show me who predicted Pelini's defense would allow 381 total yards to Bo Nix on his way to a 48-11 shutdown of LSU?

Who was expecting 500-600+ yards surrendered during 9 of LSU's 10 SEC contests???

No one....

How did we get here???

How did Bo lose control of his defense?

This hasn't been the Bo Pelini I know in tone, dedication, energy...I actually feel bad for Bo...has he been ostracized by the team unfairly and just never had the chance?


Was Pelini ever given an honest opportunity to succeed by Dave Aranda's players?

Why did things get so ugly that he's been driven from Baton Rouge in exile, only a season into his returning tenure?

Has he forever ruined his LSU legacy as a National Champion, SEC title winner who's record was impeccable during his 2005- January 2008 stint???

From 2005 to January 2008 under Coach Les Miles, Pelini's defenses amassed 71 turnovers in 3 seasons and averaged just under 40 sacks, while leading the SEC in overall defense in 2005, and placing 2nd in 2006 and 2007 as well as producing eternal LSU heroes like Craig Steltz, Glen Dorsey, Ricky-Jean Francois, LaRon Landry among many others...

It seemed Bo Pelini took the job and confidence from Coach Orgeron in stride and accepted the assistant autonomy Ed Orgeron always affords his staff with full misguided gusto. Somewhere along the line, Bo interpreted this autonomy through the lens of a former Nebraska head coach and Super Bowl-winner who acted as if he'd already conquered the SEC, and I'm told he wielded this power within the LSUHQ in a way some found... "displeasing" was the word one individual used...

I remember one time after the Vanderbilt game, Coach Ed Orgeron said "I love what Bo's doing, we're behind Bo, he knows I'm the head coach,, he understands we need to get better..."

"He knows I'm the head coach..." why would Orgeron feel the need to say that?

Obviously he knew Ed was the head coach......right?

Well, that was most likely a message from Orgeron to Bo....

Reading between the lines, Orgeron feels much like I do...

I believed in Bo as Tigers' defensive coordinator, LSU Odyssey repped him hard, supported his hiring and believed he'd be a success...not because he was a grandmaster flash general, we just felt he was more than good enough and that defense seemed to be an elixir of greatness inspiring Bo to really get creative.


LSU's Pelini 2020 Defense were ruthlessly exposed once Pelini's ace in the hole Marcel Brooks departed home to Flower Mound, Texas & TCU; to the outside world, the Brooks move didn't seem to be a big deal...however, it was the first domino (and the biggest outside of Ja'Marr Chase) to fall...

Here was a cat who was a Grade A locker room guy, a high character leader, friend, teammate and motivating force of nature...not to mention a relentless 5 star talent who's blitzing brilliance could've saved Pelini's job....if Bo were even capable of utilizing Brooks in his best role...now we'll never know...

Following Marcel, the #1 defensive tackle in college football Mr. Tyler Shelvin opted out followed / preceded by a rash of major D-linemen experience / depth, all transferring closer to home or opting out due to Covid, before finally safety Kary Vincent Jr understandably took his National Champion football and track speed to the NFL...

I don't know if Bo failed to realize how many talented sophomores and freshmen were on staff, if he just became disinterested in getting to know them once the protests began or if he simply refused to trust any players outside of Damone Clark, Jabril Cox, Todd Harris, Cordale Flott, Jacoby Stevens and Ali Gaye...

Undisputed sicknasty freshmen Jaquelin Roy and B.J Ojulari were needed more against Mississippi State, yet they languished on the bench...

Pelini never once experimented with Jacoby Stevens as an extra linebacker, only on certain 3rd down blitz packages which grew to be the 2020 LSU defense's best statistic, allowing only a 38% 3rd down completion percentage under Pelini.

The coverage needed an entire overhaul and I don't think that approach was ever taken to help Derek and Eli out wide.

None of this was fair to Cordale Flott, Jay Ward or Damone Clark either...young men who had to wear the crown of thorns for Pelini as the college football world celebrated LSU's hardcore downfall...definitely beyond their wildest dreams...and Bo gave it to 'em...

Most tacklers felt as if the weight of the world hung on their shoulders, the scheme made sure a touchdown or a 7 yard gain hung in the balance on almost every play...

Clark, Todd Harris, Mo Hampton or Cordale Flott had far more confidence in a 3-4 setup with an extra linebacker to clog the middle of the field, the obvious "gimme" area where every modern offense attacks if their quarterback can see a crater the size of William Howard Taft on every play.


Thanks to this off coverage / confused coverage, LSU's linebackers played too deep, consistently allowing a 5-6 yard gain at the sight of a strong tackle at minimum.... there always seemed to be acres of space.

More than a faulty defensive formation, the issues ran deeper:

Pelini failed to adjust when the going got really tough...he never understood where or when to put these young men in the best positions to succeed because he didn't understand these kids on a personal level to begin with...

With his team made up of young freshmen or sophomores who's confidence took a hit when 2019 shields like Kristian Fulton, Marcel Brooks and Grant Delpit left, a different approach was needed from Bo...not a sledgehammer, but sometimes an ear...

There were also some poor performances lacking effort which haunted the coordinator, turned Pelini into a red dragon once again, and created division between Bo and his own defense...for instance, the time he lost his mind at leading sacker B.J Ojulari for his first missed assignment of the season to Felipe Franks of Arkansas.


I don't understand if he failed to adjust, didn't want to change strategy / personnel or just froze, either way it led to the worst season-long defensive performance in LSU's program history and it may also tarnish his legacy as a fiery, lovable, fatherly teacher of epic defensive might who's players swore a blood oath unto him.....

Even 2004 and 2007 title-winning members Jacob Hester and Matt Flynn, a running

back and quarterback respectively if you're not a fan, sat in on his pregame speeches to get going and experienced a tighter bond with Bo than anyone on the offensive side of the ball...he was transcendent at times when LSU's defense pulled it out with brilliant turnovers and defensive scores...he could make you tear your hair out after events such as Arkansas 2007...Georgia, SEC title game 2005...

Who are we kidding though?

The good far out-weighed the bad from his first wave... he took us to the mountaintop on defense with swagger, blinding rage-filled intensity, no motivational excess too heavy, a leader of young men...the Pelini era registered 6 TDs in three years, 47 INTs, and the most eye-popping stat, 76.5 sacks from defensive linemen compared to the 48.5 in Aranda's 4 seasons, (at least 20+ sacks per season from D-linemen alone in each Pelini season)...

...still, the numbers mean nothing now when you see the 2020 performances...the 2020 defensive statistics then become "hide the children" type stuff...Watching that late 2000s hallowed vibe evaporate into a disinterested, reckless, careless and misleading near-mutiny was almost too much to bear but there we sat or paced, unable to look away.

Pelini was silent throughout the entire season barring one interview, never caring to defend himself or his ways of coaching...the problem may have been the arrogance, perhaps Bo didn't even feel he needed to excuse his decisions....and he paid the price for it...or, LSU has I should say....to the tune of just under $6,000,000.


No zone coverage vs Mississippi State, Flott on DeVonta Smith, 45 points to Missouri after allowing 44 to Miss State...he needed to answer for his rampant in-decisions...instead, he hid behind Coach Orgeron while Ed took the heat and the punishment from fans all season for the hire.

It comes with the territory of being head coach, sure, however after hearing the same type of rips on his character, intelligence and coaching acumen due to the Pelini hire, Orgeron had enough and knew he simply had to cut ties...when he smashed his headset to pieces on the sidelines vs Alabama, he may as well have rolled a pink slip inside the speakers....a firing pinata...

If you were to tell me Bo Pelini would be ousted only 10 months into his return, I'd think you were either crazy or Bo must've done something off the field...and maybe he did...perhaps it was Bo's reaction to the players' protest on campus which caused the division...could it be about politics even more than the worst LSU defense ever?

I'm not sure yet...though anyone with eyes could see a unit of defenders looking exhausted: emotionally, physically, mentally while forced to listen, watch and take in the social media destruction from all sides...all corners...

Pelini, for all we know (since he's said nothing) the criticism didn't reach him...

I wonder if he became immune to the emotional pulse of his job not being on the line....did he grow too comfortable at Youngstown State, a program who would've kept him at the helm for life?


When I first checked out his Youngstown State tenure, I was expecting at least one FCS title, finalist years or contention, and there's hardly any big time success throughout his time back home in Ohio...

Was this a foreboding marker Orgeron should've underlined?

And what made Coach Orgeron hire LSU hero Bo Pelini in the first place?

It seemed LSU could do no wrong at the time...because we knew what we just witnessed was a once in a generation team, we knew Orgeron would have a hell of a time topping 2019, yet nobody expected the mass exodus (not to mention the psychological toll from losing great young Tigers on the staff and players) and still LSU's offense were sloppily high octane enough to win 7 games had their defense been able to keep a team under 500 yards of total offense....


It's hard to say whether Pelini's reputation has been forever tarnished by this season, although the surreal nature in which LSU's 2020 squad collapsed against below average teams, crappy opponents, freshman quarterbacks such as Connor Bazelek...allowing 323 passing yards and 169 rushing yards at 9.73 yards per pass attempt per game, as well as 7.3 yards per attempt total...you name the madness and it happened to this group...and whether he agrees or has the greatest excuses known to man, or doesn't, Bo Pelini was ultimately responsible.

As much as I said earlier I feel bad for him, I now ask myself:

Do I really feel bad for a guy who just stole $5.6 million from LSU during a pandemic for nothing in return but the worst of the worst?

He signed the contract, took the check...

LSU bought the ticket, took the ride...

Crashed the car...although still alive...

BLACK LIVES MATTER

by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN

@LonnPhillips

Copyright 2020 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC


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© 2020 by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN, Uninterrupted Writings Inc.