October 27, 2008

Pelini preps for return to Oklahoma

It's been four years since Bo Pelini paced the sidelines of Oklahoma's Memorial Stadium as a member of the Sooners' coaching staff. On Saturday, he'll make his return as the opposing head coach in one of college football's most storied rivalries.

A year after severing as Nebraska's defensive coordinator in 2003, Pelini joined OU head coach Bo Stoops's staff at the same position in '04. During that year, Pelini said he learned valuable lessons from his longtime friend and fellow Youngstown, Ohio, native.

"He's a friend," Pelini said during Monday's Big 12 coaches' teleconference. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, and always and have and always will.

"I learned a lot in that one year. I just think he's a leader. He's tough. His teams play physical and aggressive, and they coach really hard… There's a lot of things that I took out of that year. It was a great experience, and one that I benefited greatly."

While Pelini and Stoops have such a close bond and mutual respect, Pelini said it will all put temporarily on hold when Nebraska takes the field against the Sooners on Saturday.

"It's a football game," he said. "I'm not playing and he's not playing. We have a job to do. You try to do the best job you can and when you walk off the field, it's never anything that's personal. It's a professional deal. You're trying to do the best job you can. That's the bottom line.

"When the game's over, it's over. There's nothing you can do about it either way. It isn't going to change my personal feelings against him, and I'm sure Bob would say the same thing. It's juts part of the deal."

Pelini also addressed the idea of whether he felt the landscape of the rivalry had changed during the past few years because of some incidents involving former players and coaches.

The two most obvious incidents came the last time Nebraska traveled to Norman, Okla., in 2003, when former NU coach Bill Callahan referred to Oklahoma fans as "(expletive) hillbillies" and former offensive linemen Darren DeLone was charged with assault for an altercation with a member of OU's "Ruf/Neks" spirit squad.

As a coach for both programs after the '03 season, Pelini said he hadn't noticed a change at all in how either team viewed the rivalry.

"I didn't see how it changed," Pelini said. "I thought it was a clean game the year I was there at Oklahoma. There's a lot of respect between the two programs. I don't think the tone's changed at all. Both teams want to go out and win a football game, but it's going to be done between the lines. It's not a dirty thing."

Speaking specifically of the DeLone incident, Pelini said it wasn't "anything that's going to happen again."

Because of Pelini's relationship with Stoops, some have raised the question of whether the two teams would push to make the Nebraska-Oklahoma game an annual contest, as it was before the creation of the Big 12 Conference in 1996.

Pelini said that was purely the conference's decision, but he wouldn't be opposed to the idea as long as other measures were taken to make sure his team wasn't put at a disadvantage by having to play a successful program like OU each year while other North teams would not.

"There's fairness and unfairness either way," he said. "You're trying to compete for a North title, and if you have to play Oklahoma every year and every other team (in the division) doesn't, is that fair? At the end of the day, it's about trying to get to the conference championship, so there are two sides to everything. I think it would be great to play Oklahoma every year because I think the fans would enjoy it. But how does that relate to all the other teams in the conference and what you're trying to do?"

***Saturday won't be the first time Pelini has coached against a member of the Stoops family. While at Louisiana State, Pelini went against Stoops' bothers, Mike and Mark, when the Tigers played Arizona. Mike Stoops is currently the head coach for the Wildcats, while Mark is the defensive coordinator.

***Pelini gave updates on juniors Phillip Dillard and Menelik Holt, who both left Saturday's game with injuries. Pelini said Dillard injured his ankle and Holt injured his knee, and that both players are currently listed as day-to-day.

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