Nebraska Football: Translating Bo Pelini's "Coach Speak" at Media Days

Big Red NetworkSenior Writer IJuly 22, 2008

Well, Big 12 Media Days are in full swing.  Husker Coach Bo Pelini took his turn in front of the microphone yesterday.  I'm sure by now many of you have pored over the transcript and read some of the reports about what he had to say.

Did any of it leave you scratching your head a little bit?  That may be because it is said in "coach speak," a version of English that is designed to be polite, generally vague, and overly positive for the the media and fans.

Thankfully, I speak a little Coach (just a couple years of it in high school, really).  So, I've taken a crack at translating Pelini's comments.

Forgive me if I don't get the context or phrasing exactly right—I'm not familiar with the Pelini dialect yet.  Now Osbornian...that's another story.


Coach, could you kind of expand on the things that make you confident in Joe Ganz?

COACH PELINI: Well, once again, he's very intelligent.  He's more athletic than I thought when I first got here.  He's a drop‑back style guy, and he shows he can run and move his feet and do a lot of things.

And he's a dynamic leader, somebody who plays with a tremendous amount of confidence, and has that toughness about him, attitude.  The kind of guy you want leading your offense.  Being a significant core leader on your football team.

And I think he's somebody who is going to have a very good year. He can make all the throws, and he can also do some things with his feet.  So I look forward to having him.  I feel real comfortable having him as our starting quarterback and think he's set up to have a really good year.

TRANSLATION: Boy, I tell ya.  Ganz doesn't look like much when you first meet him.  But man, that kid is a competitor.  He's smart because he can get all of our complicated offensive terms out of his mouth.  He's a leader because he's not afraid to be a jerk.  And he can run.  Believe me folks.  We're a running football team.  More on that later.


I was wondering, is there anything that you see in the Big 12 that has changed from the last time you were a part of this conference?

PELINI: Well, I think it's not just the Big 12, but it's college football in general.  You see all the spread offenses that are happening.  And it's really gone to a lot of the quarterback‑run things, and a lot of the—it's changed.  It's gone from option football to zone read and spreading the field and fastbreak type offenses.

And trying to really extend the field.  Use as much of the field as you possibly can. I've seen a lot of that over the last few years, and really all of college football is going to that.

And, you know, I was really taken back when I first got back to Nebraska seeing the numbers, the offensive numbers that were happening in the Big 12.  You see that the leaders in the top 10, I believe we had about six of the top 10 in the country came out of Big 12.

For a defensive guy, that kind of woke me up a little bit.  But I think it's become an offensive league to a certain extent.  But I think at the same time, again, you've got to understand, I think all the coaches understand, you've got to be able to play good defense to win football games.  But there's been some big numbers over the last few years.

TRANSLATION: The spread is everywhere, and this is an offensive league.  I was brought in to change that.  Offense doesn't win games and championships.  Defense does.  That's what I am about.  We are going to hit people.


Bo, you talk about the evolution of football since you've been gone.  But how much confidence does it give you that you also had Marlon Lucky around, and he can run the ball and that's kind of an endangered species in this conference, a big tailback like him?

PELINI: You know, my belief is there's two things you have to be able to win football games right off the bat.  You have to be able to stop the run.  You've got to be able to run the football on offense.

Having not just Marlon Lucky or (Roy) Helu and Quentin Castille and a good solid offensive line.  We want to play physical football in Nebraska.  We want to be able to run the football when we want to, and not let people dictate to us but dictate to the defense what we want to do and impose our will on the opposing team.

If we're able to do that, you're able to control the clock, you're able to control the pace of the football game, and it's going to make you better not only on offense but on defense as well.  And I think that's something that you have to be able to do and something we're going to be committed to doing at Nebraska.  And having a good stable of running backs really helps.

TRANSLATION: Hi.  We're Nebraska.  We're going to run the ball.  We are committed to it.  We have the personnel for it up front and in the backfield.  Get ready for a return to physical football from Nebraska.  You want to dink and dunk and play rope-a-dope?  Okay, fine.  Just know that we are going to punch you right in the mouth.


As a former defensive coordinator, when you look at your defense now, how far away is it from being the kind of defense that Nebraska fans expect with the Blackshirts?

PELINI: You know, I don't know that yet.  I know even, you know, when I was at LSU the last few years, we had a lot of success.  But did we ever reach—you just gotta keep raising your standard.  You can never be satisfied no matter how good you get, you keep getting better.

I think that our kids right now are at the stage of just learning.  They're trying to learn the system.  We're trying to get it taught.  I thought we accomplished a lot in the spring.  We're nowhere near where we want to be yet.  But we'll get there.  There's plenty of time.  There's 29 practices and then on through the season.

And I think that we have some talent on the defensive side, but there's a lot of learning and a lot of things that we need to get taught.  And I think that kids are committed to doing it, and we're just going to keep measuring ourselves against ourselves right away and just try to keep getting better every single day and try to get prepared for that first game, and then keep that improvement going throughout the year.

And it's an ongoing process we're going to be faced with.  But, fortunately, I've been in this situation a number of times over the last couple of years, where we installed a defense and we're trying to get a group ready to play football and get game‑ready.  So I've been through it before and I feel that we're right on track where we want to be.  And I think that we'll be ready to go come August 30th.

TRANSLATION: Did you see my defense at LSU?  That was great, right?  Okay, did you see NU last year?  Not very good, right?  We're somewhere in between those two.  I am sure of one thing—I'm working these kids like crazy, and they are responding to it.  You are going to see effort, that much is for sure.


Bo, when Nebraska got off track and you're back to get it back on track, is the bigger reason for it getting off track that the right athletes weren't recruited or was that how they were developed when they were there?  What's a bigger challenge for you, upgrading the recruiting or the development in the athletes?

PELINI: Well, I think those two things in my opinion go hand-in-hand. Part of being a good recruiter, it's one thing about being able to recruit and bring in guys that have three stars, four stars, five stars, however they rank them.

But it doesn't do you any good, because most of the time if you're not developing them once they get on campus—because at the age you're getting, no matter how good they are in high school, they really can't fathom how much more there is for them to learn, grow, and develop as a football player.

So you want to get a very good player and as good of players as you can, the guys that fit your system athletically, but at the same time once you get them on campus it's our job to make those kids the best they can be and keep pushing them to grow and become and to really get outside of their comfort zone and understand that they've never arrived.

And the bottom line is this: Kids at this age, once they graduate from you, they probably still haven't reached their potential.  And there's just a lot more for them out there.  And the group we have understand that and are working to keep getting better every day.

TRANSLATION: Recruiting talented players that fit your system is important.  Coaching them to reach their fullest potential is more important.  My title is "coach," not "recruiter."  Recruiting is part of what I do.  Coaching defines who I am.


Bo, you brought up a need to be multiple and flexible.  How can you do that when offenses are increasing the tempo of how they operate the way they are now?

PELINI: Well, the role changes are really going to be interesting this year as far as how the tempo sets up, the roles with the 40‑second clock and the play clock.  That's also going to be a challenge.

But you have to have it within your system.  I know defensively there's never been a defense created—every defense has a weakness and has strengths.  And you have to have enough in your system so you can match up and do the things you need to do and create different problems for the offense.

We try to be very—have an offensive mentality on defense.  We want to attack.  We want to dictate to the offense as much as they're trying to dictate to us.

And if you're always in a reactive mode, then you're going to get beat.  And you're going to have some problems at the end of the game.  We try to be very—on the cutting edge, I should say.  But we try to do many things and have enough multiplicity in our defense that we can give a lot of different looks at the same time that the offense is trying to give us a lot of different looks.

And we teach accordingly.  We try to get our guys to have enough understanding of what we're trying to accomplish, that we can make week‑to‑week adjustments and create new problems for the offense that they don't always know where we're going to be either.  And that's part of the beauty of the chess match that goes on every Saturday.

TRANSLATION: Here are two words for you that should define what I'm about—teach and attack.  We're going to teach kids to do things right.  And on game days, we're going to attack.  Doing that means we're going to be able to dictate the style and pace of the game, regardless of what our opponent is trying to do on offense.  Teach and attack, people.


Is it all scheme or what is the key, the one thing that you have to do to stop those offenses, maybe one or two things?

PELINI: As I said, I think you have to evaluate what the offenses are.  And what they're trying to accomplish.  Florida's spread offense is different than Missouri.  And Missouri's is different than what Kansas is trying to do.

I think the key to playing good defense is evaluating what exactly an offense is trying to accomplish and what their strengths are and you have to develop a game plan to offset what they're trying to accomplish and take it away from them.  So they have to get out of their comfort zone.

And I believe this.  Defensively it's not just what you do, it's not all about scheme.  You can—everybody wants to—every coach out there wants to have the pencil last.  When you're playing on Saturday, you don't have that luxury.  You're playing, in this conference, there's a lot of good coaches and they're very well coached.  You're not always going to have the pencil last.

It's not just what you do but how you do it.  You can't just go get so wrapped up in out-scheming the opponent.  If you do that, you'll forget how you do it and forget about technique.  Technique and fundamentals are essential.

And if you're playing very sound technique‑wise and you have good fundamentals and you teach them, you have your guys understanding your scheme, you'll be able to match up and deal with any problems that offenses can associate or going to make you deal with a particular Saturday.  That's something we've been able to do over a long period of time.  And we'll have that challenge ahead of us here, no doubt.

TRANSLATION: Okay, I'm sick and tired of talking about the spread. Everyone does different things, so don't paint it with such a broad brush, moron.  There isn't an offense that is created that can't be stopped by sound technique and tackling.  It's about being prepared, playing with tremendous effort and tackling.  If you tackle them, they stop.  The end.


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