It's on a much smaller stage, but Bo Pelini is still being Bo Pelini. And it's still a problem.
Last Saturday, Youngstown State led North Dakota State 24-20 with just over a minute remaining when the Penguins were flagged for defensive pass interference. Two plays later, North Dakota State scored the go-ahead touchdown with 35 seconds remaining (and won 27-24).
The DPI was in fact a questionable call at best and Pelini, in his first year with Youngstown State, went on another one of his profanity-laced tirades directed at the officials. In the process, he allowed the clock to run for 35 seconds even though he had two timeouts available. He also drew two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on Youngstown State's ensuing drive.
Below is a video of a portion of Pelini's rant. The entire ending can be seen on FootballScoop.com (NSFW language):
This isn't becoming a problem for Pelini. It has been a problem, and one Youngstown State knew about when it hired him. But it is getting to the point where Pelini's long-term prospects as a head coach could be in jeopardy.
It's one thing for a coach to be tightly wound. You don't have to look far for those. Some of the most successful coaches in college football today—Alabama's Nick Saban, Florida's Jim McElwain, Michigan's Jim Harbaugh and Notre Dame's Brian Kelly—have had epic meltdowns directed toward players and referees alike.
Stanford's David Shaw is about the only coach in college football who doesn't routinely burst into a cloud of anger powder regularly.
The difference between all of the aforementioned coaches and Pelini is that they win regularly. Youngstown State is 5-5.
What cost Pelini his job at Nebraska was twofold. His well-documented temper would have been tolerated more if the Huskers were winning at Tom Osborne-type levels. But they weren't. Nebraska was never truly bad under Pelini, but it was never great, either. His tenure in Lincoln was defined mostly by a combination of zero quality wins and blowout losses. This was perpetually a nine-win program bound for the (formerly named) Capital One Bowl.
While Pelini has only been at Youngstown State for a season, it's not unfathomable in the least to think he's headed down a similar road. The difference in Pelini's current situation from Nebraska is that now he's the hometown guy. Pelini is a son of Youngstown. His roots are in the Rust Belt, not the great plains of the Midwest. Perhaps, with that in mind, Youngstown is more willing to put up with Pelini's abrasive personality.
Ultimately, however, there's a floor that cannot be breached. The Penguins are a small-time program compared to the likes of Nebraska, but it doesn't mean they lack tradition. Youngstown has won four NCAA national titles. It knows what success looks like.
One aspect of Pelini that often gets lost in a larger narrative of him is how much he genuinely loves his players. He would do anything for them. Ask any one of the several Nebraska players who took to Twitter after Pelini was fired from Nebraska last year:
But Pelini's love seemingly ends there. He couldn't possibly care less about anyone other than his players. That includes fans (NSFW language), university administrators and referees. That by itself isn't wrong, but being a head coach requires a different level of awareness with all of those outside forces. You have to know how to deal with boosters and administrators just as you have to know situational football to make split-second decisions.
To be so upset with officials over a bad call that you waste previous time and put your offense behind the sticks? That lacks awareness.
That's not to say Pelini can't work the refs, but part of being aware is knowing when to move on and concentrate on what needs to happen next. Football is unfair. Ask Duke about that.
Pelini is never going to change. That much we know because, if he was capable of changing, he would have by now. Anyone who considers hiring Pelini in the future knows exactly what they're getting.
And what they would get is an emotional coach, which is fine. But they would also get a coach who hasn't won big. That will have to be considered, too, because it'll determine whether someone's ready to take a chance on everything else he brings.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.