Washington athletic director Scott Woodward and Nebraska coach Bo Pelini are old friends, both with ties to LSU.
Had time and circumstance worked out a little differently, Bo Pelini might be standing on the other sideline Saturday when Nebraska faces Washington at Husky Stadium.
The Nebraska coach and UW athletic director Scott Woodward are good friends owing to mutual ties to LSU, and Woodward admits that had there been a chance, he would have talked to Pelini when looking to hire a coach following the 2008 season.
“I would have considered Bo certainly at the time,” Woodward said.
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But Pelini was just finishing his first year at Nebraska, having been hired following the 2007 season, when the Huskies thought about changing coaches but instead retained Tyrone Willingham.
So when the time came to hire a coach in 2008, Woodward instead called Pelini merely for advice — with Pelini helping to nudge Woodward toward his eventual hire of Steve Sarkisian.
“We talked and he had an enormous amount of respect for coach Sarkisian and thought the world of him,” Woodward said.
Woodward, in fact, said he noted a lot of similarities between the two. Each had been coordinators for highly successful programs — Sarkisian running the offense at USC, Pelini the defense at LSU and Nebraska, among several other stops.
Each also had been groomed by Pete Carroll — Sarkisian at USC, and Pelini working as Carroll’s linebackers coach with the New England Patriots.
“Kind of the base settings that his defense runs are from his days with Pete,” Woodward said of Pelini.
Comparisons between Pelini and Sarkisian might seem to end there, however. Where Sarkisian is known for embracing some of the more modern aspects of coaching (such as regularly updating his Twitter page), Pelini comes off more old-school, fitting his upbringing in Youngstown, Ohio. He played free safety at Ohio State from 1987-90.
“He’s an intense guy,” Woodward said. “But he’s a great guy, too. He’s one of the most genuine coaches I know. When he tells you something, you can take it to the bank.”
Pelini arrived at LSU in 2005, after Woodward had come to UW, initially following Mark Emmert in an upper-campus capacity. But Woodward has stayed close to some members of the LSU athletic department, and through those connections got to know Pelini.
Woodward said he has not been surprised to see how quickly Pelini has revived the Cornhuskers. He had been a defensive coordinator under Frank Solich, and was the interim coach for the 2003 Alamo Bowl after Solich was fired. But while he wanted the job then, he was passed over in favor of Bill Callahan, who changed much of the culture of Nebraska football, notably going with an offense that favored the pass.
His style never really took hold, however, and Callahan was fired after a 5-7 record in 2007 and Pelini lured away from LSU, which had just won the national title.
He didn’t need long to restore some of the old Nebraska luster, immediately putting bite back into the defense. Nebraska has allowed 20 or fewer points in 10 straight games dating to last season, the longest streak in the country, and led the nation in scoring defense last year at 10.4 per game.
Woodward says he and Pelini talk “fairly frequently,” most recently last month, though the topic of Saturday’s game — scheduled long before either took their current positions — has never come up.
“We’ve avoided it,” Woodward said. “We just talk about other things.”
• Washington’s offensive line featured a new look at practice Tuesday with true freshman Erik Kohler working with the starting unit at left guard and senior Ryan Tolar moved to right guard, with Greg Christine moved down to the second unit.
• Pelini, asked about the impact of crowd noise Saturday on Nebraska redshirt freshman QB Taylor Martinez, said he didn’t “anticipate it being an issue.” The game will be the first road start for Martinez.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.