Bo Pelini’s Recruiting Strategy: Will it Work?

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Does Bo Really Know Or Is He Merely Following An Osborne Plan?

By Will Cummings

Will Bo's Recruiting Strategy Work

Nebraska Head Football Coach Bo Pelini


   The miserly total of only two class of 2009 Nebraska high school football players that signed with the Huskers, on February 4th, represented the lowest number in “memory” to comprise a Nebraska University football signing day class, according to Omaha World-Herald research.

   So what’s going on?  Well, many would simply say that this year’s Nebraska high school class was weak on D-1 talent.  There is some merit to that argument, but not enough to account for only two Huskers signees from a class that produced five other D-1 signees.

Bo Pelini’s Long-Term Recruiting Strategy

   No. In my opinion, the answer for this embarrassingly low number of Nebraska high school signees has to do with Bo Pelini gambling on a long-term recruiting strategy that may pay huge dividends, or it may just blow up in his face as the result of unforeseen circumstances and definite undercurrents that he and his staff  may have failed to consider.

   There is no denying that the geographical constraints of a low state population base necessitates the Huskers having to obtain the majority of their talent outside of Nebraska. But how does a university football program go about accomplishing this delicate task and still maintain harmony on its team and within the state populace (namely, high school prospects and their parents, and high school programs), while putting the university in position to win championships?

   The whole premise of Pelini’s  long-term recruiting strategy—a premise I wholeheartedly agree with–is based on trying to find the right “mix” of players to make up the total roster: A mix that will enable the Huskers to achieve championships. It took Dr. Tom Osborne nearly two decades to find the mix that enabled the Huskers to field what is arguably the greatest dynasty in college football history during the ’90’s. 

  Today,  Pelini, under the tutelage and apparent direction of Osborne, looks to recapture some of that past glory by implementing a recruiting strategy ostensibly designed by Dr. T. O., who last coached over a decade ago.

The Holy Grail

   Finding the right mix of players and staff that make up a championship program is the Holy Grail of coaching. The makeup of that transient mix is unique to every school based on a number of circumstances from location to the type of offensive and defensive systems they run. However, based on the words of this NU staff and their first full recruiting cycle, we now have a good idea of what the Pelini mix is and how NU plans to achieve it:

   On February 7, 2008, an Omaha World-Herald article written by staff writer Nick Rubek attributed the following statements to Husker coach Barney Cotton:

“Cotton said ideally the staff would like to have two-thirds of the roster be Nebraska kids. He also said the staff does not plan to sign a full class of scholarship players every year like it did Wednesday [referring to last year’s 25 signees] . In the past, some scholarships would be made available to former walk-ons who had proven themselves in the program.”
       Barney Cotton

   Now remember the above statement by Cotton was made over a year ago. Now read a very important follow up quote attributed to Cotton from the same article:

When did you ever see Nebraska sign 25 guys in a recruiting class?” Cotton said. “We knew we’d sign a full class this year. Our goal down the road is to never sign a full class. Coach Osborne helped show us the blueprint for that thing.”
       Barney Cotton

   Osborne—the master planner–perhaps the greatest college coach of all times–showed Pelini and staff a “blueprint for that thing” on how to find the Holy Grail. And by God they are sticking to it!

  This year—true to Cotton’s statement and Osborne’s vision—the Huskers signed only 20 players.

   Yes!  The Huskers could have easily signed a couple more Nebraska kids in this class, but like Pelini says the Huskers are “not going to take guys just to take guys.”

   Of course not, Bo. Evermore so, when you stick to a script and a “blueprint” fashioned by your mentor Dr. T. O.

There’s a lot of players out there, You’ve got to go where the players are…”
       Bo Pelini

To California and Texas for the Real Players

   California and Texas are the places the Huskers intend to mine the majority of their gold for the foreseeable future. They picked up six and eight signees respectively this year from those two states (that’s 14 out of 20 signees from two states, for those of you keeping count.) Unfortunately, those kids from California, Texas and the rest of them foreign states don’t know much about work ethic and the Great Husker Way.

The following excerpt and Bo Pelini quote is from a February 7, 2008 OWH  Nick Rubek article explaining the essence of  Nebraska’s  walk-on theory:

Pelini talked about conversations  he had with  Osborne about surrounding out-of-state players with others such as Grixby [Courtney] from Nebraska to help them understand the importance of Husker football:

 When you’re surrounded with them [Nebraska kids],” Pelini  said, “that type of kid who grew up living and dying with  whether Nebraska won or lost, they became that much more committed to the program because they were surrounded with people who had an extreme level of commitment.

You have to be playing for the University of Nebraska.” 
       Bo Pelini

   So the great Osborne fabricated Holy Grail is designed to bring onto the NU Plantation as many Texas and California scholarship boys as possible and surround them with a bunch of proud hard-nosed Nebraska high school walk-ons who can instill in them the meaning of being a Husker.

    Well, that may have been all well and good for the Tom Osborne era, but we are approaching the second decade of the twenty-first century and a lot has changed since the Nebraska sidelines were last graced with the presence of  Head Coach Tom Osborne—who by the way, never ignored the talent in his home state to the extent that his protege, Pelini, has shown in his first year.

 A Different Generation

   This present generation of Nebraska high schoolers have memories of a once great program smitten by the failings and eventual firing of Osborne’s hand-picked successor, Frank Solich, and the ugly debacle of the Peterson/Callahan era. At the same time, this generation has seen conference programs that used to be routinely dominated by Nebraska, beat the Huskers—and beat them soundly.   A once proud program, perennially one of the top two teams in the Big Eight Conference, now finds it hard to be even considered among the top five in the Big XII Conference.

   There is no longer anything intrinsically better at Nebraska than almost any other school in its conference: Nebraska is more than a decade away from any meaningful championships, their vaunted weightlifting, nutrition and conditioning program of the ’70’s and ’80’s and early ’90’s has long been duplicated and bettered throughout the country and Nebraska’s facilities are barely middle of the pack in their own conference.

    The above helps to explain why kids like Trevor Robinson and Tim Biere and Shaun Prater (all of whom played significant D-1 ball as freshman) can easily turn down a Husker offer and why other D-1A and D-1AA programs are beginning to realize that Nebraska kids are no longer locked on like zombies  to become  Huskers.  Out-of-state programs are willing–more now than ever– to come in here and compete for Nebraska’s top high school players. Now throw into this brew our recent economic downturn, and it truly becomes a hardship to walk-on at Nebraska if another school–at any level–is offering you a full ride.

 How Long Will Pelini Hold On To The Blueprint?

   Still, Pelini and company are betting on a “blueprint” in which they can offer less up front opportunity to Nebraska kids via scholarship offers, and rely more on a back door hook of enticing Nebraska kids to walk-on to earn scholarships–all under the guise of re-establishing the walk-on tradition.

The ratio of Nebraska walk-ons to actually receive scholarships is a number I don’t known, but I would bet that it is not much better than about 1 out of 10—that is a huge risk to take if you don’t have to!
      Will Cummings

   Looking back on Husker history, the one thing that remains constant is that every conference championship and every national title the Huskers have ever won came on the backs of a lot of former Nebraska high school players. The players that this current staff has demonstrated in word and in deed it is willing to shortchange upfront in their pursuit of regaining Husker glory.

   Yea, on the whole I agree with Pelini that “you don’t give scholarships just to give scholarships.” Nonetheless, “You don’t hold back scholarships to instate kids just because you can.” Just two instate scholarships in any year is not a good look for a program that claims to be reaching out to Nebraska high schools.  

   This University can’t afford to lose that Constant Force which is found in the training rooms and gridiorons of  Nebraska high schools. Sadly, that Constant started to erode well before Pelini became head coach, but he has done nothing yet to stem the tide. 

   In Pelini and his staff”s favor, they delivered a solid first season—played a lot of former Nebraska high schoolers too. And right now—on the surface–everything really seems to look promising for the future–just like it did after Bill Callahan’s first season.

   The undercurrent, or the fly in this here particular ointment will be that mix and how it is being applied and if in the end it will produce the desired results.

   It will be interesting to see how the Pelini mix comes together on the campus and on the field next season and if they continue to follow their instate recruiting blueprint.

   If  things don’t pan out, it has been proven in recent Nebraska coaching history that sentiment can change mighty rapidly around these here parts. 

    One thing for sure is that Pelini has lit a fuse:  It’s a new dawn for Nebraska high school football prospects. 

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  1. omg says

    If this past class A hoops final was any indication of the talent level of the nebraska kids, then don’t sign any of them. I thought I was watching class B 9th graders play. That exhibition set basketball back 25 years. Are you kidding me?

  2. Drew says

    While the Huskers’ recruiting strategy may be a detriment to Nebraska kids’ ability to get a Division I scholarship coming out of high school, I do believe it’s a shrewd strategy. Primarily, it allows them to go after the nation’s best while simultaneously relying on Nebraska kids’ love of the “N” and their willingness to walk on to achieve their dream of playing for the Huskers.

    As recruiter extraordinaire Ed Orgeron would say, the Huskers need to “get in the boat” by offering the top kids around the country; but there’s no urgency to “buy the boat” by offering so many in-state kids, namely because the Husker coaching staff knows those kids will come anyway. They needed to get “in the boat” a bit with Andrew Rodriguez because, as a non-Nebraskan, he wasn’t a shoe-in to choose the Huskers over many other offers he was likely to get.

    Because so many Nebraska kids are willing to walk on at UNL, it may actually deter other programs from establishing much of a recruiting presence in the state. That definitely hurts the Nebraska kids. Then again, Nebraska’s unwillingness to offer scholarships to in-state kids may eventually, as you say, give other programs an “in” to steal kids away with offers.

  3. jugular says

    wow crusher, can you say bitter? your son wasn’t good enough to get a scholarship to NU. I don’t think it had anything to do with how much red he wore. lame excuse

  4. redman says

    After seeing the way the nebraska recruiting has unfolded i wont be suprised if lots of todays kids leave the state. stephon washington is talking of going to camp at USC, chris lucido went to a jr day at ucla, the prep kid went to northwestern and vanderbilt and i dont think has been down to nebraska once. dudzik from skutt doesnt seem to show much interest. i wont be suprised if all the 2010 talent leaves and does very well wherever they end up. that is if they get much intrest from anyone else because the huskers fail to recognize them. even coleman doesnt have an offer from the huskers and hes supposed to be a legend

  5. ethan says

    crusher you have everything wrong! You are talking about your son having a bad time at nebraska and all that your son was not good and you think why bo only picked 2 in state players is cause they know what it takes and were the best bet just because you say they are D1 dont mean anything you need to get your facts right before you start harping

  6. jugular says

    So Crusher, who in our opinion should have received scholarships last year from the state of Nebraska? And who from NU’s entire commit list should not have received one? Because if you are going to say that more offers should have been made you obviously have an idea. Sellers is about the only one I can think of. Any others? Obviously you think highly of Lechener since you had him ranked #2 in the state but NU wasn’t the only one that yanked an offer there. Two years ago, in Pelini’s first class, they had 6 kids from NE get scholarships.

    It appears this year is a unique year in that we don’t have a lot of scholarships to give due to the large amount of JUCO’s that Callahan liked to recruit. It appears that they have not offered the sheer number of players that they did at this same point last year for that reason. I would guess camp will be very important for kids to showcase their skills.

  7. jugular says

    So, please share why Kildow, Davis & Lechner should have received offers? Kildow may have received one had he not had the unfortunate injury. But you can’t give one to a kid that you don’t know is going to even be able to get back to 100%--especially when his game is speed/quickness. Lechner obviously did not impress other coaches either…with offers revoked from Wisconsin and possibly NU. I don’t know that he ever got an “offer” from NU but he did commit to Wiscy. They obviously didn’t like something. And Davis had only the offer from Ohio correct? Maybe Buffalo? Where are the offers from KSU, ISU, or even North Dakota St?

  8. jugular says

    Actually, Kreikemeier committed to Pelini. Of those other 5, do you really think they wouldn’t have recruited any of them if they had been there the entire year? The only one I can think of that they wouldn’t have recruited was Levorson. Fisher, Okafor, Henry & Baker all would’ve been recruited.

  9. jugular says

    “Maybe Fisher”? You’ve got to be kidding me. There is no doubt that kid would’ve had an offer from NU. He was a freak his senior year. On top of that, he had something that none of the kids you thought they should take last year had--big time offers. Lechner didn’t have much for offers, Kildow had none and Davis had Ohio. I think Okafor would’ve had an offer as well…reason being is that if they didn’t “want” him, they wouldn’t have recruited him very hard after Pelini was named HC. You know as well as I do that if they don’t want a kid that has been offered, they will cool on them. They had to basically “re-recruit” Collins since he had offers from Stanford and KU. As for Henry, you never know with JUCO OL. So I will give you that one.

  10. jugular says

    I guess when I read “maybe” I take that as meaning you didn’t necessarily think he would’ve received a scholarship offer.

    As for Kreikemeier…I’ll reserve judgement on that for a couple years. The kid didn’t look too bad in the Spring Game and that is coming off of major surgery. Maybe you took my “committed to Pelini” to literal as well. He sure didn’t commit to Callahan and I’ll probably go with Dr Tom and his analysis. No offense, but he might know a little more than you or I. Plus, I’ll just go out on a limb and say that TO probably discussed with Pelini prior to the offer.

    Here’s a question for you…where did you have Daryle Hawkins ranked prior to him receiving his offer from Oregon last season?

  11. jugular says

    Actually, Kreikemeier was offered the day Pelini was hired…right after the press conference.

    I guess my question regarding Hawkins is why you moved him up to #6 after his offer from Oregon? Are the rankings based on offers or what you think their talent level is? Thanks!

  12. jugular says

    OK, I can live with that reasoning…that definitely makes sense. I was just curious how you did your rankings. With that said, I’d put Garrett Bruhn a little higher on your list though. NDSU is one of the top 10 programs in I-AA.

    You didn’t respond regarding Kreikemeier…is there other information out there that you are aware of that is different than what Micah was quoted as saying? Thanks

  13. jugular says

    It’s pretty obvious from the Rivals article that when TO called him after the presser that it was the first time he talked to Micah directly. Now, I know that in some cases you have to take what Rivals writes with a grain of salt, but in this case the quotes from Micah answer this question.

    If Pelini didn’t want any of those kids, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have signed all 6. And as much as you don’t want to admit it, he basically had to recruit those kids again. So, you can spin it how you want so that it “supports” your article and point of view but he did have a role in recruiting them and keeping their commitment. I believe Pelini tried to recruit the Prater twins as well, how hard I don’t know. But they did visit in January AFTER they were offered scholarships in December if my memory serves me correctly.

    As for the 2010 recruits, I am a little surprised that only 1 kid has garnered a scholarship offer right now from any D1 school. NU will have their hands tied this year due to Callahan’s mis-management of recruiting JUCO’s and specific positions. Greyshirts will likely be used. But to me this year appears to be a much better class for the Nebraska kids to gather D1 offers than last year’s weak class. Last year was probably one of the weakest in recent memory--we’ll see if that is true in another 3 or 4 years.

    • Crusher says


      You started this whole thing off by implying that Pelini was responsible for recruiting and offering all six class of ’08 Nebraska HS prospects—I pointed out the error. Then you come back with Pelini was responsible for the Kreikemeier offer—I pointed out that Dr. Tom offered Kreikemeier. Yet, you still try to make it seem like Pelini recruited him. Read this SI..som article titled Nebraska Lost, Nebraska Found it explains the whole thing: Callahan’s staff recruited him first—Dr. Tom as interim AD/head coach became aware of Kreikemeier in November of ’07. Pelini was not hired until December ’07. That’s why Dr. Tom--not Pelini--offered Kreikemeier, because he recruited him. Athletic Directors do not make scholarship offers unless there is more to the story—read that great article, it breaks down the significance of the Kreikemeier offer. Hint: the article’s title explains a lot.

      Are you related to Pelini or what? Man, I’m not slamming on the guy. I understand what he is doing. I just don’t agree with it. But it is his team and his job. Besides I dont see him as a long term guy.

      Pelini is head coach of a storied football program in difficult times that is geographically inhospitable to drawing large numbers of top- recruits. Many of the nations top coaches would not even consider coaching at Nebraska just because of the recruiting nightmare. Pelini is young and is he is not from Nebraska. He is an ex-Buckeye and has coached at LSU and OU. And if he has some success at NU his name will surface every time a big-time program has an opening. What do you think he would do if the LSU or OSU job came open? Of course if he fails to live up to expectations here he won’t be around long either. Yep, I could be wrong but I do not see Pelini being at Nebraska long-term at least not in the sense of Osborne.

      You use the ’09 class’ “weakness” to explain why Pelini did not offer more. Well, as I pointed out that “weak” ’09 class had 11 offers as of the same time last year versus only 1 from the ’10 class. But you claim this ’10 class is better? You say you are “surprised” there have not been more players from this class offered.

      Pelini needs talent to beat the Texas, Florida, Oklahoma and USC type programs and yet at the same time that he he needs more talent, the level of high school play in his home state is not keeping up with the nation’s best—it’s falling backwards! Therefore, “Nebraska lost, Nebraska Found” becomes—if you want to walk-on.

      I have lived in Nebraska since ’94 and I’ve never seen anything even close to only 1 D-1 offer by this time in the recruiting cycle.

      No! There is something more going on here that I’ve been trying to illustrate: Nebraska HS players are losing ground—BIG TIME to the South. All the numbers keep pointing to the same conclusion—the kind of players you need to win BCS titles are in the South and that is exactly where major programs are flocking to fill thier rosters.

      This is a trend not bad classes!

      Good HS football players are no longer in vogue—fast, quick athletic players that can play football are! This concept seems to be very slow to catch on in Nebraska.

      The spread offense and the continued proliferation of the passing game have dramatically changed the college game—you can’t be successful at the next level if you can’t move—fast.

      Yet, we still have some of the top HS football programs in Nebraska running veer and option football, and many programs emphasizing size and strength over speed and quickness.

      Until more Nebraska HS football programs incorporate how the game is being played at the next level into their styles, techniques, training and conditioning programs, the trend of low D-1 offers will continue into the foreseeable future.

      This is a wake up call

  14. jugular says

    Nice try, Crusher. I did not once say that Pelini initially offered all 6. Please show me where I said he offered all 6? I said he had to recruit them again since he was not the coach that initially offered them. Those kids were going to be skeptical…it’s natural instinct. Look at it this way…if you were hired for a job by one person and then that person left the company, you would wonder about your position there. Same with these kids. So, Pelini & Co have to “re-recruit” these kids. And if they don’t want them, they would still honor the scholarship but maybe just not recruit them that hard.

    Just curious, who were the 11 offers at this time last year?

  15. jugular says

    And I do agree with you in regards to Nebraska high school football in regards to conditioning, offenses, etc. It’s poor. Unfortunately, it’s that way in basketball as well. Please get a shot clock in hoops!

  16. jugular says

    Crusher…who did Koehlmoos have an offer from that was revoked? Was it Wyoming? Also, was Lechner’s offer revoked by both NU & Wiscy?

    Also curious, when did your son receive his offer from USD? Did he camp there? Basically just curious how they found out about him.

  17. jugular says

    Did I hear that USD got into the same conference as NDSU and SDSU? If so, that’s fantastic. Very good conference…plus, should be good for you to travel to games. How many years until USD is playoff eligible?

  18. mbt lami says

    I like the way you’ve focused in on each bit. Lots of smiling, appreciated bodies here today.


  1. […] Back in March, I wrote an article titled “Bo Pelini’s Recruiting Strategy: Will It Work?” The article explained Pelini’s strategy of recruiting Nebraska high school football […]

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