With the news that D.J. Eliot is leaving Lexington to take a defensive coordinator position at Colorado, the Wildcats have an opening for a major staff position.
Eliot has been often criticized during his tenure, and in my opinion, most of it has been justified. I am not sure Eliot was ever really a good fit, but I think it became evident that he was not going to work out in Lexington all the way back to last season.
Anyone remember the infamous trick play at Vanderbilt? The one where the receiver next to the sideline was unaccounted for?
What about three defenders in the box on a Dak Prescott run play?
Kentucky with the rarely used "3 man box" against a Dak Prescott QB draw https://t.co/qeixSGFKlg— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) October 25, 2015
I could continue, but most fans agree that Eliot simply was not going to work out here. I actually wrote at the end of the 2015 season I thought he would be more likely to be fired than Shannon Dawson. Turns out I was wrong.
Nonetheless, now that Eliot has moved on to Colorado, I think the next defensive coordinator hire is vital. The hiring of Eddie Gran proved the importance of having experienced, veteran coordinators.
Sure, it would be nice to uncover one of the brightest young minds in the game, but those can be hit or miss. The Wildcats need to hire a guy with SEC playcalling experience and a proven track record.
Enter Bo Pelini.
Some would be automatically opposed to the hire because of his head coach tenure at Nebraska, which really wasn’t as bad as some make it out to be. I know there were off-field issues, and those certainly need to be taken into account, but Pelini’s coaching experience could be a strong fit for Kentucky.
He has NFL coaching experience as a DB coach for the Super Bowl-winning San Francisco 49ers. He also coached DBs with Pete Carroll in New England, and then coached linebackers in Green Bay.
As defensive coordinator at Nebraska in 2003, the Cornhuskers’ defense jumped from 55th nationally to 11th. Then as a Co-DC for Oklahoma in 2004, the Sooners won the Big 12 and went to the National Championship with the sixth-ranked run defense and 11th-ranked scoring defense.
As for SEC experience, Pelini’s defense at LSU was ranked third nationally all three years he was there, and LSU went on to win a national championship while he was there.
He has the experience and the resume to be a solid hire for Kentucky. Not to mention the Youngstown, Ohio connection that has proven to be an excellent recruiting pipeline. Adding Pelini would only strengthen the Ohio connection for Kentucky.
Pelini was even a sideline guest for UK’s season-ending loss to Louisville in 2015, which had many wondering if UK was already set to replace Eliot with the former Huskers coach.
I do not know what Pelini’s plans for the future are. He has made quite the turnaround at Youngstown State, taking a team that was 5-6 in his first year to 12-4 and a championship game appearance in his second.
Maybe Pelini has his eyes set on another head-coaching run, but I believe it would be a good idea for Mark Stoops to see if he would be interested in coming to Lexington. It could make for a big improvement next season.