BATON ROUGE, La. - Before new Nebraska coach Bo Pelini could return to LSU's sideline for one last game as defensive coordinator, he and Tigers head coach Les Miles had to set a few ground rules.
'I agreed that he could call the entire defense, call every play,' Miles said. 'I also agreed that we would be ahead at the end of the game and that if he called a defense that didn't allow that to happen, then he would be relieved of duty immediately. We've agreed that he will not wear an 'N' on his cap when he coaches on the sidelines.'
Apparently, Miles either isn't very worried about Pelini's dual commitments or he's covering up his concerns with humor.
Whatever the case, Pelini, who returned to Baton Rouge for LSU's first practice after final exams this week, said LSU has nothing to worry about when the Tigers face Ohio State in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7.
'I have a job to do and that is part of being a professional,' said Pelini, who once played for the Buckeyes. 'You have to take your own emotions out of it. ... I owe a lot to LSU. I love this place and the kids I coach. It's a different time and a different place and right now I'm all about LSU.'
Pelini is no stranger to big games. As an assistant coach in the NFL, he helped the San Francisco 49ers win the Super Bowl after the 1994 season. He also coached in numerous NFL playoff games with the New England Patriots in the late 1990s and the Green Bay Packers earlier this decade before returning to the college ranks as an assistant at Nebraska.
He spent one season with the Cornhuskers, taking over temporarily as head coach for the 2003 Alamo Bowl, which Nebraska won. He then moved on to Oklahoma, where he was an assistant on the squad that lost to Southern California in the Orange Bowl for the 2004 national championship.
He arrived at LSU when Miles took over in 2005 and has been part of a team that has now won 33 games during the past three seasons, including lopsided triumphs over Miami in the 2005 Peach Bowl and over Notre Dame in last season's Sugar Bowl.
Now, he gets his second shot to be part of his first college national championship squad. His decision to temporarily wear two hats has been questioned by many, but not by LSU players or by Miles, who say Pelini's return shows that coaching football still has a human, emotional side. It's not always the cold, calculated business it seems to be when the coaching carousel starts turning this time of year.
'It's us and him recognizing that he's a part of our team and until we saddle this one up and ride this last one out, he's with us,' Miles said. 'It benefits not only us, our team, him, but Nebraska. Their coach is coaching in a heck of a game. I just think it's a win-win. ... I never thought of doing it any other way.'
While LSU got a couple weeks off after the Southeastern Conference title game for final exams, Pelini said he filled out his Nebraska staff and got caught up, if not ahead, on watching film of the Buckeyes by the time he got back to Baton Rouge. He said he may make a few phone calls regarding business at Nebraska during whatever down time he has, but otherwise will spend the next few weeks preparing LSU's defense just as he has for the last two bowl games.
'I'm no different now than I was at this time last year when (LSU) was preparing for the game against Notre Dame,' Pelini said, adding that he doesn't really even feel like his tenure at Nebraska has begun yet. 'I've been so focused on accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish that I haven't had time to sit back and enjoy it. That is for a different time when things settle down. Right now, I'm not quite a head coach. Right now, I am a defensive coordinator because that is what I am committed to doing.'
Defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey seems to understand Pelini's decision as well as anyone. After all, Dorsey was a projected first-round NFL draft pick last spring, but returned to LSU for a final year of eligibility. One of the reasons he came back was his belief that he could help LSU win it all. On some level, Pelini's return is similar.
'It shows that his heart is with us,' Dorsey said. 'He could easily just go to Nebraska ... but his heart is down here and we've worked hard over the years. ... So that's the biggest thing. He's coming back and it means a lot to us.'
SideBar: BCS title game
Who: Ohio State vs. LSU
When: Jan. 7, 8 p.m.
Where: New Orleans