BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Carl Pelini helped turn around Nebraska's defense. He's now taking on a significantly bigger challenge.
Pelini was hired Monday by Florida Atlantic, where he's now the second coach in program history and replacing the retired Howard Schnellenberger. Pelini and FAU agreed to terms on a deal late last week, and the university's trustees formally approved the hiring Monday morning.
"I'm ready to take on this task," Pelini said at an on-campus news conference Monday afternoon in Boca Raton, Fla. "I'm ready to take this university and this football program to the next level. I'm excited about the support that we have around here. I'm excited about our opportunities and where we're headed as a football program. And I'm prepared that when I leave this press conference, I'm going to head back over to my office and I'm going to hit the ground running -- and running hard."
FAU athletic director Craig Angelos first met with Pelini in Omaha, Neb., and spoke extensively with Nebraska AD Tom Osborne.
"At the end of the day, I felt that the guy I would trust with my career on the line also is Carl Pelini," Angelos said.
Said Pelini: "I don't intend on letting him down."
Pelini's deal is for five years, starting with a $450,000 base salary in his first season and, with annual raises, would be worth a total of just under $2.49 million at its completion. In any season where the Owls sell more than 12,000 season tickets, Pelini would get at least another $100,000, and he is eligible for other bonuses such as bowl appearances, conference titles and meeting certain academic standards.
FAU will likely make him earn that money.
The Owls finished this season 1-11, tied with Akron, Indiana and New Mexico for the worst record in major college football. They were one of only five teams nationally not to win a single game within their own conference.
"It is a very big hire for this university because it is a very visible hire for this university," Angelos said.
Pelini is the brother of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. The schools are scheduled to play in 2014, and Carl Pelini noted that allows him three years to get FAU's "house in order."
Trustees met by teleconference to discuss the hire before it became official, and none of them aired any complaints about the move. Angelos also assured trustees during that call that Pelini is "comfortable" with the pool of money the school is making available to pay for the hiring of nine assistant coaches.
"He's a guy that will roll up his sleeves and take whatever he's been given and make it better," Angelos said.
In that respect, he sounds more than a bit like Schnellenberger, who founded the FAU program from the ground up, oversaw the transition from what was then known as Division I-AA to the major-college level, led the Owls to a pair of bowl appearances -- winning both -- and a Sun Belt Conference title. In October, the crown jewel of the program opened, a 30,000-seat on-campus stadium that Schnellenberger spent years trying to get done.
Trustees got packets with Pelini's sales pitch over the weekend, coming away duly impressed.
"Frankly, if he does three-quarters of what he says in here, it's pretty amazing," FAU trustee Bob Rubin said. "Craig found the right guy."
Pelini said he started planning for his first collegiate head coaching opportunity long ago, and said his plan is predicated on "building a culture of excellence."
"One thing I do know is this: I do know that you cannot flip on a switch on Saturday afternoon and be a man of character... if you're not conducting yourself that way 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Pelini said. "That's the idea behind the entire program."
When Pelini arrived at Nebraska in 2008, he inherited a defense that ranked 112th nationally out of 119 teams in yards allowed. The Cornhuskers got better in a hurry, ranking seventh in 2009 and 11th in 2010 in total defense.
Pelini was a graduate assistant for Nebraska's defense in 2003. He was Minnesota State's defensive coordinator in 2004, an assistant at Ohio from 2005-07 and then moved back to Nebraska in 2008. He played two seasons at Columbia before transferring to Youngstown State, and holds master's degrees from Kansas State and Ohio State.
He considered jobs elsewhere in the past, then decided that FAU was one he wanted to specifically target.
"This was the one that I thought offered everything you needed to be successful at this level," Pelini said. "And the one that was kind of a sleeping giant, ready to take off."