LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -A large family portrait hangs on the wall behind Bo Pelini's desk. In front is a window overlooking the Nebraska weight room, a sort of window to the future.
In between is Pelini, who's four weeks from his first game as the Cornhuskers' head football coach. Since his hiring in December, the 40-year-old Pelini has become the most talked-about person in the state and most recognized next to the man upstairs, athletic director Tom Osborne.
Osborne remains the face of Nebraska football, though it's been 11 years and three coaches since he left the sideline. Osborne's teams averaged 10 wins a season and won three national titles in his 25 years, but the program started to falter in Frank Solich's six-year run. Then came, by Nebraska standards, the total collapse under Bill Callahan.
Pelini's task is to pick up the pieces and make right a program that hasn't seen the top 10 of The Associated Press poll since October 2003.
If Pelini begins to sense the pressure, he can look over his shoulder at that photo of him, wife Mary Pat and their three kids.
``I try not to get consumed with this,'' Pelini said. ``I don't watch a lot of football when I go home. I don't talk about it much. When I go home, I'm not a coach. I'm a dad. It's just the way it is and always will be. When it gets to a point where I'm losing the balance, it's time for me to go do something else.''
Mary Pat, Bo's high school sweetheart and wife of 13 years, said her husband isn't like some coaches who pay lip service to the importance of family.
He comes from a family where mom, dad and the eight children ate dinner together every night. They vacationed together every summer.
``For the most part, when he's home, he's home,'' Mary Pat said.
Pelini's regular-guy persona has played well in Nebraska.
His first seven months on the job have in large part been spent rebuilding the program's relationship with fans.
He shoots from the hip rather than from a script. He can be brutally honest.
He said he enjoys mixing with boosters and fans, but backslapping and flesh pressing don't come naturally to him.
Osborne said Pelini better get used to it.
``I think being the football coach here at Nebraska is a little different than some places where you can just stay in your office and put a product on the field and that's how you're judged,'' Osborne said. ``People here want to know you, want to get to see you, and so I think it's important there be some outreach.''
Pelini's comfort zone is with his players.
The former Ohio State defensive back is fit and trim and blends well with his charges. He preaches discipline and invites anyone who doesn't want to follow his rules to leave the program.
He's fast to chew out players and equally fast to turn around and, as he says, ``love them up.''
He relishes the good times with his players. Last October, as time ran out in LSU's 28-24, come-from-behind victory over Florida, Pelini sprinted across the field and leaped into the arms of All-America defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.
``His intensity is second to none,'' said Dorsey, now with the Kansas City Chiefs. ``It doesn't matter if it's 5 o'clock in the morning, he's ready to roll. That's the biggest thing that I like about him. He's always trying to motivate you and making sure you're doing the right thing.''
Pelini takes over a Nebraska program that has had losing seasons two of the last four years. The Huskers were 5-7 in 2007, tied for last in the Big 12 North and had one of the worst defenses in the country.
``On the field, I'm going to do it the way I see fit and with my belief systems and let it all hang out that way,'' Pelini said. ``I can't try and please everybody. I have to be who I am and do the things I think will help us be successful.
``Off the field, I have to do things as a husband and father that are necessary to satisfy my No. 1 job, and that's to be a father and a husband.''
Pelini said he loves staying involved with the activities of son Patrick, 9, and daughters Kate, 7, and Caralyn, 5.
The morning of that game against Florida last year, Pelini was out with his wife and daughters watching Patrick play soccer.
``That kind of put everyone into a bit of a tizzy, just because he was there,'' Mary Pat said. ``What people don't understand, especially if there's a night game, is if you're not prepared by that morning, something isn't right.''
Pelini's outside interests are varied. In his free time this summer, Pelini read a military thriller, ``The Shooters'' by W.E.B. Griffin.
Politics? ``Oh, I've got opinions,'' he said.
He also said he's smart enough to keep them to himself, at least publicly.
``Every time I start talking politics,'' he said, ``she (Mary Pat) walks out of the room.''
Pelini said he'll work long hours, but he won't sleep in his office during the season.
``The perception out there is that to be a great football coach you have to work 24 hours a day. I don't see it,'' he said. ``I've never worked that way. I never will work that way.''
Osborne, who has often mentioned his regret for having spent so much time away from his family while coaching, said he appreciates Pelini's values.
``One of the real hazards of the coaching profession is that you can become so consumed with coaching that your family suffers greatly,'' Osborne said. ``I'm glad to see that Bo and his coaches are going to try to strike a balance there because you can lock yourself in your office 15 hours a day, and you can do that 365 days a year, and it really isn't healthy.''
Pelini, a candidate for the Nebraska job after Solich's firing, acknowledges he's better prepared now than four years ago to be a head coach. He came to Nebraska in 2003 as a 36-year-old NFL assistant and was back in the college game for only one year when Solich was fired.
Pelini established himself as one of the nation's top college assistants working under Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and LSU's Les Miles.
As Pelini likes to say, he was ready for the Nebraska job four years ago, but he's more ready now.
But Pelini doesn't expect a honeymoon, though he'll surely be granted one after inheriting a program that has surrendered Big 12 North Division supremacy to Missouri and Kansas.
``Ultimately,'' he said, ``it comes down to how we do. They love me now.''
And they'll keep loving Pelini if the Huskers return to power.

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