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McFeely: In his likely Fargo swan song, good Pelini heaps praise on NDSU

Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini disputes a ruling on the field on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, at the Fargodome. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO -- If this was the last time Bo Pelini coached in the Fargodome, and it probably was, he left by blowing a kiss and tossing a bouquet of flowers toward the North Dakota State program, its coach, its quarterback, its fans.

Bison fans badly want to dislike him, but it's kind of hard when he's heaping on enough sweetness to give you a sugar high for two months.

For a guy who makes headlines for his hot temper and brutal assessment of his teams -- and who once got in hot water for ripping hometown fans in the football hotbed of Lincoln, Neb. -- the version of Bo that showed up Saturday, Nov. 3, was more like the turtleneck-wearing guy holding his cat in the doctored photo than the ranting madman who last week called his Youngstown State team "disgusting" and "garbage."

The Most Interesting Man in the Missouri Valley Football Conference sounded like he wanted to spend time in Fargo just hanging out with his best buddy Chris Klieman, the Bison head coach, if this coaching gig with the Penguins doesn't work out.

NDSU beat Youngstown State 17-7 in front of 18,028 semi-interested fans and afterward I asked Pelini whether we'd see him again in Fargo. The famous coach is in the last year of his contract at Youngstown State, and his $128,000-a-month buyout payments from his days at the University of Nebraska end early next year. The speculation is hot that Pelini is in his final season in Youngstown, Ohio, and that he might end up as an assistant in the NFL.

The Penguins are 2-4 in the Valley, 3-6 overall and other than a run to the Division I FCS national title game a couple of years ago, the whole "Bo Is Going to Revive Youngstown State" just hasn't worked out.

So how about it, Bo? Will we see you again in Fargo coaching against the Bison?

"I got two games left and that's all I'm concerned with. I don't look too far into the future with anything. But I would imagine so," Pelini said. "Heck, I'd like to just come out here and talk some ball sometime with Chris. It'd hard when you're opponents. Like I said, I have a lot of respect for him and the coaching staff. It's a pleasure to be associated with them."

Those are words, generally, that you wouldn't expect from an opposing league coach who regularly gets beaten by the Bison. It's tough to imagine Mark Farley of Northern Iowa or John Stiegelmeier of South Dakota State say it's a pleasure to be associated with NDSU and that they'd like to come up and hoist a cool one talkin' football with Klieman.

But Pelini is no normal coach. He is the Valley's celebrity, a national angle for a conference that mostly garners regional interest.

Bo's issue has always been that he gets attention for his hot-tempered sideline meltdowns (NDSU has seen them firsthand) or, most recently, a postgame verbal beatdown of his team after it lost 43-17 last Saturday to Indiana State. He hasn't gotten much attention for winning with the Penguins because, frankly, he hasn't won that much.

Even though the Penguins frittered away chances to put serious heat on the best FCS team in the country, dropping a sure touchdown pass here and spiking a ball on fourth down there, Pelini liked the way his team played against the Bison. He said the Penguins "played their hearts out" and he told his players "you can walk out of here with your head held high."

It was bordering on moral victory stuff, which doesn't seem Pelini's style. There was no anger or fire in his postgame press conference, just matter-of-fact answers to questions. He had his team ready to go in what has become a terribly lost season, and he seemed happy with that. Oh, and all that love for NDSU.

Pelini repeated what he said earlier about Bison quarterback Easton Stick -- that he believes Stick has NFL-level talent. And he talked about his respect for NDSU, a school he wanted his son Patrick to check out several years ago when he was being recruited to play college football.

"I can say that for the whole North Dakota State program from Coach Klieman on down. I have so much respect for how they go about it and it's a pleasure to play against them," Pelini said. "I hold them in the highest regard. From the fans to the coaches to the players, they do it the right way. They are, in my opinion, what's good about college sports. But trust me when I say, it's not like that everywhere."

A pleasure to play against the Bison? That's a first. Especially from a losing coach.

If this was, indeed, the last chance for Bison fans to see Pelini in person pacing the dome sidelines, he left on a high note. He was good Bo in his swan song, a far cry from the bad Bo the Bison have seen before.