YOUNGSTOWN — Five days before high school football teams can launch official practices, Cardinal Mooney High School is changing head coaches, going from a 20-year veteran to an old familiar face.
Thomas Maj, Mooney's new president, announced Monday that P.J. Fecko, winner of four state championships, has been replaced by Carl Pelini, the Mooney graduate who was the Youngstown State University defensive coordinator in 2019.
In a news release, Maj said Fecko "will no longer be the head coach. He will, however, continue to teach at the school.
“P.J. Fecko dedicated his heart to this program, and we will always take great pride in what he accomplished,” Maj said. “We thank him for his service to our school.
"With our storied history and devoted alumni base, we are ready to begin the next chapter in our school’s history.”
Maj did not explain why Fecko, 45, is being replaced. In Fecko's final two seasons, the Cardinals went 4-5.
Fecko did not return a text asking for comment.
Maj also announced that Pelini has been hired as associate athletic director for advancement.
"Pelini will oversee football operations as interim head coach," Maj said.
A Mooney graduate, Pelini's coaching career began with the Cardinals in 1987-88 when he was an assistant on current athletic director Don Bucci's staff.
Pelini has Mahoning Valley high school experience — he was the head coach for Austintown Fitch High School for three seasons (2000-02) before going to the University of Nebraska as a graduate assistant to resume his college coaching career.
Pelini then was an assistant at Minnesota State (2004), Ohio University (2005-07) and Nebraska (2008-11). He became Florida Atlantic University's head coach in 2012. Then with a 5-15 record, a scandal brewed at FAU involving accusations of drug use, and Pelini resigned before the 2013 season ended. He later filed a lawsuit saying he was pressured to resign.
In 2015, Pelini reunited with his younger brother Bo, Youngstown State University's head coach, taking over as the Penguins' defensive coordinator.
Bo Pelini had been Nebraska's head coach from 2008-14, then was fired with four years remaining on his contract. He took over the YSU program in 2015, replacing Eric Wolford.
After the 2017 season, Carl Pelini joined Mike Jinks' staff as Bowling Green's defensive coordinator and then served as interim head coach when Jinks was fired midseason.
Pelini returned to the Penguins in 2019 as defensive coordinator. In January, Bo Pelini left YSU to return to LSU as defensive coordinator.
Fecko replaced Bucci as Mooney head coach in 2000. Within 12 seasons, Fecko's Cardinals matched Bucci's teams in state championships — four.
Under Fecko's guidance, the Cardinals won state crowns in 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2011. Mooney was state runner-up in 2005, 2007 and 2013. His teams won 159 games.
Pelini is only Mooney's fifth head coach since the school opened in 1956. In the first 10 years, head coaches John Hudzick and Denny Barrett combined for a 52-29-5 record.
In 1966, Bucci began his 34-year tenure as head coach, compiling an impressive record of 284-79-5. Mooney's first four state championships were won in 1973, 1980, 1982 and 1987.
After the 1999 season, Bucci became Mooney's athletic director, and Fecko, Bucci's defensive coordinator, became the school's fourth head coach.
In the early 1990s, Fecko was a defensive end for Mooney. In 1994, Bucci put Fecko in charge of the offseason weight-training program.
“He was, how should I say, a real intense type of individual,” Bucci told The Vindicator with a laugh in a 2013 interview with Kevin Connelly. “Wasn’t real big, but he’d be one of these guys that liked to come across and put you away.”
In the past six seasons, Mooney made the playoffs three times, going 1-1 in each postseason. In 2014, the Cardinals (5-4) traveled to Peninsula to defeat Woodridge, then lost to Cleveland Benedictine, 56-16.
After a 4-5 season in 2015, the Cardinals (7-2) returned to the postseason in 2016. After defeating Hubbard 27-9, the Cardinals were ousted by NDCL, 17-12.
Mooney's most recent playoff appearance was in 2017. After a 6-4 regular-season, the Cardinals defeated Poland, 13-7, then lost to Steubenville, 19-14.
Bucci remains Mooney's athletic director, and Jim Jablonski will begin his third year as associate athletic director. Jablonski took over that position in 2018 after Roy Nard had that position for several years.