What’s the best coaching advice Bo Pelini ever received? What running back was Mark Weisman’s childhood hero? How did Husker fans get into Shilique Calhoun’s head last year? What position group is Urban Meyer’s biggest concern? We’re four weeks from kickoff, but it’s not too early for a Big Ten crash course.
What’s the best coaching advice you ever received?
Bo Pelini, Nebraska: “One that has always stuck with me is prior to the Super Bowl my first year at San Francisco, I was young, and a coach told me — a guy I respect a lot — he said ‘In this profession, if you start thinking it’s you, then you gotta take a step back and re-evaluate. You have to keep it in perspective. It’s not about you, it’s never you. It’s about your players.’ And I’ve always remembered that.”
Jerry Kill, Minnesota: “Probably Coach (Dennis) Franchione. He said, ‘Do your job.’ Pretty easy. I said something about somebody else and he said, ‘Just do YOUR job.’ ”
Randy Edsall, Maryland: “Be yourself. From Tom Coughlin. Right as I started to become a head coach. Be yourself and do it the way you think is right. Very simple.”
Gary Andersen, Wisconsin: “Without question, Dirk Koetter, I’ll never forget sitting at my desk, I was a young head coach at Utah State, he walked in and said, ‘Gary, my only word of advice is don’t let one kid that makes a knucklehead move ruin the whole day for every kid in your program.’ That’s so easy to say that, but sometimes it’s so easy to do that. If a kid misses a class or there’s a negative situation out there, you can let that reflect how you’re handling the kid that just got an ‘A’ on his math test that’s been studying for two weeks. It’s not fair.”
When you first see a stat sheet after a game, what’s the first number you look at?
Urban Meyer, Ohio State: “Rushing yards, passing yards, turnovers, net punt. I always want to see how Braxton (Miller) did, his completion percentage. Even at halftime, I always ask for it.”
Bo Pelini, Nebraska: “Usually time of possession. It tells me a lot. I usually know what it is, or I have a pretty good idea what it is. I always believe time of possession’s important. Sometimes you might have a game you have a bunch of big plays, I won’t be as interested in it. But that’s really the only one I look at. Obviously, I already know in my head what the turnover ratio is. But those are the two things that I think about.”
Gary Andersen, Wisconsin: “I look heavily early on into time of possession. That matters a lot to me. I also look heavily at the rushing. How did we fare in rushing? And then my eyes are drawn very quickly to third downs.”
Kevin Wilson, Indiana: “Third downs. Turnovers. You can have all the yards you want, but if you’re converting third downs, you’re getting first downs and driving the ball. If you’re driving the ball, you’re getting in scoring situations. So I’m looking at third downs. ... You want to push 50 (percent) or higher. 42, 43, 44, that kinda sucks now. Used to be, that was pretty good. You want to be high 40s, you want to push 50.”
Darrell Hazell, Purdue: “Typically I won’t look at it until the next day. Really no interest at that particular time. Sometimes on the bus, if we’re on an away trip, I might look at how many times a guy carried it, something along those lines. But I’m not so caught up in the numbers.”
Kevin Wilson, Indiana: “What’s changed in the last 10 to 15 years is the ability to throw the ball without putting a lot of stress on the linemen blocking. Years ago, every time we threw the ball, it was a stressful situation. Worried about protections and matchups and blocking and reading and throwing and not getting an interception. The game’s evolved where there’s a lot of stress-free passing. The ball can be delivered in space and not put a lot of tension for the quarterback or the players involved. I think it’ll be interesting to see ... what happens as defenses catch up.”
Brady Hoke, Michigan: “I worry about the bowl system because I think that was always a good system. I worry about the semifinals in the Rose Bowl. How are you gonna approach the Rose Bowl? It’s the greatest experience in America for kids. How you gonna do that? You’re certainly not going to go out and stay for 10 days and go to Lawry’s two nights before, whatever it is. It’s not gonna happen. It’s a game week.”
Randy Edsall, Maryland: “We’ve got to stop recruiting these kids so early. People are putting all this stuff in their heads, and these kids think that’s what they’re going to do. As a percentage, most of them aren’t.”
Killing with kindness in Lincoln
Not much fazes Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun, who last year was voted the Big Ten’s defensive lineman of the year.
But the 6-foot-5, 256-pounder, who is New Jersey-tough, admits one thing is in his head — the Sea of Red at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, even after MSU defeated the Huskers 41-28.
“Nebraska fans are like no other,’’ Calhoun said. “It is hard to hate Nebraska, especially when they are cheering for you.
“You walk in and their fans say, ‘Hey, give us a good game today.’ I looked up and said, ‘What?’ It’s weird, but I love it. I hate it, though, too, because I love it when fans boo me. That gives me extra energy to show you what I can do.’’
Calhoun said he giggled at how the younger players on Michigan State’s roster reacted to “Nebraska Nice’’ after the Spartans played hated rival Michigan two weeks earlier.
“The freshmen are going, ‘What’s happening? These guys are cheering us,’ ’’ Calhoun said. “Most places, you get abused.’’
Defensive change is good
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is always good for some blunt-object honesty about one of his team’s shortcomings.
His first year at OSU, he described the offensive work in a spring scrimmage as “a clown show.’’ In Chicago last week, Meyer took aim at the Buckeyes’ 2013 pass defense, which ranked 112th nationally.
“I’m on a mission to fix what was wrong,’’ Meyer said. “What was wrong with our program was our pass defense was awful. If our team didn’t play hard, then our focus would’ve been on playing harder.
“But our pass defense ... we completely blew it up. It’s gone. Anything associated with that is completely changed. And it had to change. Our energy goes to fixing issues.’’
Ohio State hired Chris Ash of Arkansas, who previously had been at Wisconsin, to become defensive coordinator and safeties coach. In Ash’s two years as co-coordinator at UW, the Badgers ranked fourth and 18th in pass defense.
Kenny Bell’s daily hairstyling routine in three easy steps:
1. Assess the damage. It gets a little sloppy up top after a good night’s sleep. Said Bell: “It’s such a pain. When I wake up, (one) side’s completely flat to my head.” The other side? “It’s a tangled mess.” Turns out, though, Bell’s not too concerned about his appearance. He’s worn the same pair of shoes for three years.
2. Clean it up. The ’fro does get rinsed out and shampooed every time Bell showers. “Then I just shake it dry,” Bell said. He’ll grab his pick — a wide- and long-toothed comb — to uncoil the hair as much as he can. That process takes about 10 minutes. He’s good to go after that.
3. Embrace the anomaly. Bell gets asked all the time if he’s going to style his hair differently. Braids? Dreads? His response: “You know how many afros are in college football? One.” It may not be the best hairdo around, Bell says, but he’s not getting rid of it anytime soon.
Hogs were a handful for Bo’s 2006 Tigers
Bo Pelini’s Nebraska defense has endured a few rough nights the past few years. But it’s hard to top his regular-season finale in 2006.
Pelini was the defensive coordinator at LSU, feeling pretty confident that he had prepared his Tigers for Arkansas’ potentially explosive ground attack.
Then the game started: Six plays, 80 yards, 2½ minutes. Touchdown, Razorbacks.
So much for the plan.
“They came out against us and they had guys running all of the field — running fly sweeps, and motions, and reverses,” Pelini said. “(Substituting) five guys on, five guys off, people that I’d never seen on the field before. ... It was like, ‘OK, we’re in for a long day.’ ”
Here’s why: Darren McFadden (first-round NFL draft pick) was running the Wildcat. Felix Jones (another first-rounder) was the back motioning all over the field, occasionally taking handoffs from McFadden and attacking the edge. Marcus Monk (seventh-rounder) was on the outside catching passes. Receiver Damian Williams (a third-round selection two years later) was part of the attack, too.
“They had some freak shows out on the field,” Pelini said.
LSU ended up holding on for a 31-26 victory that day. But it will forever stick out to Pelini as one of the more frantic four quarters he’s been part of — since he had to completely scrap his strategy and basically start from scratch.
“It was a nightmare,” Pelini said.
Three points with Pat Fitzgerald
1. How long did it take to get over the Hail Mary?
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said, smiling.
Then he got serious.
“I’ve been a part of that play going back to grade-school football. Anytime you get in that situation, I think your heart’s up in your throat, especially when you’re on defense.”
He tried to make it a teachable moment.
“But I’d go back to the fourth-down play. We’ve got good pressure and they basically throw a check-down play (to Ameer Abdullah) for 19 yards.
“We drop coverage at that point. We had a seam-dropper man turned into the No. 2 receiver instead of zone turn. And if he zone turns and one of our other guys stays over his receiver, we tackle it and we never get to that play. You look at the whole thing, not just that one play.”
2. When he said ‘boring,’ he meant it in a good way
“It’s a pretty boring state, so they’re really excited to see Chicago,” Fitzgerald said.
That was last month at a Northwestern golf outing. The state Fitzgerald referenced, of course, was Nebraska. The response from Huskers fans was swift.
“I’ve learned a lot of hashtags on Twitter from Nebraska fans,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re very creative, which is fun.”
In Fitzgerald’s defense, he owned the “bad joke.” He said the comment was based in admiration. He wants Northwestern fans to hold on to their tickets, rather than selling to Husker fans, who filled about half of Ryan Field in 2012.
Fitzgerald has spent only two days in Nebraska his entire life. What jumps out, he said, is hospitality and sportsmanship.
“Three years ago, we win there and those fans were high-fiving our kids, shaking their hands and congratulating them. And a year ago, they were high-fiving and congratulating them again, thanking them for what they did in the nine seconds.”
Nine months after the Hail Mary, he could finally laugh about it.
3. Liking his likeness on video games
Fitzgerald hasn’t followed the Ed O’Bannon case against the NCAA closely. Nor the Sam Keller case against EA Sports. But he knows what it’s like to see his likeness on a video game. Twenty years ago, he was on “Bill Walsh College Football.”
“My approach 20 years ago probably would’ve been the same as it is today. I think it’s pretty cool that I’m on there,” he said, bursting into laughter. “I couldn’t care less. I have little boys that get a chance to play their dad in college. I’m ridiculous on the game. I’m a much better player on the game than I was on the field.”
Fitzgerald went on. “I was a Sega generation guy, probably No. 1 rated in 1993 on the Northwestern campus. But there’s too many buttons now, man.”
Badgers eager for spotlight
Michigan State-Oregon is the marquee game on the Big Ten nonconference docket. But Wisconsin is preparing for its own blockbuster against LSU.
In Madison, the season opener at Houston’s Reliant Stadium has given players “an edge,” Badgers coach Gary Andersen said.
“They know they’re going to play in an NFL stadium, it’s gonna be split right down the middle, half and half. It’s gonna feel like a bowl game.”
LSU will face Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in 2016, but Andersen said home-and-home was a deal-breaker.
“I don’t think that game would ever happen in Camp Randall,” he said.
In other words, the SEC power has little interest in playing a true road game in a Big Ten stadium.
Neutral-site trend to continue
Wisconsin can make the LSU showdown happen in 2014 because its other three nonconference games are in Madison.
“We absolutely will play seven home games,” Andersen said. “That’s not a debate.”
But that standard may be changing at some prominent schools. Look at Michigan, which in 2012 sacrificed a seventh home game in order to play Alabama at Cowboys Stadium. The Wolverines will play only six home games in 2017, too; they signed another mega-deal for Cowboys Stadium, this time against Florida.
“We’re gonna make the same revenue that we’d make in a home game,” Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon said.
“I look at it financially as kind of a wash. What it really is is a unique opportunity for our kids to play in a big NFL, one-of-a-kind venue, be on a big, prime-time event playing a team that we haven’t played for a long, long, long time.”
To balance things out, Brandon said, the Wolverines will occasionally play eight home games, as they do in 2016.
That’s important to the Ann Arbor community, which profits $14 million to $15 million every time Michigan hosts a game, according to an economic study.
So why the recent surge in neutral-site games? One, they’re more profitable than a home-and-home series. Michigan nets only about $500,000 for a road nonconference game.
“If I can get two $6 million neutral-site games, it’s a lot smarter thing.”
Secondly, there are a lot of nice NFL stadiums that need events, Brandon said.
Spartans proud to sport championship bling
Mark Dantonio is not exactly the flashiest football coach on the planet. Which made his choice of jewelry Monday even more notable.
On his right ring finger, the Michigan State coach wore a rock the size of Purdue’s trophy case. It was the Spartans’ Big Ten championship/Rose Bowl ring.
“I never wear it,” Dantonio said. “To me, it represents the past. We wear the ring today to represent what our players did last year, to thank them for that.”
Dantonio, who designed the ring in consultation with his players, wanted to “tone it down, but they wanted it big.” Shilique Calhoun proudly showcased his ring Monday, saying it was a special occasion. Kurtis Drummond opted to leave his with Mom.
“I’ll wear it when I’m done,” Drummond said. “I need me another one.”
Franklin keeps things social
Three years ago at Big Ten media days, Joe Paterno said this about social media’s hot new platform:
“I don’t know what the hell Twitter is. When I was a kid, a twitter was when a good-lookin’ girl walked by with a short skirt. Everybody twittered.”
That’s the man who recruited Penn State linebacker Mike Hull. That’s the man whom Hull played for as a freshman. Now? Well, James Franklin, who will coach Hull as a senior, has 78,000 Twitter followers and concludes his tweets with #PSUnrivaled and #107kStrong.
“I’ve seen the whole evolution,” Hull said. “Joe didn’t know what Facebook was. (Bill) O’Brien called Facebook ‘Spacebook’. And Coach Franklin probably has every social media there is.”
O’Brien may have lifted the Nittany Lions out of the muck, but he was an NFL guy. He preferred to focus on X’s and O’s, especially the offense, not recruiting and public relations. It’s clear Franklin is a very different personality. A 21st-century CEO who never met a microphone he didn’t like.
“He’s just really upbeat every single day,” Hull said. “Brings passion all the time. He manages everybody, not just the offensive players.”
Who was your childhood football hero?
Mark Weisman, Iowa: “Walter Payton. Being from Chicago, obviously, I didn’t get to watch him live, but I used to watch him all the time on replays. My Dad loved watching him run, so he showed me some of his stuff. Definitely an inspiration. I always heard about Walter Payton’s hill, so I always tried to run hills. Still do to this day.”
Ryan Russell, Purdue: “Ray Lewis, of course. Just the passion and intensity he played with and the things he did with his team always inspired me — and led me toward football, which is the love of my life.”
Collin Ellis, Northwestern: “Pretty much any player at LSU. I’m from Baton Rouge. Right now, I currently live a mile or two miles from the stadium. I always emulated LSU football players growing up. There was a quarterback, Herb Tyler, his girlfriend was our babysitter. He always came over and would dress us up and make us play football in the house.”
Bill Belton, Penn State: “I was a big Reggie Bush fan. I used to watch USC all the time. Whenever he was on, I’d run inside and stop doing whatever I’m doing and watch him play.”
Which Big Ten player would you like on your team?
Weisman: “Braxton Miller obviously is an unbelievable player. He changes the game in so many ways, being able to run the ball, pass the ball and being such a dynamic player. And he’s done it so many years.”
Russell: “Kurtis Drummond. He’s a game-changer at safety. When you have a guy back there to clean up and make plays in pass coverage, it improves your defense a lot.”
Cedric Thompson, Minnesota: “Kenny Bell. He’s a really good receiver.”
Ellis: “Ameer Abdullah.”
Warren Herring, Wisconsin: “You can’t hand-pick one person. Kenny Bell? Athlete. Makes a lot of plays. Dang, that’s a hard question.”
Belton: “The big lineman from Wisconsin (Rob Havenstein). Who wouldn’t want to run behind someone big like that?”
What’s your favorite uniform (aside from your own)?
Thompson: “When it comes to me, it’s more about color combinations. I like Ohio State’s silver and red. I hate red and white and I hate black and yellow.”
Weisman: “Penn State, with that tradition that they have. I like blue.”
Herring: “I really liked Michigan State’s black uniforms with the green and gold helmets. Those are hot. Maryland’s got some pretty wild ones. I like those. I like the crazy alternative ones. If we’re talking about just regular home and away, I really like Michigan. There’s a lot of tradition behind that.”
Simon Cvijanovic, Illinois: “Iowa’s the worst. I hate their socks. I like Minnesota’s colors — the gold and maroon.”
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Video: Big Ten coaches speak at media days