From Portage Northern.
- DE Will Heininger (right) has torn his ACL and will have surgery to repair it. His status for the fall is dependent on how his rehab progresses.
- Martavious Odoms, Junior Hemingway, and Je'Ron Stokes will practice a little today and will hopefully be full-go by the end of the week.
- Vlad Emilien, Jared Van Slyke, and Quinton Washington will hopefully return to practice next week.
- The guys who are out for spring (David Molk, Brandon Herron, Mike Martin, and Vincent Smith) are progressing on schedule.
- Tate and Denard are splitting reps with the first team. Rich does not care if one guy wins the job, or if he has a few guys who are ready to play. He wants to have at least two QBs ready to play. The guys understand that they're competing for the starting position.
- Tate Forcier is being challenged by the coaches this spring, with football, academics, as a student-athlete at the University. He's very competitive, and likes being challenged to improve.
- Denard has a better understanding of the offense and the passing game than he did last year (unsurprising, since this is his first spring). He still has a ways to go, but he's improving. Once he gets the QB position down, he'll learn other positions to get him on the field.
- Gardner is fun to be around, and has a high energy level. He's learning quickly, but still has a lot to improve upon. The coaches can't expect too much too soon.
- The quarterbacks are practicing full-contact to work on their ball security. Normally they'd have non-contact jerseys. Once the QBs get used to taking some hits, they'll let them wear non-contact jerseys.
- Michael Cox has had a very good spring, and Michael Shaw has had some good days and some days "where we expected more out of him." Fitzgerald Toussaint is also in the first group with them; he's gotten bigger and is getting a good grasp of the offense.
- Stephen Hopkins is a big guy, and they needed a big back to replace Minor and Grady. He has a chance to play some at big back this fall.
- Austin White has been a little banged up this spring. However, he has the talent to help the team in the future.
- Kelvin Grady and Terrence Robinson have gotten some reps at running back. Grady missed some strength work when he was practicing with the basketball team this winter, and Rodriguez would let him return to basketball this fall only if he can handle it academically, and isn't just going to sit on the end of the bench.
- There is still competition ongoing at the safety position. They don't have a comfortable 2-deep, and probably won't until fall. Vlad Emilien's injury has hurt them there.
- Cameron Gordon has had a really good spring, and that's one of the better personnel changes they've made.
- Jordan Kovacs is capable of playing any safety position.
- Some days there has been good kicking performance, sometimes not so good. The situation still isn't comfortable punting or placekicking.
- Will Hagerup with arrive in the fall and will compete with Seth Broekhuizen for the starting punter spot in the fall.
- There is no starting kicker yet, as the best performer is different every day. That situation won't be resolved until fall. Brendon Gibbons has a strong leg, but he's been back-and-forth.
- The snapping and coverage units look good, and they have the athletes to contribute there.
- "We'll have a better team, and I expect us to have a good team, yes." This spring practice is much, much better than two years ago, and is a little better than last year.
- Chemistry - The leadership can come from not only the 12-man senior class, but also some underclassmen who can be leaders.
- Thursday, Friday, and Saturday is the annual coaching clinic. Thursday will be a practice in just shorts, and Saturday will be a full-scale scrimmage. This is the most important scrimmage of the spring.
- There has probably been more talk about the changes to the defense than there have actually been changes. They did a lot of multiple-front stuff last year, and Greg Robinson is trying to best fit the scheme to Michigan's personnel. They're trying to find the right combination of simplicity for the player to learn and the flexibility they'd like from the defense.
- Regarding Demar Dorsey, Rodriguez said "If anything changes with any of our signees, I'll let ya'll know if anything happens with that."
After Rich was done speaking, the media got a chance to watch a couple periods of practice. My observations from that:
- Injured guys running inside Glick Fieldhouse: Mike Martin, Vincent Smith, Brandon Herron.
- Red Shirts (no contact): Quinton Washington, Zac Johnson, Vladimir Emilien.
- Green Shirts (limited contact): Devin Gardner, Austin White, Je'Ron Stokes, Junior Hemingway, Karl Tech, Martavious Odoms.
- Mark Moundros only practiced with the linebackers.
- Adam Braithwaite quote of the day: "We're gonna be the best-tackling team in America."
- Visitors to practice: former Michigan QB Rick Leach, former WVU running back Avon Cobourne, the leading rusher in West Virginia history and current Montreal Alouette.
Michigan Defensive Coordinator Greg Robinson met with reporters for about a half hour today. Notes from his press conference.
- The defense is moving exclusively to a 6-2-3 (a little April Fools Day humor(!) from Robinson).
- The "new" defensive scheme isn't that dissimilar to what the team ran last year. With the hybrids, there are a lot of different alignments possible. The only big change from last year is some of the terminology.
- The changes weren't an all-Rodriguez or all-Robinson decision. Everyone on the staff wanted to see certain things tweaked a bit, and their input went into it.
- Between years (and over the course of a year), things should always be evolving to match personnel, the opposing offense, and other factors. Coach Robinson is always open to adjustments.
- As he has repeated many times, Robinson's been around football long enough that there are very few schemes he hasn't tried. He ran 3-3 fronts with the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos. With the Jets, the scheme worked particularly well against the Buffalo Bills, who liked to spread the ball a bit.
- Robinson's overarching philosophy is to make the defense strong from the inside out. Having strong defensive linemen, linebackers, and deep middle players is important to that. Robinson also believes in the "weak link theory," that the weakest spot on the defense dictates how good a defense can be. Developing depth is very important to eliminating weak links.
Year One To Year Two
- There was a big emphasis last year on getting more speed on the field (i.e. Stevie Brown playing linebacker). That will continue this year.
- A few items about specific games from last year. The Michigan State game was a good defensive performance, aside from a couple breakdowns related mostly to inexperience. Same with the Iowa game, aside from two specific things that ended up being big plays for Iowa (and a third, less egregious one). The team played some good ball against Wisconsin, but they were pretty banged up, and had to play through that. The Ohio State game was a good performance to end the season, but not good enough because the team didn't win the game.
- The defenders are "absorbing" the defense just fine. The offense is adding a few wrinkles, so they're getting tested by some things they have seen before.
- There's a night and day difference from last spring to now in terms of Robinson's comfort and communication with the staff and players. He knows people's personalities so he can read them better, and the same goes for them knowing him.
- The outside world doesn't need to hear quotes from Robinson to be confident in the defense - they won't believe it anyway unless and until they see it on the field.
- There's a good chemistry mix with younger guys (particularly redshirt freshmen) playing with real enthusiasm. When they're surrounded with more experienced guys, it can be a great thing. The team has been putting in the work, and they understand the expectations. This youth movement didn't exist last year.
- The biggest concern is still a lack of depth. Last year, they didn't have 18-19 guys who were ready to play on defense, but they still had to sub in those seven or eight other guys. Hopefully they'll have that this year, but there are still 15 or 16 defensive guys who won't be here until fall, so you never know.
Coaching and Personnel
- Though Robinson had input, the hiring of Adam Braithwaite was ultimately Rich Rodriguez's decision. Braithwaite is very experienced, having been a coordinator (albeit of a D-3 school) in the past. He's worked with Rich Rodriguez in the past, and the entire coaching staff has confidence in him. He also will be an exceptional recruiter.
- Robinson has worked with inside linebackers a lot in the past, so coaching them this year is not a new experience. He didn't coach them last year because Hopson was already in charge of them. As for how they're doing this spring, it's too early (only eight practices so far) to talk position battles or anything like that. They have a couple experienced guys but quite a bit of youth.
- Losing Mike Martin for the spring will give other defensive linemen more reps, which will hopefully help them be more ready in the fall. Robinson would guess that Renaldo Sagesse and Greg Banks were probably some of the hardest-working players on the team in the offseason conditioning program. Banks is starting to show some true leadership on the team as well. Also on the defensive line, Will Campbell has matured a lot. Last spring he was still like a high schooler - and was probably thinking a bit too much about his prom.
- Floyd Simmons has been playing a lot at Stevie Brown's old position. Thomas Gordon and Mike Williams are new to that spot, though it is somewhat similar to the role Williams played last year. Jordan Kovacs is still playing that box safety spot.
- Cameron Gordon is playing a lot at the deep safety spot due to injuries to some other guys. Brandin Hawthorne has been getting some reps there as well. Gordon is raw on defense, but has a natural feel at defensive back, and they hope he can continue improving. He has a defensive temperament and is very tough.
- At the corner spots, Troy Woolfolk is very comfortable, and is playing well. He's much more settled than last spring, when they had to move him around a bit more. James Rogers has good length, but is somewhat new to the position after switching last year. People forget that JT Floyd is still a young guy who was just a redshirt freshman last year. He put in a lot of work in the weight room, and will have more experience this year as well. Justin Turner is still a work in progress. He's got a prototypical frame for the position, and JT Floyd is helping him learn the position.
Bylaw Blog is the "Unofficial Blog of NCAA Compliance," which just goes to show that you can find anything on the internet. Its author is an anonymous employee in the compliance department of a Division I school who pegged Michigan's findings in a totally speculative post that some people got upset about but turned out to be accurate. He goes by Compliance Guy. I flagged him down and asked him a number of questions about where we are now and what's likely to happen in the future.
1. What is the process that Michigan has gone through to reach this point? I might be a little bit fuzzy on the details, but this is what I think has gone on so far:
- Notice of Inquiry
- Michigan internal investigation undertaken with assistance/cooperation from NCAA.
- Michigan files report with NCAA
- NCAA responds with Notice of Allegations.
Is this an accurate picture of how the process works?
Flop the notice of inquiry and Michigan's investigation starting and you have the basic order. Michigan would have started the investigation the moment the story broke. At a certain point, either because of what Michigan was telling the NCAA or what the NCAA was hearing from somewhere else, the enforcement staff got involved and issued the Notice of Inquiry.
2. Past this point there are a couple more steps. Michigan will respond. They may or may not issue self-imposed sanctions. And then they'll go in front of the committee. How often do accusations of major violations get degraded to secondary violations in practice? Is the NCAA-issued NOA going to closely resemble the final findings at the committee or is it likely to get walked back? If so, how much?
A major violation case, once it gets to this point, rarely is argued back down to a secondary infraction. To get to a Notice of Allegations, especially in this case, the enforcement staff and Committee on Infractions would have worked very closely to decide if there were major violations, ultimately the COI's decision.
Individual major violations are sometimes downgraded to secondary violations during the response and hearing. In the Kelvin Sampson case at IU, one of the original five major violations--that Sampson and assistant coach Jeff Meyer gave Derek Elston a backpack and t-shirt and recruited him during a camp--was found to be only a secondary violation. Of course, the COI can add too, like the failure to monitor charge that came after the committee hearing.
The final report is going to look very similar. The most likely charge to be downgraded is actually the excessive practice, since it was never grossly beyond the limits like originally alleged by the ex-players. But the lack of documentation at the time makes it difficult for Michigan to prove that the violations were "isolated or inadvertent" and did not result in a "significant competitive advantage."
3. The five accusations:
1) Michigan quality control staffers "monitored and conducted skill development activities," assisted with "warm up and flexibility," watched film with players, and occasionally attended coaching meetings.
2) Similar in nature in points a) and b). c) consists of disciplinary measures after missing class in summer. d) consists of varying but relatively small amounts of excessive mandatory activity.
3) A graduate assistant lied during the process.
4) Rich Rodriguez "failure to monitor."
5) Athletic department "failure to monitor."
Are my characterizations of all these charges correct? If so, how serious are each of them?
#2 is, very generally, excessive practice. Michigan allowed excessive practice in one of three ways:
1) Did not count stretching and warm-up, thus requiring too much CARA (countable athletically related activity);
2) Disciplined players for missing class over the summer, when no required physical activity is permitted for any reason; and
3) Allowing excessive voluntary activity during the summer.
The third type is likely the most bewildering to fans. The NCAA tightly regulates even voluntary activity during the summer in football. The large team peer pressure and culture of discipline in football can cause it to get out of hand, so the NCAA limits how long you can work out with strength coaches in the summer, even voluntarily and sets periods of time where strength coaches cannot work out with football student-athletes at all.
The most serious charge is the failure to monitor charge for the university. It does allow for a wider variety of penalties. The "failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance" charge for Rodriguez means his continued employment at Michigan might change things. The ethical conduct charge is serious, but only really affects Herron. The other two violations are normally secondary in isolated incidents, but went on long enough to be considered major. Of the two, exceeding the coaching limits by a significant amount (11 is the limit with a total of five extra) is more serious.
There's also a sixth violation floating around, as an element of other violations but should be considered almost like a separate violation: the failure to submit practice logs for over a year and a half. Why that happened is going to be one of the COI's burning questions and the lack of the logs makes raising a defense to the charges that much more difficult.
4. On your blog you've recently documented a gradual broadening of "major violations" from serious dolla-dolla-bill ya'll type charges to considerably less severe violations, using the recent Arizona basketball issues as an example. Would these charges have gotten the same amount of scrutiny five, ten, fifteen years ago?
15 years ago, we wouldn't have the 24-hour news cycle that caused the violations to come to light in the first place. In addition, neither the NCAA nor Michigan would have had the resources to devote to discovering just how serious the violations were. Even now, we only know that limits were exceeded "some weeks."
But with larger compliance offices, bigger NCAA staffs, and a Committee on Infractions getting sick of the idea that secondary infractions don't matter, there is increased scrutiny. 15 years ago Michigan might have just reported a vague secondary violation and negotiated how much to reduce the practice time by. Now, just the fact that neither Michigan nor the NCAA has been able to completely quantify how big the violation was is not helping Michigan.
5. During the press conference new Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon downplayed a number of the charges, particularly the hours exceeded. Those were declared a misunderstanding about how stretching and other prep time was classified. It sounded like he was preparing a defense. If the NCAA and Michigan worked together on this, how could they be unfamiliar with this point of view? What is the probability that arguments like "it was a misunderstanding" will have any effect?
Brandon is preparing a defense, but at this point reducing the penalty is the more likely goal rather than winning an acquittal. Secondary violations need to meet two requirements: isolated or inadvertent AND did not produce a significant competitive advantage. Convince the NCAA of both and you have a secondary violation. Convince them of one, and you still have a major violation, but a lesser one.
Trouble is that the NCAA looks at what coaches and administrators "should" have known rather than what they did know. If the NCAA changes a rule, issues an interpretation, or releases an Educational Column (non-binding, technical discussions of the rules), a compliance officer is virtually presumed to have read it. And if the coaches were never educated about the rule, not only does it not save them, but it also becomes an element of bigger institutional charges like failure to monitor and lack of institutional control.
6. Michigan's handling of the situation has been fairly controversial on the internet because Michigan fans, rightly or wrongly, feel that the university's relative openness was detrimental in the Ed Martin case. Michigan has apparently been as accommodating as possible with the NCAA. Is inviting NCAA investigators in asking for trouble or a way to mitigate any potential sanctions? If you were in Michigan's position, what would you have done?
That's a tricky question because as a public institution, Michigan can only be so secretive. A great deal of the investigation can be open to the public via open records laws and the Freedom of Information Act. Look at the fervor caused by one informational meeting with the trustees that Michigan attempted to keep quiet.
What is the measure against which Michigan's openness is being judged? I'm sure most fans are pointing at USC and how the Reggie Bush investigation took five years and it seems like USC is in front of the COI almost out of the blue. But USC is a private institution, and doesn't have to worry about bitter rivals, wronged alumni, and nosy reporters demanding every scrap of paper. Michigan probably hasn't made public anything that wouldn't be made public before.
Looking back to the Ed Martin scandal, Michigan's willingness to cooperate was likely a key consideration in getting the second year of postseason ban overturned on appeal. Cooperating with the NCAA is wrongly portrayed as "going above and beyond vs. defending yourself." It's an obligation of being a member of the NCAA.
Michigan fans like to talk about the integrity and class in the program. If that means anything, it means acknowledging your mistakes, taking your medicine, and working to improve. It doesn't mean being difficult just because it seems USC is.
I think Michigan's handling of the case has been a model of how to deal with a major infractions case so far. And the result will likely be fairer penalties and a case that is disposed of quickly rather than casting a shadow on the program for a number of years.
7. Would one GA lying to the NCAA seriously hurt the university as a whole, assuming that he is then fired?
It's highly unlikely. A single, isolated unethical conduct violation generally hits the person who committed it rather than the institution. The primary tool the COI uses for this is the show-cause penalty, which states that any institution who hires the person must appear before the committee and "show cause" why they should not be punished the same way the previous school was.
As a counterexample, Dave Bliss' unethical conduct, in instructing players and coaches to lie in the Baylor case, is much more serious on an institutional level. When high level administrators (ADs, presidents, etc.), head coaches, or people who should know better (compliance staff) commit unethical conduct, it speaks to institutional control.
8. Is there any possibility Michigan escapes a major infraction at this point? What do you think Michigan's penalties will be? If you think some of the accusations are walked back, what would they be in that case?
It's almost a certainty that come October or November, Michigan will be back on probation. The Committee on Infractions generally doesn't start flimsy cases. Look again at USC. Since the original Yahoo! Sports report about Reggie Bush, the COI could have sent a Notice of Allegations as a fishing expedition. But given the fact that they were dealing with a major football program, they couldn't afford to have the case blow up in their face. So they continued investigating, interview, asking for documentation, and working with USC to develop the case until they had a slam dunk.
I'm also confident the same five charges in the Notice of Allegations will be in the final report. Like I said earlier, the excessive practice is the most likely candidate to be reduced, but Michigan lacks the best tool for doing so: detailed logging of practice time during that period. Consistent and timely logs, though mistaken, would have been the best evidence that the violations were all an honest mistake.
I expect a lengthy list of penalties, but none of which are too severe. Despite Michigan's status as a repeat violator due to the Ed Martin case, the death penalty is clearly not in the cards. [Editor's note: I think this is meant to be reassuring.] Neither are more severe penalties like a postseason or TV ban. In fact, Michigan doesn't even need to vacate wins (unless it self-imposes) because these violations do not affect eligibility. I think you'll see a list like this:
- A reduction in countable coaches (one coach will have to be reassigned to a noncoaching position);
- A reduction in practice with a shorter spring season in 2011 and/or reduced hour limits;
- Possibly recruiting restrictions, including limiting the number of coaches off-campus at any one time;
- Possibly a reduction of around three scholarships for a year or two;
- 3-4 years probation (longer due to repeat violator status)
Combined I think they are a setback (which they're intended to be), but they aren't program crushing penalties that will take years to crawl out from like the Ed Martin penalties were.
[Ed: Many thanks to Compliance Guy. Again: Bylaw Blog is his internet home.]
This is the most direct attack I think I've ever seen on a college coach by a professional in any sport, and it's directed at Red Berenson of all people. Here's Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi talking about Jack Johnson's somewhat erratic development:
During a recent interview, Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi explained that Johnson is learning his craft…belatedly.
“This guy has never had any coaching [at the University of Michigan],” Lombardi said. “Jack just did what he wanted.”
“Michigan is the worst.” Lombardi added. “For hockey people, if you’ve got a choice between a kid—all things being equal—one’s going to Michigan and one’s going to Boston University, you all want your player [going to Boston University]. Michigan’s players—[head coach] Red [Berenson] doesn’t coach. It’s ‘do what you want.’ He gets the best players in the country.”
During his two seasons at the University of Michigan, Johnson played as a rover, rather than as a defenseman, even though that was his official position.
This is somewhat ridiculous since Berenson was an NHL coach of the year and any five year slice of his career on or off the ice has more accomplishment in it than Lombardi's entire life. In this specific case, Jack Johnson improved vastly in his two years at Michigan. In his first year I actually yelled "you're supposed to be the third pick in the draft" at him during one extremely frustrating game; in his second year he was a god. He scored more, slashed his penalty minutes nearly in half, and lead the team in plus-minus. Jack Johnson came to Michigan an incredibly undisciplined hockey genius and left considerably less undisciplined but still Jack Johnson.
(Also, what the hell is a "rover"? Lombardi obviously added an assertion that Johnson didn't play defense when he was out there playing, you know, defense. In doing so he makes himself seem like a crank making stuff up because it serves his argument—he's the David Berri of the NHL. )
Lombardi and Berenson have a long, contentious history. Red is probably still pissed off about the way Mike Cammalleri, then a Kings prospect, left the program. Cammalleri promised he'd return and Lombardi enticed him to break that promise. Later, the Kings drafted Michigan signee Trevor Lewis in the first round, signed him immediately, and shoved him off to the OHL. Lewis is still in the AHL. Recently departed sophomore Robbie Czarnik is also a Kings prospect.
Neither Lombardi and I have actually been coached by Berenson; Brendan Morrison has. I asked him for his take on that quote:
I think this is very harsh and irresponsible on Lombardi's part. I don't understand what he is basing this on. Red has been instrumental in the careers of several players, mine included. I am sure Lombardi is aware of Red's accomplishments as a coach not only at the college level but the NHL level as well.
I believe his opinion of the program would be in the minority. Most people in the hockey world have a lot of respect for the Michigan program.
There's probably some kernel of truth in Red's approach to coaching—Michigan takes a lot of penalties year-in and year-out—but Lombardi goes too far. The huge number of Michigan players is not an accident, and they're not all pre-ordained superstars like Jack Johnson. Kevin Porter, Chad Kolarik, Jed Ortmeyer, John Madden, etc.
Your humble blogger had the opportunity for LIVE and IN PERSON interviews with Devin Gardner, Austin White (right), and junior wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett yesterday at the Michigan High School Football Media Day. Austin showed up in his Michigan Elite Camp T-shirt. Devin was an hour late, but rockin' an EA Sports All-American T-shirt with his Michigan gym shorts.
Senior Season... and Beyond
Gardner, previously known as a run-first QB, has worked hard to improve his passing in the offseason. Previously a sidearm thrower with an erratic motion, Gardner's gone a long way towards fixing his delivery via "lots of repetitions, exaggerating having my arm up high, and continuing to throw." Gardner's newly consistent delivery saw him named the best participants at the Elite 11.
Ever humble, though, he didn't want to put himself ahead of any other guy there. When prodded, he did compare himself to Dennis Dixon, with maybe a bit of Terrelle Pryor and Vince Young. "I'm a leader on the field," he said, "and I make sure all my teammates are giving their best, too."
White, one of Gardner's future targets, says his versatility is his most valuable asset—but don't think his pass-catching ability means he'll end up at receiver once he arrives at Michigan. "I'm mainly a running back," he said, "and that's what I'm going to play. I can split out and catch some passes, but running back is what I'm going to be." The Wolverines are getting a player who can come out of the backfield to catch, and come in motion, but not just a receiver.
Since both Gardner and White are committed to the Rich Rodriguez regime, both are expecting Michigan to turn their fortunes around. Both are expecting vast improvement as early as this year. "I'm looking to improvement from last year... and we can keep building on that," White said.
Gardner was even more confident about an immediate improvement. "It's gotta get way better than least year," he said, "I expect them to do well, Tate's a good quarterback, Denard, they're all good - even Nick Sheridan." Neither can wait to get on the field in Michigan Stadium, but Gardner could hardly contain himself: "Cameron Gordon, Teric Jones, man, I can't wait to get up there."
Gardner is probably going to wait a little while longer than he has to. Though both Gardner and White have thought about the possibility of enrolling early—and are making initial preparations to do so—neither plans to do so at the moment. Both would rather focus on their final season of high school ball and the state championship.
These days most high schoolers use social networking websites, and football recruits are no exception. Both Gardner and White communicate with other recruits on Myspace, though they try to avoid being too pushy. "I just talk to them like a regular person, " said Gardner. "I don't put them on a pedestal or anything because I didn't like that." White echoed that sentiment: "I recruit a little bit, but I don't try to pressure them too much, because it's just really what's right for you."
There is one fellow future Wolverine that Gardner won't talk to right now, though. "I haven't been talking to Ricardo [Miller] that much since we play in the first game," he said, "but after the first game we can be cool again."
And though the Michigan coaching staff has come under fire from one specific, angry direction about an alleged lack of focus on instate recruiting, the recruits themselves aren't fooled. "I mean, if you can play, they're gonna recruit you," said Gardner. "If you can't play, get your game up if you want to be recruited by Michigan."
Saginaw wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett is expected to be one of the top 5 players in the state of Michigan for the class of 2011. So what makes him a special player? "I'm very fast," he said, "very elusive, I can escape the jam with ease, I've got great hands, and I can get open whenever."
Arnett already holds offers from Michigan State, Michigan, and Eastern Michigan and claims no favorites.
BONUS video interview with Gardner on the tubes… also horses:
[Editor's note: MGoBlog didn't post that. We would have asked if he had the kittens in the stable.]
Ooooh: dateline. Tim's not quite set up to post as Tim yet, but this is Tim from Chicago.
CHICAGO, IL - If "OMG who didn't vote for Tebow?" was the annoying meme at the SEC Media Days last week, the theme for the Big Ten's edition is "What the hell is wrong with your conference, and what are you going to do to fix it?" Every head coach was bombarded with some version of that question, and there were three general ways it was asked:
- Illinois and Wisconsin are scheduling games after the traditional end of the conference season. Do you see this as a positive for the perception of the conference as a whole?
- What other ways of toughening up the schedule (such as playing tough teams OOC, such as USC and Texas, or by extending the conference schedule to a full round robin) are you in favor of?
- Why do you suck so much more than the SEC?
Ron Zook thinks that not only is the ability of the Illini to stay on TV later in the year a positive thing, but also the bye weeks that they open up during the season will help the team stay healthier overall, and stronger down the stretch.
Rich Rodriguez, though he didn't play in a bowl last year with the Wolverines, thought that West Virginia's season extending to December helped his team when bowl season rolled around, because the execution and rhythm of the team aren't interrupted. Still, Rodriguez (along with a couple other coaches), thinks that it will only take big wins in one or two big non-conference/bowl games for the Big Ten to be back in the media's good graces. Michigan returning to power can only help that change. The only thing that really matters is winning, and that will come as long as Big Ten teams are as good as their opponents.
Tim Brewster thinks that playing the toughest competition can only help the team improve overall, and he looks forward to the day when the Big Ten conference adds a 12th team, and can play in a conference championship game.
Pat Fitzgerald, before his thoughts wandered to Rose Bowl dreams, talked about how he doesn't want to expand the conference schedule, because the Big Ten is pretty tough as it is. Like everyone else, though, he wants to change the perception of the league in a positive manner.
Jim Tressel said any time you challenge your team, not only do you find out where you stack up, but also that you grow as a team, and improve. As far as altering scheduling, he doesn't think that the difference between 40-some days off of football before the bowl season isn't significant to a team's performance, despite how the Buckeyes have looked in the past few BCS bowl games. The conference is concerned about its image, and even rival coaches cheer for each others' teams in the non-conference schedule.
Bill Lynch, who probably has the least vested interest in the topic, thinks it's a positive if teams can have a bye week, even if it means extending the season slightly. It allows for mental and physical rejuvenation.
Mark Dantonio thinks the difference between conferences is negligible, and the only way to determine who is the best is by a theoretical game between the all-conference teams of various conferences.
As for other (somewhat) interesting things paraphrased from the mouth of Rich Rodriguez:
The Big East and Big Ten are somewhat similar conferences, and though he spent a lot of time in the Big East, he thinks that the Big Ten has a bit more quality depth among its teams. Though the Big Ten might not have the most pristine reputation right now, once the teams are able to play and win in big games against important opponents, the perception of the league will improve.
The idea that a scheme is unique or unbeatable is a little overrated. Schemes are what they are. Michigan isn't going to win games just because of "the spread." It's plays and players that win games. Defenses may have caught up with the spread because it's not foreign to them anymore, but what you do from the spread is what's important. Defensively, Greg Robinson did bring in some slightly different schemes, though most defensive coordinators have a bunch of the same X-and-O stuff, and it's how you utilize them that's important. The bigger contribution by GERG has been the chemistry he's helped develop among the coaching staff and the players on the defensive side of the ball. Though the team lost some players from 2008, the new staff and players are communicating well, and that should help.
In other terms of improvement from year one to year two, there's the matter of experience. Not only were most of Michigan's players inexperienced, the experience that they did have was in a completely different system, so having a year of not only college football, but also the Rich Rodriguez system, will help the team a lot. Especially along the offensive line, the players will now know how to react when a new situation is thrown at them in live action. Once the players are familiar with game experience—and the coaches are familiar with the players—there are more available answers to problems.
Tomorrow, I'll have the chance to talk to the players, and hopefully there'll be some news to report from that.