Check out the quick transcripts from each coach’s media session at Big Ten media days below. Click the link to jump to a coach’s session:
» Nebraska’s Bo Pelini
» Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz
» Penn State’s Bill O’Brien
» Minnesota’s Jerry Kill
» Ohio State’s Urban Meyer
» Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio
» Michigan’s Brady Hoke
» Indiana’s Kevin Wilson
» Illinois’ Tim Beckman
» Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen
» Purdue’s Darrell Hazell
» Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald
We’ll update this post throughout the Wednesday sessions.
NEBRASKA COACH BO PELINI
Moderator: We’re joined by Coach Pelini.
Pelini: It’s great to be back here in Chicago. It seems like a long time since last year. A lot of things have happened since then. I know as a program we’re excited about the upcoming season. The kids have really worked hard.
We’ve had a tremendous off-season, starting way back after the Bowl game in January and going on through spring practice. And our kids are excited. They’ve worked their butts off this summer and camp’s right around the corner.
We like where we are as a football program right now. I’m proud of our football team.
I’m proud of the kids in it, how they represent our program and what we’ve been able to do not only on the field but more importantly in the classroom and in the community, and there’s a lot of positive things going on with our program.
And that goes to the character and the type of young men that we have on our football team. And I’m proud of all those guys and what they’ve done for our football program. And football-wise we’re looking forward to the upcoming season. We know it’s going to be a tremendous challenge as it always is.
The interesting schedule for us, the way it sets up, with the extra home game and we’re looking forward to that, because we always feel it’s an advantage playing at home. And so we’re looking forward to all the challenges that are going to come up.
But first and foremost, we’ve gotta have a great fall camp. We’ve gotta come out and work hard, and we’ve gotta improve us. We’ve gotta work to get better each and every day.
We’re going to get what we earn. We understand that. We understand that the challenges are going to be there from the first week, all right on through, and we’re looking forward to everything that lies ahead.
Seems like a long time since spring practice. We moved practice up from last year. I think that really worked for us, but, boy, it seems like it was a long time ago that we practiced football. So we’re looking forward to getting together and getting a football team out on the field and getting ready to go.
It’s about going to work now. It’s about getting out there and improving as a football team and, as they say, trying to find our power line, as Amy Ramsey would like to say.
But looking forward to it, and would like to open it up for any questions.
Q: The losses that you guys had last year were kind of shock-you-to-the-core-type losses with what you gave up defensively these kinds of things in these games. You’re known as a defensive coach. What are the things that you and your staff did this off-season, the soul searching, the studying, whatever it was, to improve scheme-wise, whatever it needed to be, to work on those things that happened in those games?
Pelini: It’s nothing magical. It’s about getting better. It’s about tackling better, executing better.
It’s not a scheme thing. It’s not a — at the end of the day you have to execute. And when those things happen, they happen for a reason.
We’ve studied it. We’ve addressed it. Going to continue to work and we need to be better, more consistent than we were last year.
You look at the wins we had and where we rank nationally in total defense in total wins and obviously a couple of the losses that we had, especially ones where we gave up a lot of points and a lot of yards.
And there’s not much — the room for error isn’t there anymore. Utah was playing the spread out teams and you play some good football teams and when some things — you face some adversity early on you can’t let it turn the other way on you.
Like I said, fundamentally, technique-wise and execution-wise, we need to be better. We need to be better consistently because when you’re not, those bad things can happen to you.
Q: Why was Thomas Brown dismissed from the team?
Pelini: Violation of team rules. I don’t speak in specifics about it. But I wish him luck at his next school.
Q: Rutgers and Maryland went to the Big Ten next year, you just made that transition. What advice would you have for them as to how to what to do, what to prepare for going through that transition to the Big Ten?
Pelini: Everybody’s going to have their different approach on how they’re going to go through to transition. I think the support you have here with the Big Ten Conference and the other member institutions and for that matter even the hospitality of the other coaches, that was tremendous for us.
And there’s always going to be an adjustment period for teams going through, going into a conference for the first time. And that’s going to be there. There’s no hiding from that.
And it’s going to require some extra work in the off-season. But it’s a transition that you just have to spend a little bit more time familiarizing yourself with teams that you haven’t seen for a while, coaches you might not have coached against, and it just adds a little more to your off-season to try become familiar with it before it’s staring you in the face in a game week.
So the more preparation you’re able to do in the off-season makes that transition that much easier. But it’s still going to be difficult. There’s one thing about seeing things on film and watching it on your laptop, but there’s a whole other thing going through it, and over time you’ll become more and more familiar and things become a little bit easier for you.
Plus you have your football players who are also going through a transition time, and they’re going into stadiums they’ve never been in.
There’s a lot to it. But the better preparation they can do in the off-season, the better.
Q: How have you already talked to your team about targeting rules, how will you talk to them about the new targeting rule, and what, if any, concerns do you have about the application of that rule?
Pelini: Well, we talked to them about it in spring knowing it was coming, right around the corner. And you look for examples that you’re going to see, different things that came up during practice and said, hey, that’s the time where you’re probably going to get thrown out of the game.
But the scary thing to me is just what you said: It’s the application part of it. And it’s going to be pretty subjective. And I don’t think it’s an easy thing to call. And in my opinion it’s going a little bit overboard right now. And some things I’ve seen on TV and different examples that they’ve shown, you know, like even as a coach watching it on TV, I haven’t quite agreed with some of the things they’ve talked about.
But I understand where it’s coming from.
It’s about the safety of the players, and we’re all for that. We just have to make sure that we’re not messing with the integrity of the game or the sport and how it’s supposed to be played.
Q: What are your thoughts on your offense? I would think you have to be pretty excited about what you bring back and the possibilities on that side of the ball.
Pelini: Yeah, I really like our offense. It’s coming back, and obviously it starts with the quarterback position, having a four-year starter at quarterback and some really dynamic weapons around them.
I think we have the opportunity to have probably the best offensive line on paper, potentially, that we’ve had since I’ve been here, not only the starters but some of the backups and the depth that we have really across the board.
If we can get a couple young kids, incoming guys, that can come in and provide us with some extra depth at a couple of positions, it’s a pretty potent — potentially a very potent offense.
And I feel really good about it.
I feel good about where our guys are scheme-wise and their knowledge of Coach Beck’s (Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck) offense and what he wants to do. And I’m looking forward to our offense. I think they have — I wouldn’t trade our offense for anybody. I really like what we’re doing.
Q: What’s it like just opening with Illinois five straight years for Big Ten play?
Pelini: Excuse me?
Q: Just opening with Illinois for five straight years in Big Ten play, just what’s that like?
Pelini: Well, actually until you said that, I wasn’t even aware of that. But I knew they were our opener this year. And that’s all I’m concerned with right now. And we have a lot of respect for the Illinois program.
Obviously coming from the Big Ten and I played Illinois a lot over the years, from my playing days and understanding the type of tradition they have and the type of potential they have. Coach Beckman and his staff are doing a good job and getting things going in the right direction, and we know it will be a challenge for us right off the bat to start Big ten play.
Q: The Big Ten’s going to the nine-game schedule in a few years. The excitement of that is you’re in a different division than Ohio State and your alma mater and Michigan State and other schools when this happens, but going to nine games you’ll be able to play those schools maybe a little bit more regularly, which I think the fans were looking forward to. Just your thoughts about going to the nine-game schedule?
Pelini: It’s going to be a little bit different in that probably the biggest — it creates some different scheduling issues as far as games we might have had scheduled or planning on scheduling for the future.
But having the five and four format as far as in your division and out of your division, home games and not home games, it changes some of the dynamics. But I think it will be good.
It was inevitable that’s where it was heading with the nine conference games, with the expansion of the conference, and I think it will be a good thing in the end. It will be a little bit of — obviously you’re down to three out-of-conference games which changes your dynamics a little bit, but I think in time most of the conferences, especially the ones that are expanding past 10, 11 teams, you know, 12 and up, are going to start going to nine conference games.
That’s going to I think be pretty uniform throughout college football in short order.
Q: With so much inexperience in the front seven, as a defensive coach, are there unique challenges, any challenges in particular to get those guys ready to play the level of football you expect?
Pelini: Well, there’s challenges in every situation. Everyone’s a little bit different each year. And we’re going to have some inexperience. But we have some experienced guys kind of mixed through there.
And I think it’s going to be a great competition. We might be fairly inexperienced, especially to start off the year, you know.
But I think our depth is going to be there.
And there’s going to be great competition, which I think is — and we’re athletic. It’s going to be an athletic group and a talented group and I’ll take that any day of the week.
It’s just going to require a lot of hard work on our part as coaches, our players’ parts, and I like the potential of the group. I like the way we finished spring. I like the development we’ve had.
And I’m excited about the incoming guys that are going to add to the mix. And we’re doing a couple different things to add to what we’ve been doing defensively.
I think we’re going to be a little bit more multiple even than we have been even though we’re going to be younger.
And so I’m looking forward to it. And I really like the potential of our group.
Q: The question is in regard to Taylor.
And we saw a pretty dramatic change from a mechanics standpoint from 11 to 12. And I know he has a coach in California that he’s been working with. My question to you is your level of comfort with having external coaches coaching Taylor or any other player and whether the specialization of some of these coaches is an area that you’re going to move to in the future.
Pelini: Taylor is being coached by Coach Beck. He’s the one who — believe me, Taylor works with — he has his coach at home that helps him on his breaks, but he’s at the university most of the year and Coach Beck does a great job with them.
It’s nice to have some reinforcement, some guys that he works with, you know, away from when he’s in Lincoln and when he’s at home. And Taylor’s made great strides. I think he had a tremendous year last year.
And I expect him — there’s still a lot of room for improvement there. He’s not even close to what his potential is. And I look forward to what he’s going to bring to the table this year.
He had an improved spring. And being a great quarterback comes back to not just the talent thing, it’s not just the fundamentals and the technique issues, but it comes down to decision-making and efficiency at the quarterback position and making the offense work for you, and I think he’s understanding that.
I think he grew in that area last year and there’s still a lot more room for growth. And like you said, he made some big changes in his throwing motion and really his footwork and shoulder angle.
Once he got that corrected, he has the arm strength. He can make any throw there is. And he has tremendous talent. He just needed to refine some things and he’s gotta continue to work on that because it’s the little things that allow you to have success.
Moderator: Thank you.
IOWA COACH KIRK FERENTZ
Moderator: We’re joined by Kirk Ferentz.
Ferentz: Welcome, everybody.
Everybody that’s been up here so far, we’re excited to get started, certainly. And we’re enthused about our football team. Last year was obviously very disappointing for all of us, and as soon as the season ended in November, we encouraged our players to turn the page and wanted to get them looking forward and then go back to work, and that’s pretty much what we’ve done. And we try to do that after every season.
I’m enthused again about the way the players have handled each step along the way, and needless to say, eager to get on the field here in a couple of weeks.
Q: As the Big Ten moves to the nine league schedule, many teams in the conference have scheduled traditional out of marquee games with Iowa being locked in a long-term contract with Iowa State. Would the program be willing to take a year with only six home games to secure a higher level out-of-conference opponent, or would you have to continue to work with having two home games those other slots?
Ferentz: I’m not sure I caught the last part.
Q: Or would you just work with keeping two home games for the final two out-of-conference spots?
Ferentz: I don’t think there are many teams that are going to give up a chance to have at least seven home games. I can’t imagine too many of those.
And then the second part of that is that we’re — I’ll speak for myself, but I think we’re firmly locked in with Ohio State. That’s a very important game, very relevant game to all of us involved, and I can’t envision that thing ending in the near future.
Q: Have you thought much about the spearing penalties, how that’s going to play out? When do you sort of go through that with your players?
Ferentz: We first got introduced to some of the talk about it back in a meeting early February as coaches and I think all of us are concerned about any of those types of plays. They’re bang, bang, flagrant fouls to anybody in the stands. Anybody can recognize that needed to be dealt with, but I think on the plays that are bang, bang, which many of those are, I’m just hoping the officials will use good judgment.
And I know they’ve talked about video replay being instituted, too, which I think would be really something that needs to be done. It’s concerning.
Q: Urban Meyer was in here getting grilled about the disciplinary issues. How do you look at that as the role of a head coach, what you need to do to try to stem that?
Ferentz: I don’t think coaching is a lot different than parenting. My wife and I have raised five children and you’re always a parent. So that never ends.
Coaching is the same way. Once the parents, families turn their young people over to you, first time they’re living independently, typically, away from home, and a whole different set of circumstances, choices to make.
I think all of us would probably agree the most important thing you can do is try to equip them to making good decisions, try to educate them in terms of some of the challenges that are going to be out there for them, some of the things that they’re going to have to contemplate and think about. And then obviously the landscape’s changed an awful lot, too, with social media. It’s a lot different than it was eight years ago, certainly 18 years ago. So all those things kind of magnify it.
But I think some of the issues, some of the temptations, some of the bad decisions all college students can make, it hasn’t changed an awful lot, but the communication with them has.
So as a result of that, athletes have to be very, very aware of it because athletes can’t just float unbeknownst to other people, just like coaches can’t. They’re in a very public eye.
It’s an ongoing challenge. But I do certainly think it’s a big part of our responsibility as coaches to try to educate and arm our players as best we possibly can to making good decisions.
And I think people were doing that 30 years ago.
It’s just the landscape’s changed a little bit.
Q: In recent years, you guys have had a lot of run of bad luck at the tailback position but seems like entering this, you feel pretty confident having at a lot of depth at this position, at least more in recent years. Explain how you feel about that.
Ferentz: I’m sorry I didn’t catch that. My ears must be bad.
Q: How do you feel about the tailback position entering this season having more depth?
Ferentz: I never feel too good about that position. But we’re certainly further ahead than we were last year. Last year at this time, quite frankly, we didn’t know if we had a Big Ten running back. And Damon Bullock, I think when he was playing, did an excellent job. I think he’s grown a lot in 12 months’ time, and we’re really excited to see how he performs this year.
Mark Weisman at this time last year, we thought he would be a pretty good fullback. And I’ll backtrack. Going into spring a year ago, we weren’t sure if he’d block or not. He proved that he could do that. And we kind of stumbled into him as a running back during the course of last year.
So with those two guys alone we feel a lot better about where we’re at. Both those players have improved since last fall.
Jordan Canzeri rejoins our team. He’s healthy, had a good spring. Got a couple of younger players on our roster. Excited to see how they perform in August and some incoming players, too. We’re excited.
All that being said, from experience, it’s hard to feel too good or too comfortable about any one position.
Q: A couple of coaches that you previously coached with who are now in the Southeastern Conference expressed concerns about the hurry-up offense and the potential for causing injuries. What are your thoughts about that, and is that a valid concern that they have?
Ferentz: I don’t have a lot of thoughts about it. And I haven’t really seen any statistical evidence to say it is leading to injuries. I don’t know if you can quantify that or not. I’m sure somebody’s working on it.
But needless to say, it’s changed the complexion of the game. And it’s become very, very popular. So as a result of that, you have to be prepared for that. And whatever your answers may be to slowing things down, either it’s rotating more personnel in defensively, somehow trying to slow the game down, the tempo of the game down.
Probably the best answer still is to get off the field in three downs. That’s always a good answer, no matter what your opponent runs offensively.
But I know it’s a talk item right now. I haven’t really given much thought to it.
Q: You went 0-8 in your first season at Iowa, and Tim Beckman went 0-8 in his first season at Illinois. Can you talk maybe not on that situation, but just the patience level or lack thereof, or is there less time to build programs now than there used to be?
Ferentz: To that question, yeah. The answer there is yes. I think there’s certainly less patience at all levels in football right now for anybody. And typically, if you’re 0-8, it’s going to require patience. You hope you have an administration that understands that process and understands what it is you’re trying to get accomplished and then allow you to go do the work you have to do.
I’ve always felt if you look at things over a five-week — or excuse me, a five-year window, at any point in a program’s tenure, establishment, gives you a little bit of a picture to what’s going on.
Typically it takes time to rebuild. To rebuild a good foundation, it does. If you’re 0-8 it’s probably what you’re doing. We’ve been there. We won two games in the conference last year and we’ve got a lot of work to do obviously, too.
Moderator: Thank you.
PENN STATE COACH BILL O’BRIEN
Moderator: We’re joined by Bill O’Brien.
O’Brien: Excited to be here.
This is my second Big Ten media day. It’s always a sign that obviously the season is right around the corner.
And brought three players with us here for these two days. John Urschel is an offensive lineman for us. Malcolm Willis, safety for us. And Glenn Carson, middle linebacker for us. It’s great to be with them.
It’s good to see the other coaches in the league. I have a lot of respect for all the coaches in this league.
We have some really good coaches, and it’s great to meet with them. We had a good meeting with Jim Delany, Commissioner Delany, this morning, and that’s always — it’s always good to reconnect with the coaches here.
Really excited about the season. We have a group of kids that have worked extremely hard in the offseason to try to improve their individual skill set and now we have to go out and have a productive training camp, but it’s a great group of guys to work with.
Our staff is really excited about it, and I believe our first practice will be August 5th. So it’s right around the bend and can’t wait. So I guess I’ll open it up to questions.
Q: What about the prospects of starting a true freshman at quarterback in Hackenberg? Would that be really unusual?
O’Brien: I don’t think it’s unusual. We have two quarterbacks at Penn State this year that will compete for the starting job — Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenburg.
Obviously we haven’t had a chance to work with Christian yet — not allowed to work with the guys in the summertime — and he just arrived here for our summer program. And Tyler, we worked with in the spring and he improved every day You know, one thing that’s really exciting about working with young quarterbacks is that you get a chance to really mold that quarterback. You get a chance to really teach that quarterback. And Charlie Fisher and I are going to do that and work hard at teaching our quarterbacks how to play in our offense and managing a game and play smart, tough Penn State football. We are excited about that.
We are going to have to make a decision at some point during training camp to allow the starter to get enough reps to be ready for the Syracuse game. It sure is exciting for us, a challenge for us and we are looking forward to it.
Q: Coach, now that you’ve had the job for over a year, do you feel that the challenges that have arisen because of the sanctions imposed, are those challenges what you expected?
O’Brien: When you go into a job like this, you always have to expect the unexpected, regardless of what has happened in the last year.
Really, I’m here to talk about the 2013 team. You know, a lot of the things that we talked about last year, when I was here, it’s water under the bridge. We’re in a situation at Penn State right now that is unprecedented, sure. But at the same time I’ve said this over and over again, our staff, myself, we’re thankful for our players.
Our players are tough. They’re resilient.
They’re good kids. They’re hardworking. They go to class, and we’re looking forward to working with those guys. The rules are what they are. And that’s what we play under. And that’s what we’re going to do. So we’re excited about the season, and again just really want to concentrate on the 2013 season.
Q: Ideally, when would you like to decide on who the starting quarterback will be?
O’Brien: I think you have to make a decision about halfway through training camp, I really do. I think in order to give that guy, whoever that guy will be, Tyler or Christian, in order to give him enough time to prepare for an excellent Syracuse team that throws a lot at you defensively, you have to give them a couple of weeks to get ready for the first game at the very least, especially a young quarterback.
Probably halfway through, we’ll have enough evaluation of our practice film and all the different things that go into being the starting quarterback at Penn State, not only on the practice field but in the meeting room, and we’ll make a good decision. We’ll do what’s best for the football team.
Again, it’s an exciting time for us. We look at the fact that we have a chance to work with two really talented young quarterbacks. So it’s an exciting time for us at Penn State and one we’re looking forward to when training camp starts.
Q: How do you see the loss of Brad Bars affecting your defense? And has he or will he apply for a medical redshirt?
O’Brien: First of all, one thing that we’ve instilled in our players I believe over the last 19, 20 months that I’ve been on the job is the phrase: Next man up. We knew when Brad went down there was guys that were in that defensive line room now had to move up because they potentially move up the depth chart. So we’ve learned that phrase at Penn State. So there’s some guys there that need to step up.
Now, as far as Brad Bars is concerned, I was really — I felt bad for him, because here’s a guy that probably hasn’t been talked about enough. He’s a fantastic student. He’s a tough football player. He was not only a defensive end, a candidate for starting job for us at that position, but he was also a really good core special teams player. So next man up on special teams, too.
And more than likely, I don’t want to speak for Brad, but I believe that he will come back for a fifth year and rehab the Achilles and he’ll be back next year.
So I would want a guy like that back because I believe he’s a core type of guy. He’s a Penn State guy. He’s again just like John Urschel and a lot of the other guys on our football team, he’s what a student-athlete really means.
Q: A related question regarding depth.
How concerned are you with depth both along the defensive line and at linebacker?
O’Brien: Well, again, we’re going to have to go into training camp and see how much some of our younger players have improved at those positions. Remember, if you look at linebacker in the spring, we didn’t have Ben Kline in the spring. He was out with a shoulder operation. He’ll be back for training camp. We’re looking forward to seeing him.
He stopped by the office the other day.
He’s had an excellent summer, looks in great shape, and he’s ready to go. So we get him back.
Gary Wooten, another guy that we felt was improving during the spring, can he add depth there.
Again, we’ve got to look at all the different players we have on defense as it relates to the linebacker position, what can a guy like Adrian Amos do? Can he play safety? Can he play corner? Can he play linebacker? Stephen Obeng, can he come down and play some linebacker for us.
I think our staff — I know our staff led by John Butler has done a really good job of really looking at that and being prepared for all the different scenarios. Defensive line-wise certainly Brad Bars not being there, again, gives us a little bit of a problem there depth-wise, but a guy like Evan Schwan, does he step up now, a younger player that maybe hasn’t — obviously he redshirted last year, we don’t know a lot about him as a player right now. He’s a great kid. He’s had a really good, hardworking summer. Is that a candidate to step up and take a Brad Bars type of spot there.
Are we concerned? I don’t think we use the word “concerned” too much in our program.
We just look for different ways to be able to relate to the different scenarios that may occur.
Q: When you take the field against Syracuse, Scott Shafer is going to be coaching his first game. What challenges do you remember from your first game last year and in what ways can that give you competitive advantage going up against the first-time head coach?
O’Brien: I don’t know. I don’t think too much is said about that. I think that Scott Shafer’s an excellent coach. Watching them last year, how they played on defense, I think they’re going to have a very good defensive football team back. And then again, watching them on offense, they’re going to have a really good offensive football team back.
First-year head coaches, first games, all those different things, everybody’s different as to how they handle it. Obviously, if you look at my own situation last year, I certainly could have done a much better job on opening day than I did last year.
So, again, Coach Shafer is a great coach, and he’s going to do a fantastic job at Syracuse.
Q: A year ago you came in without experience and there were all the sanctions talk, all that kind of stuff. Just how different is the feeling today compared to a year ago at this time for you?
O’Brien: Well, it’s certainly different. I mean, last year I think we arrived here the day after obviously the penalties being announced, so I think we’re in a better mood this year.
But obviously you’re a lot more comfortable with your position as a head football coach after having — it’s only been a year, but you’re more comfortable with the players, with the staff, knowing each other, the chemistry, all those different things that go into it.
Again, does that lead to victories? Who knows. We’re going to have to go out there and play extremely hard.
It’s a very difficult schedule, non-league schedule to start the season, and then obviously a very Big Ten schedule.
We really enjoy coaching our players. We have a lot of good players, tough players, hardworking guys, and we’re just really excited about the season.
Q: You said Tyler Ferguson will obviously compete for the starting job. He’s not on campus right now, obviously. So what kind of setback is that, him not being a part of the summer workouts? And has he told you yet when he expects to be back on campus?
O’Brien: He’ll be back.
Summer’s voluntary. Right? The last time I read the NCAA rule book, summer’s voluntary. He’s not there. He’s at home. He’s got some personal things that he’s dealing with at home. To me, again, he’ll come in. He’ll be here for training camp.
What time, what day, all those things, I mean, I don’t know. I am sure he’ll be in the first team meeting and he’ll be ready to compete with Christian for that job.
Q: Have you seen anything different out of Glenn Carson in this past offseason considering that he’s a senior leader of those linebackers now that (Mike) Mauti and (Gerald) Hodges have gone their ways?
O’Brien: Glenn is certainly a guy you would describe as high-character guy, very intense, heart and soul type of guy. Glenn’s not a real rah-rah guy. Glenn is very serious about his position as the middle linebacker at Penn State. He understands the tradition of linebackers at Penn State and obviously linebacker U.
So he understands that. He was a leader last year. He’s a leader right now, and we’re looking forward to him having a really good year for us. He, again, is another guy that you would say as it relates to Penn State, he’s what being a Penn State football player is all about. He’s a good student. He’s a tough kid. New Jersey High School state champion wrestler.
He means a lot to our football team, and we’re certainly glad he’s on our team.
Q: Do you anticipate Kyle Carter and Zach Zwinak to do everything in training camp this year?
O’Brien: As far as health? Yes, I do, I anticipate both guys will be back for training camp, Kyle Carter obviously injured his wrist against Nebraska, so he’s had a little bit more time to heal. Zach did his in the blue/white game, so he hasn’t had as much time. So you’d probably say Kyle a little bit ahead of Zach in that department.
But both guys will be ready during training camp, Kyle right at the beginning, and Zach will participate, but he may not be full contact right away.
Moderator: Thank you very much.
MINNESOTA COACH JERRY KILL
Moderator: We’re joined by Jerry Kill.
Coach Kill: We’re really, really excited at the University of Minnesota and the direction that we’re going. It’s a great time for us. I think it all started back when we got the opportunity to go to the Bowl game and play Texas Tech, and we had a great experience there and spent a lot of good time with our student-athletes. And our kids handled their selves well.
And we came up a little short in the game but we played more like we want to play at the University of Minnesota, very physical and hard-nosed football and probably the first time we’ve been healthy all year.
And I think the kids took the momentum out of the Bowl game, took it on to the off-season, did an outstanding job in the off-season getting bigger, stronger, and faster. And went into spring ball, felt like we had our best spring ball.
We had the largest crowd at our spring scrimmage since Coach Holtz was there. So enthusiasm is great.
And I just think that our kids have come together over the two years.
And we’ve kind of, as a coaching staff, our coaching staff’s been together for a long time. I think we’re the longest tenured coaching staff in the country.
Our academic people, our strength program, we’ve all stayed there over the last two years. That’s part of the building blocks or the foundation of our program.
So we’re excited about the direction. Our administration has done a great job. We just presented to the Board of Regents a project that’s $190 million to improve our facilities, and we’re moving forward on that. And that’s a tremendous thing for our football program.
So the commitment and the direction we’re headed at the University of Minnesota is good and we’re excited about this season. And I’m looking forward to seeing this team. Each year, each team’s different, and this team’s approach certainly is different than the past two years.
We got better a year ago, and I look forward to seeing us get better this year. So with that, any questions?
Q: You look around this conference, a lot of teams have uncertainty at quarterback.
Can you just talk about how much you think it will help that Philip Nelson had about half a year last year? I know you’re still young at quarterback overall, but how much will that help him?
Coach Kill: I think we pulled the redshirt off of Philip in the middle of the year. And he certainly played valuable time for us in the last six ball games and did very well. And it was a great growing process for him.
I think it leads us in to this season where we’re not trying to break somebody in. Matt Leidner, a young man that we also recruited, is a tremendous athlete.
And I kind of compare our quarterback situation a little bit to what we had at Northern Illinois when I took over that program with Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch, and I feel like we’re kinda in that area. And also with a young man named Chris Streveler from this area.
So we feel good about our quarterback situation and we feel like that’s going to be a strength down the road here.
Q: Coach, could you just — more importantly than football, how is your health?
Coach Kill: I’m doing great. I appreciate you asking. Things are going great for me. And I’ve got a great doctor that is a specialist in epilepsy. And I’ve been doing great, looking forward to the season, and I feel like — I may not look like it, but I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life, so I’m looking forward to the season.
Q: NCAA is under fire about a lawsuit, obviously the Ed O’bannon lawsuit. Now current players are joining, including two from your team. Have you had any interaction with your players about that? Is that something you’re going to stay away from? How do you handle that?
Coach Kill: I’ve had a little bit of interaction. I’m not — I get locked in my own little world, and I don’t understand all the things that are going on with that case. And right now it’s an NCAA issue. And I think each — we live in a country where everybody’s got their rights and so forth. So I think just let the process run its course.
And we’ve got a lot of things, a lot of discussions in college football right now about a lot of issues. But that’s one of them. And it’s an NCAA issue, and that’s how we’re approaching it.
Q: I know it’s not this year, but starting next year, I think for the next three seasons, you guys end the season playing Wisconsin. I know how much that rivalry means to you.
Just talk about what it would be like to finish the season playing such a long-time rival with Wisconsin.
Coach Kill: I think the great thing about our rivalry with Wisconsin is its history. And that’s what football’s all about. And certainly at the end of the year, it’s a tremendous game for both schools and it’s an exciting time.
The great thing about the Big Ten is all the rivalry games that we have, and we play a lot of Bowl games within our system, so to speak. So it will be exciting time. And what I’m excited about, I think our football team’s getting better. That always makes rivalries a lot more important. So that’s where we’re at with that.
Q: Donnell Kirkwood is here. And just wondering what distinguishes him as a running back and how does that mean to you guys to see him emerge last year?
Coach Kill: I think if you go back through the history of not only where I’ve coached before but even with the Minnesota Gophers is that we’ve always had great running backs. And Donnell has certainly emerged with Roderick Williams and big strong physical backs, and that’s kind of who we are. And that’s who we want to be.
So he’s done a great job not only on the field but he’s done a great job with leadership with our younger players and has been a part of a group of kids that have really changed the culture and the character in our program.
So I’m very pleased with his efforts and I expect a great year out of Donnell.
Q: I see you have a very interesting out-of-conference schedule this year. You play three West Coast teams. Just wonder how your kids felt about playing games like that this year. And what are your future out-of-conference plans as far as scheduling goes? How do your kids feel about playing interesting games like that? They’re pretty out of the ordinary.
Coach Kill: I think if you look at our schedule over the next couple of years, our schedule is very difficult. But we really, as a program right now, where we’re at, every game’s important to us. We try to get better every day, every week, and we’re moving forward with our program. So I think with us right now, schedules and nine games and ten games and out-of-season scheduling is we’re going to play who is put in front of us. That’s pretty much the way it is.
I’m more worried about our football program and our football team just getting better and playing well and the rest will take care of itself.
Q: Could you talk about Zac Epping and what he’s brought to the table, kind of coalescing the offensive line and what the unit might look like this year?
Coach Kill: Talking about Zac Epping.
Zac’s a young man that, as I look through my coaching career and the successes we’ve had as a coaching staff, we’ve had offensive linemen like Zac. And Zac is a hard-nosed, tough, physical young man, brings intensity every day. I used to talk about he’s kind of what I am, a hard-hat lunch pail type of guy that’s going to come to work every day. And really when I talk about the foundation of our program, it’s kids like that. And that’s who we want to be.
And that’s why I’m so excited about our season coming up is that I think we’re a very young team. We’ll probably start maybe one or two seniors on offense, maybe three on defense. But it’s a team that I don’t think they know a whole lot better. And they’ve worked very hard and we’ve got a lot of kids like Zac Epping that are very similar.
So we’re looking forward to that. And I think that will help us get where we want to go.
Q: I had a question about the facilities at the University of Minnesota. You have a tremendous stadium. We’ve seen pictures of your locker room there. But how would the practice facilities enhance what you’re trying to do with the University of Minnesota’s football program?
Coach Kill: I think the biggest thing in where we’re at, you know, and where our program wants to go, there’s gotta be a commitment at the top, and we certainly have that with President Kaler and our administration, and we just don’t want to be average. We want to be the best and as good as we can be.
And right now we’ve got a beautiful stadium, a great place to play on Saturdays. But we have to improve our practice facilities, strength training, and academic facilities. And we’re doing some great things academically; we’re just kind of running out of space.
So this is a critical project for us. And I commend Norwood (Athletic Director Norwood Teague) and his team and our president moving it forward. And we’re going to — our plan’s to have one of the best indoor facilities all college football, and we don’t want to do it halfway.
We’re excited about it. It’s great to be moving forward and it certainly helps you in the recruiting process and where we want to go with the football program at the University of Minnesota.
Q: What was your take on yesterday’s scuttlebutt that the Jadeveon Clowney hit might have been illegal he might have been ejected if that were under the new targeting rule?
Coach Kill: I think the biggest thing, and I think all the coaches and — I just recently spoke at the State of Alabama. I had a tape of fundamentals and teaching fundamentals. And I think when you have things happen in college football and you have concussions and things of that nature, there’s a huge amount of awareness to make sure we teach the fundamentals.
We’re all into the safety of the kids and football. We have a great game. It’s a game that’s physical. We all as coaches have to take our responsibility to make sure that we’re teaching the proper fundamentals.
Sometimes things happen. That’s part of life and part of anything. But anything we can do to teach it and do a better job for safety is important, because the bottom line is we’re in this great profession because of the kids. We want to take care of the players and kids. That’s our job as coaches at all times. So that would be my reaction is we’ve just got to make sure we take care of the kids.
I think college football and all the people around it are doing everything they can. And so I compliment everybody for doing that.
Moderator: Thank you.
OHIO STATE COACH URBAN MEYER
Moderator: We’re joined by Urban Meyer.
Coach Meyer: Thank you very much.
It’s been a great year. Tough couple of days. But I’m going to focus on the positives, positives created by tremendous momentum from last year’s team to an excellent recruiting class, positive spring practice, and one of the best academic performances in recent history at Ohio State.
A strong APR and a good bunch of guys that are for the majority doing the right things, getting themselves ready for the 13th season.
The leadership was probably the biggest — I spoke about this quite often about last year’s outfit — it was something I didn’t anticipate and I underestimated that throughout adversity that we experienced throughout the year, two overtime wins, two overtime games, some injuries where we had to move some position guys, and the leadership was incredible. One of the most refreshing years I’ve been around or groups I’ve been around.
This year’s team has high expectations, riding off the coattails of what those kids did last year, and it’s very simple that if we get tremendous leadership from our coaching staff, but most importantly our players, then we’ll have a success — I feel strongly about this group having a successful season.
On offense, we return a bunch of experienced, including one of the best quarterbacks in America, Braxton Miller. Has really grown as a quarterback, has grown as a leader. Very humble young man that I have a lot of respect for.
It would be disappointing if our offensive line isn’t one of the best in the Big Ten. I think there’s some very good offensive lines in the Big Ten, and Ohio State should be right near the top with those other great lines.
Receiver is probably the one area we were weakest at last year, and I think this year, with the injection of some speed in the recruiting class and also development of the guys we have, that I’m really counting on them to become one of the strengths of our offense.
The two guys that really developed throughout the year last year, two very good tight ends in (Jeff) Heuerman and (Nick) Vannett, and we’ve not traditionally been known as a two tight end offense. However, with these two talented players, you’re going to see some 12 personnel, which they’re two guys we have to find a way to get them on the field at the same time.
We have depth at tailback, and offensively I feel very strong about where we could be if we have a solid training camp. Defense is where the issues are. We lost our entire front seven. I believe we recruited well. Mike Vrabel (Defensive Line Coach) has done a very good job developing a little bit of an esprit de corps with our defensive line, our linebackers, excuse me, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are two guys that if they continue to develop will become Big Ten candidate players as they continue in their journey and their career.
Inside you have Mike Bennett and Joel Hale, our two guys that have talent and have really come on, and we’ll try to get a little bit of rotation in there, which you need to have if you have a quality defensive line.
Linebacker Curtis Grant has taken over.
Had an excellent spring. A little bit disappointing last year, but he’s become a leader like you need your mike linebacker to be and has performed really well in spring practice.
Ryan Shazier was very average as we started the season and became one of the best linebackers in the country a year ago as the season concluded. So very positive about that.
We don’t have much depth, and we’ll have to count on some freshmen to provide some instant depth at that spot. Josh Perry is a sam linebacker, and then also a nickel, it’s really the same position, will be Tyvis Powell. And those guys are inexperienced but very talented and right on target, and I think we’ll have one of the better secondaries as well in the Big Ten.
So anxious to get going. Training camp is close, and I think everybody in Columbus, Ohio, and Ohio State is anxious to see what the ‘13 Buckeyes have in order.
I’ll certainly answer any questions.
Q: Braxton Miller said earlier today that you guys got some good news concerning Carlos Hyde. How confident are you that he’ll return to the team?
Coach Meyer: I didn’t receive the good news. I guess I’m not a big social media guy. We just have to evaluate the facts. And once I evaluate the facts, then we’ll make some decisions.
Q: Last year obviously with the sanctions, you knew you couldn’t play for a championship. How different is it this year knowing that all opportunities are available for you guys?
Coach Meyer: Well, I think last year I had a whole — I spent all summer worrying about how to approach that if that happened, where there were questions why no Bowl game, why no championship.
If you have a good group of leaders, that never comes up. You’re going to go try to play the game and try to win the game.
So I’m hoping we’re taking the same approach. There’s been zero conversation about anything other than competing for a championship in November, which we were able to do last year.
We were able to compete for the Leaders Division championship a year ago. That’s the only conversation we have. We try to make training camp so focused and really difficult that the focus is on getting to the next day. If you do that, then that’s really all you can worry about. We’re certainly not worried about November, December anything past that.
Q: What was the process where Ohio State did end up either turning in Florida or alleging there was some illegal contact? Who was involved with that? How did it shake down?
Coach Meyer: Yeah, I found that out after the fact that our compliance office received or forwarded an article. From what I understand after the fact that the article was not the only one that was sent.
It was about some conversation with a bump or something like that. I’m not sure how that all became a major story. There was certainly no intent to go after Florida. So that’s all I can tell you.
Q: Urban, like you said, the past couple of days have been kind of tough on you. I got a text message today from a player of yours that used to play with you at Florida, talked about the leadership and stuff you had for him and stuff. Obviously at Ohio State you have the sign on the wall talking about doing things the right way. You talk to these players about it all the time. Were the last couple of days extremely disappointing the way some of the things turned out? Just talk about how you worked to rectify that a little bit.
Coach Meyer: It was very tough. In the last 12 months we’ve had three legal issues, and it all happened in three days, I think, three or four days.
And we had two freshmen that have been with us I think just over three weeks make two stupid decisions that were dealt with very firmly.
One’s been sent home. One lost his scholarship.
And one of them was a 17-year-old using a fake ID.
And it drives you insane that you have to deal with that nonsense. But that’s part of the issue. We had an upperclassman that I’m still receiving information about.
My concern is just I don’t want to disrupt this team. And I talk to them all the time about it.
We have an incredible amount of resources and time spent educating players how to do the right thing at the right time. And when a mistake happens or something happened, you have to react and get it done.
So I’m disappointed. I think furious might be the word that would best describe when I first got the phone call, because, like I said, for 12 months it’s been really, really good.
And I don’t want a disruption for this team.
The guys work too hard. To have a couple of knuckleheads make some decisions that reflect the entire program, that’s not — I guess it’s part of the deal. It’s something that bothers me, bothers our staff, and we work very hard to avoid with our players.
Q: Two-part question for you. Can you talk about the conversation you had with Barry Alvarez when he called you to ask about Gary Andersen, and can you talk a little bit about the relationship that you and Gary have built over several years?
Coach Meyer: Gary Andersen — first of all, I have great respect for Coach Alvarez, have for many, many years, and I was honored when he asked me for my opinion.
And Gary Andersen as a head coach, I think it’s now the 12th year — made some very, very important hires in my career, and some guys have gone on to be very successful head coaches.
I think we’ve had 11 guys that have been on our coaching staff since, what was it, 2001. But Gary I would put in one of the top two, three hires I’ve ever made, the recommendation of Utah’s head coach, Kyle Whittingham. He made a direct impact on our program, and I couldn’t be more proud of who he is as a person. And I think he’s at the right place, a great school with a great athletic director, and really proud of Gary Andersen.
Q: Is there anything more that you or your coaching staff could have done to prevent the issues you have had recently with the team and ultimately how much responsibility do you think is fair to be placed on a head coach when players do run afoul of things?
Coach Meyer: I think you always can do more. I mean, that’s something you wake up every day with. Obviously when you’re dealing with two freshmen, they have had the opportunity to go through a lot of the education, a lot of the things that we expect, our coaches.
The one difficult thing: When freshmen show up, coaches usually leave for vacation. And that’s tough. And that’s something I’m going to reevaluate, whether I keep some coaches back and try to break that up a little bit. I really thought about that, because that was really disappointing.
Two young people that I really don’t even know yet do stupid things like that and cause for me to be discussing those two freshmen right here, that’s not right. For an upperclassman, very extremely disappointed in the third situation we’re dealing with. And it will be dealt with in a very serious manner.
But, once again, I’m getting all these different conflicting stories. I just have to wait to get the facts and react. But disruption is the biggest thing that bothers me.
You asked the question about the responsibility of a head coach. I think there was the head coach needs a set of standard, needs to direct, guide, mentor, push and direct these guys.
Ultimately, though, every young person — every person, not young person, every person is ultimately held accountable for their decisions they make.
So we just gotta continue to — I’m continuing to evaluate all the things we do. That seems to be a big topic, and I’m looking — I watch very closely when I — I have a guy that watches if a certain situation takes place across the country. I want to make sure our punishment is as hard or harder than any discipline that’s out there.
That’s maybe where I’ve changed over the years. Even as a first-time offense from a freshman, I want to make sure we’re setting the tone.
Q: Prior to being hired at Ohio State, did they discuss with you the off-the-field issues from your players in Florida?
Coach Meyer: We did. We discussed them and what was our plan, what’s our style of discipline, what are we trying to get done, and had good conversation about it.
Q: You are not — as you just mentioned, you’re not the only coach dealing with players who get in trouble. You seem to take by far the most criticism, though, of any coach in the country involving disciplinary issues. Do you have any ideas as to why that is and does it bother you, the criticism from media, fans, over this issue?
Coach Meyer: I’m a human so it does.
I don’t read. I don’t really get involved with following stuff, because I think people need to get facts before they start just making accusations and those type of things. I’m human and I think that is something that I’m constantly evaluating and making sure we are doing the right thing.
But in the end you’ve got to feel in your heart we’re doing the right thing; that we’re in the people business and we have to do what’s right by those people.
There’s never been one time that I thought that we did wrong by that person. Now, sometimes I sit back and evaluate that we give too many second chances. That seems to be a big key, and that’s something I’m going to continue to evaluate.
I treat those players like they’re my own children.
We have high expectations for them. If one of your children has an issue, that you try to educate, correct, discipline, and push them in the right direction as hard as you possibly can. When I see some of the situations where some of these players are from, for me to walk away from that player has always been very, very difficult to do.
That’s where we’re at.
Q: It was reported that you sent a text message saying the criticism of you or your assistant coaches at Florida regarding Aaron Hernandez was wrong and irresponsible. If you could, for that particular situation regarding Hernandez, why do you think that criticism is wrong and irresponsible?
Coach Meyer: I’m going to let you guys figure out if it’s wrong or right. I can’t put what’s in your heart or in your mind. The only reason I sent that text, I was getting ready to leave for vacation.
There was inaccurate information being sent out throughout the — some people sent me text messages about just inaccurate information.
So that’s the only reason I sent that out, and I sent it to a couple of people I know and said this is — and I’m not sure I’m allowed to say what the actual truth was because there’s investigations going on.
But that was four years ago a player played for us. Our staff did, as they do with all players — I’ve had incredible coaches, incredible players. And I think the focus a lot of times when it gets taken away from those great players who are great people and great coaches on my staff, it just bothers you a little bit. But you have to move on, and we certainly have.
Q: When it comes to off-the-field issues and player discipline, how do you view your own reputation?
Coach Meyer: How do I view my own reputation? I don’t view my own reputation. I guess a reputation is what others think of you. I worry more about our team, about our players. I’m 49 years old. I’ve been doing this for a long time.
So I’m really good — it doesn’t mean — I ask our players to self-evaluate. We had a big study about it this year.
When I started going through my mind starting to do some research on my own, every three recruits across the country that come down the aisle of your team meeting room, one gets maximized, one either usually disappears or doesn’t make it, and then one’s very average.
So I had our players self-evaluate, and our coaching staff is on a mission through things like job fairs and Real Life Wednesdays and other leadership workshops to make sure that with all the powerful and resource — all the powerful people and resources at universities, that these kids should be getting as much education, as much direction as possible.
So I know that’s a long answer, but I’m not — I can’t control — I think I tried to do that once; it didn’t work out very well. So I’m not going to control what people think about myself or our program.
Q: You’ve talked repeatedly about the importance of the strong leadership that you have with last year’s team. Who are some of the specific players that you’re looking for to step up and fill some of those gaps from last year?
Coach Meyer: That’s going to be the difference. The older I get and the better teams I’ve been around over this last decade of football.
The one comment it wasn’t the style of offense, it wasn’t the style of defense, it wasn’t the height, weight, size, how high you jump, how fast you run, it’s the leadership within the program.
The ‘06 team with a guy like Brandon Siler who is one of the best leaders I’ve been around, and you go right through the teams in the last years. And so I’m counting — our quarterback has to become that great leader. I think he was pretty good. I think he was okay the last year by the time the season started winding down. But our offensive line is, without question, the heart and soul of our team.
Jack Mewhort, (Andrew) Norwell, (Marcus) Hall and Corey Linsley and those guys are strong leaders, they’re the voice, they’re the face of our program, which is if you’re going to start somewhere, it’s gotta be a quarterback on your offensive line.
Where it has to improve is on defense, where you lost (John) Simon and (Zach) Boren and Curtis Grant and Shazier. You have to have a strong — we have to be strong down the middle.
Our two safeties will be tremendous leaders for us, Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett.
We spent a lot of time this last — I think it’s been about nine, ten weeks we’ve had leadership class for 19 players on our team, and we’ve had an outside group come in and work with us, our strength coach and myself. Has been one of the most profound experiences I’ve been around as far as teaching these guys a systematic approach to teaching leadership, which we’ve always tried to teach it. It’s never been this systematic.
Moderator: Thank you.
MICHIGAN STATE COACH MARK DANTONIO
Moderator: Joined by Mark Dantonio.
Dantonio: Great to be here again. This is our seventh year here as a staff, I guess I would say. I always consider our staff as one. But 2012 was the year I think of the inches that we didn’t come up with and the year sort of resolved.
We’re excited about 2013 coming, and look forward to it. We sort of feel like — sort of feel like our football team has a little bit of an edge to them right now. We’ve got a lot of experience back. We brought Blake Treadwell with us, really a four-year starter for us, offensive guard for us. We brought Max Bullough and Darqueze Dennard with us, so they’ll be exciting to talk with as well.
Six straight bowl games for us. The last two we were able to win. There is a feeling, I think, among our football team of a foundation has been laid but we’re still chasing a dream right now.
So as we move forward, we’re looking forward to our first football game against Western (Michigan), and I’ll take some questions at this time.
Q: Mark, could you talk about James Kittredge and his weight gain and recovering Brandon Clemons and then Jack Conklin coming out of the spring. Several defensive players said they thought he was the number one offensive tackle, and he’s third on the charts.
Dantonio: Beginning with Brandon Clemons, healthy to go, ready to go.
James Kittredge, I don’t really want to talk too much about our injuries as such, but he’ll be set to go. He’ll be coming to camp lingering a little bit, but he’ll be fine, get his weight back as we move forward.
But Conklin, I think Jack is an outstanding young player for us. He’s a young man that we actually brought in last year as a recruited walk-on and put on scholarship in January. And he’s 220 pounds, 6’6”, runs it very well. That’s what really attracted us to him. He was probably put on about 30 pounds or so since he’s been there, good solid weight, and I think he’s going to have a tremendous career at Michigan State.
How he plays this year is going to be dependent on a lot of people because we’ve got a lot of experience back at that position, offensive line in general, and so the competition should be stiff.
Q: It’s been publicized that (Connor) Cook recently has been working with a quarterback guru. Could you talk about that and how the quarterback battle will play out in fall camp.
Dantonio: Our quarterback position, first of all, is much stronger than it was last year. Last year we really had a couple of young players. We had a true freshman coming in, Tyler O’Connor, redshirt freshman. He’s had a lot of reps in spring. We had Connor Cook coming in at that particular time with one year under his belt.
Now he has experience. We had Andrew Maxwell as our starter, but he had limited experience. Now he has 13 games of starting experience. Damion Terry comes in as a true freshman. Outstanding athlete and big body, 230-pound guy.
And a lot of these guys, they all go about 220 and about 6’3”. What they do collectively in August will really determine as we move forward.
Right now Andrew is our number one quarterback. He’s got a great deal of experience and a lot of confidence right now. With that said, Connor Cook has played as everybody knows, and I think that’s a big positive for us.
As far as Connor working out, I think the question was as far as he’s working out with some people this summer, he took a week and went out and did some things, much like a lot of our players have done in the past, spending a week with a specific quarterback coach or group of punters or those type of things.
So he’s excited about where he’s at as well and his confidence is very high. So we’re looking forward to the competition.
Q: Over the past few years in the recruiting trail, you’ve gone into the state of Wisconsin a little more. Could you talk about why Wisconsin, considering the rest of the Big Ten footprint and a lot more players in Ohio and Michigan and everything like that?
Dantonio: Wisconsin is relatively close to Michigan when you look at it on a map. I know the Great Lakes are right there.
But Brad Salem, our recruiting coordinator, the coach that recruits up there, has done an outstanding job. He’s got ties up there. Good football.
We think we found a little bit of a niche.
Trae Waynes will be a outstanding player for us, probably a four-year starter or three-year starter these next three years. Tremendous athlete. And we’ve won some on some players up there. We’ve got some other guys, like Mark Scarpinato, R.J.
Shelton is a guy who has come down So we’ve got some guys that I think are going to make a mark on our football team and we’re going to continue recruiting the Midwest as a level-one recruiting area for us that’s relatively close for us, and if you take the ferry you’re 60 miles away, so we’re good to go.
Q: Why did you decide to bring Jim Bollman onto your staff? What does he bring do you think to the table? Number two, as you look forward into the future, how much of your scheduling is going to be sort of predicated on trying to be in the mix for the Final Four, so to speak, as the playoff situation changes?
Dantonio: With Coach Bollman this is the fourth time he’s been on a staff where I’ve been: Youngstown State for five years; at Michigan State, when I first went there the first time around with Nick Saban; down to Ohio State with Coach Tressel; and now back up here.
So he brings a tremendous feeling of security, I guess, in terms of knowing him as a person, knowing his credibility and his character, first of all, and then also knowing what he knows as a football coach. He’s been an offensive coordinator at the highest level.
He’s coached tight ends in the NFL. I think he’s a guy that brings new ideas and a new dimension. We needed a guy to offset with Coach (Dan) Roushar leaving, leaving as an offensive line, tight end guy. We wanted to bring the same type of position coach in, and all of those things, and then just the credibility really as a person I think is so important.
So he’s been like a brother to me throughout my coaching career. And I trust him explicitly to do the very best he can and I trust him with players in terms of how he treats players and what he gets out of the players. So a lot of experience there.
As far as our scheduling I don’t think there’s any question that as the years progress things are going to start to get more and more complicated, I guess, in the scheme of things as far as the college football playoffs and all the different things that are going on in college football right now.
As far as scheduling, I think we’ll play nine games. We’ll always have a big opponent out of conference to play versus our schedule is going to be strong. And it will always be our hope to chase the dream as I said, to go to the Rose Bowl, to become a champion at the highest level, to get into the championship format.
And while we were close last year, we lost some games to some great football teams by very narrow margins. The two previous years, though, if you look at those two years, we’re right where we needed to be to be in a format like that to be able to be realistically playing in a game in a championship venue.
Q: Have you finalized how you’ll use Jarius Jones and his talents?
Dantonio: Jarius is a guy that can play outside backer for us. He had a great spring. If you look and you always point, I think, to your football team you ask yourself who is the guy that’s really popped out and really had an impressive spring, I think Jarius Jones is one of those guys, especially on defense, weighing 216, 220 pounds or so. He’s got the ability to go back and play safety. He’s got a lot of experience back there, both safety positions.
He can play what I call the star position, the outside backer, a will linebacker, and he’s made a lot of plays for us.
So he sort of figures right in there with — he or Taiwan Jones playing that other linebacker position. We’ll see how it shapes out in August.
But as I said earlier, we have competition on this football team. We’ve got a lot of guys back with experience, too many to talk about really. The defensive side of the ball is loaded with seven starters, back with a lot of players ready to make their mark.
Our offensive side of the ball, a lot of players back, a lot of experience back at wide receiver. We don’t lose a quarterback really. We don’t lose a wide receiver. We did lose a running back and outstanding tight end. But everybody’s losing somebody. So we’ve gotta just pick up the pieces there and get after it, with those guys playing.
Q: I see Skyler Burkland is number two in the depth chart at right tackle. How is he? Is he going to stick it out? And is he the reason France has moved back to left tackle and Fo to right tackle?
Dantonio: I couldn’t hear. Which guy are you talking about?
Q: Skyler Burkland.
Dantonio: Right now Skyler is a guy a little up in the air. We’ll talk about him probably next week, see how all this falls out. He’s been a guy who has been a starter for us, but he’s battled some injuries.
Q: Does this year have a slogan or mantra like P4RB, Prepare for Rose Bowl, and what would that be?
Dantonio: This year’s mantra?
Moderator: Thank you.
MICHIGAN COACH BRADY HOKE
Moderator: We’re joined by Brady Hoke.
Hoke: First off, I know we’re all excited that you’re all here and you took the opportunity to travel up here and it’s really an honor and a privilege to represent the University of Michigan and the team.
We’ve got 12 days until fall camp, look forward to it. We’ve had some good things throughout the summer and since we got back from the game with South Carolina a year ago.
Not a year ago, but in January.
We’re a young team. We’ve got to replace some guys who have been very important to Michigan football. But with that youth comes a lot of competition, and that competition is always good.
And the expectations, though, never change. And that’s to win Big Ten championships.
A year ago we were eight and five, and that’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable at Michigan.
It’s unacceptable for us.
And in those five losses, we had 18 turnovers. So it tells you a little something that we need to be a little more diligent in taking care of the football. We need to be a little more diligent in making better decisions. And those are things that we’ve talked about and we’ve had through spring ball, had a good spring.
I like our football team. I usually don’t say that. I said it after the spring. I will continue to say it because I like how they’ve handled themselves on the field and off the field so far this summer. I like their work ethic, and I like how they’ve represented Michigan in a lot of ways.
Me liking them doesn’t guarantee us anything, because we have a lot of work ahead of us still. And at the same time we’ve gotta do a job as coaches to make sure that we are doing everything capable to help our kids perform at a high level.
We’re excited about the season, the challenges that lay ahead. Questions now?
Q. Devin Gardner took over for you in the season last year when Denard was injured and it’s always been Denard’s team since Devin was there. How have you seen this off season Devin take ownership of the quarterback position and be that type of leader that maybe Denard was, but just that transition to him now being the guy?
Hoke: Well, I think a few things.
I think number one, I think he had some strong help on that side of the ball when you look at leadership. I think Taylor Lewan and the decision that he made in January spoke volumes about the University of Michigan, Michigan football.
I think Devin, his maturity and understanding what it is to be the quarterback at Michigan, I think he’s absorbed that, understands the decisions that we have to make as a football team and the decisions that he makes as a quarterback. They’re going to be very important.
Q. Can you talk about the depth that you have now on the defensive line and the offensive line and how it has evolved since you’ve gotten here?
Hoke: I think when we came in a couple of years ago, we had eight offensive linemen on scholarship. Eight or nine. And I think we’ve improved those numbers. I think we’re at 15 right now, maybe 16.
I would say the same thing a little bit with the inside people on the defensive side of the ball, because of — style of defense had a lot to do with that.
But I think our numbers are up. I think our competition throughout spring, I think the competition that — in how they did things through summer have improved both positions, particularly the interior of the offensive line and the interior of the defensive line.
Q. Denard Robinson, when he got hurt last year and you had to insert Devin Gardner at that position, did you expect that Devin would perform the way he did? And if Denard wouldn’t have gotten hurt, would Devin Gardner be a wide receiver this year instead of a quarterback?
Hoke: No, he was always going to go back to quarterback. That was already — him and I had talked about it. He really showed a lot of unselfishness by moving to wide receiver, and it really became part of his DNA and what he wanted to do to help the football team.
With Denard obviously getting hurt, the opportunity for Devin to get experience and move back to quarterback meant a lot. And it meant a lot for his experience and how he learned from those things, good and bad in spring ball.
Q. It seems like the trend in college football is to get more toward the spread offenses, put people in space. You’re obviously going back to your pro style offense.
Could you talk about that, what you like about that?
Hoke: I think everyone believes in a philosophy, obviously. We all have our own quirks and beliefs. But I think the physicalness that the game of football needs to be played with, I’m of the feeling that playing physical football, some pro style, and then there will be multiple enough personnel groups that I think that will be big.
I think also with Devin at quarterback, you still have an opportunity to do some of the things out of the spread that may be there. But I think the physicalness that will help your defense, when you run some downhill schemes, the combination blocks. I’m an old defensive line coach, still am, and I think teaching that every day and going through that every day is something that’s important.
Q. What were your thoughts when you initially heard Michigan being compared to cancer, and what was the reaction from Grant Reid when you called him and offered him tickets to the game?
Hoke: Well, number one reaction is we were glad. We were excited for that young man. And being a father, our children are so important and you try and put yourself through what that family has gone through.
So him beating Michigan in this context, we were all for it. But it’s just something — I’ll be honest with you, it was something that we had talked about, Justin Dickens (Michigan Sports Information Director) and myself, because our kids do an awful lot in Mott Hospital, C.S. Mott. And our daughter was five months in the hospital when she was born, and so you just imagine what that family was going through.
And I spoke to Grant a little bit. He’s doing well. He was excited.
Q. I was wondering if you shored up that backup quarterback position yet, and should Gardner go down this fall, what was the plan going forward for that?
Hoke: Well, we looked around to try and find maybe a guy who had graduated early and could transfer. We looked at some junior college prospects. And we just didn’t feel comfortable enough. In 32 years or 33 years of coaching, I try and think how many times you’ve gotten to your second quarterback on the teams that you’ve coached. Hasn’t been very many.
I think Brian Cleary and obviously Shane Morris are two guys that we feel very good about.
And so it would either be one of those two guys if anything would happen.
Q. What is it about Devin Gardner that makes him maybe a better pro style quarterback than Denard Robinson?
Hoke: I think typically when people talk about pro style quarterbacks, a lot of times they talk about the heights. And they also talk about the running quarterbacks obviously is how they’ve performed in the gun, read zone, counter, whatever it might be.
But I think Devin has a nice dual threat capability, because he probably spins the ball a little tighter. I think his height helps him over the line of scrimmage. So I think those reasons.
Q. How has the bankruptcy in Detroit and the situation there affected your community and the players that are from that area?
Hoke: Could you ask it one more time? I didn’t quite hear the beginning.
Q. How has the situation in Detroit, the bankruptcy, the economic, affected your program and how your personnel that are from the Detroit area?
Hoke: Sure. I think that, you know, everything’s a little different for every kid.
Every individual, every family. It’s a little bit of a different path they all have taken. Obviously we’re pulling for Detroit. We’re pulling for the city and the state to get together or the federal government, because it’s a great town. It’s a great city.
For our kids, I think every situation is different, but I think all our kids, you know, maybe they haven’t thought in detail enough about it. But it’s all been positive.
Q. Is there any change on Jake Ryan’s status? Has he accelerated his return during his rehab?
Hoke: I think we’re very excited about his progress. So I don’t think anything’s really changed besides he’s done a great job of being very committed, very disciplined to getting himself back through the rehab and everything he’s doing. We’ll find out a little more as we keep going and getting closer. But I think sometime in October I think would still be a likely date for him.
Q. How much importance do you put on instate recruiting? You get a lot of Detroit, Michigan guys. How much focus do you put on that?
Hoke: We put a lot of our efforts in the state of Michigan. That’s important to us.
And that’s something that — the high school coaching is very good. The caliber of the athletes we really like. And also they understand playing at the University of Michigan. So that’s always a very important part for us in our recruiting.
Q. Your schedule is pretty loaded up for November particularly this year. Is that a good thing for a team where you’re going to bringing guys along on both lines throughout the year, especially that interior of the offensive line?
Hoke: The goal is, every week you have to get better if you’re going to win championships. And the good teams I’ve been fortunate to be with, that’s what they’ve done, from week one to week two and so on.
So as far as the back end of the schedule, we’ve got a great schedule. And if we keep coaching and doing the things we need to do for our kids, then I think we’ll be competitive and it will be a lot of fun.
Moderator: Thank you, Coach.
INDIANA COACH KEVIN WILSON
Moderator: We’re joined by Kevin Wilson.
Wilson: Great to be back in Chicago. A lot of great coaches, players walking the halls, but a lot of great media guys, a lot of awesome coverage for Big Ten and appreciate you guys covering us today.
We’re excited. Coming out of last year, not the season we wanted. Maybe made some strides on paper. Maybe a little bit better record.
But we got a great school, making a great commitment and we want to build a winning product and start getting the victories that we need.
The way you do that is with recruiting and do it with player development. Thought we had a really good winter. Everybody always says that, but just the energy, leadership, we’ve worked very hard with the group to kind of cultivate some internal leaders with our football team to take some ownership. So we got some — a very positive energy as we’re working hard.
One of our sayings when I first got there was we’re going to have fun working hard. Our kids worked very, very hard in the winter. Gotten a lot stronger.
There wasn’t one day in spring practice that I wanted it over. I thought we went through the motions. We’re getting more physical. We have a lot of kids now that are going into their third year of playing because we played 16 freshmen two years ago, 11 freshmen last year.
We’ve got 19 starters back, guys, and that’s 19 offense and defense. We’ve got our kickers back, our punters back. Our long snapper’s a big time player and returners.
We’ve got a lot of guys back. We’ve got a great recruiting class and we’re looking forward to getting started with our guys.
We’ve had 130 players on campus this summer training. We’ll have 105 for preseason.
We’ve got a walk-on program that’s kind of growing as well. Very, very good recruiting class, and we’re excited to see those young men. There’s a lot of good energy with what’s going on.
Personnel-wise with our guys, we’re very, very healthy. Came out of spring with no legitimate injuries. And as we came off some minor things, we’ve got everyone full tilt and looking to be ready to go as we crank up practice next Friday.
Our freshmen will report on Wednesday, upperclassmen on Thursday. We’ll crank it up on August 2nd. But we’ve got, I think, again, very much more mature team.
A lot of guys back. A lot of positive energy, and a very, very healthy team. We’re unsettled at quarterback. Got three guys in a dead heat. It’s not because I don’t think we’ve got a good player. We’ve got three guys that are all very unique, can manage us. Haven’t seen someone separate through spring. I don’t know if anyone had any particularly horrible days. I think we can look at some stat days and say: This guy’s stats were better or worse.
But I thought we had a very, very healthy competition. Those guys are great teammates, great leaders, all three of them. I think they’re all capable of winning.
I’d love to see one emerge. The reason I don’t have a quarterback here is because I’m not sure which one it is. If I did, I would have all three of those guys representing us because they’re three great leaders. Until I know which one is going to be our leader, I wasn’t going to anoint someone. They’re going to earn it on the field.
Some depth at running back. Tevin Coleman out of Chicagoland, guy’s a freshman, giving our returning starter a battle. Some quality receivers I think that can make some plays.
Outstanding player tight end. I think our offensive line is extremely undervalued in this league. I think we’ve got one young man, for doubt, that will be a phenomenal player through his college and next year. And we have got four or five guys that are going to be upper level Big Ten players. We’ll have a good offensive line.
Defensively, a lot of guys back. Lost two deep tackles. We’re going to be a little young inside, but I think more talented. We have to make significant strides defensively. Quite honestly, it’s been embarrassing about how we played in our first two years. So our effort, toughness, needs to be better.
I think that’s going to increase because we did recruit some quality young players. There will be more competition in practice to get on our defensive field in games. We’ll need to play better.
And I believe we’re going to field some quality, quality special teams.
Mitch Ewald, our kicker is here, and I think he may be the best in this league. He’ll set every record at Indiana for points. I think he’s an NFL type player, and you’ll get a chance to see him while you’re here.
Eight home games, all for nine conference games. And we’re really looking forward to next week. A lot of positive energy and, quote, being in the Big Ten, it’s time to take a big step this year.
With that we’ll go to questions.
Q: You guys have a lot of players returning. Seems like you still have a lot of youth on your team. I guess what is the approach working with this group and getting ready to take it to the next level?
Wilson: Great point. And we have a lot of players returning that need to be better, because from where we were to where we want to be, that’s why I think it’s critical that we did have a positive winter-spring, and we’ll see how summer’s been. I think hopefully that’s been very, very positive.
But we’re still maybe a sophomore-junior team. And we probably just signed on paper — you don’t play the game on paper and you can’t believe every recruiting service and recruiting rating until guys really perform.
But we probably have got the most gifted class showing up as day one freshmen when we show up next Friday. But we’re really a junior team. Offensively, offense has a chance to be pretty solid.
But if you look at it, you’ve got Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson. Kofi is here with us, a senior.
Duwyce Wilson, a receiver. Ted Bolser, tight end.
Stephen Houston as running back. That’s the only four guys that crack the two deep. Defensively, our best players will be our young players, freshmen and sophomores.
So we’re building. We’re growing. We are, though, a veteran team. I think we’re going to be fifth or sixth in the country with returning guys with starts. So we do have guys that are battle tested. We have guys that are getting more mature, but I do think we’re a young team growing and there’s a lot of growth potential with our football program in these next few years.
Q: Just what do you need to see at the running back position, what has to happen for somebody to separate themselves, or do you want to rotate a little bit?
Wilson: You know, if there’s separation, great. I do think, most teams are going to play with more than one running back. NFL, college, whatever. The physicality of the position, the hits as you go through the year, the pace of play.
So we played a couple, three running backs every year. Stephen Houston is a quality player. Catches the ball well. Need him to be a very consistent practice player, leader, and a very physical leader. For a big back, he plays with great speed and feet. Catches well. Love to see him. Great without the ball. Great in blocking.
Great in route running to spread and separate the defense when he runs routes and really just be more, more consistent, quality player, very good player and good leader for us.
Tevin Coleman, a young man that’s very young. He’ll be a second year, played as a true freshman. Excellent returner, very talented kid.
And looking to see how he grows and does he really take the next step to be an upper level player for us and in this league because I think he has a chance to be. He was highly recruited. He’s very gifted.
Then we have a couple of complementary players. D’Angelo Roberts and a couple of freshmen we’ll see and a couple of walk-ons.
Right now looks like it will be those three guys.
D’Angelo as complementary piece, and we’ll see with Tevin and Stephen. Coming out of spring, it’s those two guys. And quite honestly, Tevin probably had the better hands coming through spring. He had a tremendous spring practice.
Q: You talked about the quarterback battle. How has the criteria changed for you over the years? You had a quarterback battle every year you’ve been here. How do you look at it differently this time?
Wilson: The first year, I didn’t know if we could throw it in the ocean and whatnot.
Last year we were kind of young and unproven.
And Tre (Roberson) had played a little and we had those young guys. And the difference, I think Tre is — Tre’s back healthy and I think better than he was. But with Cam Coffman getting 10 starts, which is actually our most — he’s played more snaps than anyone, and Nate Sudfeld being extremely gifted, it’s a pretty unique deal.
We need to play — for our program to win, have the year we’re capable of having, we need to be dynamic at quarterback. We can’t be average and let the complementary pieces give us the victories that we need for our program and our fans and alums and school.
So our quarterback’s gotta be a difference maker. Those three guys are capable, but who is going to be different and take it to the next step?
We’ll be a lot more mobile at quarterback.
We were going to be mobile with Tre. We were mobile with the other two guys. But when Tre got hurt and we just had those two guys left, that was really all we had, we had to be very smart last year as young players protecting them. The amount of hits they take and the exposure we put them through, the contact, and really just for confidence so they don’t get out there and get shell-shocked and get battered. So we played a little left-handed and wasn’t able to play with a full deck.
We also did not handle the adversity of losing our starting quarterback. We led the league in passing, blah, blah, blah, all that junk. Once our quarterback got hurt, we lost five straight games.
A good football team needs to play with more than one running back and we need to have more than one capable quarterback. And this year we will see if we can because our quarterbacks are talented, but we haven’t proven we’re going to win a lot. So the criteria is we need someone that’s going to be a difference maker, be dynamic and help us win.
At the same time, I’m excited — and I think the difference between our offense and defense is competition. We have quality players on offense that are fighting to get on the field. Our challenge is with our defensive recruiting this year, we’ll start having some defensive competition to have better play from our defense. And hopefully have our offense start to go from being kind of average to being kind of really decent.
Q: When you look at what you were talking about the dynamic of your quarterback, what is the deciding factor in your mind in regards to the dynamics? Is it arm strength?
Is it his moxie on the field, off the field? Can you expand on what you mean by that?
Wilson: For example, with our three players, maybe greatest arm strength is Nate Sudfeld. Tall. Very smart. Young player, very good.
Maybe greatest moxie might be Cam Coffman. He’s a little daredevil. He’ll take some shots and take some chances. Great anticipation, vision.
The best athlete of the crowd is probably Tre Roberson.
So they’re all uniquely different.
What we’re going to do is run our spread offense, be a little bit up tempo. We’ll throw the ball in space and try to be a team that can throw it pushing 70 percent, which we have yet to beat. In the high 50s or mid 50s, first year, low 60s last year. This game has evolved with protection and quality route running and people understanding spacing.
You have got to throw the ball at 67, 70, 72 percent. So one, the ability to complete the ball. Two, the ability not to move the offense but to score. Our offense moves the ball but we don’t score points proportional to moving the ball. And good teams score points. When you score points, you win games. You don’t win games by getting yards. You win games by crossing that G line or not letting them cross the G line. So it’s points.
So what we’re looking for — they’re all different with those different attributes. But a passing percentage that keeps us on schedule. A guy that gets to the fringe zone and gets his team in the end zone and a guy that’s going to protect the football.
Q: You talked about the young defensive players and recruiting class coming in. Can you just elaborate on that and realistically how much of an impact can they have this being their first year of college ball regardless of how highly touted they are?
Wilson: Their talent level appears to be seeing some of them in person myself as gifted as many guys we’ve been playing with. Watching them, whether it be a camp, watching them in person.
Now, again, since T.J. Simmons is the only one that’s been here because he graduated early, that we saw, quote, lift, run, workout, practice, that’s going to be a two-deep impact player at linebacker. Young man from Lakeland, Florida.
15 of those recruits are on defense. The skill set’s pretty good on defense. We promised no one you’re going to play and start. But I think we’ll have competition.
I think some of those young D linemen are going to give us competition and depth. And I think the linebackers, which we need to be significantly better at linebacker, are going to give us some competition, and I’m really excited about the corner and safety guys.
I think a lot of those guys are going to be, if not two deep, fringe two deep, we’ll see when the bullets start flying some of those guys get on the field. My inclination says you’ll probably see some of those guys on the field. Might be some growing pains, but we’ll be growing with guys that are faster and more talented. That’s exciting to me.
Moderator: Thank you.
ILLINOIS COACH TIM BECKMAN
Moderator: We’re joined by Tim Beckman.
Beckman: Before I’d like to get started, first I want to welcome everybody to the 42nd Big Ten luncheon. What an outstanding thing to be able to talk about as a football coach or as an announcer or writer.
What the Big Ten means to the community, what the Big Ten means to this country, being a son that’s grown up in this profession, it’s so, so gratifying to be a head football coach and to be able to see the progress of the Big Ten and what the Big Ten means to college football.
Before I start talking about the Illini, I think something that’s very important. I did it last year.
I’d like to wish my mother, Pat Beckman, a happy birthday.
She always likes these media sessions, too, the Big Ten media, because she’s able to come in this afternoon and we get to spend time as a family and that’s very, very important.
I wanted to make sure that everybody understands that my mother, my rock, it’s her birthday and I wanted to wish her a happy birthday.
Let’s talk about the Fighting Illini. I guess the word I like to use is anxious. I’m very anxious to see the progress that this football team has made since the first of December.
After the Northwestern football game, we came together as a football team. We talked about strides that we needed to make as a family, that we needed to make as a football team, that we needed to make on and off the football field.
I can say this: Those players, since December on up until last week, when we had a football function at my house with supper and if you’ve read any of the tweet, you probably saw some of the things that we did, but I’ve seen progress. And I’m excited about that progress.
I’m excited as a head football coach to see a healthy Nathan Scheelhaase; to see a healthy Jonathan Brown, to; see Cory Lewis be involved in his sixth year, which not many people have that opportunity to do, where a game was taken from him and now he has that opportunity to play his sixth year of college football and how important that is for him; to see a Timmy Kynard, a young man that started for us last football season and stepped in and took over the leadership role starting in December.
We lost 400 snaps last year to injury on offense, and we lost 800-plus to injury on defense.
You see a healthy football team. You see a team that’s very anxious and excited to progress.
One of the things that we talked about also as a group is we’re taking one challenge at a time in a very, very positive way. We’re not going to let negativity infiltrate our program. We’re going to be positive with a great passion towards what we want to get accomplished.
And I’ve seen that through this football team. The credit’s gotta go to the senior class and to the football players that we currently have on the program.
And then to end it to have 33 new faces that will be involved in our first two-a-day workout as Fighting Illini. Those young men, 10 of them, they came in during the January month, which is one of the tops in college football. Ten new faces along with the 23 that we had in this summer.
Thirty-three new faces. First faces for the orange and blue. We’re excited about seeing them progress as football players and human beings, and we’re very, very excited about the way and the anxiousness of the way that this program is heading and the direction that it’s heading. So we’re excited.
The final thing I’d like to stress to the media to understand this is this class, the three that I brought with me, Cory Lewis, Nathan Scheelhaase, and Timmy Kynard, this class, this football team has set new standards academically that no other Illini athlete, football athlete has ever become.
We had 51 out of our 91 players that were in winter workouts, 51 of them had over a 3.0.
That’s progress. That’s a jump in the direction that the plan that we have in place is heading. Now we just need to make sure that it correlates on the football field.
We’re excited about Southern Illinois and we know right now that’s the only thing that we’re thinking about as a football team is Southern Illinois University. We’re excited and we look forward to two-a-days starting on August 4th and we’re excited about going down to Rantoul on August 11th and being a part of that fine, fine tradition that we have here of traveling and going through two-a-days.
I’ll open it up for questions. We’re excited about being Illini. We’re excited about being Fighting Illini.
Q: I know last year Riley O’Toole saw a lot of playing time when Nathan Scheelhaase was injured and struggling at times. What’s the quarterback situation going into camp and where does Aaron Bailey fit in this year?
Beckman: Right now, Nathan Scheelhaase is our starting quarterback. And the greatest thing about college football is you get to compete to play in 12, 13, or 14 football games.
And that’s the greatest thing that we have going for us.
But Nathan Scheelhaase is our starting quarterback right now. He had an outstanding spring in Bill Cubit’s new offense.
Riley O’Toole had a good, good spring for us also. But he’s got to take away some of those turnovers. Way too many turnovers in the spring football game. He understands that. He’s got to be a more sure quarterback in his decision-making so that those types of things don’t happen.
Aaron Bailey, hey, I mean, we haven’t been able to work with Aaron Bailey. But Aaron Bailey was brought here to compete, and I think he chose the University of Illinois because he knows he’s going to be able to compete. So he’ll get the exact same opportunity as all of our quarterbacks.
Q: The new targeting rules coming into play this fall, how much is that going to change the game and how your defense will approach the game? And how much should the game be changed to prevent injuries in football?
Beckman: Started out with injury, is that what the question was? I’m sorry.
Q: Targeting rules.
Beckman: Targeting in college football, you know, all rules are made for the welfare of our student-athletes. And that is one of the things that we feel with the concussion issues, we feel as coaches that needs to be addressed.
It’s constantly talked about throughout spring football, throughout winter workouts. It will be constantly talked about to our defensive football team. We had the issue last year where we actually had a young man that was taken out of our Penn State football game for that.
So we learned from it. We’re still going to be as aggressive as we possibly can with our schemes and doing the things that are necessary to be successful on defense. But the awareness of the fact that targeting is going to be looked at and called more aggressively is something that, again, we have to inform our players and educate our players so that they are not targeting.
Q: Could you please talk about the impact of Bill Cubit both on your team and just personally to you, please?
Beckman: Huge. No question about it. I’ve coached against Bill. I’ve competed against Bill as a coordinator and as a head football coach.
Bill Cubit, I don’t know if words could actually describe what I think he’s meant to this staff since he’s joined us in January. He’s got a great background of being a leader. He’s got a great background of calling plays. Probably called a million plays plus in his career.
So bringing that to this program has been outstanding, as all of our coaches, has definitely added to the dimensions of making our football program better.
Q: Where did you come up with the WIN acronym slogan because it’s the same one that Northwestern’s been using for a few years?
Beckman: We’ve always — I don’t know when Northwestern did. We used that back at Bowling Green defensively. We always did it.
For us, it means whatever’s needed, we added today to it. So it’s WIN today. Only worry about one thing at a time, that’s day-by-day. We’re going to do whatever is necessary for us to be successful that day.
If that means being a student and sitting in the first two rows of your class, that’s what that means. We’re going to make ourselves better as a student, as an athlete, football player, and as a citizen. So that’s what the term means for us.
To be honest with you, I don’t look in to see what other people do. We’re just trying to work our things with our football program.
Q: How would you characterize the talent and depth that you inherited when you took the job and where’s the program at now in those records?
Beckman: You know, again, when we came in, I would say the inherited depth was an issue. I brought that up last year. We’ve been able to add 33 new faces, as I mentioned.
Does that bring depth? There’s no question. We went out and got some junior college football players that brought age to our program. Age, not in the fact that they’ve played Big Ten football, but they have played some brand of college, even though it’s junior college football.
It’s very important for us to bring age to the program. That’s why we signed five. We will have to continually do that in my opinion for the next two to possibly three years, to make sure that we have a balance in our program from senior down to freshman class. So again, we’ll be young, but we will be — and what I’ve seen since December, a very eager football team and a very eager football team to be better as a family.
Q: I know at times last year when Nathan Scheelhaase struggled, O’Toole came in pretty quickly. How big of a leash do you feel that Scheelhaase is going to have this year and how much room will he have to get through those struggles and what’s your faith going in with him as the second season as a head coach?
Beckman: Start with Nathan, the first football game, Nathan got dinged a little bit and fought through it and played. And Riley was able to come in. Riley had I believe it was 80 plus plays the year before, so he didn’t have a lot of background of being a college quarterback.
This last year he had 270 plus plays. So, again, experience, can’t ever take away from experience. That’s why we play freshmen, because we want them to be able to experience the game of college football. Nothing takes away from the game and learning the game.
So I think Riley has progressed so that, again, through experience, through plays last year, he’ll be able to step in and perform better. But, again, as I mentioned before, Nathan Scheelhaase is our starting quarterback right now, and I’m proud to have him involved in our football team.
As I’ve stated many, many times, there has — been in college football my whole life and there’s not many Nathan Scheelhaase’s out there.
He’s an exceptional human being.
Q: One thing that Illinois has really done well the last couple of years is win NFL Draft night. I believe they have the most number of Draft picks of any Big Ten team first round in the last five years. What’s been the key to preparing the Illini for the next level?
Beckman: Being here for a year, we had the opportunity to have four young men drafted. The experiences of being an Illini. I think the fact that we’ve got so many NFL players that can be involved with our program, the experiences that they can share to a younger current Illini I think have been crucial in the things that I’ve seen over the last year.
You know, we’ve hired — and I’m very strong in hiring former Illini. And being able to have Mike Bellamy involved in your program and Matt Sinclair and Greg Colby, those guys played here. They know what it takes to be professionals on and off the football field, with the great degree they get from Illinois and then have an opportunity to play in the NFL.
I think that all those things are factors in proving that you can get a quality education plus have the opportunity to play on Sunday, which is a dream for any Division I football player.
Moderator: Thank you.
WISCONSIN COACH GARY ANDERSEN
Moderator: We’re joined by Gary Andersen.
Andersen: It’s great to be here, excited to get to this point of the year. It’s been a crazy six and a half months. And just a lot of thanks goes out to everybody surrounding Wisconsin, from the administration, Coach Alvarez and all of his people that made the transition possible for the coaches, the wives that are involved, the kids that are involved, the staff. It’s always a very difficult time for the moms involved.
And I publicly just thank them for allowing the coaches to move in.
Thank the kids also for putting us in a position to be able to build trust. Trust is a big thing with us. We talked about it day one, and I think after six and a half months we’ve got rust within players to coaches and coaches to players.
So excited about moving into what we call the fourth quarter, which is the season for us. It’s an exciting time and this is a big part of it. We’re kicking it off today. Questions.
Q: When there are coaching changes, normally it’s with a program that has not had success. How different is it when you go to a program that has, and how do you handle that process differently?
Andersen: You know, I think you always try to — as a head coach, big part of your job — I tell myself this all the time hiring the coach as a head coach is really game day as a coordinator, if you will. You need to be prepared.
It’s not something that should catch you by surprise. You have to formulate a plan, understand a lot of things, what’s the pay scale, what type of coach you’re looking for, what type of recruiting are you going to be in. Does he fit what you need as an assistant coach and for me it’s two things when I hire an assistant coach. Number one, take care of kids and, number two, you’ve got to be able to recruit.
So that’s how I look at it. No different, maybe a bigger pool of coaches at the University of Wisconsin than it would be at some other places I’ve been, but it’s always a challenge to always get the best coach available.
Q: What’s it like to take over a program that really doesn’t from the outside appear to be broken or in dire need of great rebuilding?
What kind of imprint do you put on it immediately? What have you put on it immediately, I guess, to sort of change the swing a little bit?
Andersen: Well, I think, number one, I’m not interested in comparing what was different, whether that may have been what we deem as being great, good, or indifferent.
There’s going to be differences when you take over a program. It’s important to put your own stamp on it. So I’ve never asked the question of how things work. There’s a lot of different ways to do it. And there was a lot of success.
For us, it’s sit back and look at and get our core values into place, let our kids understand again the trust factor. Let them understand the true set of core values that we’re going to hold them accountable to a high level.
And as coaches, as players, and really as a university, we expect the kids to succeed socially, academically and athletically. That’s an easy statement to make. There’s a lot that goes into that, but that’s our stamp. Young men that walk out socially, our goal is to change them from a young man into a man. And our goal academically is to allow them to receive a world-class education.
And it’s truly a world-class education, it’s not just a degree at Wisconsin. It’s powerful. It will carry you through the rest of your life if you allow it to and to compete at the highest level athletically.
That’s our stamp, that’s who we are, and that’s what we’ve tried to get done in the last six and a half months.
And trust me, I do understand it. We walked into a program that is absolutely — was not broke. It’s been very successful and there’s great young men that have been recruited there, and the prior staff did a great job in that area.
Q: Coach, we’ve seen that Wisconsin has gone and recruited more into Utah, picked up a prospect there recently. Is recruiting outside of perhaps Wisconsin’s traditional recruiting footprint, particularly in the Mountain West area, going to be a priority moving forward?
Andersen: I think if you look back in the past, there’s again different staffs, Coach Alvarez was obviously there for a long time.
Brett and his staff had an identity where they were recruiting, number one.
Ours will be no different from those staffs staying in state. Very good coaches. Football is important. High school programs are run very well.
And a large number of high schools. I had no idea when I walked in that there’s 400-plus high schools that play high school football in Wisconsin. That will stay the same. I think as a conference and I think as the University of Wisconsin we want to recruit nationally because we can.
The Big Ten, it’s a very, very powerful conference. It’s very recognizable and people understand you’re going to play at the highest level and on the biggest stages.
And I feel the same way about the University of Wisconsin, with what we have to offer from an academic standpoint, with what we have to offer for young men socially.
And I go back to it academically and the athletic world, it’s a place where we should be able to recruit throughout the country. And we always will, whether it may be in Florida, California, wherever it will be. Gotta be careful not to get too separated out so we cannot do a good job in certain areas. But we will nationally recruit.
Q: It was kind of a revolving door at quarterback last year for Wisconsin with the three or four different guys who started, the injuries and everything that happened. Coming out of the spring going into the fall how do you see that situation? Will you whittle it down just to two guys at some point and then have a competition, or where do things kind of stand with that right now?
Andersen: Great question. It’s a question I’m sure is going to get asked a few times in the next month or so. It’s a three-man battle right now, as we kind of came through spring.
We sat down with all the young men when we were first there and gave them a very clear vision that when we sat down in April we would discuss exactly where they’re at, what the situation is, and when we came out of it, Curt (Phillips) and Joe (Ferguson) came out on top in spring.
And it was a very unique situation, as it always is, at the quarterback spot when you have competition. We recruited Tanner (McEvoy).
Brought Tanner in. He will also compete. He deserves that opportunity because he’s a junior college player with three years left to play.
Anytime we recruit a junior college player he’s going to be given the opportunity to walk in fall camp and compete and get reps with the ones and twos at times just as every freshman will if he deems himself mentally and physically prepared to be able to be in those situations that he has a chance to help our team.
It will be a three-man race. I have no timeline on it. And we may jog out there the first play of the game with two quarterbacks on the field and see what happens from there. So who knows, it will be interesting.
Q: What kind of tangibles does Chris Borland bring on the field and maybe the intangibles off the field from a leadership perspective?
Andersen: First of all, I’d say 23 seniors, great leadership throughout the team.
And Chris is the heart and soul of that defense.
But there’s some guys that are right there with him from a leadership standpoint.
But what Chris does consistently is a lot of people talk about leadership on and off the field.
And his consistency with his leadership is the key.
There’s no ups and downs, no really good days or bad days. He’s not overly flashy. He’s not a rah-rah guy, he’s the king of backflips after practice. So I don’t know how he does it, but that’s kind of his deal.
But he’s so consistent with where he carries himself academically, the expectation level that he has for himself daily, it’s easy to follow him.
And that’s where his leadership starts. But he also — he carries himself with the presence of he’s approachable for the young players in our program. He’s a big part of our Big Brother program which we’ve had throughout the summer, bringing the new young men into our program it’s very important.
And Chris has also accepted a lot of change at the University of Wisconsin with the coaches since he’s been there, and he figures it out. He understands. He’s going to listen to you first. He’s going to figure you out as you move along, and then I believe he’s going to trust you.
And to me that’s what a quality young man does. That’s what a quality person does. I believe he’s the best linebacker in the country in my opinion from what I’ve seen. I’ve had a unique opportunity to watch him all last summer as we prepared to play Wisconsin while I was at Utah State. And I’ve also had the opportunity to see him go through spring ball, see him work himself through the winter workouts and how he leads the team.
So tremendous kid, tremendous leader, and I believe he’s the best linebacker in the country.
Q: Any moments this summer where you’ve realized the enormity of the job where it’s hit you? Any moments where it struck you the enormity of the Wisconsin job, how big it is, anything big stand out?
Andersen: No, not really. I mean, it’s been the transition again has been great. The summer’s been great. A job is a job, and I think I look at them all the same as far as what are you doing to influence kids.
When I say that, you’re a coach. So to me a coach is you’re an educator and you’re a father figure. That doesn’t matter what level you’re coaching at.
When I say that, that the job of coaching is that, regardless of the level. This is a very big stage. It’s something we’re excited about being on.
Coaching at the highest level is something that selfishly — I hate to use that word, I hate to speak about that word, but for me and all of our coaches to have the opportunity to compete in the Big Ten and coach at the highest level, it’s important for me.
So if there’s a moment, maybe that’s the moment, but it’s been good. But, again, coaching is coaching in my opinion regardless if it’s eight years old in Little League or it’s the biggest stage which we sit on here today.
Q: You coached with Urban Meyer for a year at Utah. I was wondering if you could describe your relationship with him and any influence he’s had on you if any?
Andersen: Relationship with Urban? Is that the question?
Andersen: Very good. You know, Coach has been very good to me. I have a lot of respect for him, the way he carries himself.
We had a great run.
I tell people all the time when they ask me about Urban Meyer, my first thing is it was great for me. We were 12-0 and won a BCS Bowl, so there wasn’t a lot of confrontational times in that situation for us.
But very good friend. Somebody I reach out to when I have questions about things. I think there’s very much a mutual respect there. And look forward to seeing him this morning and hopefully we’ll be able to spend a little time as we go through. It’s great to compete against your friends.
That’s going to be a big game. It’s way down the road at this point, and we’re excited about the opportunity to compete. But he’s a good person, good family man, and somebody I have great respect for.
Q: Along those lines, coaching with Urban, this last weekend they had some kids act out, some disciplinary things. Wonder if you could speak to his handling of that, how he does that in-house. He might take a bit of a hit because of that. Do you think that’s fair or unfair, just what is your take on all that?
Andersen: First of all I have no idea how Coach Meyer handled the situation. I’m not big into that stuff. I haven’t read anything about it. So I don’t know. But I know he’s going to be very fair. The tricky thing in today’s world is exactly what happened and allowing yourself as a coach to get your athletic director and your athletic director get everybody involved regardless of the situation, if it needs to be and try to help the young men that are involved and get the facts straight, that’s the key, before it gets out there and then it never has the opportunity to be fair to the kid that’s involved with a group of people that are involved.
So fairness is important. I think Coach will handle it very fairly. He always seems to do that.
And education for kids these days is important, regardless of the scenario of the situation they get themselves in, you try to educate them. You try to talk to them, but the decisions that they make, when they walk out of your facility, the decisions that they’re making nightly are so very important.
And, again I go back to it, as coaches, we’re father figures. I’ve raised three boys of my own. They’re far from perfect. When you put 105 young men or 120 depending on the time of the year, they’re never going to be perfect, but doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for that and, again, educate them, help them grow from young men to men as much as you can, and then you hope they make the right decisions.
But discipline is — it’s for everybody else to handle their own way.
Q: As far as the offensive call play is concerned, what kind of freedom do you think you have with James and Melvin in the back field? Any kind of versatility that you can get with those guys?
Andersen: James and Melvin very complementary to each other, very different in their styles. And a lot of it is going to depend on how those four tight ends come around that allow Melvin and James to possibly be on the field at the same time, which quarterback’s playing, how well the quarterback can hurt you with his legs that’s actually in the game, that matters.
And so there’s a lot that goes into that.
But those two packaged together, whether they’re on the field at the same time or separately, cause a lot of problems. You saw it last year when there was times when Melvin got out there and lined up and the fly sweep was very effective in some games for them and James was in the backfield sometimes. Monte was there a lot obviously, but James was in there, too. So it will be hopefully a very powerful 1-2 punch.
I know they worked extremely hard this summer. I’m proud of the way they handled themselves throughout the summer as a running back crew. Need a third back to step up. But overall as the football team, I’d say those two young men are prepared like so many on our team the way that you would hope they would as a program as a whole.
But proud of those two. They’ll be a big part of our offense.
Q: Any update on Tanner’s (McEvoy) health and what the reaction was like in Madison with the news this week with Tanner?
Andersen: Tanner’s fine.
Those were always tricky situations, and, again, I go back and share with you what I tell young men all the time in team meetings.
And I say this in recruiting all the time, you gotta understand your situation. You gotta understand your surroundings. Doesn’t matter if you grow up in a town of 40 or grow up in a town of 4 million. There’s always — there’s issues that can pop up and you have to be careful.
And still there’s still problems that pop up that you can’t prevent. So it happened. We’re going to do our best to learn from it as a football program. I know we’ll do our best to reach out to many of the student-athletes as we can to talk about it and not just football players, to be able to be prepared to understand your surroundings.
But Tanner will be fine. He’s back with us now. Expect him to walk into camp full steam ahead and be prepared to compete for that quarterback role.
Moderator: Thank you.
PURDUE COACH DARRELL HAZELL
Moderator: We’re joined by Darrell Hazell.
Hazell: Good morning to everyone. Let me first start off by saying how proud I am and how much of a privilege it is to be standing here as the Boilermaker head football coach.
I’ve been here for about seven months.
There’s a few things I’m certain about. And one of those things is that Purdue is an excellent academic institution.
We just popped into the top 50 in the world in academics, and there’s 17,036 schools that we’re compared against, and we’re in the top 50.
So we’re an excellent academic institution.
Second, we have a coaching staff that I’m proud of and that they all have the vision to change Purdue football to where it needs to be. And I can’t be more proud of my coaching staff.
And, third, we have a great group of young men who are committed to the cause and the cause is to make Purdue football special on the football field in 2013. So we’re excited to get started next week. We open up practice on August3rd and then we kick off the season against Cincinnati on August 31st, but I’m very excited to get started.
Q. You said you and your coaching staff has a vision to change Purdue football to where it should be. Where do you think that should be, and what is it going to take to get to that level?
Hazell: One of the first things that I said to our team, very first team meeting on that Sunday night, was Purdue was always a team that’s perceived in the middle of the Big Ten.
Never up here, never down here.
And I told them it’s going to take a lot of work but we’re going to climb ourselves out of the middle and we’re going to put this program on national prominence for a long point in time.
Q. Coaches have a lot of people who have influenced them to get to where they are, hodgepodge. But I wonder about your six years at Ohio State, maybe what you can say about that, what kind of stuff you’ll take into your job at Purdue?
Hazell: I’ve spent seven years at Ohio State and Coach Tressel was a big influence on me, the way I do things today.
There’s a lot of great values and just his demeanor through the course of my time there was something that you can take from and the great decisions that he made on game day, when those bullets are flying, it’s a chaotic moment. I learned a lot from Jim Tressel there at my seven years at Ohio State.
Q. Just wanted to ask you your thoughts on the offensive line, what do you have to see there? What has to happen?
Hazell: We evaluated the offensive line for 14 practices, and I think that from practice six on I thought they continually got better.
We still have a lot of evaluation to do there. I think there’s about seven or eight guys that I think that we can count on.
We have to be able to create some depth early in the season by putting those guys out there and because you know at some point in time we’re going to lose a guy throughout the course of the season.
We’ll have to try to create some depth but I think there’s enough capable bodies for us to be good. We’re going to try to keep it as simple as we can, for those guys and the communication is absolutely critical, for those guys and it starts with our center, Robert Kugler.
Q. You talked a while ago about moving, changing perception of Purdue football, what’s the key to getting it to the top?
What have you identified as what needs to be done?
Hazell: I think it all starts with your self-image. How we see ourselves. And that’s where it all starts, because if you don’t see yourselves as a champion, no one else is going to see yourselves as a champion.
And then you have to put the work in.
Obviously we want to change our image. We want to be a tougher football team. We want to be a smarter football team and play with greater discipline.
Q. You’ve looked at the films of your team from last year. You kind of want are count on the Ohio State game, is it still kindof hard to believe that you lost that game?
Hazell: Well, there was a lot of close football games that Purdue lost, and we talked quite a bit in the spring about finishing football games. Everything you do you have to beable to finish.
And I hope that the mindset of our coaches and what they’ve done and what they’re continuing to do that we’ll be able to finish games this fall.
Q. You were talking about getting out of the middle of the pack. How do you feel about your roster this year? Do you feel that you have the talent to get there? How long doyou think it would take to rebuild this program and get to where you guys want to be?
Hazell: I’m very fortunate that I was able to be in this conference for seven years.
So I know quite a bit about the conference. I’m not saying I know everything but I know quite a bit about the conference.
There’s not a great difference between team one and the last team in the conference.
What I do know is that the preparation that goes in and being able to get your A players to the game each and every week, then you’ve got a chance.
And you’ve got to find a way in those critical situations to make a play.
And I think we have enough good players to be able to make those plays.
Q. Your team last year had an incredible turnover margin, did you do anything in practice to get that incredible turnover margin?
Hazell: That’s probably the number one component to losing football games is turning the football over. And everybody on our team is responsible for that, from the quarterback to the offensive line to the running backs to the defensive back who picks the ball off.
We have a great responsibility to Purdue football to take care of the football. That was one of the key emphasis on turning this program around.
Q. Can’t get out of here without a quarterback question but how will you go about picking your starting quarterback?
Hazell: We have a nice quarterback battle going on. We have a senior in Rob Henry, and Danny Etling, a true freshman that came in. Competed extremely hard. A third guy that can get himself back in the mix with Austin Appleby. But we’ll give them equal reps. One guy will run with the ones in one group, in one drill, and the next drill the other guy will run with the ones.
And in about two weeks after we start practice,we’ll make a decision and have that guy have ownership of our football team going into our first game.
And I think it’s obviously critically important because number one component for that guy is to take care of the football. Number two is to get us in the right place, number three to be tough enough to stand in there on third and five and take a shot.
And we need a big play.
Q. You turned Kent State around pretty quickly. What in your mind besides self-image,when did you see that sort of like get into their eyes that they believed in themselves and what do you see in the eyes of your players right now in that regard?
Hazell: You know, we made small changes since we’ve been there. And anytime you can foster morale within guys, I think it supports the things that you’re doing and the direction that you’re heading.
So anytime we can make small changes, whether it’s a visual change, whether it’s a pat on the back, I think those are the things that will help you win football games in the long run.
And I thought the maturity of our football team, when you bring guys in and they handle the situations that are going to happen throughout the course of a year that you can’t plan on, when you have a mature football team, that’s when you know you’ve got a chance.
Q. When you were an assistant at Ohio State, how much back then did you think about in the back of your mind to prepare yourself to be a head coach some day, and did you think that you could be back in the Big Ten this quickly as a head coach here?
Hazell: The way I live my life — and this is a true statement — is I try to do the best possible job wherever I am for that particular day.
Whatever happens from that point on it happens.
So did I say I was going to be at Purdue or Michigan State or Ohio State, I didn’t think about those things but I took notes from all those smart people I was around and I accumulated a file of those things that I think that can help us win championships.
But I’m so happy to be back here in the conference. I think this is a phenomenal conference with great coaches and great pageantry, and a lot of excitement in the stadium.
So it’s a pleasure to be back in this conference.
Moderator: Thank you.
NORTHWESTERN COACH PAT FITZGERALD
Moderator: We’re joined by Coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Coach, an opening statement and we’ll take questions.
Fitzgerald: Thanks, Doug, appreciate it. Obviously we’ve digressed this year.
We miss Julie already.
Good morning, everyone. It’s great to be with you. Obviously we’d like to thank everyone for your support for Big Ten football and Northwestern as a football program.
It’s football season and here we go again.
I’d be remiss without starting my remarks on behalf of the Northwestern football family of expressing our thoughts and prayers and condolences to Adam Rittenberg and his family in this difficult, challenging time. Adam, we’re thinking about you and your family and hope to be there with you.
I’d like to welcome our two new coaches in Darrell Hazell of Purdue and Gary Andersen of Wisconsin. Looking forward to competing against their teams. I’ve gotten to know the gentlemen since I was in recruiting season, and now throughout our meetings throughout the spring and summer and would like to welcome them on behalf of our coaches. And obviously it’s a great time of the year.
I don’t know if you guys or anyone is charting how many times a coach up here says “excited,” but I think across the country every coach is really in anticipation for two weeks from now when we get together with our teams and really start to work hard on progressing and building off of what we accomplished in the spring and then obviously what our young men have been able to do throughout the summer.
Exciting time in our program’s history to be off the heels of our longest bowl streak in modern time, of one bowl successful season, and to have the number of young men we have coming back in 13 from a starting standpoint gives us great confidence we’ll hopefully be able to take the next step.
We’ve got 12 terrific seniors embarking on their last season, three of which are with us here today and throughout the media days in Kain Colter, our great quarterback; Venric Mark, our tailback; and Tyler Scott, our defensive end.
We have a difficult schedule to go on the road to open against a difficult Cal team, and Coach Dykes did a great job at Louisiana Tech and come back to Syracuse is going to be a challenge.
As we rewind, very proud of the success we’ve had, five straight bowl seasons. But as I said as I put the Gator Bowl trophy up above my head, we’re just getting started at Northwestern.
We have a lot of work. Talk is talk, and now it’s about time for action, and looking forward to getting back with our guys here in a few weeks.
So with that, questions?
Q. Not the most serious one here, but how is your hip? I know you had some surgery. How is it going? And pretty sure it won’t affect your coaching this year?
Fitzgerald: Thanks for asking about my health. I was cleared about two weeks ago. I’ll be full go for camp. Questionable as an athlete, but ready to go.
Q. You talked about the difficult schedule. You guys start with three opponents all breaking in new head coaches. How does that kind of adjust how you guys prepare for them in the summer?
Fitzgerald: Our schedule, there’s no question we’re not afraid to play anyone.
We went into the season last year playing three BCS teams in the nonconference and had great success. Originally on the schedule we had three BCS teams this year, and obviously that changed and now we’re playing two BCS teams to begin.
Anytime there’s coaching changes, it’s a challenge on our staff. And that’s probably what I’m most proud of. As you look back over the last couple of years, our staff has done a terrific job, especially in our nonconference games preparing in a little bit of an abstract way. We had to go look at different teams when coaches have been at different institutions, maybe even looking at NFL tape if that’s where the coordinator came from.
And our staff has done a terrific job.
I think our blueprint for that success speaks for itself with having success in the opener.
It’s going to be a great challenge, especially going out and playing at Cal and kicking off 7:30 local, which will be 9:30 on our bodies. We’ll adjust our practice plan accordingly that week.
We’ve already kind of looked at the roadmap and you hear me say a lot the blueprint of what we’re going to do, and there will be definite tweaks and adjustments to our preparation.
At the end of the day, it’s how we prepare and what we do to determine if we’re prepared for that game.
Q. I know there’s some issues with the health of the offensive linemen group this spring. How are they coming along and is everybody getting healthy up front?
Fitzgerald: The entire offensive line is healthy coming out of spring and going into Camp Kenosha. It will be great competition in that room. We believe that group is as talented as we’ve had. A year ago we brought back three starters. We had two new faces to break in. To see the way that Jack Konopka played a year ago, first time ever playing offensive line in his entire football career. We look forward to moving him over potentially to the left tackle position and solidifying that spot left by Patrick Ward, who was an Academic All-American. And Brandon Vitabile is arguably one of the most talented centers not only in this conference, but also in the country. So great confidence in those two guys. And going to be terrific competition at the right tackle, right guard and left guard position, but we feel like there’s great talent there, and looking forward to watching it unfold.
Q. One of the topics that I think a lot of coaches will be asked about this year is about disciplining players, having guys who stay straight and narrow. What are the things you do in your program to try to make sure that happens?
Fitzgerald: I think discipline begins in recruiting. The identification of a student-athlete that fits your program. In Evanston, it starts with that character evaluation.
And we’ve got a set of questions that are married with the values of our program. And you hear in our team room a lot, when I’m addressing you there it’s to my left and your right, and it’s a roadmap for our assistant coaches as they go out to evaluate prospective student-athletes.
If you look at our history in recruiting, we’re typically a day late, a week late, a month late in potentially offering a young person, and I know sometimes it frustrates our fans, but we’re going to make sure when we offer a young man, that’s someone we truly want to become a part of our football family.
And that character evaluation takes a little bit longer. And we’re going to try to use every means necessary, the coach, the AD, the principal, the guidance counselor, whatever champion in that young person’s life that we can find and discover that’s going to answer the tough questions to give us the right answers to make sure that young person’s the right fit.
I’m respectful of the other programs in the country. Everyone’s unique and different in how they go about that. But it’s a very serious discussion we have. We’re very proud of the job our young men do obviously in our community, giving back and being a part of our community in a very positive way on the Northwestern campus and the greater Evanston and Chicago community and being a role model for student-athletes across the country. But it goes back to the identification in recruiting.
Q. How different is it now teaching your guys to deal with expectations and not just happy to be in the dance?
Fitzgerald: We’re not satisfied with just going to Bowl games anymore.
That’s not acceptable. That’s the expectation. And to be a consistent winner, to be a consistent postseason team and playing in Bowl games is the expectation.
Now obviously we raised the bar a year ago from winning a game and getting that monkey off our back, but at the end of the day the expectation is to win championships. And when you walk into our team room on the right side, it would be your left, we’d say to win the Legends Division and win the Big Ten. We want to put that trophy in our case just like the other 11 institutions and head coaches are going to visit after me.
So it’s not unique to us. It’s not any different than anyone else in our league, but we’ve never shied away from stating that as our goal.
Now, maybe just a few more people are listening saying, well, maybe they might be able to externally. But I think, as everyone does in the country, our focus is inward. How we prepare, the way we go about our business, the process we go about developing our young men and developing our team, those expectations far outweigh any external expectations that we’re going to see.
So I’m happy to see that everyone’s taking notice that we’re doing okay, that we’re progressing, that we’re building in my opinion a program that our fans, our alumni, our students and everyone that’s associated with Northwestern football can be proud of.
But we’re far from where we’re going to be.
And to me that’s the driving force in our program, is to take the necessary steps to be competitive for a championship. And hopefully we’ll do that as we move forward in training camp.
Q. They’re making an emphasis on the targeting rule this year with the ejections being led. As a former All-Conference defender, how difficult is it going to be for these guys to be able to change the culture of the hits? And your thoughts on how you’re going to be able to coach these guys up and what do you expect to see moving forward?
Fitzgerald: We’re looking forward to working with Bill Carollo (Big Ten Coordinator of Football Officials) and the Big Ten officials as they come through our training camps, especially at Northwestern, to look at the teach tape that I know Bill will have for us as far as educating what hits from a year ago or maybe the previous few seasons it would be labeled targeting from a standpoint of what would be an ejectable offense as we move forward.
I like the fact that that’s a play that’s coming into our game to make sure we have the number one most important thing handled, and that’s the health, safety, well-being of the student-athletes as they play the game of football.
It’s well documented I’m a rather large hockey fan, and to see the way the rules have changed in the game of hockey to where it’s more of an athletic game and guys aren’t getting pressed up and boarded — it’s the same for football. If you’re defenseless, you should be protected.
But there will be some hits that I’m looking forward to learning from and seeing exactly how that’s going to be officiated.
But there’s no question the health, safety, well-being of the student-athletes is the number one priority.
Q. I guess just kind of talk about how the game has evolved in the past few years as far as players’ safety. And do you think there’s enough being done to protect the athletes?
Fitzgerald: I definitely believe that the coaches, the administrators, the conference commissioners, the NCAA, and obviously our student-athletes and our medical teams, there’s great dialogue about how can we continue to improve our game from a health and safety standpoint.
And I think everyone that’s a shareholder in that experience, it’s critically important that we have great dialogue, we have great discussions, and we come up with positive solutions to keep our young men safe.
And that’s not only on game day. It’s 365 days a year. If it’s nutrition, sleep, the way that we practice, the way that we play, those are all positives.
Back — I kind of feel like that one commercial, back in my day, we wore neck rolls and the game was played from the breadth of this table. And there were certain days of the week that I couldn’t practice because of the physical pounding you went through on game day, on Saturday. But the way you had to practice to prepare.
So I think we’re trending in a very positive direction. Are we at the destination? I’m not sure we ever will be. I think that will be an ongoing progression of making the kids and the game safer and safer. And I think we’re in a positive place.
But as I said, I think we’re going to continue to move forward to get to a great place for our student-athletes.
Q. You obviously have several games before you start Big Ten play, but with where your program is right now for a primetime game for homecoming like you have coming up against Ohio State, that type of game, what do you hope and expect your stadium will be like from an atmosphere standpoint and what a game like that is like for your program at this point?
Fitzgerald: The pageantry of Big Ten football is special. We’re a nationally-based conference. Obviously the breadth of our conference is special and you take it down to individual games and just the opportunity to compete and play Big Ten football is amazing.
Obviously on paper as you sit here the end of July and you look at the conference slate, you get excited to play each and every one of your games, especially the ones that are primetime atmosphere.
But, frankly, I haven’t put a lot of thought into it. My focus has been, number one, to make sure our guys are healthy and doing the right things academically here in summer school, and then our focus will shift once we get into camp about how our freshmen integrate and how we’ll put those pieces of the puzzle together to get prepared for the opener against Cal.
But as you look forward, obviously you get excited for Big Ten play. I think the last time we played each other at night was a pretty unique environment at our place. Obviously we were successful, so that’s a fond memory in my mind.
The first thing that jumps back to me is Coach Walk (phonetic), and that experience was really special to be in the locker room with him, a native Ohioan, things of that nature.
But our focus right now is on ourselves and getting prepared for the opener. And I think as we get closer to that game, it will get more exciting.
But obviously the undefeated team from last year, very special to have them come and be our Big Ten opener. That’s going to be a great challenge.
Moderator: Thank you.