Big Ten Media Days - Thoughts & Notes
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien
Pete Fiutak's observations after hanging around the Big Ten's big event.
Big Ten Media Days Thoughts
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By Pete Fiutak
- Was there a scandal at Penn State recently? You wouldn’t know it from the way most of the media handled head coach Bill O’Brien and the Nittany Lion players who showed up. The national guys have Penn State fatigue, having written about this for the last nine months, while few of the other media types came up with anything of substance.
- But at the same time, no one really had any interest whatsoever in Penn State as a football team. It was a weird vibe. There were a whole slew of questions about nothing.
- To be as fair as possible to O’Brien, I’m not sure how he can win, and I don’t mean on the field. Yes, someone has to tell him to squash any and all “us against the world” type of references coming from his team, because that makes Penn State football sound like it’s trying to play the victim, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make sure his players have a decent answer to “have you read the Freeh report?” However, those mad at Penn State because Joe Paterno had too much power for a football coach can’t get down on O’Brien because all he really wants to do is coach football.
If O’Brien talks football it’s like he’s not being sensitive enough to the scandal. If he talks scandal, considering he’s never going to be able to jump on a chair and scream, “I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS,” he’s looking backward when his focus at the moment appears to revolve around trying to keep a team together. He can’t win.
The NCAA didn’t give Penn State the death penalty, so O’Brien has to field a team because that’s his job. However, to do that as well as he possibly can makes it almost impossible for him to come across the right way all of the time. It’s the culture around Penn State University and how it sees its football program that’s supposed to change, but O’Brien and the players have to try to win football games.
- I’m not sure why so many in the media made a big deal out of O’Brien staying around after the sanctions came down. He knew what he was getting into, and it’s because of the scandal that it’s Bill O’Brien and not, possibly, Urban Meyer or a big name taking over the job. O’Brien has
one of the most secure jobs in college sports. If a slew of players start to leave, Penn State could go 0-12 for each of the next
two seasons and no one would blame him a bit.
- The Friday media one-on-one session always starts at eight. The Penn State players got there just after nine.
- On and off the record, the Penn State players who came to Chicago – Jordan Hill, Michael Mauti and John Urschel – were adamant and emphatic that there’s absolutely no peer pressure whatsoever being put on any of the other players to stay. They all went out of their way to point out that they only want the guys to stick around who really want to be committed to Penn State going forward. However, after listening to those guys get rolling, it has to be extremely intimidating right now for any young player to even think about transferring.
- No one would come out and say anything about Silas Redd and his USC situation, but Hill, Mauti and Urschel all had it in their voices and tone that if he was going to go, they’d understand that one.
- Welcome to the Big Ten, Tim Beckman. The other head coaches gave the new kid on the playground their version of an atomic wedgie with incessant whining about Illinois trying to dance with Penn State’s dates.
- People, Beckman and Purdue’s Danny Hope are allowed to recruit Penn State players, and the other Big Ten coaches should know that recruiting in all forms never, ever stops. That’s the game. It might stink and it might be unseemly, but if you’re Illinois or Purdue and this could be your one big window of opportunity to catch a break and win a four-team Leaders division, you do whatever you must to try to win.
- If you’re Beckman, you absolutely embrace the role of the bad guy. You don’t answer to Urban Meyer, Pat Fitzgerald or Bret Bielema; you answer to the Illinois fans and you do what you must within the rules to generate a winner.
- If Silas Redd, Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill all decided tomorrow that they wanted to be Badgers, Buckeyes, Wolverines, Wildcats, Huskers, Gophers, Hoosiers or Spartans, I have a hard time believing that it wouldn’t happen.
- Penn State might have been the big story, and Urban might be the Big Ten’s big new shiny star, but make no mistake about it; right now, Bret Bielema owns the Big Ten.
- Bielema has quickly gone from being the deferential new guy to the big swinging dude in the room. He was first to every session, was always front and center for everyone, and he always made very, very sure he scratched his face with the hand with the stunningly tasteful Big Ten Championship ring. He wasn’t being cocky. It was more of a confidence and a comfort zone that comes from going to two straight Rose Bowls, and he seems like he’s having fun with it.
- It was an interesting Urban Meyer. Compared to his Florida days, at least during the media sessions, he really and truly seemed more self-aware that – and I’m totally speculating here because I didn’t think to ask about it until just now – he needed to relax a bit. At the early morning Friday media gathering he was subdued and almost impossible to hear sometimes.
- For all of Meyer’s occasional bluster – especially when he spits something out about doing things “the right way” – he’s absolutely fascinating to listen to when he starts getting into the X’s and O’s. All coaches are more interesting when they get to talk about their craft, but you could hear a pin drop when Meyer gets rolling about the subtleties of the spread.
- That’s what made him a better analyst and announcer than he got credit for.
- At the end of the day, though, as good a teacher as Meyer is, it’s a lot easier to look like a genius when your players are better than everyone else’s. By my unofficial count, at least 15 different media types I talked to mentioned something about Ohio State probably having the best team in the conference this year. There was a general feeling that this is the year to get the Buckeyes because things are about to ramp back up in a big, big way.
- However, right now, I still think Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State are the league’s three best teams.
- Everyone is always on their cell phones no matter what the walk of life, but coaches’ cell phones are ALWAYS going off.
- My eternal quest to figure out who the third offensive option on Nebraska is came up short. It’s going to be Rex Burkhead, Taylor Martinez and lots of prayers for good health.
- I know, I know, I know, Husker fans. There are several promising options like Ameer Abdullah, but from all indications, if you liked the Nebraska offensive distribution last year, you’ll be more than happy with what’s coming next.
- Burkhead is a dead ringer for Pfc. Louden Downey in A Few Good Men.
- Tickets were $100 to get into the autograph session and luncheon. Denard Robinson could’ve sat there for four hours and still not give out enough handshakes and autographs.
- Montee Ball might be the returning Heisman finalist, but Robinson was the main attraction.
- Every story and every write-up on Ball will have something in it about how his first name is now pronounced Mon-Tay instead of Mon-Tee. Apparently, that’s actually his name but the coaches were calling him Mon-Tee and he never bothered to correct them until now.
- Because of the animated way he told it, the most entertaining story of the two days came from Bielema as he described what happened when Ball said he was coming back for another year. Bielema and a few coaches were walking down the hall when Ball passed by and nonchalantly said he was staying, catching them totally by surprise and making them do a double-take as they kept walking. What might have been the biggest moment of the Big Ten season was just that subtle.
- I dog coaches all the time when they're being arrogant self-important gasbags, but they’re all awesome when they get around kids. Even quick little things like a fist-bump from Brady Hoke, a picture with Kirk Ferentz, or Pat Fitzgerald ripping on two squirts for wearing Denard Robinson jerseys ends up making college football fun in so many ways. Jerry Kill took the time to write out something for everyone who wanted an autograph, and Kevin Wilson jokingly tried to recruit a seven-year-old wearing an Indiana jersey.
- All that stuff goes a long way for old people, too.
- “Hey guys, see that big guy over there? That’s Kawann Short. He’s probably going to be a star in the NFL. Oh and guys, that's Urban Meyer. He's the Ohio State head coach.”
- Response from four boys under eight: “LOOK OVER THERE! MASCOTS!!!”