National signing day has come and gone, and the start of spring practice is at least a month away for every Big Ten team. Welcome to the Sahara of college football. Or, to put things in Big Ten context, Siberia. It's a time for coaches to take their feet off the gas pedal and recharge a bit. Most coaches aren't programmed that way, though, and will continue to put in long hours all the way up until spring ball. For three Big Ten coaching staffs in particular, letting up in February and early March is simply not an option. All three endured some turnover during the offseason, and all three have head coaches on the hot seat in 2010. Let's take a look.
Michigan: Head coach Rich Rodriguez has filled his lone staff vacancy internally and must now begin preparing for crucial sets of practices in the spring and the summer. Michigan will rely on its freshman class more than any other Big Ten team, especially on defense. Rodriguez and his assistants need to figure out who goes where and how to tweak the defensive scheme for better results. Seven freshmen are already on campus, including quarterback Devin Gardner, and the staff wants to bring them along as quickly as possible for spring ball. Michigan has no choice but to fast-track its young defenders, particularly in the secondary, an area it addressed well in recruiting.
Illinois: The Illini have new coordinators on both sides of the ball as well as four new position coaches, so Ron Zook's staff must get on the same page before spring ball. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino needs to evaluate his quarterback options as best as he can before seeing them practice live, which is never an easy thing to do. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning wants to enter spring ball with a clean slate, but he needs a decent idea of who his playmakers and leaders will be. Illinois' secondary really struggled down the stretch in 2009, and Koenning must upgrade the safety position and identify immediate contributors from the current roster or the incoming recruiting class.
Minnesota: Tim Brewster and his staff won't survive another poor offensive performance in 2010, so their priorities right now are obvious. New offensive coordinator Jeff Horton is taking the right approach by simplifying things -- more on this in Friday's blog -- and he and his staff need to pinpoint what their personnel can do best. Minnesota needs to be much more physical on the offensive line, and it's up to Horton and O-line coach Tim Davis to get things on track this spring. The staff also must identify playmakers on offense as the unit looked lost after Eric Decker got hurt. The defensive staff will be busy, too, as Minnesota loses nine starters on that side of the ball.