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Friday, March 2, 2012
Big Ten Friday mailblog

By Adam Rittenberg

Hope everyone has a good weekend.

Matt from Columbus, Ohio, writes: In hiring Coombs, that now puts two previous head coaches and an "associate head coach" on the staff. I'm not sure what the latter exactly entails, but it seems like a good move. Generally, the only concern people cite with Meyer is the possibility of him burning himself out again. But, in hiring guys like Coombs, Withers, and Fickell, it seems Urban has guys that he won't think need to be micromanaged and that can pick up some slack here and there if he feels overwhelmed at certain points. Generally, I think this is very important, and being a bit overlooked. Your thoughts? Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, that's a really good point. Meyer has surrounded himself with people to whom he can delegate, people who know what it's like to be a head coach and can be comfortable with a lot of responsibility. This is a very good staff with a mix of mostly experienced coaches and some younger guys like Zach Smith. Now will Meyer actually delegate and not burn himself out? It's tough to tell until the grind of the season begins. There's no doubt Meyer is refreshed, but the season and the pressure can take a lot out of you, especially if you're as competitive as he is. But you're absolutely right in saying the framework is there with this staff so he doesn't have to micromanage the team.


Thomas from Chicago writes: First of all, I think both you and Brian do a great job covering the B1G and manage to stay pretty fair in your reporting. However, in regards to the grading of coordinator hires you and Brian both mention that Phil Parker has no previous coordinating experience. I'm sure you are both aware that he served as the co defensive coordinator in 2010 when the Godfather was out due to health reasons. So does that bump him up a half grade in both of your eyes? And a better question is why do I care so much?

Adam Rittenberg: Ha, love the self-awareness, Thomas. But you're right and we should have pointed that out. While it was a collective effort for Iowa's defensive staff during Norm's absence, Phil seemed to take a lead role. Still, it's a bit different when you're the permanent coordinator and the guy leading the defensive meetings. It's still hard to grade Phil Parker, because we don't really know what type of imprint he'll put on the defense. Will he just keep Norm's system? Will there be some actual tweaking? I know he has a different personality, but how he'll impact the unit remains to be seen.


Lee from Dundee, Mich., writes: Adam, Need some big time help here. I'm a huge MSU fan, and regardless of the four wins in a row my friend (big time U of M fan) says that MSU's reign is over due to Michigan getting the better rated recruits. However, I look at so many of the better MSU players in the past few years that weren't rated high at all and I believe that MSU has some great coaches up there that mold them into great players. I just don't see MSU going away and this rivalry will remain competitive. Who's argument holds more water?

Adam Rittenberg: Lee, I think yours does. Will Michigan State keep beating Michigan every year? No. But the programs are both part of the Big Ten's upper crust entering the 2012 season. Michigan's staff is recruiting extremely well, and Michigan State also has done a good job on the trail, even if the most recent classes haven't been rated as high. As you note, Michigan State's staff develops talent well, as does Michigan's. Michigan State also has made a greater commitment to football with the Skandalaris Center, higher salaries for assistants like Pat Narduzzi, and other ventures. So I see this rivalry remaining competitive for the foreseeable future.


Craig from Bordentown, N.J., writes: "As a reminder, these rankings are based on performance during the 2011 season and a player's IMPACT ON HIS TEAM,"I don't think you hate DRob, but let's focus for a minute on that highlighted portion above. You wanted to suggest that MORE than 16 players in the B1G had a BIGGER impact on their team? The "defense" bailed him out, as you replied. That's an entire half the team. As DRob went, so went all of Michigan's offense. Monte was good, but he couldn't single carry his offense, they were great because of the line and the QB and RB. Fitz was good, and critical to keeping Robinson in the season, but didn't shoulder the team. Cousins was impressive, and did shoulder a great deal of that offense -- I'd still question whether he was the barometer. This _individual_ had a greater impact on his team, for better or worse than anyone else in the league (and his #'s show for the better MOST of the time). less than 16th? Do you really need to wonder why fans are mad? You're a professional Rittenberg, and while we already know your judgment is questionable based on your stand for the SEC, do try to put a little reason into your responses.

Adam Rittenberg: Craig, if the rankings were solely based on impact, Robinson would be hired. But there's a second element to the sentence you quoted: performance during the 2011 season. This is where other players shined above Robinson, whose 2011 performance wasn't bad, but wasn't as strong as the other players on the list. We looked for players who were good to great every time they took the field. Montee Ball's overall 2011 performance? Much better than Robinson's. Kirk Cousins overall 2011 performance? Better than Robinson's. Why do you think they were All-Big Ten and he wasn't? It's easy to get lost in the dynamic plays, the brilliant runs, etc. We do, too! But we also can't overlook the mistakes made in some of the same games (Notre Dame, Northwestern). Robinson impacted games, both positively and negatively. You're absolutely right about that. But the total picture, his overall performance, puts him lower on the list.


Blaise from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I have never been motivated to write to you before; I genuinely enjoy the blog and your (impartial) work, and I have never had a need to write an angry letter before. Well, that time has come, as I am angry. I am appalled at your recent story highlighting the lack of minority coaches in the B1G. Your piece was wholly meritless. Whatever happened to hiring the right guy to coach the kids (as I believe all B1G schools all have) and then moving on? Why should any B1G school feel as if they have to hire a ?second rate? person just to promote a mythical and destructive force called diversity? If any minority candidate was the best person for a job, I have absolutely no qualms in saying that they would be a head coach right now. By highlighting the lack of minority coaches, YOU are continuing to harm them by suggesting they are a class of people that need extra assistance to get hired. How insulting to minorities! By continuing to imply, as you have, that race is a factor in hiring, then you are continuing to perpetuate the myth that there are two types of people, minority and white. I reject that assumption. We should all be ?color blind?, hiring based on performance, integrity, and competence, not skin color and ancestry.

Adam Rittenberg: Blaise, my hope is that your last sentence proves true in all of college football. But I can't see how I'm harming minority coaches by pointing out facts that underscore the uphill climb they have faced to land these jobs. Do they need extra assistance to be hired? Absolutely not. You and many others completely missed the point of the story, which points out that there are enough African-American candidates to get these jobs based on their own merits and nothing else. The pool of these candidates is larger than ever. Events like the minority coaches forum and organizations like the BCA have helped increase this pool. And we're seeing the numbers increase everywhere -- big conferences, small conferences. It's noteworthy to point out the Big Ten hasn't seen any African-American coaches since Bobby Williams, and only one in the past 20+ years. Does that mean Big Ten programs are racist? No. But it's important that these programs give strong consideration to African-American candidates for every opening going forward -- as some Big Ten schools have -- because the message nationally is that there are enough qualified candidates to be getting more jobs.


Rob from New York writes: Adam I understand that a big part of your job is to critique and criticize the B1G, but I know I'm not alone in thinking you take it too far. Maybe it's how ESPN divvies up the columns, but your columns consistently portray the B1G in a negative light in recruiting, bowl games and even in expansion (which is something the B1G arguably did best). Hell, you even had a tweet a few weeks ago about B1G *hoops* hurting 'national perception.' Who cares?! People go here to read about B1G teams, not other conferences and least of all the SEC. I have enough pro-SEC propaganda in my life, I don't need the one place for the Big Ten to be infected with it as well. And when it comes down to what these colleges are supposed to be doing, educating, the B1G is doing a pretty stellar job of it. So back off, for God's sake, or else leave the criticism columns to Bennett who at least acknowledges we're tired of hearing about every conference but our own.

Adam Rittenberg: Rob, I've repeatedly praised the Big Ten for its expansion with Nebraska, so you're pulling that comment out of you know where. In regard to bowl games, what do you want me to say? I've been one of the few national media members who consistently point out the inherent disadvantages Big Ten teams face in bowls. Would I revamp the Big Ten's bowl lineup? Absolutely. Wouldn't think twice about it. But the records are what they are, and it's hard to spin it any other way when the Big Ten consistently finishes under .500 in bowls. The Big Ten's academic reputation speaks for itself and has been praised on this blog repeatedly. If you are coming here to feel warm and fuzzy about your team and your conference, you're in the wrong place. There are other outlets that can give you what you want. If you want to read about the positive and negative elements of the league and its teams, this is the place for you.


Rob from Morristown, N.J., writes: Adam, wanted to thank you for answering some of my prior questions, I believe you have a really good handle on the pulse of B1G Football. I do want to point out however that I believe you are making a very strong and bothersome comment in your Weekly "chat" when answering a question about Kirk Ferentz ("He's the most powerful person at that university by far, and he has the administration under his thumb despite some weaker seasons.") I am certain you weren't aware when you answered this way on the fly during chat, but as a Penn State alum, we have ALL learned that this kind of "power" can lead to disastrous consequences. I am not insinuating that there are scandals brewing at the University of Iowa, but simply stating that we should learn from what happened at Penn State to say that the head football coach should NOT have the kind of power that you were alluding to. My question however is, as much as I enjoy reading the B1G Football blog, it IS college basketball season, when is ESPN going to have full time conference bloggers like you? Or do they and I am not aware? Who wins a B1G Championship first, Penn State Men's Basketball or Indiana Football?

Adam Rittenberg: Rob, while I wasn't thinking about the Penn State situation when making the comment about Ferentz and Iowa, I still think he has a ton of power on that campus. Too much? I know some folks think so. You're right that the Penn State situation should be a lesson, and while Iowa has had some off-field issues, including the rhabdo outbreak last winter, it's not the same. As to your question, we don't cover college basketball the same way as college football, but we do have an excellent college basketball nation blog that contains a ton of Big Ten coverage from my buddy Eamonn Brennan and others. You should definitely check it out if you haven't already. I like what Pat Chambers is building in State College.