Big Ten: Billy Lynch
My colleague Bruce Feldman recently ranked the nation's top 10 assistant coaches (ESPN Insider) this season, and one Big Ten aide made the rundown. Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker checks in at No. 2 after helping the Hawkeyes to an 8-0 start with the defense leading the way.
Parker's unit leads the nation in interceptions (15) and ranks fourth in takeaways (22). The Hawkeyes rank fifth nationally in pass efficiency defense, 14th in points allowed (14.8 points per game) and 18th in total yards allowed (296.5 yards per game).
At 68, Parker is no up-and-comer, but the guy has been vastly underrated for years and hopefully this amazing run that the Hawkeyes are on helps him finally get the credit he deserves.
Couldn't agree more. No other Big Ten assistants made Feldman's rundown, but who else deserves some love around the Big Ten? I've been very impressed with these assistants this season.
- Ohio State defensive coordinators Jim Heacock and Luke Fickell
- Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley
- Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson
- Iowa defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski
- Iowa defensive backs coach Phil Parker
- Iowa linebackers and special teams coach Darrell Wilson
- Minnesota linebackers coach John Butler
- Northwestern wide receivers coach Kevin Johns
- Wisconsin defensive line coach Charlie Partridge
- Indiana wide receivers coach Billy Lynch
- Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson
- Michigan State quarterbacks coach Dave Warner
- Purdue offensive line coach Shawn Clark
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Like many sports cliches, team player is used too liberally in college football.
That is, unless you're talking about Indiana's Ray Fisher.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Ray Fisher, who led the Hoosiers in receptions and TD catches last season, has made the move from offense to defense.|
The idea of a player moving from offense to defense before his senior year sounds like cruel and unusual punishment. The idea of the player actually offering to play a new position so late in his career is even more unusual. Throw in the fact that Fisher finished as Indiana's top wide receiver in 2008, and his transition to cornerback seems either incredibly heroic or extremely unwise.
"I was just looking for the team's best interest," Fisher explained. "I know we can get better by me playing the position. I'm a team guy and I know I can help a lot at that position."
Fisher isn't a stranger to the cornerback spot, having played both corner and wide receiver at Cleveland's Glenville High School. He recorded four interceptions as a junior before missing all of his senior season with an injury, but he came to Indiana to catch passes.
After appearing in 11 games as a true freshman, Fisher became Indiana's No. 2 option behind record-setter James Hardy in 2007. Fisher recorded 482 yards and five touchdowns that fall as the Hoosiers reached the Insight Bowl. Last year, he led the team in both receptions (42) and touchdown catches (5).
"That’s the position I really love," Fisher said of wide receiver. "But since we’re lacking at corner at Indiana, I’ll play just because there’s a need for it."
Fisher first started joking with the coaches about playing cornerback during his sophomore season. Back then, Indiana was set at corner with Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors. But Fisher's tone turned more serious last fall when injuries depleted the secondary -- and pretty much the whole team -- and the Hoosiers tumbled to last in the Big Ten and 105th nationally in pass defense (260.5 yards per game).
Ideally, Fisher wanted to play both ways, but the need at corner was obvious and Indiana felt good about its wide receivers, even after the April dismissal of Kellen Lewis.
"Wide receiver was a position where we felt like we had a whole lot of depth and was able to afford to send him over to the other side," Hoosiers wide receivers coach Billy Lynch said. "Ray’s just a football player. He’s a high-energy guy, he’s a confident guy and he obviously can run, so he brings an enthusiasm and a confidence and a presence to the defensive side of the ball.
"I think that move is going to pay off big for our team."
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Fisher makes his first start at cornerback tonight when Indiana opens the season against Eastern Kentucky.
Despite the long layoff, Fisher has gradually picked up the nuances of his new-old position. He received a taste of how cornerbacks operate by working closely with Porter as a young wide receiver.
Though he misses the wideout position and hopes to play both ways in the NFL, Fisher sees at least one bonus to his new spot.
"I talk a little bit more trash because on the defensive side of the ball, you don’t have to run back to the huddle," he said. "You can just chill and relax. All day long, it's nonstop with me."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Lots of great questions right now. Keep 'em coming.
Ed from Davenport, Iowa, writes: Since nobody else can answer this---Why is IOWA playing at Spartan Stadium two years in a row? By this reasoning, PSU should visit IOWA again this year.
Adam Rittenberg: It's one of the wacky things about the unbalanced Big Ten schedule. Every team has two conference byes each season, and when those byes reset every two years, you sometimes get a situation like this when games are repeated. This season marks the start of a new cycle with byes, so you get repeat matchups like Iowa at Michigan State, Northwestern at Iowa, Indiana at Penn State and Minnesota at Ohio State.
Greg from Cicero, Ind., writes: I believe your ranking of Purdue's defensive line is far off. They will be much stronger than you believe. Kerrigan and Neal are going to have great seasons. I do agree with your linebacker assessment. Purdue needs Werner to stay healthy and Carlino and Holland really have to step it up. Surely, you are going to give Purdue's secondary a better ranking. They should be pretty solid this year.
Adam Rittenberg: Purdue's line could be pretty solid this year, but aside from Ryan Kerrigan and Mike Neal, there are a bunch of unproven players. I really like the 1-2 punch with Kerrigan and Neal, but if guys like Kawann Short and Gerald Gooden don't grow up quickly, opponents will continue to run against Purdue and challenge the front seven. I agree with you that the linebackers are a concern and Jason Werner's health looms large with that group. And yes, I gave the secondary a more favorable review. Purdue's defense, like the rest of the team, is a bit of a mystery and certainly could surprise some people.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
If you haven't done it already, check out our signing day primer. As part of the story, I was asked to identify several Big Ten recruiting superlatives, including the league's best recruiter.
Former Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley owned the title before he left to become New Mexico's head coach, and several Big Ten assistants could lay claim to the designation. Most of Michigan's staff is new to the league, so it's hard to judge their recruiting clout just yet. I settled on Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who has landed several top prospects from the Maryland/Washington, D.C., area and elsewhere.
Here's my list of top recruiters for each Big Ten team. Many of you follow recruiting as closely or more closely than I do, so please e-mail me your suggestions and votes and I'll post the responses later in the week.
Running backs coach Reggie Mitchell -- Illinois might have lost its pipeline to D.C. with Locksley's departure, but Mitchell continues to get the top players from the Chicago area. The team's recruiting coordinator has brought linebacker Martez Wilson and others to Champaign, and was instrumental in landing 2009 top prospects Terry Hawthorne and Kraig Appleton. The departure of O-line coach Eric Wolford hurts Illinois' recruiting, but co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch does well in Florida.
Wide receivers coach Billy Lynch -- The head coach's son is responsible for nearly half of Indiana's 2009 recruiting class. He recruits locally extremely well and last year brought running back Darius Willis to Bloomington.
Offensive line coach Reese Morgan -- Iowa has a tradition of recruiting and developing elite offensive linemen, and Morgan is a big reason why. He recruits the state extremely well and brought in players like Jordan Bernstine and Tyler Sash to go along with seven commitments for 2009. Assistant linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson successfully recruits the surrounding states and has brought players like quarterback Marvin McNutt and Christian Ballard to Iowa City.
Quarterbacks coach Rod Smith and wide receivers coach Tony Dews -- As I stated earlier, it's a bit premature to make final determinations on Michigan's staff. Running backs coach Fred Jackson is a holdover and has recruited the Detroit area well in past years. But both Smith and Dews have distinguished themselves on the recruiting trail, luring top 2009 prospects like Tate Forcier, William Campbell and Craig Roh to Ann Arbor.
Running backs coach Dan Enos -- The former Spartans quarterback has played an instrumental role in upgrading the program's recruiting, which will play dividends Wednesday with a potentially program-changing class. Enos recruits the Detroit area extremely well and has brought in players like wideout Fred Smith and quarterback Kirk Cousins, as well as 2009 prospects like Edwin Baker, Larry Caper and Dion Sims.
Defensive line coach Tim Cross -- The team's associate head coach and lead recruiter played a key role in signing Minnesota's nationally ranked 2008 class, landing players like Troy Stoudermire and Keanon Cooper. Head coach Tim Brewster does much of the heavy lifting in recruiting, but Cross and co-defensive coordinator Ron Lee chip in as well.
Superbacks coach Adam Cushing -- He coaches a group rarely used in Northwestern's offense, but Cushing's contributions as a recruiter have been invaluable. Cushing serves as the team's recruiting coordinator and landed players like defensive end Vince Browne, safety David Arnold, linebacker Brett Nagel and top 2009 prospect Patrick Ward.
Co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell -- Several recruiters stand out on Jim Tressel's staff, but Fickell repeatedly lures top prospects from the Cleveland area and far-flung regions like Georgia and Florida. Quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels landed Terrelle Pryor last year, and wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell is a proven recruiter. Cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson is a rising star on the recruiting trail.
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson -- Johnson gets the nod after bringing in players like Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans, Navorro Bowman and Jared Odrick. No assistant played a bigger role in Penn State's 2009 nationally ranked class than Johnson, who recruited Derrick Thomas and Darrell Givens, among others. No wonder Ron Zook wanted Johnson to join his staff at Illinois.
Defensive line coach Terrell Williams -- This is another mostly new staff to the Big Ten, and coach Danny Hope does much of the recruiting himself, but Williams has proven to be a major asset so far. Williams helped to land half of Purdue's incoming recruiting class, including top running back Al-Terek McBurse. He recruits Florida extremely well, which falls right in line with Hope's approach.
Offensive line coach Bob Bostad -- Health issues forced top recruiter Henry Mason away from the program in 2007, and his absence is missed. Head coach Bret Bielema has a strong reputation as a recruiter, and Bostad is doing a solid job early in his tenure. Bostad's fingerprints were all over Wisconsin's 2008 class, as he landed offensive lineman Peter Konz and others. Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge and defensive coordinator Dave Doeren are also solid recruiters.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Coach Bill Lynch has a significant history with the Hoosiers' next opponent, Ball State.|
Bill Lynch is used to this by now.
When you've spent 23 of the last 24 years coaching college football in one state -- and that state isn't Texas or California -- you're going to cross paths with a former employer. Indiana boasts only four FBS football programs, and Lynch has been the head coach for two of them.
Those two teams meet Saturday night at Memorial Stadium as Lynch and Indiana take on Ball State, the team he coached from 1995-2002. Lynch's tenure was highlighted by a MAC title and a Las Vegas Bowl appearance in 1996 and lowlighted by a nation-worst 21-game losing streak from 1998-2000. Though Lynch recovered from the slide, he was fired after the team went 6-6 in 2002.
But the significance of Saturday's game goes beyond records, league titles, losing streaks and even firings. Lynch raised his four children in Muncie, Ind. All four graduated from Delta High School and sons Billy and Joey attended Ball State and played football. Several grandchildren live in Muncie and root for Ball State.
Plus, Lynch is close friends with his successor, Brady Hoke.
"There aren't any players there now that I recruited or coached, but certainly so many people in that community," Lynch said. "So I've got a lot of respect, lot of good friends. It makes it for a tough game, when you're playing against people you have respect for, and you know how important it is for both sides."
Lynch isn't the only Hoosiers coach a bit torn by facing the Cardinals. Indiana wide receivers coach Billy Lynch played for his dad at Ball State and never enjoys facing his alma mater.
"It's one of those things where the schedule comes out years in advance, you look at that game and say, 'Aw, man, really wish we didn't have to play those guys,'" Billy Lynch said.
Saturday marks the end of Indiana's three-game contract with Ball State, one Bill Lynch had no role in scheduling. The first meeting in 2006 undoubtedly was the toughest for both Bill and Billy Lynch, as Bill's younger son Joey quarterbacked the Cardinals in Muncie.
Ball State built a 23-7 halftime lead before Indiana rallied for a 24-23 win.
"I didn't like that at all," Bill Lynch said. "But most coaches will tell you when you're playing people you've got good respect for and friends that it's always a little bit tougher."
During an interview in August, Lynch acknowledged that he didn't know if he'd ever be a head coach again after being let go from Ball State. He never envisioned the tragic circumstances under which he took over the Indiana program after Terry Hoeppner's death.
But for a coaching lifer, there's no bitterness about the way things ended in Muncie.
"I don't think by any means is there any type of animosity," Billy Lynch said. "That's the way of the profession. You move on and do the best job you can the next place you're at."
Few would complain about the job Bill Lynch has done so far, helping Indiana reach its first bowl game since 1993 in December. A win Saturday against a strong Cardinals team would make the Hoosiers 3-0 and well on their way to a postseason repeat.
Billy Lynch said his dad hasn't changed since first becoming a head coach at Butler in 1985, but the elder Lynch would like to think he's grown into the job.
"Whether you're an assistant, you're a coordinator, you're a head coach, you learn all the time," he said. "Each experience you go through makes you better. I would hope I would fall in that category."