Big Ten: Marcus Freeman

A look at the B1G assistant salaries

December, 12, 2013
USA Today has released its annual database of assistant coach salaries throughout college football so let's see how the Big Ten aides stack up. Ten of the 12 Big Ten schools report coaches' salaries (Northwestern and Penn State do not).

Once again, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison leads Big Ten assistants in pay at $851,400, which ranks fourth nationally behind million-dollar coordinators Chad Morris of Clemson, Kirby Smart of Alabama and John Chavis of LSU.

Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges is the only other Big Ten assistant in the top 10 nationally in total pay ($709,300). Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000) is next, followed by Ohio State defensive coordinators Luke Fickell ($610,000) and Everett Withers ($585,000), Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908) and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman ($555,000).

On the whole, the Big Ten has fewer assistants making top-20 salaries than the SEC. There's also a decent drop-off in salary after Herman, as no others make more than $500,000 (Wisconsin coordinators Dave Aranda and Andy Ludwig both make $480,000).

Here are the highest-paid assistants for the 10 Big Ten squads reporting salary:

Michigan: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison ($851,400)
Nebraska: Offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000)
Ohio State: Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell ($610,000)
Michigan State: Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908)
Wisconsin: Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig ($480,000)
Purdue: Offensive coordinator John Shoop ($400,000)
Illinois: Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and defensive coordinator Tim Banks ($400,000)
Indiana: Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell ($356,500)
Minnesota: Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($346,800)
Iowa: Defensive coordinator Phil Parker ($325,500)

Claeys clearly is the best value in the league, as he served as Minnesota's acting head coach during Jerry Kill's health-related absence and remained as the main sideline coach even after Kill returned to duty. Iowa's Parker, along with OC Greg Davis ($325,000) also earned their keep and then some as the Hawkeyes flipped their record from 4-8 to 8-4.

Some Michigan fans will scoff at Borges' salary after the Wolverines offense struggled for much of Big Ten play. Fickell, Shoop and Banks also directed units that had forgettable seasons.

One thing to keep in mind when some of these assistants are mentioned for head-coaching jobs is the pay cuts they'd likely take to lead teams in smaller conferences.

In terms of total staff pay, Ohio State leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally at $3,474,504, trailing LSU, Alabama, Clemson, Texas and Auburn. Michigan comes in next at $3,072,000, which ranks 14th nationally.

Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas in part because he had lost so many assistants in his final two years in Madison. Bielema's staff at Arkansas ranks 10th nationally in total staff pay ($3,233,000), while Gary Andersen's staff at Wisconsin ranks 28th ($2,495,000)

Here are the Big Ten teams sorted by total staff pay:

Ohio State: $3,474,504
Michigan: $3,072,000
Nebraska: $2,648,500
Wisconsin: $2,495,000
Michigan State: $2,410,483
Iowa: $2,367,500
Minnesota: $2,152,350
Indiana: $2,074,780
Illinois: $2,066,400
Purdue: $2,010,000

We can have an endless about debate whether college football coaches make too much money in general, but these numbers remain problematic for the Big Ten in my view. Only two teams are truly paying top dollar for their staffs, and some groups are undervalued.

Michigan State's staff obviously jumps out after the Spartans just won the Big Ten championship. MSU co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($280,800) and Jim Bollman ($262,000) are among the lowest-paid coordinators in the league, as several position coaches make more than them. Athletic director Mark Hollis said last week that raises are coming for head coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants.

Minnesota's staff also deserves a nice bump after handling such a tough situation this season. I also wonder whether Iowa's coordinators get a raise, especially considering what head coach Kirk Ferentz makes.

Purdue's Marcus Freeman and Jafar Williams are the Big Ten's lowest-paid assistants at $120,000. Only one SEC assistant, Kentucky's Derrick Ansley, makes less than $140,000.
Luke Fickell had one last test for Marcus Freeman, albeit a year after he was done coaching him. It didn't take long for Freeman to recognize the challenge, which pretty much explains the potentially awkward scene that will unfold this Saturday when the former Ohio State linebacker coaches against the Buckeyes at Ross-Ade Stadium.

"I'm a fan of Ohio State when I'm not playing them," said Freeman, in his first year as Purdue's linebackers coach. "I'm the biggest fan there is."

The story goes like this: Freeman's brief NFL foray ended when conditioning tests for the Colts -- who would be his fourth NFL team in a year -- determined that he had an enlarged heart valve. His pro playing career essentially over before it really started, he had already decided what he wanted to do next.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Freeman
Greg Ashman/Icon SMIAfter winning four Big Ten titles as a Buckeye and working as a grad assistant at Ohio State, Marcus Freeman faces his former team on Saturday as the Purdue linebackers coach.
So he followed-up on earlier phone conversations he had had with his Ohio State coaches, and he made the roughly three-hour drive from his physical in Indianapolis to Columbus, Ohio, where he was living at the time. He walked into the Buckeyes' football complex the next day to meet with their staff, and he joined as a graduate assistant for the 2010 season.

"Three years later," Freeman said, "I'm here."

Of course, it was hardly that simple for the Boilermaker assistant, who had won four Big Ten titles and played in two BCS title games as a Buckeye from 2004-08. Freeman had long discussions with Fickell and former Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock prior to jumping into the business.

"The first thing you try to do is talk them out of it," Fickell said. "Crazy business, a lot of things you give up. Obviously there's things you get. But the No. 1 thing is, especially if you played here and win here, sometimes you think I want to get into coaching because I want to coach at Ohio State. The reality is not every place is like this. The reason I tried to talk him out of it -- if you can't talk them out of it then you know they're fit for the coaching profession. As much as I tried I couldn't do it. You see why."

Freeman loved watching film. He loved the environment at practice. As he became further immersed in his duties at Ohio State, his passion for the profession continued to grow.

And he realized exactly what Fickell was getting at in their initial conversations.

"You want to talk him out of it, because it's such a selfish profession on your family, and it's hard on you as an individual but more so the people that are around you -- your family, your kids, your wife," Freeman said. "Being a college football coach, a football coach period, is something that you must have extreme passion for.

"If one of my players came up to me and said, 'Coach Freeman, I want to be a coach,' I'd say, 'No you don't, there's tons of other things you can do that fulfill you,'" he later added. "But if they continue to want to do it and want to do it, they've got to realize you're not just going to wake up and be a coach at Purdue University. I'm very fortunate and lucky to be where I'm at, and the path to get here is not easy, and you try to let them know, ‘Hey, there's many years and long hours and low pay along that dream to where you want to go.’"

Freeman sounded like some of his older peers in saying that he guesses he's stuck coaching now. He joked that he is not smart enough to get into another field, and that his wife of three years would prefer he coach at the high school level, something he cannot do without a teaching degree. He has been unable to convert any of his former teammates into Purdue fans, saying that fellow linebacker James Laurinaitis signed a chalkboard wall during a summer visit to his new home with "Go Bucks!" And Freeman has willingly conceded that Braxton Miller has eclipsed him as the most successful Wayne High School graduate to play for Ohio State.

Surrendering the shoulder pads for the headset was a difficult adjustment at first, but it was one that had to be made. He has followed former Buckeyes receivers coach Darrell Hazell to Kent State and now to Purdue, and he is hoping to continue a trend in a series that has seen the Boilermakers win three of four in West Lafayette, Ind.

"You have a passion for playing, it's difficult to give up playing because that’s what I've done since I was about 6: I've played football," Freeman said. "I've played youth football, I've played high school football, I've played college football, I've played professional football -- that's all I thought I knew.

"But just like anything else, you adjust and you figure out what's the next thing in your life. And it's almost like I've got a passion for coaching more than I did for playing. I get more excited to coach, and I think it's different because yeah, it's football, but you live through young men and you get fulfilled when you see a young man that you work with and you coached hard go out and be successful. That, to me, is more satisfying than anything I could've done on the field."
Northwestern has made its exit from the Big Ten's top half and shows no signs of returning. Now it's Nebraska's turn to be shown the door. Meanwhile, we welcome an unexpected visitor in Minnesota to the top half of the power rankings.

Minnesota's historic upset of Nebraska provided the major shake-up in this week's rundown. The Gophers, who were No. 11 two weeks ago, have turned around their season with upset wins against both Northwestern and Nebraska. They've guaranteed a second consecutive bowl appearance and can make some noise in the Legends Division down the stretch. Iowa also looks like it will be going back to the postseason after an overtime win against Northwestern.

Michigan State moves up to No. 3 after pulling away from Illinois in Champaign, while Iowa moves up after its overtime win against slumping Northwestern. Penn State's historically bad night at Ohio State bumps the Lions down a few pegs.

Let's take one last look at the Week 8 rankings.

Now, for the fresh rundown:

1. Ohio State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten; last week: 1): There was no need for a second-half surge as Ohio State throttled Penn State from the get-go, picking up an easy win and the style points it has looked for in Big Ten play. After his near benching at Northwestern, quarterback Braxton Miller has performed like a Heisman Trophy candidate, picking apart Penn State's defense for 252 passing yards and three touchdowns. Ohio State racked up its highest-ever yardage total (686) against a Big Ten foe. The Buckeyes' defense recorded three takeaways. Ohio State now visits Purdue, a recent trouble spot.

2. Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1; last week: 2): The nation continues to sleep on the Badgers, but at some point the credit will come if Gary Andersen's crew continues to win. Wisconsin's second open week came at a good time as star linebacker Chris Borland had some extra time to heal from a hamstring injury. Borland should be good to go for this week's trip to Iowa, as Wisconsin reunites with its longtime rival for the first time since 2010. Andersen likes the way quarterback Joel Stave is progressing, and this week's game should provide a nice gauge.

3. Michigan State (7-1, 4-0; last week: 4): After a one-year hiatus, Michigan State is back in the Big Ten title race. The Spartans are the only Legends Division team without a Big Ten defeat and can take a huge step toward Indianapolis by beating rival Michigan this week. Quarterback Connor Cook and the offense got on track against Illinois, racking up 42 points and 477 total yards. When Cook is in rhythm, Jeremy Langford finds running room and the offensive line controls play, Michigan State is tough to beat. But the challenges will get tougher now.

4. Michigan (6-1, 2-1; last week: 5): Who are these Wolverines? The young, talented group that beat Notre Dame in September or the shaky, flawed squad that hasn't looked very impressive since Sept. 7? We'll finally get some real answers as Michigan begins a challenging November stretch this week at Michigan State. Devin Gardner and the offense scored at will against Indiana but face an exponentially tougher challenge against the Spartans' nationally elite defense. A second Big Ten loss would make it tough for Michigan to reach Indianapolis, given the remaining schedule.

5. Iowa (5-3, 2-2; last week: 7): After struggling against Northwestern's Kain Colter last year, Iowa's defense stepped up in a big way, shutting out the Wildcats for a half and recording six sacks, its highest total since the 2008 season. The linebacking corps was terrific, and so was Drew Ott. Quarterback Jake Rudock wasn't great but made the big throw when it counted to C.J. Fiedorowicz in overtime. Iowa is a win away from becoming bowl eligible as rival Wisconsin comes to Kinnick Stadium this week. The Hawkeyes get the edge against Minnesota for the five spot after dominating the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium.

[+] EnlargeNebraska vs Minnesota
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsMinnesota's upset of Nebraska moved the Gophers up two spots and dropped the Huskers four spots.
6. Minnesota (6-2, 2-2; last week: 8): Two weeks ago, many were wondering if Minnesota would make a bowl game and if head coach Jerry Kill would step down because of his health issues. While Kill's future remains somewhat in doubt, he has been in the coaches' booth to watch his team record upset wins against Northwestern and Nebraska. Saturday's dominant performance against the Huskers marked Minnesota's first win against Big Red since 1960. The Gophers received big performances from running back David Cobb (138 yards), defensive linemen Ra'Shede Hageman and Theiren Cockran and others. Minnesota could be a surprise contender in the Legends Division if it continues to win this week at Indiana.

7. Nebraska (5-2, 2-1; last week: 3): A four-spot drop in the rankings for one loss might seem harsh, but Nebraska invalidated any perceived progress since the UCLA game by struggling in all three phases in a loss at Minnesota. Despite his big-game flaws, Bo Pelini's teams typically had won the games they should win, but the Huskers fell apart after building a 10-0 lead. Quarterback Taylor Martinez looked very rusty and the defense couldn't stop Minnesota's ground game. Nebraska tries to get well against slumping Northwestern this week in Lincoln.

8. Penn State (4-3, 1-2; last week: 6): There will be better nights for quarterback Christian Hackenberg and Penn State, which fell behind quickly at Ohio State and never challenged the Buckeyes in the ugliest loss of the Bill O'Brien era. Penn State's defensive issues are very real, though, as the Lions have allowed more than 40 points in three consecutive games for the first time since 1899 (!). Hackenberg's health will be a storyline this week as Penn State faces Illinois. At least the Lions don't have any more open weeks.

9. Indiana (3-4, 1-2; last week: 9): It's still all about fixing the defense for Indiana, which had no answers for Jeremy Gallon, Gardner and Michigan in Week 8. The IU offense can strike and strike quickly, regardless of whether Tre Roberson or Nate Sudfeld is playing quarterback. Kevin Wilson's crew enters a critical home stretch against Minnesota and Illinois. IU likely needs to win both to have a chance of going bowling this year.

10. Northwestern (4-4, 0-4; last week: 10): Halloween arrives Thursday, but the nightmare has lasted four weeks for the Wildcats, whose October woes have reached a new low under Pat Fitzgerald. All of Northwestern's hallmarks -- great ball security, limited penalties, being great in the clutch -- seem to be going out the window. Fitzgerald has blamed himself and his staff for the recent struggles, and it's hard to disagree after the ultra-conservative decisions late in Saturday's loss to Iowa. Northwestern heads to Nebraska this week, as misery loves company.

11. Illinois (3-4, 0-3; last week: 11): The Illini's fast start seems like a distant memory now as they've been swallowed up in Big Ten play. Illinois' second consecutive home blowout loss makes a bowl game highly unlikely, and there are issues to address on both sides of the ball. A young defense is getting exposed by power running teams, as Michigan State had its way with the Illini. Bill Cubit is a creative play-caller, but Illinois needs something more against Big Ten defenses. Illinois had a meager eight first downs and 128 total yards against Michigan State.

12. Purdue (1-6, 0-3; last week: 12): The Boilers entered their second bye week feeling a bit better than they did entering their first. A stout defensive performance against Michigan State, particularly by Bruce Gaston and his fellow linemen, provides Purdue something to build on before the stretch run. Purdue now needs to get something going on offense. Ohio State comes to town this week, which should be special for Purdue coaches Darrell Hazell and Marcus Freeman.
Ohio State already had started paying more competitive salaries for assistant coaches before Urban Meyer arrived in November 2011.

But when Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith sat down to discuss staff pay, Smith soon realized he needed to do more.

"I think Michigan had stepped up with their coordinators," Smith recalled last week during Big Ten spring meetings in Chicago. "So we were already going to that before Urban Meyer came, but we bumped it up a little more. Any time there's change, you have that opportunity."

[+] EnlargeGreg Mattison
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIMichigan DC Greg Mattison ranks as the highest-paid assistant coach in the Big Ten for the 2013 season.
"Everyone's always focused on head coaches' salaries," Smith continued. "That's always the thing. But really when you look at the changes, it's really been assistants' salaries across the country -- not just in the SEC, but the Big 12, Pac-12, all across the country."

The Big Ten is part of the change, too, as the league is allocating more money toward football assistants than ever before. The Detroit Free Press has an excellent look at Big Ten assistants' salaries, complete with a database that includes 10 of the 12 current members (Northwestern doesn't submit salaries as a private institution, and Penn State doesn't have to because of state laws).

The Free Press found that eight of the 10 schools are paying more for assistants in 2013 than they did in 2012 (only Indiana and Illinois are not). There are some significant total increases, such as Wisconsin (up $558,000), Nebraska (up $518,500), Purdue ($400,000) and Minnesota ($355,000). Staff pay had been an issue at Wisconsin, which lost six assistant coaches following the 2012 Rose Bowl, and at Purdue, which paid less for its staff during the Danny Hope era than any Big Ten school.

The total trend among the 10 schools is an increase of $1,720,852.24 for 2013.

Ohio State and Michigan remain No. 1 and No. 2 in Big Ten staff salary, as the Buckeyes allocate $3.416 million and the Wolverines allocate $2.805 million. Nebraska and Wisconsin make the biggest moves in the league for 2013, as the Huskers rise from sixth to third and the Badgers rise from seventh to fourth.

Illinois, which replaced five assistants from the 2012 team, including co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales, dropped from third in staff pay ($2.314 million) to eighth ($2.065 million).

The database shows that nearly every Big Ten assistant with "coordinator" in his title -- whether he's the sole coordinator or a co-coordinator -- will earn north of $300,000 for 2013. Only 18 assistants listed will make less than $200,000 in 2013 -- 15 work for Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana.

Some notes:

  • Although Wisconsin paid former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst good coin, the school has increased its commitment for Gary Andersen's staff, not only with the coordinators but with some coveted position coaches like running backs coach Thomas Hammock ($300,000).
  • All of Nebraska's assistants are earning $200,000 or more for 2013, but there's a huge drop-off between Beck and the next highest-paid assistant (defensive coordinator John Papuchis at $310,000).
  • Michigan State has a similar drop off between Narduzzi and co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($270,000) and Jim Bollman ($260,000). Warner will be the primary offensive play-caller and has been on Mark Dantonio's staff since 2006, while Bollman is a newcomer.
  • Although Michigan is paying top dollar for its coordinators, the school gets its assistants for a relative bargain. Receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Jeff Hecklinski will earn $225,000 in 2013, while the others all will earn $205,000. Ohio State, meanwhile, pays all but one of its assistants $286,000 or more.
  • The Big Ten's three lowest-paid assistants all are in their first years: Illinois wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy ($125,000) and Purdue linebackers coach Marcus Freeman and running backs coach Jafar Williams (both at $120,000).
  • Although schools like Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa ($325,000) pay their coordinators the exact same amount, others have slight differences in salary. Purdue's Shoop makes $5,000 more than defensive coordinator Greg Hudson. Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($340,000) makes $5,000 more than offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. Wonder if that leads to any underlying jealousy?
  • Most Big Ten schools have assistant salaries in round numbers, but there are some interesting totals from Indiana, which pays co-offensive coordinators Seth Littrell and Kevin Johns $255,500.04 and new recruiting coordinator/assistant defensive line coach James Patton $173,740.08. Never know when that change can come in handy.

The Big Ten still lacks some of the OMG totals seen in the SEC -- LSU is paying new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron $3.4 million in the next three years -- but the overall trend puts the league more on par with what we're seeing nationally.

Big Ten mailblog

April, 16, 2013
Let's get to those questions ...

Billy Joe from Mohawk, W. Va., writes: With the divisional alignments not being released yet, is there a reason on the delay we are not being told? Perhaps, are they talking about adding two more schools? Is Jim Delany and Co. waiting on the Maryland lawsuit to poach one or two more ACC schools? Who would you say is most likely to join the B1G if they are waiting on setting the divisions due to them poaching 1 or 2 more schools? Or is the B1G set with 14 schools and they are just that divided on whether Indiana, Purdue or another team will be on the West side?My initial feeling is that there is more behind the crystal ball than deciding whether Indiana or Purdue will make the West stronger. I have a feeling they are talking to a school or two. If this is the case, I would say the most likely schools are, in order: Virginia, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt (I know, a stretch, but it keeps the B1G schools connected.), North Carolina, and Kansas. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Billy Joe, I've been told the wait in announcing the divisions has more to do with logistics than the possibility/likelihood of future expansion. The Big Ten certainly could expand beyond 14, but I've confirmed with multiple sources that none of the discussions involving the divisions included models beyond 14 teams. They're only working with the number they can confirm, and while expansion is never truly on the back burner any more, it doesn't really apply here. Either Purdue or Indiana is going West, but schedules need to be worked out and so do rotations. It will be done at the latest by the Big Ten presidents/chancellors meetings June 2 at league headquarters. I don't hear that an announcement is imminent.

Scott from Houghton Lake, Mich., writes: Looking back at the last year that MSU played, Maxwell only completed 53% of his passes (I rounded up from 52.5%) and this coming from a guy throwing missiles at all of his receivers. I know the QB job is up for grabs, but let's say that he lands that job as the starter. If he is able to throw with a little touch this next year along with completing close to 60% of his passes, do you think that will be enough to get MSU to 8 or 9 wins? Or do you think we lost too much on the offensive side of the ball with Bell and Sims gone?

Adam Rittenberg: Scott, I agree Andrew Maxwell has to put a little more touch on his passes. I first noticed that in last year's opener against Boise State, and it continued to a degree, although the receivers still dropped far too many passes. You bring up a good point overall -- Michigan State doesn't need Maxwell to be an All-Big Ten quarterback to win the Legends division this season. The defense once again has the makings of being a top 10 or top-5 unit nationally, and Michigan State was right there in five of the six games it lost last fall. It likely won't take much improvement from Maxwell and the offense to translate into a few more wins, as long as the defense performs to the lofty expectations. One concern I have is running back as Michigan State won't have a Le'Veon Bell-type player. The Spartans really need Aaron Burbridge, Bennie Fowler and the rest of the receivers to take major steps in the offseason to help Maxwell or whoever wins the top QB job.

Jerome from Toronto writes: Hey Adam, I think Michigan will be the best team in the Legends division in 2013 and beat all the Legends teams. However, Nebraska will be the team to go to Indy with a better overall record even with one loss to Michigan. I see Michigan getting upset on the road at PSU and also losing to Ohio State which means Nebraska would be division champ. With that said, when the B1G goes to 7 teams per division, do you think the conference should decide the division champ first by looking at division games, then crossover games used as tiebreakers? Should a team that beats all their division foes take a backseat if they have a more challenging crossover schedule?

Adam Rittenberg: Jerome, I see your point here as the crossover schedule can vary greatly in degree of difficulty. But I'd be very surprised if the Big Ten doesn't keep overall league record as the chief factor in determining which teams go to Indianapolis. Division games obviously play a big role, but I can't see the league telling a team that went 8-1 in league play to stay home in favor of a team that went 7-2, even if the 7-2 team won the head-to-head tiebreaker. It's never perfect when you have a league that lacks a round-robin format, and there always will be discrepancies in crossover schedules. Your argument has some value, but I wouldn't expect a change.

Mitch from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I was reading through all the recaps of games and some of the articles from lunch time links and noticed that everyone had barely any fans. Ohio State had a bunch of hype about playing in Cincinnati but only 30,000 attended. Some had 8,000 or even 2,000 at their practices and games. Is it really that Husker fans are that crazy that we can get over 60,000 people to our spring game with a state that has about a sixth the people in the state of ohio. Maybe there are other reasons why others were so low and i missed them but the difference in attendance was staggering to me.

Adam Rittenberg: Husker fans are extremely passionate about their team, and they'll turn out under almost any circumstances to get a glimpse at Big Red. There are some important factors involved in spring games, mainly the weather, which was beautiful in Lincoln on April 6 but not nearly as nice around much of the Big Ten last Saturday. Although Big Ten fans turn out in force for real games, rain or shine, crummy weather can make some folks think twice about attending a glorified scrimmage (and in some cases, less than that). Nebraska fans also missed out on last year's game because of bad weather.

I'm a little surprised Ohio State didn't draw more fans, but Cincinnati isn't as centrally located as Columbus, and attending the game itself wasn't that cheap when you factor in extra driving, parking, etc. I also remember Ohio State drawing a spring game-record 95,722 in 2009 on a gorgeous day in Columbus. But your point is valid, and spring games for the most part aren't a huge deal in the Big Ten, even at schools with huge stadiums like Michigan and Wisconsin.

Jon from Columbus writes: Adam, you recently said that you thought Michigan was about a year away from being among the nation's elite. Does your outlook of 2013 and Team 134 change now that Brady Hoke has stated that he expects Fitz Toussaint to be a full go by the start of the season and Jake Ryan to be back on the field by October?

Adam Rittenberg: My statement about Michigan's numbers factored in Toussaint's likely return for the season. Ryan certainly would be a major boost for the defense, but he might not be the player we saw in 2012, at least not right away. The larger point is I think it will take one more year for Michigan's depth on both sides of the ball to be at nationally elite levels because of Brady Hoke's last two recruiting classes. More of those players will be two-year starters or in bigger roles to contribute. Michigan can be a really good team in 2013, but there are still too many question marks -- interior offensive line, defensive difference-maker, running back -- to call the Wolverines a nationally elite team.

K from Iowa writes: Ohio produces more FBS players than any other Midwestern state, maybe more than the next two combined. It's been pretty well documented that Urban Meyer's looking beyond Ohio for recruits. He's already offered more kids in the 2014 class from Georgia than the Buckeye State. Meanwhile, there are teams with new coaches with strong Ohio ties, specifically Purdue, Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee, not to mention Notre Dame, Michigan and Michigan State. If Urban's opened the gate to the fence and made it open season on kids who Ohio State might have previously offered under Jim Tressel, who do you think is in the best position to benefit from it?

Adam Rittenberg: First of all, Ohio State isn't ignoring its backyard and opening the gate for other teams to land top players. Although Meyer and his staff wisely will invest time and energy in the South, where, by any measure, there's a larger concentration of elite prospects, they'll never turn their back on Ohio. Five of the seven 2014 recruits committed to Ohio State are from the state of Ohio. You're absolutely right that all of those other teams will recruit Ohio and get their share of good players out of the talent-rich state. I think Purdue in particular has a chance to recruit well in Ohio because of head coach Darrell Hazell and assistants like Marcus Freeman, a former Ohio State star linebacker. Michigan always will get its share of Ohio prospects, especially from northern cities like Cleveland, Toledo and Akron. Teams like Michigan State and Northwestern also do well in the Buckeye State, but I don't see one team benefiting dramatically more than normal because Meyer is casting a wider recruiting net.

Dave from Camp Randall writes: Adam,Do you think I am crazy for thinking that if Indiana improves on D, the Hoosiers have a good chance to get to 8-4 this year? Starting with a stunning upset of Missouri, and taking advantage of eight home games (Michigan, State, OSU and Wisconsin all on the road), to go undefeated in Bloomington electrifying the fan base, and the Hoosiers find themselves planning a beach day in Jacksonville. Throw in a road upset, (hopefully in Columbus) and I see a ticket to Tampa. After watching their practice, is there any chance the Crimson and Cream can do it?

Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, an Indiana question from Camp Randall? You do realize what has happened to the Hoosiers in their last few appearances there, right? Indiana definitely should improve upon last season's four-win total, and with the eight home games you mention, a bowl appearance is a reasonable expectation. But eight wins? I'm not so sure IU gets there. As Brian Bennett pointed out in Monday's mailbag, the schedule isn't a cakewalk. The Hoosiers not only play Missouri but also Navy and Bowling Green in non-league play. They should have beaten Navy last year, but there are no guarantees. IU's league schedule includes five of the top seven teams -- Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State -- and misses only Nebraska and Northwestern. So it won't be easy. The real key is getting a big road win or two, but the trips are very difficult (East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Madison and Columbus). Bottom line: I see Indiana getting to six wins, but eight seems a little too much.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue's Darrell Hazell is a first-year head coach in the Big Ten, but he and most of his assistants need no introduction to the league.

Hazell served as an Ohio State assistant from 2004-10. His staff includes defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, who held the same post at Minnesota under Glen Mason from 2000-04, and linebackers coach Marcus Freeman, an Ohio State linebacker from 2004-08.

Ask any to name the first objective for Purdue's program, and the word "physical" comes out of their mouths. The conference Purdue plays in is a big reason why.

"We've got to continually get Big Ten strong," Hazell told "This conference is different. There's teams in this conference that are very strong and very physical, and we need to continue to work toward that."

Purdue players started the process during 6 a.m. winter workouts. They've continued it through 11 practices this spring.

The progress report?

"That's one of our main challenges," Hudson said. "We're not ready to label a guy Big Ten strong. That's a different strength now."

The previous coaching staff made no secret about their desire to bring more speed to Purdue. It showed up in how they recruited and where they invested their time on the trail.

The Boilers boast enough speed to compete in the Big Ten, especially in areas like the secondary. But they lacked size at certain spots and got pushed around by teams like Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State in 2012.

Junior defensive end Ryan Russell is spending the offseason developing his upper-body strength. When Russell first arrived at Purdue, he played behind Ryan Kerrigan -- the 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and "one of the strongest people I've ever met," Russell said. Kerrigan, a unanimous first-team All-American and a first-round draft pick, showed Russell what a Big Ten lineman should look like.

Russell's goal this summer is to do 30 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press.

"Being Big Ten strong is a big thing," Russell said. "We're a fast team, but we're not necessarily always the strongest team. You want to be able to have everything in line to win a championship, so being strong is definitely a priority right now."

It also will be a priority in the new staff's recruiting efforts. There's only so much they can do with the current roster, and they need more size and power at certain positions, particularly on defense.

"I need linebackers I can look up to," Hudson said. "You should know the difference between your front, your linebackers and your secondary just by looking at them. ... Not only is it Big Ten strong, but it's Big Ten big. There's a reason it's called the Big Ten. We have big players, big buildings, big stadiums, big budgets.

"We need to blossom in all areas."

No one mistakes Bruce Gaston Jr. for a linebacker or a defensive back. At 6-2 and 303 pounds, he's a space-eating defensive tackle with huge arms and plenty of power.

But even Gaston, who recently returned to live practice action after recovering from thumb surgery, has taken steps to improve his explosiveness.

"Big Ten strong is being able to compete on a Big Ten level without feeling noticing the strength difference [with an opponent]," Gatson said. "I think it's more of a mentality, too. Everyone has physical capabilities and different physical limits, but to me, it's a mind-set, too.

"You've got to be Big Ten strong to play this game."
We figured Purdue would announce its new coaching staff eventually, at least before national signing day.

The wait is over, at least partially over, as Purdue on Friday officially revealed six new assistant coaches for Darrell Hazell's staff.

Most of these names already have been out there, but the confirmed Boilers assistants are:
  • Greg Hudson, defensive coordinator
  • Jim Bollman, offensive line
  • Marcus Freeman, linebackers
  • Jon Heacock, cornerbacks
  • Kevin Sherman, wide receivers
  • Jafar Williams, running backs

Hazell also named Doug Davis as the football team's head strength and conditioning coach, and Tommy Cook as the team's supervisor of football operations.

Freeman, Heacock and Williams all served on Hazell's staff at Kent State last season, as did both Davis and Cook. Both Freeman and Williams will occupy the same positions they had with the Golden Flashes, while Heacock had served as Kent State's defensive coordinator in addition to coaching corners. Hudson instead will lead the defense after serving as Florida State's linebackers coach the past three seasons. He has previous defensive coordinator experience at both East Carolina and at Minnesota under former Gophers coach Glen Mason from 2000-2004.

Ohio State fans will recognize several names on the list. Freeman starred at linebacker for the Buckeyes while Hazell served as an assistant there. Hazell, the Buckeyes' wide receivers coach from 2004-2010, worked under Bollman while Bollman served as Ohio State's offensive coordinator (and line coach) from 2001-2011. Heacock's older brother Jim served as Ohio State's defensive coordinator during Hazell's tenure. Jon Heacock served as Indiana's defensive coordinator from 1997-99.

Bollman spent the 2012 season with Boston College, while Sherman comes to Purdue from Virginia Tech, where he coached wide receivers for the past seven seasons.

Hazell in a news release called Freeman "perhaps the top up-and-coming coach in the profession." Hazell also praised Williams, Sherman and Heacock for their recruiting efforts.

All six coaches have been recruiting for Purdue.

Hazell's final three hires will be offensive coordinator/quarterbacks, defensive line and tight ends. The tight ends coach also likely will serve as the team's recruiting coordinator and oversee the special teams units. It's also possible that Hudson coaches the Boilers' safeties.

The big addition will be offensive coordinator, and it's interesting to see where Hazell turns. Hazell said Friday that he'll have input on the offensive play calls.

Big Ten lunch links

January, 9, 2013
Happy hump day.
New Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell is starting to hire assistants for the Boilers, while the Big Ten's other new boss, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen, is putting the finishing touches on his staff.

Two coaching tidbits to pass along:
  • There's no official announcement from Purdue, but Hazell reportedly will hire Florida State assistant Greg Hudson as the team's defensive coordinator. Hudson recently completed his third season as the Seminoles' linebackers coach. He has Big Ten experience after serving as Minnesota's defensive coordinator, recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach from 2002-04 under Glen Mason. Hudson was defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at East Carolina from 2005-09. We'll have more on Hudson once the hire becomes official. Hazell also is expected to bring several Kent State assistants, including linebackers coach Marcus Freeman, the former Ohio State player, with him to Purdue.
  • Wisconsin will name Auburn assistant Jay Boulware as its new tight ends coach. Boulware has coached tight ends and special teams at Auburn since 2009. He and Andersen coached together at Utah from 2005-2006, when Boulware served as the Utes' tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. Boulware will be making his Big Ten coaching debut with the Badgers, although he has coached in the Midwest before at Northern Illinois (1997-2000) and Iowa State (2007-08). He has been a special teams coordinator for nine of the past 10 seasons, so there's a good chance he retains the title with Wisconsin. Andersen has just one assistant left to hire. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he's targeting Utah receivers coach Aaron Roderick for the same position with the Badgers.

Big Ten lunch links

December, 22, 2010
Chattin' away right now.
If Eric Gordon played for any other team, he'd probably be a household name.

He'd likely have a few more awards listed below his mug shot in the media guide. Who knows, he might even have his own promotional Web site, like this one.

Gordon easily could be the Greg Jones of another team. But he's much happier being Jones' teammate at Michigan State, which is ranked No. 7 in the BCS standings and off to its first 7-0 start since 1966.

[+] EnlargeEric Gordon
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesEric Gordon's 285 career tackles is second in the conference among active players.
"Greg deserves everything he's gotten," Gordon said. "He's a great player and he makes awesome plays and flies around. I guess you could say I do wish I would be in his position, but I love the position I'm in. I’ve been doing the best I possibly can and he's doing the same. He just gets a few more tackles than me."

When told that Jones gets a few more tackles than just about everyone in college football, Gordon laughs and says, "Yeah, just a few more."

Gordon is the latest Big Ten linebacker to flourish a role previously occupied by players like Ohio State's Marcus Freeman and Penn State's Brandon Short. Both Freeman and Short were outstanding linebackers who played in the shadows of more decorated teammates: James Laurinaitis in Freeman's case, LaVar Arrington in Short's. Neither Freeman nor Short fully got the credit they deserved, but their accomplishments didn't go unnoticed.

The same holds true for Gordon, who has started 43 of his 45 career games for the Spartans, including each of the past 34 contests, a streak that ties him with Jones for the longest on the team. "Gordo," as he's known on the team, ranks 18th among active FBS players with 285 career tackles and has recorded 26 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and 8 pass breakups.

"He’s been around a long time," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said of the 6-foot, 232-pound fifth-year senior. "He's been an extremely productive player for us. He has great speed and great power and great ball skills."

Gordon's career tackles total ranks second among active Big Ten players.

Take a wild guess at who ranks first.

No one has had a better view for Jones' evolution than Gordon, who has played next to No. 53 for three plus seasons. Gordon considers Jones one of his best friends, and they both know how far they've come from the 2007 season.

"We always laugh whenever we see film of us," Gordon said. "We weren’t the smartest guys on the field. We just kind of lined up. We watch it and we ask each other, ‘What the hell we were doing?’"

It's certainly not the case any more, as Jones and Gordon are two of the more assignment-sound linebackers in college football. Jones gets most of the accolades -- consensus All-America honors, 2009 Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Year, 2009 and 2010 Big Ten preseason Defensive Player of the Year -- but Gordon is right by his side.

"He's so consistent, he's instinctual and physical, he can run sideline to sideline," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "He's been such a good player because of how consistent he's been."

Fitzgerald was the Greg Jones of Northwestern in the mid-1990s, although he'll never admit it. "Comparing my athleticism to Greg Jones is an insult to Greg," Fitzgerald said Monday. As a two-time National Defensive Player of the year, Fitzgerald garnered most of the attention, while Northwestern's other good linebackers like Danny Sutter -- "One heck of a player for us," Fitzgerald said -- were overlooked.

"[Jones] gets talked about a lot and he should because he’s a great player, but I enjoy watching Eric Gordon, too," Fitzgerald said. "He's one heck of a football player. Those two guys have been side by side now for a number of years, and they just do a tremendous job of playing the position."

Dantonio sees Gordon as the perfect complement to Jones, both as a blitzer and as another sure tackler in space.

"We've been together since Day 1 of actually playing," Gordon said. "He's always been next to me. Our communication is great. We understand each other and I just think we work together great. It's been an honor.

"I've learned so much from him. I hope he's learned a little from me."

Big Ten lunch links

September, 24, 2010
Guess what? You're going to be eating some humble pie stuffed with a bit of crow and a big side of sorry. In your face, girl with a negative tattoo.
Most coaches would take one look at Brian Rolle and think strong safety or running back.

A 5-foot-11, 218-pound middle linebacker? Maybe in the Sun Belt, but never at Ohio State, a program rich in linebacker tradition that can hand pick the players to put in the center of its defense.

This is the team that produced Chris Spielman, Andy Katzenmoyer, James Laurinaitis and other prototype middle linebackers. Why would the Buckeyes settle for less?

[+] EnlargeBrian Rolle
AP Photo/Terry GilliamWhile not a prototypical linebacker, Brian Rolle is the undeniable leader of Ohio State's defense.
Because Rolle isn't less.

"I suppose if you plug him into the computer, Brian Rolle doesn't fit," Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel said. "But he sure can play football."

Rolle's résumé speaks for itself. After two seasons as a special-teams standout, Rolle stepped into a starting role in 2009 and recorded 94 tackles, seven for loss, with an interception, a fumble recovery and a rare defensive PAT after picking off a pass on a two-point conversion attempt and racing 98 yards to the end zone.

He opened his senior season with a bang Thursday night, recording his first career pick-six, a 30-yard interception return to the end zone in a 45-7 rout of Marshall.

Rolle might lack ideal middle-linebacker size, but he has all the other tools to excel at the position.

Let's start with his voice, which can be heard just about any time on the practice field or during a game.

"Most people think I'm talkative, but it's just if I have something to say to somebody, I'll say it," said Rolle, one of six co-captains for the Buckeyes this fall. "I’m the quarterback of the defense, so I feel like I'm obligated to make all the calls and tell guys where they need to be and where they line up.

'There's more weight on my shoulders to do things right, and as a senior, I know I'm going to have guys looking up to me even more."

Rolle's loquacious personality stands in stark contrast to the man flanking him on most plays. Ohio State standout outside linebacker Ross Homan is more of a silent assassin, and Rolle jokes that those who don't know Homan well "would think he was a mute or something."

Added Rolle: "The only thing I really hear him say during the game is, 'B-Rolle, what's the call?'"

Despite their differences, Rolle and Homan mesh well together. Both were preseason All-Big Ten selections by most media outlets.

And after playing behind Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman for several years, Rolle and Homan have a vision for their own legacy.

"We saw how great James and Marcus worked together," Rolle said. "I was thinking, me and Ross, if we continue to do what we're doing and we go in with our heads on right and lead like seniors are supposed to, in the years to come, the coaches will be able to talk to the young guys about how great we were our senior year in leading this team hopefully to a national championship."

The next step toward that goal arrives Saturday, as No. 2 Ohio State hosts No. 12 Miami (ESPN, 3:40 p.m. ET).

For Rolle, this one's "personal."

He grew up in Immokalee, Fla., a football hotbed in South Florida. His cousin Antrel Rolle was an All-American cornerback for Miami who played in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.

Needless to say, Brian Rolle was all about the U.

"Growing up, that was the only thing that mattered in college football," he said. "Being from South Florida, you either were a Gator fan or a Cane fan, and I was a Cane fan. Miami was my first love."

As Rolle moved up through the high school ranks, he pictured himself wearing a Miami jersey.

"There was no doubt in my mind," he said. "My sophomore to senior year, I just knew I was going to play at Miami. But I didn't get that offer I wanted."

Miami went through a coaching transition during Rolle's senior year. Despite numerous overtures to the program, Rolle never got a chance to be a Cane.

"I took a lot of unofficial visits there, went up to a bunch of games, talked to a bunch of coaches," he said. "In the end, I was sad about it, but now I'm at Ohio State, it's my senior season, and I feel blessed to be here now."

The Buckeyes feel blessed to have Rolle directing their defense -- all 5-11, 218 pounds of him.

"Brian is unique," Tressel said. "He's probably not as big as some of the guys we've had, but he's got tremendous instincts and fabulous leadership skills. He's an excellent tackler, he plays the pass very well, loves the game, loves to prepare for the game.

"Glad he's on our side."
William Gholston and Max Bullough aren't typical freshmen, so Michigan State sees no point in treating them that way.

While a large portion of Spartans freshman can be penciled in as redshirts for 2010, head coach Mark Dantonio has made it clear that neither Gholston nor Bullough will sit out this fall. Michigan State boasts excellent depth at linebacker, led by All-American Greg Jones, but barring a snag between now and Sept. 4, both Bullough and Gholston will be part of the mix.

William Gholston
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIWilliam Gholston is the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit.
"We want to make sure that we put them into situations where they can contribute on a consistent basis because you don't want to just take away a guy's year [of eligibility]," Dantonio said after a scrimmage earlier this week. "Those guys can play and have an impact."

Dantonio's words resonate with the two freshmen.

"It's an indescribable feeling to know that I have the opportunity to play as a freshman," Gholston told me Wednesday. "That's very seldom. It was rare for a freshman to play five, six years ago, so to have an opportunity, it’s great."

Why are the expectations so high for these two?

Both were decorated high school prospects with advanced physical skills and good family history. Bullough's father and two uncles played for Michigan State, and his grandfather, Hank, played for the Spartans and later served as the teams defensive coordinator. His other grandfather and another uncle played for Notre Dame. Gholston's cousin is New York Jets defensive end Vernon Gholston, the former Ohio State star who visited him this summer and provided a pass-rushing tutorial.

Gholston arrives at Michigan State as the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit, according to ESPN Recruiting, which listed him as the nation's No. 3 defensive end in the 2010 class.

A unique physical specimen who can play both end and linebacker, Gholston stands 6-foot-7 and has increased his weight to around 255 pounds in camp. He even got above 260 for a portion of practice, a major change after being listed at 237 on National Signing Day.

"I was at 265, didn’t know it and I ran like an ox," Gholston said, laughing.

The 6-3, 235-pound Bullough also drew strong reviews in high school -- ESPN Recruiting rated him as the nation's No. 4 inside linebacker in 2010 -- and helped himself by enrolling this spring and going through practice.

"In the spring, everything comes faster because it's mostly veterans out there," Bullough said. "Every day, I'd be thinking, 'What do I do here? What do I do on this play?' Now everything comes second nature to me. I'm trying to learn to play fast, play more aggressive, play meaner."

The mean part shouldn't be a problem, as classmate Tony Lippett found out in a recent practice.

Gholston didn't practice this spring, but he was a fixture at the football complex, attending almost all of the team's 15 workouts. The many trips from Detroit to East Lansing helped him absorb the defense, which will incorporate more 3-4 elements this fall.

"It's fun having Will out here finally," Bullough said. "I feel like I've been here forever, waiting for Will to get here. We're trying to work together and teach each other."

Added Gholston: "Most of the learning, I grasp that part. It’s just applying what I learned. I've got little spurts where I do the right thing. I need to do the right thing every single time."

Although they're in the same class, Bullough is doing most of the teaching so far.

"Max is a very smart player, very physical and very tough," Gholston said. "I've never seen a freshman, a football player the same age as me, have so much knowledge about the game and be so consistent in everything he does."

The Big Ten has had its share of outstanding linebacker tandems in recent years: Ohio State's James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, Penn State's Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor and Iowa's Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, to name a few.

Michigan State hopes Gholston and Bullough mold a similar legacy together. The first steps begin this fall.

Bullough isn't taking the opportunity for granted.

"It is nice to hear," he said. "It’s all based on assuming -- I can only speak for myself -- I keep getting better each and every day. It's on my shoulders right now."
The Big Ten preseason player rankings, based on past performance and 2010 potential, continue with ...

No. 12: Ross Homan, LB, Ohio State, Sr., 6-0, 227

2009 numbers: Led Ohio State and tied for second in the Big Ten with five interceptions; finished eighth in the league in tackles per game (8.3) and tied for fifth in total tackles (108); led Ohio State with 10 passes defended and recorded a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

Most recent ranking: Unranked in the 2009 postseason player rankings.

Making the case for Homan: If Homan played in any other league, he would have been a slam dunk for first-team all-conference honors at linebacker last season. He shouldn't be overshadowed this fall and likely will push Michigan State's Greg Jones for the title of Big Ten's top linebacker. Homan boosted an opportunistic Ohio State defense by recording five interceptions, including a pick in four of the Buckeyes' final five games. The veteran plays the pass extremely well (team-high 10 passes defended in 2009) and is no slouch against the run, as he showed in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. Homan has played alongside more celebrated Ohio State linebackers like James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman. This fall, Homan has a chance to put his name among the Buckeyes' elite and try to lead Ohio State to its first national title since 2002.

The rundown
  • No. 25: Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt
  • No. 24: Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure
  • No. 23: Iowa DT Karl Klug
  • No. 22: Northwestern LB Quentin Davie
  • No. 21: Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins
  • No. 20: Ohio State LB Brian Rolle
  • No. 19: Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien
  • No. 18: Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi
  • No. 17: Ohio State WR DeVier Posey
  • No. 16: Wisconsin LB Chris Borland
  • No. 15: Wisconsin G/C John Moffitt
  • No. 14: Indiana WR Tandon Doss
  • No. 13: Purdue WR Keith Smith