Big Ten: Phil Elmassian

Thanks to reader Erik from Waco, Texas, for inspiring this post.

He writes:
Adam, there are seven teams matched up in two or more games against Big Ten opponents this season: Syracuse, Northern Iowa, Central Michigan, Navy, Massachusetts, Notre Dame, and Western Michigan. Two questions. 1) Which team(s) do you think will fare the best against the Big Ten. 2) With most of these games being strongly in Big Ten favor, does a school use "we play Big Ten schools" as a recruiting factor even if they don't win many? Is there a hidden advantage here?

To answer Erik's question, there are actually eight teams facing multiple Big Ten opponents -- the seven listed above, plus Eastern Michigan. Notre Dame has the best chance to rack up some wins against Big Ten competition, namely because the Irish play two Big Ten squads (Michigan and Purdue) on their home field in South Bend. Syracuse also is positioned for success against the Big Ten. The Orange open the season by hosting Northwestern, which has some question marks on both sides of the ball. In Week 3, Syracuse visits Minnesota, which has won just six games the past two seasons. Navy also has a good opportunity for a win against Indiana in October, while Western Michigan has two winnable road games (Illinois and Minnesota).

Regional teams like Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Northern Iowa undoubtedly use their games against Big Ten foes in recruiting. Although they're underdogs, all three teams have been competitive against the Big Ten and can sell the chance to play in Big Ten stadiums to recruits from the Midwest.

With the season less than three months away, let's take a closer look at the eight teams that will face multiple Big Ten opponents in nonconference play this fall.

Sept. 1 vs. Northwestern; Sept. 22 at Minnesota

The Orange come off of a 5-7 season under Doug Marrone, who closed most of the team's practices this spring in an effort to eliminate distractions and foster team chemistry. Syracuse plays just five true home games this season, which puts a premium on the Northwestern game. Northwestern is 6-0 in season openers under coach Pat Fitzgerald. Minnesota and Syracuse both are looking for a boost on offense after finishing 110th and 90th, respectively, in total yards in 2011.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 1-1

Northern Iowa
Sept. 1 at Wisconsin; Sept. 15 at Iowa

Anyone who follows the FCS knows Northern Iowa boasts a very solid program. The Panthers come off of a 10-3 season and have won seven or more games every season since 2002, recording 10 or more wins four times. UNI gave Iowa all it could handle in the 2009 season opener and will face two Big Ten squads going through some personnel transition at key positions.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 0-2

Central Michigan
Sept. 8 vs. Michigan State; Sept. 22 at Iowa

After a terrific run under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, Central Michigan has backslid under former Michigan State assistant Dan Enos. The Chippewas have gone 3-9 in each of Enos' first two seasons in Mount Pleasant. They get Michigan State at home, and it'll be interesting to see how the Spartans respond after their blockbuster opener against Boise State. Central Michigan stunned Michigan State in East Lansing in 2009 but has lost its only two meetings against Iowa.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 0-2

Sept. 15 at Penn State; Oct. 20 vs. Indiana

After seven consecutive bowl appearances and seven consecutive Commander-in-Chief trophies, Navy's run ended last season with a 5-7 mark. The Mids haven't faced a Big Ten opponent since nearly stunning Ohio State in Columbus in the 2009 opener. Indiana is the first Big Ten team to visit Annapolis since Northwestern in 2002.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 1-1

Sept. 8 vs. Indiana; Sept. 15 at Michigan

After winning 23 games combined in 2006 and 2007, Massachusetts has hovered around the .500 mark in the FCS. Now UMass is moving to the FBS and the MAC, beginning with the 2012 season, and will play its home games at Gillette Stadium. The Minutemen went 5-6 last season and hired Notre Dame offensive coordinator Charlie Molnar as their new head coach. Molnar brought in Purdue assistant Phil Elmassian as his defensive coordinator.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 0-2

Notre Dame
Sept. 8 vs. Purdue: Sept. 15 at Michigan State; Sept. 22 vs. Michigan

The Irish begin Year 3 of the Brian Kelly era after a disappointing finish to 2011. Their quarterback issues are well documented, and highly touted recruit Gunner Kiel enters a crowded mix this season. Notre Dame has won three straight against Purdue and five of six but struggled against both Michigan and Michigan State in recent years. The Irish play arguably the nation's toughest schedule, so the two home games against Big Ten foes are huge for Kelly's crew.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 1-2

Western Michigan
Sept. 1 at Illinois; Sept. 15 at Minnesota

The Broncos are no stranger to Big Ten foes, having faced both Michigan and Illinois in the 2011 regular season and Purdue in the 2011 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Bill Cubit's squad always airs it out and returns talented senior quarterback Alex Carder. Record-setting wide receiver Jordan White departs and the receiving corps will have a new look to it, but the Broncos should be able to test the secondaries of both Illinois and Minnesota.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 1-1

Eastern Michigan
Sept. 15 at Purdue; Sept. 22 at Michigan State

Eastern Michigan is on the rise under former Michigan assistant Ron English, as the Eagles went 6-6 in 2011, snapping a streak of 15 consecutive losing seasons. What had been one of the worst programs in the FBS seems to be showing some life, and EMU should once again boast a strong rushing attack in 2011 after finishing 14th nationally last season.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 0-2

Purdue loses DBs coach to NFL

February, 2, 2012
Purdue coach Danny Hope has another position to fill on his defensive staff.

Defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo has left to take a job with the Miami Dolphins, the school announced. Anarumo had spent the past eight seasons at Purdue.

"It is bittersweet," Hope said in a statement. "We will greatly miss having Lou on our coaching staff but could not be more excited for him to have this opportunity."

Hope fired defensive coordinator Gary Emanuel after the season, and linebackers coach Phil Elmassian left for Massachusetts. Purdue hired former CFL and Kansas State assistant Tim Tibesar to run the defense and coach linebackers on Jan. 19.

That leaves two vacancies on the staff, with Hope looking to hire a defensive line coach as well.
First, a coordinator named Matt Canada. Now, a coordinator from the Montreal Alouettes.

What's going on with the Big Ten coaching carousel, eh? Not like you hosers would know.

Bad jokes aside, Purdue on Thursday named Tim Tibesar as its new defensive coordinator/linebackers coach. Tibesar spent the past three seasons with the CFL's Alouettes, serving as linebackers coach in 2009 and 2010 before being promoted to defensive coordinator in 2011. He was Kansas State's defensive coordinator in 2007-08 before heading up north.

Purdue didn't officially announce the firing of defensive coordinator Gary Emanuel nor the departure of linebackers coach Phil Elmassian to Massachusetts, although both coaches' names recently were removed from the official roster. Although the Boilers' defense wasn't spectacular in 2011, ranking 73rd in yards allowed and 63rd in points allowed, Emanuel's dismissal after just one year as coordinator came as a bit of a surprise. Head coach Danny Hope promoted Emanuel from co-defensive coordinator to the sole coordinator role after the 2010 season.

Hope has shuffled his coaching staff after each of his three seasons as Purdue's leading man. He provides a bit of insight into the change in his always entertaining statements, this one announcing Tibesar's hiring.
"[Tibesar] is on the cutting edge of the science of defensive football. The Canadian Football League is an offensive league -- with 12 players per side on a wider field and three downs to get a first down -- and features the zone read game that we are seeing more and more of at the college level. Tim knows how to defend that offense, and I am excited to see him bring his defense to Purdue.
"The head coach of Montreal, Marc Trestman, is one of the great minds in football, and he could not have offered a more glowing recommendation. Tim is a high-energy, high-morals guy who our players will really like. He's a bona fide winner. Our football program got significantly better today."

Man, love those Hope statements.

Under Tibesar's watch, the Alouettes led the CFL in rushing defense (92.4 ypg allowed) last season. He was part of a staff that helped Montreal's defense lead the CFL in 22 of 26 statistical categories in 2009.

Tibesar didn't fare nearly as well at Kansas State, which ranked 117th nationally in total defense in 2008 and 110th and 86th nationally in points allowed in 2008 and 2007, respectively. If memory serves, the Big 12 had a few zone-read offenses back then, so he'll need better results at Purdue.

He inherits a defense that features talented players such as tackle Kawann Short and cornerback Ricardo Allen. Purdue returns seven starters and could be very strong at both defensive tackle and cornerback. The Boilers need a bit more from their pass rush and must tighten up against the pass after allowing 221 yards a game last fall.

Some Purdue players expressed frustration on Twitter following Emanuel's departure, so it'll be important for Tibesar to establish a rapport with a group that has seen different coordinators every year (former coordinator Donn Landholm remains on staff as outside linebackers coach).

Hope still must fill a vacancy at defensive line coach.

Big Ten mailblog

January, 17, 2012
Bring it.

Nicholas from West Des Moines, Iowa, writes: can we PLEASE get a replacement announced for norm parker already?! ... and why is everyone so concerned with derby leaving? we seem fine at the QB position, shouldn't we be worrying about getting a RB and filling in the gaps left on defense?

Adam Rittenberg: Nicholas, I definitely hear ya on the Norm Parker replacement. Iowa's job posting for an assistant coach expires Jan. 26, so hopefully we'll get an announcement by then. Regarding A.J. Derby's departure, I think the reaction stems more from Iowa losing several players in recent weeks, most notably star running back Marcus Coker. Also, Derby arrived with a ton of hype and immediately became a fan favorite. Fans hate to see highly touted recruits not pan out or transfer, and some see Derby's departure as a sign of a systematic problem at Iowa. But on the whole, I agree that replacing Coker and bolstering the defense, especially the line, are bigger issues for the Hawkeyes right now.

Ed from Rochester Hills, Mich., writes: So the Basketball coach at Iowa throws a chair and Commishioner Delaney's response is "The conference did not ask for, nor did the conference expect, an apology from the coach. The conference is primarily focused on future conduct, not statements of apology." Pat Narduzzi makes a comment about 60 minutes of unnecessary roughness and MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis is required to admonish the MSU coach by the commish.I am detecting a double standard by Delaney.

Adam Rittenberg: Ed, while you make an interesting point, there are some differences with the Narduzzi situation. For starters, it was a quote to media members rather than an outburst during a game. Also, some interpreted the quote as being directed toward an opponent, Michigan. McCaffery's chair-throwing was done in front of his own team after an argument with officials. The Hawkeyes' opponent, Michigan State, had nothing to do with it. While we can debate whether Narduzzi's comment was taken out of context, you are usually going to see a stronger response from the league to something someone says or does that's directed toward an opponent. You saw similar responses to player unsportslike conduct violations directed toward opponents.

Samuel from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, to answer your question about coaches, I prefer my coaches have some positive character rather than bad character or zero character. Iowa's Fran McCaffery has not crossed a line in my opinion. Slamming a chair is one thing. Bob Knight style kicking, choking, head butting and throwing chairs onto the court is something different altogether.

Adam Rittenberg: Samuel, thanks for your response. I agree that it's fine for coaches to show some emotion on the sideline. It's an emotional game, and coaches can sometimes light fires under their teams but showing some fire themselves. I don't have a major issue with what McCaffery did. He didn't direct any of it toward Iowa's opponent. But it's something you don't want to see every game or every few games.

Jeff from West Chester, Ohio, writes: Should Purdue fans be concerned that Danny Hope hasn't hired replacements for Emanuel and Elmassian? Signing day is approaching and I fear defensive recruits from the surprisingly good class may waver.

Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, it has been extremely quiet on the Purdue coaching front. The team hasn't officially announced the departures of Gary Emanuel and Phil Elmassian, although neither are listed on the official roster. Although most of Purdue's 2012 class plays offense, recruits always want to know which direction the team is headed on both sides of the ball. Although Purdue didn't have a great year on defense in 2011, Emanuel's ouster is a bit surprising. Danny Hope has a former defensive coordinator, Donn Landholm, still on staff, but he'll be looking to replace two veteran assistants.

Elliot from East Richfield, Minn., writes: With Troy Stoudermire being granted another year for the Minnesota Gophers, the Gophers seem to have their cornerbacks pretty set with Stoudermire and Brock Vereen, among others. However, both safety positions are unsettled.Who do you see emerging at safety for the Gophers? James Manuel and maybe Michael Carter? Maybe some newcomers will get a chance to play?

Adam Rittenberg: Elliot, I really think Minnesota will enter spring practice with most of its starting spots open on defense. We heard some good things about Manuel in 2010, when he started three games, but he played strictly as a reserve in 2011, recording 11 tackles in 12 games. Carter was one of Minnesota's top recruits under former coach Tim Brewster, but he hasn't really panned out. There certainly will be opportunities for players to step up in the defensive backfield, as the Gophers must replace Kim Royston's production at safety. Remember that Minnesota also signed three junior college defensive backs. Those guys weren't brought in to sit on the bench.

Clayton from Fort Collins, Colo., writes: Adam -- Thanks for your article regarding coaches sideline demeanor. It would be fun to see you and Brian have a "blog blow-up" once in a while! All jokes aside, I get tired of hearing people rant about Bo Pelini's sideline behavior. As a former college football player, I feel strongly that a passionate coach is not uncommon and actually appreciated by the players. Nebraska fans too soon forget how reserved and soft Bill Calhahan was, almost as though he didn't care enough. Bo had his issue at A&M in 2010, had a very professional apology, and has sense cleaned up his act. Can we put it to bed or are we going to keep talking about this? "cue TV panning to BO getting all red faced and mad on the sideline, chomping his gum"

Adam Rittenberg: Clayton, thanks for your perspective. It's always interesting to ask how a coach's sideline behavior affects his team. Sometimes it certainly seems to fire up players in the right way. Other times, it seems like a coach who seems out of control leads to a team playing a bit recklessly. While I see your point about Pelini's issue at A&M being in the past, I don't think he'll be able to avoid the cameras on the sideline. No coach really escapes them these days, and TV folks are looking for reactions. I think Bo seemed calmer for the most part this season, although he was none too pleased, for obvious reasons, in the Capital One Bowl loss. While I don't believe a coach has to stomp around and scream at officials to show he cares more, I think players want to see some response from the man leading them.

Alan from Evansville, Ind., writes: Hey Adam, What should IU fans make of all the departures from the IU football team, which appears to be a continuing trend with Wright-Baker and Kiel leaving the team this week? Is this a healthy sign that shows Wilson is making sure he has the kids he wants to work with, or is this a sign that something (or many things) are wrong in Bloomington and with this new coaching staff? Additionally, do you think these departures will have a negative impact on the school's ability to recruit going forward?

Adam Rittenberg: Alan, these things can go either way. You always have some attrition after a coaching change, even some delayed attrition like we're seeing with Ed Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel. The offensive direction seems pretty clear with Tre Roberson returning and Seth Littrell coming as as coordinator, and while Wright-Baker and Kiel would have provided some depth, their playing-time options seemed limited, especially with Cameron Coffman coming in from a juco. You see quarterbacks transfer more than those at other positions because of the playing-time issue. Now is Kevin Wilson a tough guy to play for? He's a brutally honest guy. He doesn't sugarcoat anything. His style might not jive with certain players. But I think once he gets his guys in there, he'll be pretty successful at IU.

Staff changes coming for Purdue?

January, 4, 2012
It's easy to tell from Purdue players tweets today that something is afoot on the defensive coaching staff.

Cornerback Ricardo Allen tweeted: "Man our defensive coordinator and our linebacker coaches left! Hopefully we can find better. NO DISRESPECT!"

The Lafayette Journal Courier is reporting that defensive coordinator Gary Emanuel and inside linebackers coach Phil Elmassian will not return to the Boilermakers next season. Elmassian is expected to take a job at UMass, while Emanuel reportedly won't have his contract renewed.

Purdue ranked ninth in the Big Ten in total defense, allowing 395 yards and 26.8 points per game. The team allowed 485 yards and 32 points in the Little Caesars Bowl win over Western Michigan and gave up at least 35 points in three different games this year. But Emanuel also worked with the defensive line, which was one of the team's strengths this, led by tackle Kawann Short.

Defensive lineman Ryan Russell expressed frustration about the staff changes on Twitter before later posting, "[Danny] Hope promised me a lot of things. I still believe till this day those things can be accomplished. He sat on my coach and gave me his word."

Purdue has not officially announced any coaching moves yet, so stay tuned.

Opening spring ball: Purdue

March, 2, 2011
Spring football has arrived in the Big Ten!

Purdue hits the practice field later today for the first of 15 spring workouts. I'll post a spring snapshot for each Big Ten squad as they open practice, so let's get started with the Boilermakers.

The big story: The Boilers are taking nothing for granted. After a season in which so many key players went down with injuries, Purdue is moving forward with the pieces it has. Rob Henry enters spring ball as the No. 1 quarterback as Robert Marve continues to recover from ACL surgery. The Boilers hope running back Ralph Bolden returns to form following his own ACL surgery, but they like their other options in the backfield as well. All-Big Ten receiver Keith Smith won't be back, so Purdue will move forward with Justin Siller, Antavian Edison and others.

Position in the spotlight: Quarterback. Offensive coordinator Gary Nord really likes what Henry brings to the offense, and the rising sophomore will have a chance to establish himself as the starter this spring. Caleb TerBush also will be a factor after being academically ineligible for the 2010 season. TerBush continued to practice with the team and should challenge Henry and Marve when Marve returns.

Coaching changes: Gary Emanuel is now the team's only defensive coordinator after sharing the title with Donn Landholm last season. Emanuel will continue to coach the defensive line, while Landholm will work with the outside linebackers. Danny Hope also hired two new assistants: wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins and linebackers coach Phil Elmassian, who returns to Purdue after working with the Boilers defensive backs in 2003.

Keep an eye on: Tight end Sterling Carter and running back Akeem Shavers. Both junior college transfers should make an immediate impact for Purdue. The Boilers lose top tight ends Kyle Adams and Jeff Lindsay, so Carter will make a strong push for the starting job. Hope wants to stress the run game and Shavers provides depth in the backfield alongside Bolden and rising sophomore Reggie Pegram.

Spring game: April 9
I'll have a reaction on Purdue's Keith Smith being denied a sixth year of eligibility very shortly, but first things first.

Purdue has finalized its 2011 coaching staff with a familiar face. Phil Elmassian, who coached the Boilers' defensive backs in 2003, is returning to West Lafayette as the team's new linebackers coach.

Elmassian replaces DeMontie Cross, who last week left for a post with Wisconsin after spending less than a month on the Boilers' staff. A veteran assistant who has held defensive coordinator posts at several FBS programs, Elmassian comes to Purdue from Illinois State, where he worked under former Boilers assistant Brock Spack as the Redbirds' assistant head coach/secondary coach.
“We are excited to have Phil rejoin Boilermaker Nation,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said in a prepared statement. “Our goal was to find the best defensive coach, and he fits that bill. He has a true passion for football, and his energy and enthusiasm for the game will be contagious to our team. He demands the best from his players and will be an immediate difference-maker towards winning. Having worked with [defensive coordinator] Gary Emanuel and [defensive backs coach] Lou Anarumo in the past, he is familiar with our staff and our defensive game plan. That familiarity will provide a smooth transition and immediate continuity for our team.”

Elmassian's familiarity with Purdue and his extensive résumé make him a sensible choice. He has held coordinator posts at West Virginia, Boston College, Virginia Tech, LSU and Louisiana-Monroe and coached defensive backs at places like Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota and Virginia.

Although most of his experience has been with defensive backs, he coached linebackers at both Marshall and Virginia.