NCF Nation: Phil Parker

Familiar foe awaits Pitt's Paul Chryst

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
Manasseh Garner was playing a different position at a different school in 2010, so forgive him if he does not know exactly how to attack Iowa's defense. But the former Wisconsin defensive end and current Pitt receiver is in a familiar spot this week as his Panthers ready to welcome the Hawkeyes to Heinz Field.

"It seems long, but it really seems like it was just yesterday," Garner laughed.

[+] EnlargeManasseh Garner
Gregory J. Fisher/USA TODAY SportsPanthers WR Manasseh Garner and his head coach will face a familiar opponent in Iowa in Week 4.
He's not alone.

Garner and third-year Pitt head coach Paul Chryst will recognize what they see across the field Saturday, having become quite familiar with Iowa in their previous lives at Wisconsin, where Chryst was the offensive coordinator. Chryst went 3-3 when the Heartland Trophy was up for grabs against Iowa, with the effects of the game usually leaving marks on his players in one fashion or another. The Badgers averaged just 18 points in those six games, and they failed to crack even that much on four different occasions.

There are new faces now, sure, most notably with Phil Parker having taken over as Iowa's defensive coordinator in 2012, replacing Norm Parker (no relation), who died this past January. But many of the hallmarks of 16th-year head coach Kirk Ferentz's program remain the same.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kirk Ferentz, and it's going to be a well-coached team," Chryst said. "He believes in physical offense, physical defense. It's always going to be a challenge. I'm excited for our guys to play. It's going to be a good atmosphere. It'll be a good physical game, and we've got to rise up and meet that challenge. It's a great opportunity for us. The amount of success that he's had for a long time -- there's a lot of programs across the country trying to do that."

Chryst and Garner have had the last laugh against Iowa since 2010, escaping Kinnick Stadium with a 31-30 win that helped propel their Wisconsin squad to the first of three straight Rose Bowls, two of which they were a part of.
Four years later, Garner remembers the feeling of his lone meeting with the Hawkeyes.

"Just the physical nature that they bring -- I feel like Big Ten teams, they pride themselves on being physical, physical, physical," Garner said. "Relentless, four quarters, smash mouth. So that's one of the things I really got to see in my two years up in the Big Ten. That was something at Wisconsin, something we took pride in, wear and tearing you, and beating you to the punch, making sure that you felt the beatdown through four quarters. I'm sure that's what Iowa's preaching to their players as well. We're a physical team, smash-mouth and we want to wear you down. And that's one of the things that I've seen and I've witnessed, I went through it when playing them at their house. They're definitely a physical team and I respect them for being the team that they are."

Saturday will be akin to the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object, as Pitt enters as the nation's No. 3 rushing team (1,086 yards), while Iowa ranks seventh against the run (65.67 yards per game). James Conner, the burly 250-pound sophomore, leads the nation with 544 rushing yards, and is the ideal antidote for a stout front-seven.

Chryst said he looks forward to facing teams like Iowa, knowing that every yard comes with a price. Asked if he sees Chryst putting a similar stamp on the Panthers, Garner couldn't help but laugh.

"Oh without question, yeah," Garner said. "That's one of the main things Coach emphasizes: Let it go, let it go. Don't hold anything back. Just be instinctive and be physical. You have nothing if you're not physical, especially in this type of offense. Your front men, if they're not laying a foundation, (if) they're not winning the fight at the line of scrimmage, you really have nothing."

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- No Big Ten coach takes the temperature of his team in spring practice quite like Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. No Big Ten coach has lived in as many different climates.

The dean of the league's coaches knows the sunniness that surrounds teams after redemptive seasons such as the ones the Hawkeyes had in 2001, 2008 or last fall, when Iowa improved its wins total by four. He also knows the polar vortex that exists, at least outside Iowa's football complex, after poor performances like the ones the team delivered in 2007 and 2012.

Ferentz also understands how quickly the weather changes, like it often does on spring afternoons in the Midwest.

So at a recent team meeting, Ferentz detoured from the typical spring minutia -- replacing seniors, creating depth, finding leaders, building identities -- and addressed a macro item: the preseason polls.

"He said we might be ranked," running back Jordan Canzeri told, "and even if we are, no one is to keep that in their head. There were several teams that were ranked and didn't get to go to a bowl game this past year. You never want to be cocky. Even if the stats show you're good, you still want to prepare as you would with any other team, so you don't get satisfied and complacent."

Iowa likely will be ranked when the preseason polls come out. The Hawkeyes appear in some way-too early versions. They return eight offensive starters, including left tackle Brandon Scherff, a preseason All-America candidate, along with three of four starting defensive linemen from a team that flipped its regular-season record in 2013.

The quarterback uncertainty that hovered over the program last spring, when no signal-caller had taken a snap in a game, is no longer there, as junior Jake Rudock has established himself. An unprecedented stretch of running back maladies has subsided as Iowa returns three veteran options (Mark Weisman, Canzeri and Damon Bullock) and two promising young players (LeShun Daniels Jr. and Barkley Hill). There's more explosiveness at wide receiver, and the defensive line, led by senior tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, looks more like the elite units Iowa produced for most of Ferentz's tenure.

[+] EnlargeCarl Davis
David Purdy/The Des Moines Register via USA TODAY SportsWith Carl Davis and others back, Iowa's defensive line should be the team's strongest unit.
"We are a more experienced unit, probably the most experienced unit on the team," defensive line coach Reese Morgan said.

There are enough internal reasons to indicate Iowa will take another step this season, but the biggest factors in the Hawkeyes favor are external. Their new division, the Big Ten West, lacks a clear-cut favorite or a flawless team. And their schedule is undoubtedly the most favorable in the league.

Not only does Iowa miss Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State from the East Division, but it hosts both Wisconsin and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes' toughest league road game should be a Nov. 8 visit to Minnesota.

"It's a pretty favorable schedule for us," wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said, "but every week is going to be a challenge. Nothing that happened last year really matters."

Davis looks forward to visiting Big Ten newcomer Maryland, but he had hoped to play more of the league's traditional powers. The only way Iowa sees Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan is in the Big Ten championship game.

"When the Big Ten started, those are the teams that dominated," Davis said. "You want to be able to play those teams and beat those teams. I really look forward to it.

"I definitely feel we're in contention for a Big Ten championship. Every team says it, but we're hungry."

Ferentz has seen Iowa go from good to great in 2002 and again in 2009. He also has seen the program fall short of expectations, as it did in 2006 and 2010.

The first step to building upon success, Ferentz said, is not taking it for granted. Take Iowa's group of linebackers, which loses three multiyear starters from last year's squad: James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens.

"If we're waiting for Morris, Kirksey and Hitchens to give us 300 tackles, that ain't gonna happen," Ferentz said. "Two years ago, we had a disappointing season. Last year was a new year and this year was the flip record-wise, but it's a new year again. This team has to form its own identity, and it starts with our experienced players. We're going to need them to play their absolute best, which is what those seniors did last year."

Iowa's linebacker reset has been a top spring storyline. Quinton Alston has stepped into the lead role, earning high marks from teammates and coaches. Travis Perry and Reggie Spearman, who played as a 17-year-old freshman last fall and doesn't turn 18 until August, are likely starters alongside Alston.

The biggest challenge could be replacing Kirksey, a converted safety who brought defensive back speed to outside linebacker.

"Chris had a different skill set than the guys we have out there now," defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. "It's been a long time since we had a guy who could run that fast and still have the power and explosion to play in the box, too, or at least on the tight end. We have three or four guys we're trying to look at with that position."

Other uncertainties include the cornerback spot opposite dynamic sophomore Desmond King, free safety and the second-string offensive line, which coordinator Greg Davis lists as the unit's biggest concern.

Iowa players understand that their margin for error remains slim.

"The determining factor is going to be winning those close games," Martin-Manley said.

Iowa won several such contests in 2009, its last truly special season. The 2014 team also could reach rarefied air, but Hawkeyes won't get caught with their heads in the clouds.

"That's what we do here; we work hard," Davis said. "That's something you get used to the longer you're in this program. The grind becomes normal, and I feel like all our hard work will be able to pay off."
Michigan State/IowaReese Strickland/Getty ImagesWhen Michigan State and Iowa face each other it's a grueling dogfight. Saturday should be no different, as the Spartans and Hawkeyes rely on physicality.
When Michigan State and Iowa meet on Saturday, don't expect a work of art.

At least not unless your idea of art involves dust clouds and dented helmets. There isn't much fancy about how either of these teams approach the game. They just go right after one another.

"It's a man's game when you play Iowa," Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough said. "That's what you're in for."

And while we likely won't be in for an aesthetically pleasing offensive display, we can often count on a highly competitive game. The Spartans and Hawkeyes don't play for a trophy, and this isn't a game many people think about when discussing Big Ten rivalries. But few series have been as consistently close.

Since Mark Dantonio became head coach at Michigan State, four of the six games have been decided by seven points or less. The first one, in 2007, went to overtime, and last year's took double overtime before Iowa pulled out a 19-16 win in East Lansing.

"They've been very close games, and what separates those two teams game to game has been the inches," Dantonio said. "It's the details, the little things that either go your way or they don't. We've got to find those inches, and we've got to find them at Iowa City this year."

Razor-thin margins between Iowa and Michigan State aren't a new phenomenon. The Hawkeyes lead the all-time series 23-19-2. Iowa was Michigan State's Big Ten opener every year between 1985 and 1990. Those six games were decided by a total of 20 points.

"Not to sound like Pop Warner, but I can go back to the '80s and think about how many just really close games we had then," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It seems like it's been more of the same since Mark came back to Michigan State.

"I don't know if I can tell you why that is, but we've had some fantastic games. And in close games like that, it usually does come back to always a handful of things that take place that really impact the game. My guess is we're probably looking at another one of those games this week."

One reason the games have usually gone down to the wire might be the similarity in styles.

Dantonio said that when he took over the Spartans, he looked to Iowa as the model to emulate.

"I said, there's a program we felt was doing it the right way, doing it with toughness," he said. "And we wanted to take some of the things that they did and implement those aspects into our program. Not necessarily things conceptually, but the mentality."

Iowa also has some ties to Michigan State, particularly on the defensive side. Current defensive coordinator Phil Parker was an All-Big Ten defensive back for the Spartans and later an assistant under George Perles. His predecessor at Iowa, Norm Parker (no relation), coached from 1983-94 in East Lansing and served as Perles' defensive coordinator.

The schemes and philosophies of both teams have clear differences. The Hawkeyes don't blitz much on defense while the Spartans are very aggressive under coordinator Pat Narduzzi. Both have pro style offenses, but Iowa likes to run the ball more than the Spartans do. But they both share a common trait.

"It's definitely true to say they play physical," Hawkeyes senior linebacker James Morris said of Michigan State. "That's how they beat people. They try to grind it out and wear you down. That's something similar to what we try to do here at Iowa."

And that can make for some less than artistic games. Last year in East Lansing, each team scored only one touchdown, and Iowa had to ride workhorse back Mark Weisman down the field for a score with 55 seconds left to force overtime. Weisman had 116 of the Hawkeyes' 123 rushing yards.

A year later, Iowa is still pounding it on the ground with Weisman but has a more consistent offensive line and a quarterback in Jake Rudock who can make plays on the move. Michigan State's continued offensive struggles are well documented, but Dantonio's team did have a bye week to tinker with things and get quarterback Connor Cook more comfortable.

We will see strength versus strength. Iowa is eighth nationally in rushing yards, having run for more than 200 yards in each game this season. Michigan State ranks second in the FBS in rushing yards allowed per game at 57.25.

Still, this game likely will boil down to who hits the hardest, as it almost always does.

"It's a test of the wills when you play these games," Bullough said. "I think the team that's won the line of scrimmage is the team that's been able to win the past few years."

That might not equal a conventionally pretty game on Saturday, but it should be an old school Big Ten beauty.
B.J. Lowery came to Iowa because he impressed a rival coach. Before leaving the Hawkeyes, he wants to make a similar impression on his young teammates.

After playing understudy to Hawkeyes standout cornerbacks Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde, Lowery understands and embraces the role he now occupies for the secondary.

"My role this year on the defense is going to be major," Lowery told this week. "I'm about to be a senior, so I have to lead by example. I know all the younger guys are going to be following me, good and bad, no matter what I do. They're going to remember me."

[+] EnlargeB.J. Lowery
AP Photo/Scott Boehm"I pretty much lead by example," said B.J. Lowery, an elder statesman among Iowa's cornerbacks, "so if guys follow my lead, hopefully we'll be alright."
Lowery hopes he's remembered fondly as Iowa tries to rebound from a 4-8 season. After starting nine games opposite Hyde at cornerback last fall, Lowery established himself as the team's top cover corner this spring, a player capable of continuing a nice run of Iowa cornerbacks that includes Hyde (Big Ten defensive back of the year in 2012, fifth-round pick in April's NFL draft); Prater (first-team All-Big Ten, fifth-round pick in 2012 draft) and Amari Spievey (first-team All-Big Ten, third-round pick in 2010 draft).

The 5-foot-11, 193-pound Lowery recorded 50 tackles, including one for loss, along with an interception and three pass breakups. We named him Iowa's most indispensable defender, and he stood out during spring ball, including Iowa's spring game.

Lowery admits he struggled at the start of the 2012 season with some of Iowa's coverage concepts. But he made strides in the second half, recording a career-high nine tackles against Nebraska in the season finale. He has equal comfort with playing man and zone and has spent much of the offseason studying film with younger cornerbacks like freshman Malik Rucker.

"I'm not really a vocal guy," he said. "I pretty much lead by example, so if guys follow my lead, hopefully we'll be alright. I want to set a good example for those young guys coming in, so everything I’m doing, I’m looking over my shoulder to see who's watching."

Fortunately for Lowery, Doc Gamble was watching as he began to blossom for Hughes High School in Cincinnati. Back then, Gamble coached Withrow High, Hughes' top rival.

He took notice of Lowery, an all-conference defensive back as a sophomore and a junior, and contacted Phil Parker, then Iowa's secondary coach and now the team's defensive coordinator.

"That kind of changed everything for me," said Lowery, who had received an offer from Akron but not much interest from major-conference schools. "[Gamble] gave Coach Parker my film and told him to come down to my school. And before you knew it, Coach Parker came down and we talked and that's how the recruiting process began."

Lowery stays in touch with Gamble, now an assistant at Kent State, and often sees him at semi-pro games back home in Cincy.

"We used to go at it every year, my high school and his high school, so I guess I did somehow, I impacted him, and he reached out and helped me out."

Lowery also received help from Prater and Hyde, who exuded confidence and instilled it in others. Lowery wants to follow their lead this fall as he mentors younger cornerbacks like Rucker, junior Jordan Lomax, sophomore Sean Draper and redshirt freshman Maurice Fleming.

Lomax and Draper are competing to start opposite Lowery.

"I want to be a role model for the younger guys," Lowery said. "I want to be productive and let the team do what we plan to do this year, which is win."

Friday Q&A: Iowa CB Micah Hyde

November, 9, 2012
Micah Hyde is a three-year starter in the secondary for Iowa, where he has played in every game since his freshman year. He's also developed into one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten and a team leader for the Hawkeyes. After a midseason arrest on misdemeanor charges, Hyde was briefly stripped of his captaincy but had that status reinstated this week. I recently caught up with the senior, who ranks fourth in the league in passes defended, for this week's Friday Q&A segment:

How is the mood of the team after the three-game losing streak?

Micah Hyde: Like you said, it's been tough the last couple of weeks with those losses, but to be honest we're just looking forward and excited to get out there against Purdue. They're going to come in and be ready to go, and the game is at Kinnick [Stadium] so of course we'll be up for that game and ready to protect the home turf. We're not really looking in the past. We're just looking for our new opportunity in the future.

You're 4-5 and need two more wins to get back to another bowl game. How big of a motivational factor is that, especially for seniors like yourself?

[+] EnlargeMicah Hyde
Reese Strickland/US PresswireMicah Hyde and the Hawkeyes need to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible.
MH: We know we still have an opportunity to go to a bowl game. That's a big thing. But it's one of those things you really can't pay attention to the next couple of weeks. You've kind of just got to focus on this week and winning this one, or your grasp is just going to keep slipping until it's out of your hands.

The defense has been pretty solid most of the year, and your former position coach, Phil Parker, is in his first year as defensive coordinator. How would you evaluate how the transition has gone under him this year?

MH: I think he's done a great job. I've been with him in the past and I know he's a go-getter, and he has brought that to the whole defense. We've had some very good defensive games where we watched film on Sunday and thought we could have done this or that better but were very proud of our performance. But we've also had some games where we've watched film and been like, "Wow, what was going on out there? We could have played much better." That's what happens when you play in the Big Ten. You might have some good games and then bounce back and have a horrible game. It's all how you deal with adversity, and hopefully this Saturday we can bounce back from last Saturday at Indiana and as a defense play well.

I want to take you back to a couple of weeks ago, when you chased down Northwestern's Venric Mark from behind for a tackle. That surprised a lot of people. Take us through how that happened.

MH: It was just one of those moments in a game. We had a good punt and had them pinned in, and then he made a good play to just bust through. Coach [Kirk Ferentz] and Coach Parker always talk about high-effort plays, and turning a negative into a positive, so I just ... ran. That's all it came down to. People always joke around with me and say my 40 time might not be the best. But I've always told people that I'm "field fast." I don't really pay attention to the numbers on the clock. When I get on the field I feel like I'm a lot faster.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said you made some NFL money with that play.

MH: [Laughs]. I don't really pay attention to that stuff. That stuff will work itself out pretty well. Like I said, I was just trying to make a positive out of a negative.

Kirk Ferentz said after that play that he has considered putting you at receiver because of your speed, but that he needs you too much at cornerback. Have you ever had serious discussions about flipping over to the offense, if even just for a play or two?

MH: Nah, the majority of time it's just been joking around. I always talk junk to the receivers and even the quarterbacks, saying I could throw better than them. It's just me being a competitor out there and just trying to get my guys going. But I'll do whatever the coach asks me to do, and if it was at receiver, I'd love to do that and catch some balls. But right now he has me at corner where I've been pretty much my whole career, so I'm trying to make the best of it.

How does a guy from Ohio end up at Iowa?

MH: We have a couple of coaches from Ohio who know the area very well. For me, after meeting the coaches they were there every week, whether it was being at the school or calling my cell phone. They were always getting a hold of me. They set up a real connection, a real family atmosphere. And we do have a lot of Ohio guys on the team, so maybe that's what brought them in, too.

(Read full post)

Joe Gaglione and Matt McGloinUS PresswireJoe Gaglione and Iowa's staunch defense will try to stop Matt McGloin's surprisingly effective offense.
Image No 1: Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin dives into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter against Northwestern, his fifth rushing score in six games, as the Lions score 22 fourth-quarter points to rally for a 39-28 win. McGloin celebrates with the Aaron Rodgers championship belt move ... also known as the discount double check.

Image No. 2: After forcing two overtimes behind the strength of its defense, Iowa seals a 19-16 win against Michigan State when sophomore defensive lineman Louis Trica-Pasat deflects an Andrew Maxwell pass, and cornerback Greg Castillo comes down with it for an interception.

If you predicted either of these things happening two months ago, you might put Miss Cleo out of business. Or just hop the first plane to Vegas.

Expectations for both Penn State's offense and Iowa's defense were tempered before the season.

Penn State had the nation's 110th-ranked scoring offense in 2011 and this summer saw its top running back (Silas Redd) and top receiver (Justin Brown) transfer to other schools. Rob Bolden, the team's opening-day starting quarterback in each of the past two seasons, also transferred. The Lions' leading returning receivers were a running back (Curtis Dukes) and a fullback (Michael Zordich), who each had five catches in 2011. Their leading returning rusher, Dukes (237 yards), missed spring practice for academic reasons -- the time when new coach Bill O'Brien installed his NFL-style scheme. Penn State had zero proven offensive weapons entering the season.

Iowa's defense also featured more no-names than usual. The Hawkeyes, who had four defensive linemen selected in the NFL draft the past two years, turned to two seniors with limited production (Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione) and another coming off of a serious knee injury (Dominic Alvis) to lead their front four. Freshman and sophomore defenders filled Iowa's preseason depth chart, particularly at the line positions. "This is our youngest team," Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said at preseason media day.

Yet midway through the season, both Penn State's offense and Iowa's defense are two of the more pleasant surprises in the Big Ten. The two units have been instrumental in Penn State's and Iowa's 2-0 starts to league play, and they'll match up against each other Saturday night when the Lions visit Kinnick Stadium.

"I'm not really surprised at all," McGloin told "I knew we had the talent on this team, and guys who were willing to put in the work to get the job done and learn this offense. I'm not really surprised at what I've done, or what Kyle Carter has done, or Allen Robinson or [Zach] Zwinak or [Michael] Zordich or the line."

McGloin leads the Big Ten in passing average (249.8 ypg) and is tied for the league lead in touchdown strikes with 12, four more than he had all of last season as Penn State's primary quarterback. With 1,499 pass yards through the first six games, he needs just 73 more to eclipse his season total from 2011.

Robinson, who had a grand total of three receptions as a true freshman for Penn State last fall, leads the Big Ten in receptions per game (6.8) and touchdown receptions. Penn State's other offensive standouts include Carter, a redshirt freshman tight end with 23 catches for 279 yards; and Zwinak, a former walk-on who had three carries for seven yards last year and now leads the team in carries (68) and rush yards (320). Zordich, a senior fullback, is a more familiar name but someone who hasn't had much of a chance to contribute until this season (37 carries, 167 yards, 10 receptions).

"It's an NFL offense," McGloin said. "This offense definitely gives guys an opportunity to showcase their ability and gives them a lot more recognition."

O'Brien's arrival has modernized Penn State's offense. Iowa, meanwhile, hasn't gone through dramatic scheme schedules defensively, although secondary coach Phil Parker moved into the coordinator role in the offseason following Norm Parker's retirement.

The defense has been better than expected from the start, holding Northern Illinois to 12 first downs and 201 total yards in the season opener. Iowa has surrendered 17 points or fewer in five of six games and allowed fewer than 350 yards in five of six games. While Penn State's offense isn't the strongest unit on its team, Iowa's defense undoubtedly deserves the label as the Hawkeye offense is still finding its identity.

"We're making progress," Ferentz said. "We were hopeful that we could during the course of the season. Some weeks have been a lot better than others, obviously, but the group's growing."

The defensive line, a major area of concern in August, has been a strength. Gaglione boasts eight tackles for loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles, while other linemen like Trinca-Pasat (three tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries) and Bigach (one sack, one forced fumble) have contributed.

Iowa has surrendered just five rushing touchdowns in six games.

"I knew they were going to go in there and be a help to the defense," linebacker Christian Kirksey told "Coach Ferentz always talks about the next man in. As soon as Joe Gaglione and Steve Bigach jumped in, they were just eager and hungry to help out the defense."

The linebackers also have done their part. Veterans James Morris and Kirksey have combined for two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, three sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Anthony Hitchens, a converted safety in his first season as a starting linebacker, leads the nation with 13 tackles per game (78 total).

"Iowa defense is built on one thing," Kirksey said. "Way back when Bob Sanders was here, way back when Adrian Clayborn was here, it was all still the same focus. We all grew around the tradition and we just took it to the field.

"We're a new group, but Iowa teaches the same lessons throughout the years."

McGloin sees it, too, calling the young Hawkeyes "a typical Iowa defense." O'Brien's system certainly isn't a typical Penn State offense, but that has been a good thing.

Although McGloin expected the unit to perform, his contributions as a rushing threat -- he had no rushing touchdowns in 2011 and just two in his career before this season -- are a bit of a surprise.

The only bad news: the discount double check is probably a thing of the past.

"I think I'm done with that," McGloin said, laughing. "That was just a one-time thing."
Assistant coach salaries are on the rise throughout college football, and the Big Ten is no exception. If you're interested in how much coin Big Ten assistants are making, be sure and bookmark this excellent list put together by Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal. Rexrode compiled assistant salary information from 10 of the league's 12 programs (Northwestern and Penn State don't disclose assistant coach salaries).

Most of this information has been publicized in team-by-team form, but it's interesting to examine from a league-wide perspective. Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison are the league's highest-paid assistants, both earning $750,000. Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges ($550,000) is next, followed by Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($500,000), who recently received a raise that more than doubled his previous salary ($233,000).

Several of the Big Ten's highest-paid assistants from 2011 -- Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning -- since have left the league for other jobs.

Here are the totals paid for assistants among the 10 schools reporting salaries:

1. Ohio State -- $3.22 million
2. Michigan -- $2.755 million
3. Illinois -- $2.314 million
4. Michigan State -- $2.18 million
5. Iowa -- $2.16 million
6. Nebraska -- $2.13 million
7. Wisconsin -- $1.973 million
8. Indiana -- $1.96 million
9. Minnesota -- $1.745 million
10. Purdue -- $1.61 million

When factoring in the head coach salaries, the rankings look like this:

1. Ohio State -- $7.22 million
2. Iowa -- $6.035 million
3. Michigan -- $6.009 million
4. Nebraska -- $4.905 million
5. Wisconsin -- $4.571 million
6. Michigan State -- $4.098 million
7. Illinois -- $3.914 million
8. Minnesota -- $3.445 million
9. Indiana -- $3.22 million
10. Purdue -- $2.535 million

The Big Ten had 40 overall coaching changes during the past offseason (head coach and assistant). Here are the highest-paid new assistants among the programs reporting salaries (not including assistants promoted internally).

1. Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers -- $450,000
2. Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman -- $420,000
T-3. Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks -- $400,000
T-3. Illinois co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales -- $400,000
T-3. Illinois co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty -- $400,000
6. Ohio State co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Ed Warinner -- $350,000
7. Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis -- $300,000
8. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada -- $265,000
T-9. Purdue defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar -- $250,000
T-9. Indiana offensive coordinator Seth Littrell -- $250,000

Some thoughts:
  • It's no surprise Ohio State paid top dollar for head coach Urban Meyer, but the school also has increased its commitment for assistant coaches. Former coach Jim Tressel had a fairly anonymous staff for a big-time program, and while there were good coaches on it, you knew the overall financial commitment would need to be increased. The Buckeyes have three assistants making more than $400,000. Interestingly enough, Illinois is the only other Big Ten squad listed here with three aides at the $400,000 mark.
  • As Rexrode points out in his post, Michigan State's staff was a major bargain before the recent raise. The Spartans paid approximately $1.6 million for a staff that helped them to 21 wins in the past two seasons. The pay increases put Michigan State fourth in the Big Ten in assistant coach pay, which sounds about right.
  • Illinois' athletic director transition from Ron Guenther to Mike Thomas didn't change the school's approach toward rewarding assistants. Guenther allowed former coach Ron Zook to open the coffers after a disappointing 2009 season and land high-priced coordinators (Petrino and Koenning). While new Illini head coach Tim Beckman ranks eighth in the league in salary, he was allowed to spend a lot for his staff, which includes just one holdover (D-line coach Keith Gilmore, who earns $200,000). It's why Illinois ranks third in the league in assistant coach pay.
  • Wisconsin's staff turnover after the Rose Bowl resulted in lower overall compensation, which isn't a huge shock because of Chryst's departure. It's a bit surprising that Badgers coordinators Chris Ash (holdover from staff) and Matt Canada (new addition) are near the bottom of the league in coordinator pay. Wisconsin did spent a good amount for new offensive line coach Mike Markuson ($255,000).
  • Some Nebraska fans I've heard from complain that Bo Pelini's staff lacks prestige, given the program's tradition and resources. The Huskers have a mostly young staff that ranks in the middle of the league in compensation. Pelini lured new secondary coach Terry Joseph for $230,000, while new defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski made the move from Iowa and will earn $195,000. Kaczenski is a bargain in my view.
  • Anyone else find it odd that Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, promoted during the winter from secondary coach, makes $1,000 more than new offensive coordinator Greg Davis? While it's nice for Iowa to reward Parker's loyalty as a position coach, the $1,000 difference seems a little trivial, especially since Davis has been a coordinator for decades.
  • Purdue pays less for assistant coaches than the nine other Big Ten schools reporting information here. Penn State obviously doesn't rank at the bottom in paying assistants, and I've been told Northwestern doesn't, either. Factoring in head coach Danny Hope's salary, and Purdue's overall coach compensation is significantly lower than others, including its arch-rival Indiana. Boilers fans, how do you feel about this?
Brady Hoke/Mark DantonioGetty Images, US PresswireBrady Hoke and the Wolverines square off against Mark Dantonio and the Spartans on Oct. 20.
During the course of spring practice, Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett visited 11 of the 12 league schools, getting an up-close look at the players and coaches who will shape the 2012 season.

Now it's time for them to share their thoughts on what they saw and learned this spring, and you can follow along as they exchange emails. Check out the Leaders Division exchange here. They now turn their focus to the Legends Division.

Adam Rittenberg: Let's take a look at what I believe to be the stronger division in 2012. You spent a lot of time in the Mitten State last month, and while you didn't gorge yourself like you did in America's Dairyland, you got the money quote of spring ball from Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, who said, "We're laying in the weeds. We've beat Michigan the last four years. So where's the threat?" How spicy is the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry getting, and how good do you think these two teams will be this season after visiting both campuses?

Brian Bennett: Oh, there was some serious gorging going on at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor and Sparty's in East Lansing. Good thing there's only one spring practice session per year.

Anyway, I went into the spring thinking Michigan and Michigan State were the two strongest teams in the league, and I didn't see anything to change my opinion. While the Wolverines are more focused on Ohio State and even Alabama, they know they have to end their losing streak against Michigan State. And the Spartans take serious pride in that four-game run while bristling at all the offseason accolades thrown toward Brady Hoke's team. Oct. 20 can't come soon enough, as far as I'm concerned.

If the two teams played right now, I'd definitely take Michigan State. Dantonio has done a terrific job of developing depth on both lines and all over the defense. There's not a deeper team in the Big Ten, and the Spartans' physical play has given Michigan fits. The Wolverines still need to figure some things out in the trenches, especially on the defensive line, but that's one area where Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison excel. I believe these two teams will be neck and neck all year for the Legends title.

Of course, there's another team lurking in the division, and that's Nebraska. You went to Lincoln this spring, and it sounded like the Cornhuskers are feeling mighty ambitious this season. Do they have the necessary tools to back up their lofty goals?

Adam Rittenberg: It was interesting to see a team openly discuss the national title, Brian, especially in a league like the Big Ten. Huskers safety P.J. Smith even went so far as to say a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl championship would be "kind of disappointing." That's bold. Nebraska would have to skip a step or two to reach that point, but I can see where the confidence stems from. There's a greater comfort level between players and coaches in Lincoln, and also between the coaches and what they face in the Big Ten. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck was candid about the difficulty of preparing for so many new opponents, particularly since Nebraska's offensive and defensive systems are a little different from what we see in the rest of the league.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez received good marks from the coaches, and his focus on footwork could translate into a more consistent passing attack. Beck certainly wants to be a bit more balanced, and Nebraska returns pretty much everyone at wide receiver and tight end. We often hear the cliche that it's all about the quarterback, but it holds true with Nebraska. If Martinez actually makes strides as a passer -- he'll be operating in the same offense as the starter for the first time in his high school or college career -- the Huskers will put up points this fall. But after watching Martinez last season, it's fair to have some doubts about No. 3.

The defense expects to exploit a schematic advantage we heard a lot about last season but didn't see much on Saturdays. I like coordinator John Papuchis, and Bo Pelini made two good staff additions in D-line coach Rick Kaczenski and secondary coach Terry Joseph. They're all about details and accountability, and they believe they'll be able to replace star power with greater depth in certain areas. Nebraska also should be strong in special teams. Do the Huskers have a unit better than Michigan State's defense? Not right now. But Nebraska could end up being the division's most complete team by season's end.

Getting back to Michigan State and Michigan. Both teams lose tremendous leaders from 2011 (Kirk Cousins, Mike Martin, Jerel Worthy, Joel Foreman, David Molk, Ryan Van Bergen). Who do you see filling those roles this year?

Brian Bennett: That's a good question, and one that will have to be answered this summer. For Michigan State, Andrew Maxwell impressed me as a guy who can lead in a similar way as Cousins did; he'll just have to play well at quarterback and battle through adversity. The Spartans have some seniors on defense who can lead, like Anthony Rashad White and Johnny Adams, but they also have some highly respected juniors in Max Bullough and William Gholston.

But they are replacing some very valuable leaders, just as Michigan is doing. Denard Robinson has worked on becoming more vocal and sounded like a different guy in interviews this spring. There's no question he has the respect of his teammates. Craig Roh and Jordan Kovacs seem like natural leaders on defense, and offensive tackle Taylor Lewan says he wants to take on that role as well. But leadership can't be forced, and it remains to be seen if either team can find such strong captains as guys like Cousins and Martin were.

[+] EnlargeJames Vandenberg
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa quarterback James Vandenberg threw for 3,022 yards and 25 touchdowns last season.
Speaking of question marks, I feel like Iowa and Northwestern are two of the bigger mystery teams in the league. Both have talent and potentially potent offenses, but they'll also need some players on defense to rise up out of the shadows. What did you take out of your visits to Iowa City and Evanston this spring?

Adam Rittenberg: Let's start off with Iowa, which underwent some major changes this spring with a new offensive coordinator (Greg Davis), a position coach promoted to defensive coordinator (Phil Parker) and several more assistants shuffling, arriving or being promoted. The players seemed to embrace the changes, and coach Kirk Ferentz basically said the team needed a fresh start even though he didn't want to lose his previous coordinators. There's a lot of excitement about Davis' offense, which will be more up-tempo than what we've seen in the past from Iowa. Quarterback James Vandenberg really seems to get it, but will he have enough weapons around him to execute? The running back curse struck again this spring with Jordan Canzeri's ACL injury. Iowa needs young and/or unproven players to step up there, and wide receiver isn't a deep group. It'll be a big summer for Keenan Davis.

The feeling I had coming out of Evanston is that Northwestern will be a younger team but potentially a better one. The Wildcats say goodbye to an accomplished senior class that featured some outstanding players like quarterback Dan Persa. But was it the most talented group? I don't think so. Northwestern has improved its recruiting efforts in recent years, and the team could begin seeing the benefits this year. There are a lot of new faces at spots like defensive back and defensive line. I was impressed with cornerback Nick VanHoose and end Deonte Gibson. The wide receiving corps should be one of the Big Ten's best, even if Kyle Prater isn't eligible until 2013. The Wildcats might not have many familiar names at receiver, but they boast incredible depth there. This team still has question marks -- secondary, pass rush, running back, quarterback -- but the talent level is getting a bit better.

Neither of us made it up to Minneapolis this spring, but we both talked with Gophers players and coaches. What was your sense of the second spring under coach Jerry Kill?

Brian Bennett: We swear it's nothing personal, Gophers fans. Both of us would have enjoyed a trip to the Twin Cities, but the schedule just didn't work out.

Anyway, I did sense more confidence from the Minnesota players and coaches we interviewed. That's not surprising, given that it's the second year for Kill's staff and more familiarity almost always brings a better comfort level. MarQueis Gray really started to come on late last season and appears to have made strides as a passer. He could be one of the league's top playmakers this year. Overall, the Gophers look to have a little more talent this year, thanks to some junior college imports, youngsters who got experience last year and Troy Stoudermire coming back at cornerback. The defense should have more speed, though it remains undersized. The big question for me is who will emerge as weapons alongside Gray, especially at receiver.

But I think that, with a manageable nonconference schedule, Minnesota has a chance to win five or more games this year and it will be much more competitive in Big Ten play than it was early last season. The Legends Division looks more balanced top to bottom than the Leaders and should be fun to follow all year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa linebacker James Morris doesn't go along with the status quo. Unless he thinks it's 1985.

This spring, Morris conducted what he called a "social experiment," sporting a neatly cropped mustache, more Zorro than Selleck. His Hawkeyes teammates are big fans, his coaches have warmed up to it and even his girlfriend approves, "though she wants to deny it," he said.

"I'm trying it out," Morris told "It's about the only time you can have a mustache like this. You won't get fired and your boss won't give you [stuff]."

[+] EnlargeJames Morris and Christian Kirksey
Stephen Mally/Icon SMIJames Morris (44) and Christian Kirksey (20) each had 110 tackles last season, tying for the team lead.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who serves as Morris' football boss, has no issue with Morris' 'stache nor his career path to this point. Ferentz, who frequently consults Iowa's recent history when discussing players or teams, likened the progression this spring of Morris and fellow linebacker Christian Kirksey to that of former Hawkeyes stars Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge.

Greenway and Hodge, who played alongside one another from 2002-05, occupy two of the top five spots on Iowa's career tackles chart. (Hodge is third with 453, Greenway is fifth with 416.) Hodge led Iowa in tackles in each of his final three seasons, and he and Greenway own two of the top three single-season tackles totals. (Hodge had 158 stops and Greenway had 156 in 2005.) Both were two-time first-team All-Big Ten selections before moving onto to the NFL. Greenway made his first Pro Bowl last year with the Vikings.

Ferentz isn't putting Morris and Kirksey in the Greenway-Hodge category just yet, but he notes that the linebackers have followed similar paths. Both Morris and Kirksey saw action during their freshman year -- the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Morris made six starts at middle linebacker and recorded 70 tackles -- and they shared the team tackles lead with 110 stops apiece in 2011.

"If you talk about Hodge and Greenway, both of these guys are in that same position," Ferentz said, "except we had the ability to redshirt both Chad and Abdul, whereas James and Chris hit the ground running."

Iowa would be thrilled if Morris and Kirksey could emulate what Greenway and Hodge did, but the juniors are interested in forming their own legacy.

"I wouldn’t say Chris and I are trying to be like Hodge or Greenway," Morris said. "A lot of people tailor their game or they try to look at the style of players who have played before them and see what they can pick up. Chris has done that, and I've done that a little bit, but we're just trying to be the best players we can be."

Iowa needs a lot from both men this season. The defense took a step back in 2011, finishing 60th nationally in yards allowed and 46th in points allowed, and has the youngest group of linemen in recent memory.

The unit's strength, at least heading into the fall, is in the back seven and particularly at linebacker. Both Morris and Kirksey moved around a bit last season but seem pretty settled entering 2012: Morris will play middle linebacker with Kirksey on the strong side. Junior Anthony Hitchens is the projected starter at the weakside position.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Kirksey is a speed player who also can lower the boom as a hitter.

"He's really got a good pop to him," defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. "He can run well. It puts him in a position whereas guys see him being a leader, stepping up and making plays. They're expecting him to lead, and I'm sure that's what he wants to do. Same thing with James. James is no question the inside guy you want in there."

Ferentz called Kirksey a "really positive, upbeat, high-energy player." Those qualities drew Iowa to him during the recruiting process and have helped him earn the respect and admiration of his teammates.

Morris, thrust into a vital position as a true freshman, is comfortable handling responsibility, saying, "I'm hoping to be the leader of the defense, the man in the middle."

Ferentz gave both linebackers high marks during the spring.

"They're really confident, much more so than a year ago because they've had that experience," he said. "I'm not saying it's Hodge and Greenway, but they're a little bit like them. They have good personalities, and they're both really good players who have totally invested and have a good vibe with their teammates."
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- If you graded the magnitude of FBS coaching changes from the past offseason, Iowa's would barely make the needle move on the Richter scale.

Even in Big Ten territory, the ground shook more in places like State College, Columbus and Champaign. Iowa still has Kirk Ferentz, the new dean of Big Ten coaches, who has been at Iowa more than twice as long (13 seasons) as any of his peers in the league (Wisconsin's Bret Bielema and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald are next at six seasons each). Unlike Penn State and Ohio State, the program hasn't been mired in scandal, and none of the personnel moves were forced.

But in Hawkeye Country, the transformation of Ferentz's staff equates to The Big One.

[+] EnlargeGreg Davis and Kirk Ferentz
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallGreg Davis will be the first new offensive coordinator Iowa has had in 13 years.
Ferentz made the first two coordinator changes of his tenure, hiring former Texas assistant Greg Davis to oversee the offense and promoting secondary coach Phil Parker to lead the defense. Two assistants moved positions -- including Reese Morgan, who shifted from offensive line to defensive line -- and Ferentz hired two former players, Brian Ferentz and LeVar Woods, as position coaches.

In the quick-change environment of college football, such moves are typically greeted with a shrug. But Iowa has been the model of continuity. Before Davis, Ferentz hadn't made an outside coaching hire since naming Erik Campbell receivers/tight ends coach after the 2007 season. By keeping offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe, defensive coordinator Norm Parker and strength coach Chris Doyle for the past 13 years, Iowa created what Ferentz calls "a great foundation of stability."

"We've had occasional changes here, but not like this," Ferentz told "It was an interesting period."

It also has been an exciting one. Spring practice inherently brings a newness, as the slate is cleaned and planning accelerates for the upcoming season. But spring ball at Iowa has taken on a decidedly different tone, one Ferentz and his players are welcoming.

While Ferentz didn't force anyone out the door -- O'Keefe left for an assistant post with the Miami Dolphins, Parker retired and defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski left for Nebraska -- he vows that changes would have been made even if the staff had remained intact. Iowa has lost momentum following an 11-2 surge in 2009, its wins total dropping to eight during 2010 and to seven last fall.

"We just needed to go back and make sure everything made sense and was adding up the way we wanted it do," he said. "Just consider some new ideas, some things that might benefit our production. Now it's actually been forced by the [coaching] changes."

Asked how receptive he is to change, Ferentz, who some label as too conservative and set in his ways, replied, "wide open."

"Bottom line is we're 4-4 the last two years in conference play," he said. "If that's the best we can do, then that's fine. But we felt like we've left something out there."

The more seismic shift takes place on offense with Davis, who steps in after a year out of football. Although his 13-year tenure as Texas' offensive coordinator ended on a down note in 2010, his offenses averaged 39 points between 2000-09, the second highest total nationally and first among BCS automatic-qualifying teams.

Davis has had success with different schemes and different quarterbacks. While Iowa fans shouldn't expect a five-wide, spread attack this fall, a historically buttoned-up offense likely will loosen its collar a bit.

"I kept hearing from Kirk, 'Regardless of whether Ken had gone to Miami, we needed to do some things differently. We needed to make sure we're growing as a staff, as players, that we're taking advantage of what our kids can do,'" Davis told "So meeting with the kids, meeting with the coaches, it's been very refreshing. They've been extremely open to everything. Sometimes the same play said differently and explained differently creates excitement.

"And I sense an excitement."

The feeling is mutual. Davis said last year was the first time he hadn't been part of a sports team since he was six years old.

The 60-year-old has returned to the field refreshed and revived.

"You can tell how much he loves the game," senior quarterback James Vandenberg said. "He gets really excited for practice, especially when we go against the defense. You'd think we were playing the Super Bowl with how excited he gets when we execute well. We show up early for lifting and he is literally here every morning at 6 a.m., always ready to go.

"We all kind of feed off of that."

Vandenberg enjoyed his time with O'Keefe and showed promise in his first season as the starter, passing for 3,022 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. But after some struggles away from Kinnick Stadium and the team’s poor finish -- Iowa dropped three of its final four games -- Vandenberg also sensed a need for change.

"It's just new blood, which kind of re-energizes everybody,” he said. "It's making us work hard, and we're watching more film than we probably would in the spring. And it's making spring ball really competitive."

The changes on defense are more subtle. Phil Parker (no relation to Norm) said he"ll run "basically the same scheme" as his predecessor, sprinkling in some new ingredients and perhaps simplifying things for a group that is extremely young up front.

Parker is a new voice, though, and a powerful one.

"He's a go-getter," safety Micah Hyde said.

"I didn't think [the team] needed coaches leaving, that kind of change," Hyde continued, "but we haven't lived up to our expectations the last couple years. We definitely should have been playing better ball. It is a good thing, just to get some new input."

That a seven-win season equals disappointment in these parts resonates with Iowa players and coaches. Iowa hasn't had a losing regular season since 2000 and since 2001 has averaged 8.4 wins.

But Ferentz's critics point to his hefty salary, ranked in the top 10 nationally, and the fact that Iowa has had just one 10-win season since 2004. The team also needs to regain its mojo in close games, which have been the norm throughout Ferentz's tenure. After a terrific run from late in the 2008 season through most of the 2009 campaign, Iowa is 3-7 in games decided by seven points or fewer in the past two seasons.

"How we maximize those close situations usually determines how we end up," Ferentz said. "We haven't done a good enough job the last two years. Everybody would agree with that.

"That's documented, so what can we do?"

They've shaken things up. And just maybe they'll send shock waves through the Big Ten this fall.
The Big Ten saw an unprecedented number of coaching changes during the offseason, as three head coaches were dismissed, Wisconsin's staff lost six assistants and many other moves were made. Barring an unexpected change, only four teams -- Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern -- will return their full staffs intact for the 2012 campaign.

Although the coaching carousel hasn't quite reached its end, Big Ten teams have filled all of their coordinator vacancies for the coming season. The league will have 13 new coordinators at eight different programs.

It's time to pass out quick grades for the coordinator hires (co-coordinators are graded together):


Co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty
Gonzales was LSU's receivers coach and pass-game coordinator; Beatty was Vanderbilt's receivers coach


Adam Rittenberg: C

Gonzales and Beatty both are strong recruiters who should help bring talented players to Champaign, but they're both young and unproven as playcallers. They should bolster Illinois' receiving corps, but I'd expect a few growing pains on game days as they adjust to bigger roles with a unit that flat-lined late in the 2011 season.

Brian Bennett: B-

Both are energetic guys who should adapt well to Tim Beckman's style, and both were considered up-and-comers. But as Adam mentioned, neither had led an offense before, so it's hard to give this too high a grade yet.

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks
Co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Cincinnati


Adam Rittenberg: A-

After a very successful 2011 season, Illinois' defense is looking for continuity and Banks can provide it. His aggressive style and pressure packages should translate well for a unit that still has a lot of talent in the front seven with linebacker Jonathan Brown, defensive tackle Akeem Spence and others.

Brian Bennett: B+

Vic Koenning declined to stay, and Jon Tenuta took the job for about 20 minutes before deciding to stay at NC State. As a third choice, Banks is a really nice hire and a better fit, in my opinion, than Tenuta would have been. After a tough first year with a Cincinnati defense lacking depth and experience, Banks did a great job turning that unit around in 2011. At Illinois, he merely needs to keep it going.


Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell
Offensive coordinator and tight ends coach at Arizona


Adam Rittenberg: B+

Littrell wasn't the reason Arizona made a coaching change in 2011, as his offense ranked third nationally in passing (370.8 ypg) and 15th in total yards (465.2 ypg). He comes from the fertile Mike Leach coaching tree and should help Indiana's offense become more balanced behind promising quarterback Tre Roberson.

Brian Bennett: A

It isn't easy to hire big-name coaches at Indiana, but Kevin Wilson got a good one as Littrell was left looking for a gig. The addition of Littrell already helped the Hoosiers land promising quarterback Nathan Sudfeld on the recruiting trail.


Offensive coordinator Greg Davis
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas (didn't coach in 2011)


Adam Rittenberg: B

Davis is an experienced coach who has coordinated offenses at the highest level and won a national title at Texas. He should help James Vandenberg's development at quarterback. The concern is he has been predictable at times and had his most recent success in a spread system, which Iowa likely won't use.

Brian Bennett: C+

Davis oversaw some record-breaking offenses at Texas, but he won't have the same kind of blue-chip talent at Iowa. Then again, in Kirk Ferentz's system, he won't be asked to generate 50 points per game. He's great with quarterbacks, and Ferentz will feel comfortable with a veteran coach who'll keep things simple. But to hire a guy who'd been out of football for a year was not very exciting for a program that probably could have used a battery recharge.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker
Defensive backs coach at Iowa


Adam Rittenberg: B

Parker knows the Hawkeyes' personnel and brings an energetic personality to the defense, but he's not the big-splash addition some were hoping for after Norm Parker's retirement. Phil Parker has coached defensive backs forever but has yet to serve in a coordinator role. It'll be interesting to see how much he actually tweaks the scheme in Iowa City.

Brian Bennett: B-

Parker knows the Hawkeyes defense in and out, and I doubt much will change with the approach now that he is in charge. There was a curiously long time between Norm Parker's retirement and his successor's appointment, and Phil Parker has never been a coordinator before, so that brings my grade down a notch.


Defensive coordinator John Papuchis
Defensive line coach and special teams coordinator, Nebraska


Adam Rittenberg: B

Papuchis is a rising star and most likely a head coach in the near future. While I'm tempted to give him a higher grade, he hasn't been a playcaller and is just four years removed from being a football intern at LSU. Inexperience is the only main drawback here.

Brian Bennett: B-

Like Adam said, the grade level is held down here by a lack of previous experience. But every coordinator has to start somewhere, and Bo Pelini has been really high on Papuchis, who has done excellent work everywhere he's been put to use so far. Any growing pains should be offset by the knowledge Pelini can impart as a defensive-minded head coach.


Offensive coordinator Tom Herman
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Iowa State


Adam Rittenberg: B+

Herman is regarded as a rising star and a sharp offensive mind who, with the help of Urban Meyer, will inject some life into a bland Ohio State offense. The only potential drawbacks are that he hasn't proven himself in a big-time job like Ohio State, and Iowa State's offensive numbers from 2011 don't exactly jump off the page.

Brian Bennett: B-

Ohio State fans were probably expecting a bigger name when Meyer promised to bring in the best staff in the country. But Meyer has an eye for offensive talent and will be heavily involved in the offensive game planning himself. Though Herman hasn't done it on a major stage, he'll be working with a lot more talent in Columbus, and this grade could easily prove to be an A in the future.

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers
Fickell was Ohio State's head coach; Withers was North Carolina's head coach


Adam Rittenberg: A-

There's a lot to like about this pair, as both men return to coaching defense after being put in awkward positions last season. It'll be interesting to see how Fickell fares as the primary defensive playcaller. Withers has a few blotches on his résumé (Minnesota 2007) but brings a lot of experience to the table.

Brian Bennett: A

The head-coaching experience both men got last year should only help their development as coaches, and both are excellent recruiters. My only concern is whether there are too many cooks in the kitchen, but there's no reason to believe that Fickell and Withers won't get along and accept their roles. If so, this should work out really well.


Defensive coordinator Ted Roof
Defensive coordinator at Auburn (briefly took Central Florida defensive coordinator job in December)


Adam Rittenberg: C+

While I loved what Roof did at Minnesota in 2008, his exit from Auburn after some struggles there raises a few red flags. The good news is he steps into a very good situation with Penn State's defense, and he has three good assistants: Larry Johnson, Ron Vanderlinden and John Butler, two of whom (Johnson and Vanderlinden) are holdovers from the previous staff.

Brian Bennett: C

Roof has some very bright spots on his long résumé, but he's also been a serial job-changer whom Auburn fans couldn't wait to see leave town despite the national title. Bill O'Brien could have retained Tom Bradley or promoted Johnson and probably done just as well, if not better. But he has a previous relationship with Roof, so the trust factor should be high.


Defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar
Defensive coordinator for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes


Adam Rittenberg: C

Both the change and the hire surprised me a bit, and Tibesar is a bit of a wild card coming back to college football from the CFL. He knows how to face the spread offense, a primary reason Danny Hope hired him, and had some success in Montreal. But his previous FBS stop at Kansas State resulted in some struggles (117th-rated defense in 2008).

Brian Bennett: C-

If Tibesar pans out as a successful defensive coordinator, perhaps Hope will start a trend of teams looking to the Great White North for assistant coaches. I'll give Hope some credit for making an unconventional choice, but I'm a little skeptical about just how well the CFL experience will translate to college.


Offensive coordinator Matt Canada
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Northern Illinois


Adam Rittenberg: B

Canada has extensive coordinator experience, including four seasons in the Big Ten at Indiana, but he has been primarily a spread coach in recent seasons. While he had success running a pro-style system during his first stint at Northern Illinois (2003), he'll have to make some adjustments. The good news: he inherits a lot of talent and understands his main job is to keep the momentum going.

Brian Bennett: B-

I was surprised that Bret Bielema didn't chose someone who was a pro-style disciple through and through given his strong comments about not changing the offense much after Paul Chryst left. As Adam said, Canada knows his stuff and has done some good work as a coordinator. But anytime a coach has to adjust his style to a larger system and not the other way around creates a seed of doubt.

Spring previews: Legends Division

February, 17, 2012
The 2012 Big Ten season doesn't kick off for six-and-a-half months, but spring football is just around the corner. All 12 Big Ten squads will hit the field next month for the first of 15 spring practices. There are plenty of new faces, as the winter months brought an unprecedented number of coaching changes to the Big Ten. Should be a fun and exciting spring around the conference.

Let's take a quick look at the Leaders Division:


Spring practice start date: March 24
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • New coaching flavor: For the first time in the Kirk Ferentz era, Iowa will welcome new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Phil Parker isn't exactly new, having served as Iowa's defensive backs coach throughout Ferentz's tenure, but he now takes charge of the defense for the first time. Will he continue running Norm Parker's scheme or shake things up? Iowa also will have a new offensive coordinator (yet to be named) and several new position coaches, including Reese Morgan, who moves from offensive line to defensive line.
  • Running back auditions: Iowa once again needs to identify a featured back after Marcus Coker transferred to Stony Brook in January. Coker basically was the team's rushing attack in 2011, accounting for 77.3 percent of the rushing yards and 61.9 percent of the carries. Jordan Canzeri and Jason White will compete with several other unproven players this spring. The good news is Iowa has had little trouble developing backs. Keeping them is another story.
  • Reloading the defensive line: The running backs might get more attention, but defensive line is Iowa's most pressing need entering the spring. The Hawkeyes lose three starters from last season's squad, including NFL prospect Mike Daniels at defensive tackle. While D-line historically has been a strength for Iowa, the Hawkeyes haven't had so much uncertainty in quite some time. Morgan, who hasn't coached on the defensive side, has his work cut out this spring.

Spring practice start date: March 17
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Defensive line rotation: It's a good thing coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison focus so much on the defensive line. The unit needs some extra attention this spring after losing standouts Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. The defensive tackle spot will be particularly interesting. A lot of eyes will be on Will Campbell to see if the big man can finally blossom. Quinton Washington and others are in the mix.
  • Receiving orders: Michigan needs to develop more options in the passing game this spring. The team loses top wideout Junior Hemingway, and Darryl Stonum was dismissed from the squad in January following another legal issue. Roy Roundtree needs a big spring as he looks to re-establish himself as the team's No. 1 wideout after a production drop-off last season. Tight end Kevin Koger also departs, creating an opportunity for others.
  • Al Borges' offense, Take 2: The new offense had some highs and lows in Year 1, and Michigan will be looking to establish greater consistency this season. It'll be interesting to see how a full year in the system impacts quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson must cut down on his interceptions after tossing 15 last season. The Wolverines also are looking for an offensive line anchor following the departure of All-American center David Molk.

Spring practice start date: March 27
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Take it to the Max: Andrew Maxwell's time has arrived as he steps in for three-year starter and three-time captain Kirk Cousins at quarterback. It's a tall order, but Maxwell has been groomed for this moment and has shown good potential in practices. He'll be working with a new set of leading receivers, including Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett, who hopes to be cleared to play for the upcoming season. Maxwell must establish himself as a team leader this spring.
  • We're not Worthy: All-American Jerel Worthy is gone, and Michigan State needs a replacement for the standout defensive tackle. While Anthony Rashad White returns at the other D-tackle spot, the Spartans don't have much overall depth at the position. It'll be interesting to see what the coaches do with Micajah Reynolds, who has bounced between defensive line and offensive line during his career. It's a big spring for Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge and a host of players who redshirted last season, including Damon Knox.
  • Receiving orders: Arnett seemingly would be Michigan State's No. 1 receiver if he's ruled eligible by the NCAA, but there are no guarantees and the Spartans must identify other options this spring. Bennie Fowler showed promise in 2010 before being slowed by a foot injury last season. He needs a strong spring. Michigan State also is moving Tony Lippett back to receiver from cornerback, where he started several games last season. Lippett is an excellent athlete who can provide a boost on the edge. The Spartans also will be looking for more from tight end Dion Sims.

Spring practice start date: March 22
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • The search for a pass rush: Minnesota should be improved on offense in Year 2 of the Jerry Kill era, but the team could sink or swim depending on the defense. It starts up front with a defensive line that hasn't generated much pressure for several years. Coordinator Tracy Claeys wants to be aggressive, but can he find difference-makers? The Gophers haven't had an elite pass-rusher since Willie VanDeSteeg in 2008.
  • Supporting cast on offense: Although quarterback Marqueis Gray had his ups and downs last season, he accounted for most of Minnesota's offense, leading the team with 966 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Gray needs more help if the Gophers intend to take the next step this season. Minnesota will be looking for a featured running back this spring, as Donnell Kirkwood and others are in the mix. The Gophers also need more options at receiver after losing Da'Jon McKnight.
  • Troy Stoudermire: Stoudermire turned heads last spring with some big hits from the cornerback spot. After receiving an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA in January, he'll look to deliver more punishment. Minnesota desperately needs leaders and playmakers to emerge in the secondary, and Stoudermire's return could be huge after he missed most last season with a broken bone in his forearm.

Spring practice start date: March 10
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Star search on defense: No Big Ten defense loses more star power than Nebraska, which must replace linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, the league's top performers at their respective positions. David's departure is especially critical, as Nebraska lacked depth in its defensive midsection last season. Although Nebraska played most of the past season without defensive tackle Jared Crick, it needs some difference-makers to emerge in all three levels of the defense this spring.
  • Papuchis takes over: Like Iowa, Nebraska promoted a position coach to defensive coordinator, as John Papuchis takes control of a unit that fell short of expectations last season. Papuchis is young and energetic, and his rapid rise mirrors that of his boss, Huskers head coach Bo Pelini. Although no system overhaul is expected, it will be interesting to see how Papuchis puts his imprint on the defense this spring.
  • Taylor Martinez's maturation: Despite two years as the starter and the support of his coaches, Martinez enters a pivotal spring. Although Martinez remained healthy last season and showed improved decision-making at times, he also completed just 56.3 percent of his passes and didn't break off as many long runs. A full year in Tim Beck's offense could pay off for Martinez this spring, but he needs to continue to make strides. It will be interesting to see if the coaches even entertain the possibility of a competition, or if backup Brion Carnes gets more reps.

Spring practice start date: March 3
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Colter and the QB race: Northwestern will have a quarterback competition this spring as it looks for Dan Persa's replacement, but the hope among many is for Kain Colter to take control. Colter stepped in for Persa last season and emerged as the team's best all-around offensive weapon. But he needs to improve his arm strength and his accuracy and show he can be a more complete quarterback at this level. Although Colter will be on the field no matter what in the fall, he has the opportunity in spring ball to solidify himself as the starting quarterback.
  • Young defenders: The defense has been a big problem for the past year and a half, and Northwestern needs to identify more playmakers before September. The good news is the Wildcats played a lot of young players last season, particularly late in the season. Northwestern needs its youth to mature, beginning in the spring. Keep an eye on players such as defensive end Tyler Scott, safety Ibraheim Campbell, linebacker Collin Ellis and cornerback Daniel Jones. Northwestern needs several of them to take the next step.
  • Spotlight on the secondary: Few Big Ten units struggled more than Northwestern's secondary did last season. Making matters worse, the Wildcats lose three starters, including All-Big Ten safety Brian Peters and cornerback Jordan Mabin, a four-year starter. If Northwestern ever intends to turn the corner as a program, it needs to build better depth in the secondary, whether it's through recruiting or from moving players from other positions. It'll be interesting to see how the group performs this spring.
Iowa fans grew antsy while waiting nearly two months for head coach Kirk Ferentz to name successor to Norm Parker at defensive coordinator. But Ferentz said Wednesday that he wanted to take his time with the decision, which resulted in defensive backs coach Phil Parker (no relation) being promoted on Tuesday.

"I just didn't see any advantage to moving quickly," Ferentz said at a news conference. "Unless you have to, there's no real advantage to that. So I just wanted to kind of sift through it, and I'm really glad that I did because my mind was in a couple different places. ... You want to take your time and feel really good."

Ferentz said he eventually settled on Parker -- who has spent the past 13 years coaching the Hawkeyes secondary -- as the best fit for the program. He said Parker has had opportunities to leave to go to other BCS teams, including a top-10 program that offered him a coordinator spot.

[+] EnlargePhil Parker
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireIowa coach Kirk Ferentz, after some deliberation, promoted longtime assistant Phil Parker, seen here in 2010, to defensive coordinator.
Ferentz did not announce a new offensive coordinator or any specific plans to fill the role vacated when longtime playcaller Ken O'Keefe left for the Miami Dolphins last week. He said he knew about O'Keefe possibly leaving as soon as Joe Philbin -- a friend of O'Keefe's -- got the Dolphins job. Expect Ferentz to take his time with this hire, too, even though current assistant Erik Campbell looks like a strong candidate to become another in-house promotion.

In some ways, it's understandable why Ferentz isn't making these decisions quickly. After all, O'Keefe and Norm Parker were the only coordinators he'd had at Iowa until this point.

"We probably cheated time here a little bit," he said. "I don't think anybody envisioned the head coach or two coordinators making it for 13 years. ... Right now, I'd settle for 10 out of the next two guys. That would be great if we could get 10 I'll be, what, 66. I'll have to figure that out then. Somebody will feel sorry for me and come join us at that point."

Some other notes from Ferentz's press conference:

  • He explained his surprising decision to move offensive-line coach Reese Morgan to the defensive line by saying Morgan is an excellent teacher. The Hawkeyes will be very young on the D-line next season, and Ferentz felt Morgan was the right guy to get that group up to speed. He pointed to Morgan's excellent work of developing offensive linemen, including projected 2012 NFL first-rounder Riley Reiff, who came to school as a defensive end prospect.
  • With the offensive line job open, speculation is rampant that Ferentz will hire his son Brian, currently a New England Patriots assistant, to coach that position. The elder Ferentz addressed that by saying he's "open to anything" but added that his son has a pretty good job right now.
  • LeVar Woods was elevated from administrative assistant to a temporary coach during recruiting, and most expect him to be named the full-time linebackers coach. "He's still the interim coach as far as I know, at least," Ferentz said. "He's certainly interested in working here, and we'll let him go through the process. Hopefully he'll do well in the weeks ahead here and we'll find a seat for him."
  • Ferentz said he didn't think the athletic department's budget would be an issue in hiring new assistants. But he also added, "I don't think we're going to try to sign a superstar coach or anything like that."
  • A lot of Iowa fans wanted some change in the staff and many criticized O'Keefe's conservative game plans. Ferentz didn't rule out a major change with the new offensive coordinator, but odds are more likely that Iowa's style of play will look mostly the same. Ferentz said his next coordinator has to "believe in blocking" first and foremost. "As a head coach what I'm interested in is we've got to block. We've got to make the make-able plays and make sure we're doing a good job in turnover ratio. I think that's really critical if you're going to try to get somewhere."
  • Iowa will move the start of its spring practice back a couple of days, and Ferentz would like to have the staff complete before the Hawkeyes get going in late March. But, again, moving fast is not his top priority. "Right now I think we've just got to make sure it's the right guy, certainly before we leave on spring break. ... Spring ball to me is about teaching the basics. It's about executing basic plays and just getting things taught. We have a very young team right now so it's not like we can be on page 7 anyway, so we really have to start at the beginning. So I think that gives us a little wiggle room there, too."
Iowa waited nearly two months to promote a position coach to a coordinator role. And that's not even the surprising part of the Hawkeyes' announcement Tuesday.

Phil Parker is Iowa's new defensive coordinator. After spending the past 24 seasons coaching defensive backs, the past 13 at Iowa, Parker now will lead the Hawkeyes' defense. He replaces Norm Parker, who announced his retirement in December. Although Phil Parker, who isn't related to Norm, had been mentioned as a top candidate when Norm announced his retirement, the likelihood of a promotion seemed to decrease as the days went on with no announcement from Kirk Ferentz.

Some Iowa fans had been gearing up for a big-splash hire, whether it was Mike Stoops back in December or former Michigan defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann in recent days. The big splash never happened, and Phil Parker gets the job. Expect him to maintain a similar defensive philosophy after working under Norm Parker for so long.

OK, so here's the surprising part: Reese Morgan, Iowa's offensive line coach for the past nine seasons, is moving to defensive line. He replaces Rick Kaczenski, who left in December for the same post on Nebraska's staff. Morgan has only coached offense at Iowa, working with the team's tight ends from 2000-2002 after serving as a high school coach in Iowa City.

Morgan's move is, well, odd. Defensive line is Iowa's biggest question mark entering 2012 -- yes, even bigger than running back -- so we'll see early how Morgan fares with the transition.

Ferentz also announced that Darrell Wilson will move from linebackers coach to defensive backs coach. Iowa has one defensive staff vacancy to fill, and administrative assistant LeVar Woods, a former Hawkeyes linebacker, likely will be named the team's linebackers coach. Woods' appointment makes a lot of sense.
"Phil, Darrell and Reese have all done an outstanding job in our program for a significant period of time," said Ferentz. "I am confident they will have a very positive effect on our team as we transition forward."

Ferentz, who has a news conference scheduled for 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, still must name an offensive coordinator to replace Ken O'Keefe, who left last week for a post on the Miami Dolphins' coaching staff. He also must name an offensive line coach to replace Morgan.

Tuesday's announcement increases speculation that Brian Ferentz, Kirk's son and a New England Patriots assistant coach, will return to Iowa City in an assistant role. Don't be shocked to see Brian Ferentz named Iowa's offensive line coach.

That leaves the coordinator role, which could go to wide receivers coach Erik Campbell, if Ferentz once again promotes from within.

Should Ferentz go that route, he would be reaffirming faith in his guys rather than outsiders. The moves likely won't go over well with Iowa fans, who have seen the same two coordinators throughout Ferentz's tenure. Many fans naturally want big-splash hires from the outside. Phil Parker certainly isn't, and Campbell would fit into the same category. I think promoting Campbell makes a lot of sense, as he has paid his dues as a position coach.

We should learn more about Iowa's coaching plans Wednesday, so stay tuned ...

Iowa assistant Norm Parker to retire

December, 11, 2011
Iowa football and the Big Ten is losing a coaching gem after the Insight Bowl as longtime Hawkeyes defensive coordinator Norm Parker will retire following the game.

Parker, 70, announced his impending retirement Sunday. He'll step down after the Dec. 30 bowl game after 13 seasons leading the Iowa defense.

It's not a surprise, given Parker's health problems in recent years. He has battled diabetes and had his right foot amputated in September 2010.

Iowa had five defenses finish in the top 10 nationally during Parker's tenure. He spent nearly 50 years in coaching and made stops at Michigan State, Illinois and Minnesota. Parker is a throwback and one of the more colorful personalities in the Big Ten. He'll certainly be missed.

Here are some statements:
Parker: "I would like to announce that the 2011 Insight Bowl will be my last game as a football coach at Iowa. I would like to personally thank Gary Barta, Kirk Ferentz, the coaches, and players at Iowa, along with the fantastic fans. It has been a great time, one that myself and my entire family greatly appreciate. I would also like to thank the office staff, the equipment people, and a special thanks to the medical staff, as I used them enough. The entire Hawkeye community has been great. My wife Linda, and all the members of our family, were very pleased to be members of the Hawkeye family. We truly enjoyed our time here. After 48 years of doing something I love, it is time to enjoy some time with the grandkids. Go Hawks!"
Head coach Kirk Ferentz: "Norm’s contributions to our team the past 13 years are deeply appreciated, as he has had a tremendous impact on our program. As I have said publicly on many occasions, Norm is a superb defensive coach and has served as a strong role model and mentor for all of our players and our entire staff."

Defensive assistant Phil Parker is a likely replacement if Ferentz chooses to promote from within. The Hawkeyes also could enter the sweepstakes for Mike Stoops, an Iowa alum.