The coaches I'm most excited to hear at B1G Media Days
After a one-year hiatus, Big Ten Media Days is back. The 2-day event begins Thursday. And in most years, this event is just offseason filler and pointless fodder for Twitter (with a notable exception of 2018 when the Zach Smith situation exploded).
But this year feels a little different. For one, the Big Ten has spent the past year shooting itself in the foot. One year later, it feels worthwhile to ask Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren about what he learned in his first year and how he has grown in this role. The way the 2020 football season was handled falls on him, because he is the leader of this conference, even if he answers to the university presidents.
And if you thought the Big Ten’s incompetence would stop with football, you were sadly mistaken. The B1G handicapped its baseball and softball teams last spring in only allowing them to play conference games, and as a result, they suffered mightily in terms of seeding for postseason play. What sense does it make for an outdoor sport to only get to play conference games when vaccinations had already started after an indoor sport went through an entire season without vaccinations being available?
What is Warren’s plan for this season? SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey made some waves this week when he said that there will not be any games rescheduled this season due to COVID and that teams are responsible for getting their players vaccinated and keeping them healthy. Will Warren follow suit? I also expect to get some thoughts from him on vaccinations, NIL and the potential 12-team Playoff.
Warren would top this list, for sure, in terms of compelling interviews. But if we’re just going by the coaches, here’s how I’d rank them, keeping in mind with how entertaining and engaging they typically are in interviews and whether there are potential newsworthy items from their team that could emerge:
14. Paul Chryst (Wisconsin)
Here’s what we know about Chryst: Great coach, typically not a great interview. That’s probably just how he likes it, too. Pretty much everyone is assuming Wisconsin is going to return to its perch atop the West.
13. Mike Locksley (Maryland)
This is a big season for Locksley, who has accumulated quite a bit of talent heading into Year 3. But he typically doesn’t make a ton of waves in the media.
12. Jeff Brohm (Purdue)
Brohm’s seat is getting warmer and warmer, which seems unfathomable considering how hard Purdue battled to keep him from going home to Louisville. It’s hard to believe he’s already entering his 5th season. He says he’ll be more hands-on with the defense, which feels like one of those things you say in desperation to explain why one side of the ball isn’t very good.
11. Mel Tucker (Michigan State)
This is his first B1G Media Days after last year’s event was canceled. Tucker’s seat isn’t remotely close to warm yet, as last year was basically a Year 0 considering he was hired so late in the coaching cycle. Taking a jab at Michigan after last year’s win would certainly move him up the list, though Ryan Day seems more likely to do that. Maybe he’ll reveal whether Temple transfer Anthony Russo or Payton Thorne is in the lead in the QB battle.
10. Greg Schiano (Rutgers)
It feels like Schiano is on the precipice of building something at the league basement dwellers. This will be his first B1G Media days, as well.
9. Bret Bielema (Illinois)
Bielema is back in the Big Ten, and that’s not a good thing for those that counted on Illinois being an easy win. He’s always engaging and is now in a division with his alma mater (Iowa) and his former team (Wisconsin), so maybe there will be some playful jabs.
8. Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern)
Fitzgerald is a media darling, and rightfully so. There may not be a coach in college football outside of Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney who has maximized what his program can be like Fitzgerald. This may be the last of the chummy press conferences for Fitzgerald this year as Northwestern could be headed for a rebuilding year. Either way, email Fitzgerald a full breakdown to firstname.lastname@example.org!
7. PJ Fleck (Minnesota)
The always-energetic Fleck is sure to make some headlines. I’m just not sure about what, quite yet. Guessing it’ll be something tied to COVID, NIL or the CFP.
6. Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)
Maybe Ferentz will get asked about how the culture at Iowa is one year removed from an investigation that followed allegations of racism and mistreatment of players. With how uniform Iowa’s program is from top to bottom (which was part of the problem for Black players), it doesn’t seem tailor-made for NIL. How is Ferentz handling that?
5. Tom Allen (Indiana)
Allen is very forthcoming on a wide range of topics, and the media will surely look at him as a more prominent voice after elevating Indiana into the Big Ten title race. This guy is never short on energy, I’ll say that.
4. James Franklin (Penn State)
Franklin suffered a rare blemish on his head coaching record with last season’s 0-5 start. It’ll be interesting to get his thoughts on firing his OC after one season, the lack of QB depth and where Penn State stands now in the Big Ten.
3. Ryan Day (Ohio State)
Day isn’t shy when it comes to speaking his mind, whether it be last year during the Big Ten’s handling of COVID or when Jim Harbaugh pokes the bear. What are Day’s thoughts on NIL and the expanded CFP? Has CJ Stroud, Jack Miller or Kyle McCord pulled ahead?
2. Scott Frost (Nebraska)
Frost’s seat is warm, as of now, especially with a new athletic director on board. I’m sure he’ll say that everyone is on the same page, but it’s the elephant in the room. Above all, Frost is one of those guys that is a sportswriter’s dream, as he is always making news. He’ll be a must-watch this week, whether he’s talking about COVID, the Oklahoma debacle, the Big Ten or the Huskers’ shortcomings during his tenure.
1. Jim Harbaugh (Michigan)
Anytime Harbaugh says anything, it’s news. Even when he’s not trying to make headlines, he makes headlines. Remember, it was Harbaugh who advocated for a 16-team playoff 3 years ago, so the guy does have some foresight. More than that, though, it’ll be interesting to hear his thoughts on the QB battle, the defense and the program as a whole after he got his extension in the offseason.