A long time ago, in the dark prehistorical era of 11W, I filled in a few times to serve as our beat writer for some home football games against teams that were destined to be long, long forgotten. One of those was Jim Tressel's most evil moment, dropping a giant anvil on Ron English's Eastern Michigan Eagles and then calling up Lloyd Carr to gloat.
It was awesome, by the way. In the press box of Ohio Stadium, they had a kid making McFlurries alongside a big hot dog buffet. I hobnobbed with an Orange Bowl rep, almost knocked Ellen Tressel over by accident, and saw John Cooper take a leak. Those weren't the only perks, though; OSU has some very helpful interns/volunteers/indentured servants who make packets of stats and info and run them to the writers during the game.
One of the things that interested me the most were the blurbs in those packets about EMU. Great pains were taken in trying to describe the fightin' Ron Englishes as a competent football team with a rich and storied history, instead of a podunk directional Michigan school that was cruising for a really horrible bruising. Polishing a turd is kind of an art form, and whoever writes those fawning biographies of teams destined to get blown the hell out are not getting paid enough.
The Buckeyes ended up scoring 73 points against EMU that day and winning by over 50. For his role in this embarrassment, Ron English was punished by having to coach the Eagles for another three seasons (amassing nine wins), until he was finally fired in 2013 for yelling homophobic slurs at his players in a furious tirade.
I thought about that packet of ludicrously optimistic EMU info a lot yesterday, as a composed and very classy Darrell Hazell absolutely killed it in his press conference. The man is built for the camera in almost every way: he looks about 20 years younger than his actual age, he has a steady, commanding voice, and he gives direct, confident answers to questions.
Here's the biggest thing that I've learned when you take over a program. ... It's coaches to players, to equipment people, to trainers. So it's a learning process. And at this junction, as a staff, as equipment -- everybody knows where they're supposed to be. And I think that's the biggest maturity you make as a program between years one and year two.
Our players, they know what the expectations are from the coaches. So we've made -- you'll be impressed on the significant strides that we've made as a program.
Wow hey yeah Coach! We are back on track, let's get this Purdue train rolling! Toot toot all aboard the victory express!
Except, you know, not. Because though Purdue projects better this year, it's more of the "three wins instead of one win" kind of improvement. And, as we've already shown you on 11W, the cover of their B1G Media Guide kind of betrays the confidence that their head coach has in the team by being the Charlie Browniest cover you could imagine.
But the cover is nothing compared to the defeatism that's inside. Let's take a peek!
Aaahhh, classic Purdue (said the fan of the team that has lost to them way too often recently)!
Events like the Big Ten Media Days are fascinating because it's the college football equivalent of sticking a bunch of bugs in a jar and shaking it over and over until you can suss out the toughest ones. Except in this scenario, three or four of the bugs are actually rocks.
It's pretty obvious as to who is going to come out as the favorites to win the Big Ten this year, because they're essentially the same teams as every year. And because of that, Urban Meyer gets asked questions about personnel and Tim Beckman gets asked subtext-heavy questions about his plans for December. Urban Meyer can give direct answers about Tracy Sprinkle's status with the team, but Kevin Wilson needs to dance around the fact that the Hoosiers have won a grand total of five conference games in his three years as their head coach.
To me, that's a good thing. For way too long the B1G has been a slothful, lazy conference when it comes to demanding success from its coaches.
Schools like Purdue and Indiana and Illinois and yes, even Michigan at this point need to embrace the intense scrutiny that comes with coaching at a place like Ohio State. They need to allow regional and local media to ask tough, uncomfortable questions without the fear that they'll be denied press passes or facility access, and they need to understand that closing ranks around a failing coach only protects mediocrity.
There have been a lot of complicated answers given to the question "why does Big Ten football look like butt?" People have thrown out changes in demographics (nobody wants to live in the Midwest), different cultural norms (we just don't care enough, dammit!), or geographic differences (high school kids missing vital 7 on 7 time).
Those answers are all crap. It comes down to coaching, and finally schools like Penn State, which has made two brilliant head coaching hires in a row, and Wisconsin, who gambled on a talented rising coaching star, seem to be getting it. It's time that the Indianas and Illinois of the world do too.
Look, I love Darrell Hazell. That may be in part because when he was in Columbus under Tressel, I credited all of Ohio State's offensive successes to him and all of the failures to Bollman, but the guy looks and acts the part of a big time college football head coach, and he did well at Kent State. In 2012, he was a really good hire for the Boilermakers.
But that's not enough anymore. If the bottom feeders of the conference want to improve, they need to be impatient and take the kind of urgency that comes to Big Ten Media Days home with them. Because otherwise they're going to become Eastern Michigan, writing media guides that wax poetic about the number of trees on campus instead of the number of wins on the field.