Media Days are upon us, in case you haven't heard—and yes, you've most definitely heard—and Day 1 is good and done after all 12 coaches made their 15(ish)-minute appearances in front of the gathered reporters.
Not all press appearances are equal, however, and some guys wound up looking better than others. To that end, we're handing out grades for all 12 coaches based on their appearances. This is all basically independent of what condition their respective programs are in or how good a job they did last year, so this isn't going to just be "OHIO STATE AND MICHIGAN GET AN A AND INDIANA GETS AN F CAUSE THEY AIN'T WINNERS"—you can go check out the B1G uniform ranking poll from a few weeks ago for that.
So let's go in chronological order through the day and hand out our grades.
PAT FITZGERALD, NORTHWESTERN—Fitz was fine. He comes from the enviable position of being the current darling of the conference, and he said the right things, namely that the Gator Bowl win was just the start of what he wanted to accomplish and that he had higher expectations now. The sort of talk that can convince reporters that this guy "does more with less" or whatever and lets them overlook the previous three years—21-18 play and five losses to teams that finished with losing records—before the Wildcats' unexpected 10-3 roll in 2012. But that aside, Fitzgerald used the word "breadth" correctly twice and looked the part of a coach who could be there in Evanston for the next 20+ years. Like we said, he was fine. GRADE: B+
DARRELL HAZELL, PURDUE—This was the first interaction most reporters in attendance had with Hazell, who cut his teeth in B1G football with a long assistant span under Jim Tressel at Ohio State before quickly turning around a middling Kent State program. Hazell replaces noted moustachario Danny Hope, and he brings a much more intense presence. Hazell seems like the kind of guy you really don't want to mess a practice drill up in front of, basically. He's got a massive challenge in front of him, but he knows it and said as much during his appearance. Between that and highlighting his time under Tressel, it's hard to imagine him hitting the right points any better than he did. GRADE: A-
GARY ANDERSEN, WISCONSIN—The other new face of the 2013 season was next, as Utah State import Andersen came in and nearly put the room to sleep. That's not really a fair assessment of his abilities as a coach, obviously, nor is it cause for concern among the Madison faithful; we're still talking about a guy who won 16 of his last 19 games and lost the other three by a total of six points (thanks, Phil Steele). But the guy is pure Unisom on the mic and we're not feelin' it. GRADE: C-
TIM BECKMAN, ILLINOIS—Said happy birthday to his mom. Didn't hang himself out to dry as badly as he did last year with the evasive answer about recruiting PSU players. Even trended worldwide briefly...but still not for good reasons. The single least confidence-inspiring coach in the Big Ten today and did nothing to change anyone's mind on that front. GRADE: D
KEVIN WILSON, INDIANA—Not the most memorable performance, but Wilson made up for it by noting that his team's yards per point scored ratio was way too high, which is an admirable use of advanced stats in conversation, and he calls the goal line the "G-Line" and the red zone the "friend zone," saying that good teams "go from the friend zone to the end zone." Admit it: if you were some hotshot high school football recruit, you'd eat that up every time. Also, even though he didn't have an answer for the QB race, he at least talked enough about it that we can believe that he really doesn't know who's starting. Wasn't a great session but it was hardly bad. GRADE: B-
BRADY HOKE, MICHIGAN—Ehhhhhhhhhhh. We appreciated his unusual candor when asked about the kid who named his brain cancer "Michigan" and then beat it, especially since he has a family history with kids needing long-term pediatric care (an issue that's obviously near and dear to our hearts at BHGP). But he didn't say much else that people didn't already know, and the lack of new info in the media guides (no updated weights, no depth chart) was a bummer too. He's a good coach and that's fine, but we're never, ever going out of our way to hear Hoke speak in an interview. GRADE: C-
BO PELINI, NEBRASKA—Pssst: for as fiery a reputation as Pelini has, he's a really boring presser guy. He didn't discuss a player dismissed from the team, didn't say anything about changing his defensive approach after those catastrophic losses (except for the very helpful "get better"), didn't say much of anything. Masterful coachspeak, to be sure, but not much he said was worth mentioning. Lone exception: Pelini was the only one who bothered to say anything negative about the new targeting rules, saying that they were "a bit overboard." Can't blame him, really, after that ludicrous Kenny Bell penalty from the B1G title game, but other than that he's a snooze. GRADE: C
MARK DANTONIO, MICHIGAN STATE—[angry face] [saying nothing] [angry face] [saying nothing] [angry face] [saying nothing] [angry face] [saying nothing] [angry face] [saying nothing] [angry face] [saying nothing] [angry face] [saying nothing] [angry face] [saying nothing] [angry face] [saying nothing] [angry face] [saying nothing] [smile out of nowhere] [world explodes] GRADE: C-
URBAN MEYER, OHIO STATE—This was the big interview for a plurality of the people in the room, and there was no shortage of topics to discuss. And yet even with a returning Heisman finalist and a team riding a 12-game winning streak, off-field troubles dominated the conversation, as they so often do in July. But give Meyer credit: he took those questions head-on and answered them admirably. It helped that the teeth had been taken out of the Carlos Hyde situation after ESPN reports indicated charges wouldn't be filed and that video evidence showed Hyde hadn't done anything wrong, but Meyer didn't take the bait on that and reiterated that Hyde remained suspended. Past that, the situation at OSU isn't really that bad, and Meyer demonstrated control over the situation. Better yet, he distanced himself from the discipline problems at Florida by indicating on multiple occasions that he's maturing—or at least constantly reevaluating himself—as a coach and disciplinarian. He also pointed out that hey, sometimes you give the wrong kid a second chance, and it's hard not to. That fact gets lost in these hindsight-dominated discussions, a lot. All in all, this was the most difficult situation any coach had to deal with and Meyer passed with flying colors. GRADE: A+
JERRY KILL, MINNESOTA—I don't remember a single thing Jerry Kill said. I'm sorry. GRADE: toast crumbs
BILL O'BRIEN, PENN STATE—Slightly different atmosphere for O'Brien after last year's appearance came so directly on the heels of massive PSU sanctions. This time around O'Brien was largely focused on the team he was putting on the field, which is about the way most coaches would want it. O'Brien's a smart, thoughtful guy who's not afraid to talk, and while his appearance this year was standard coachspeak stuff, it was the type of appearance that keeps homers happy, and there's a lot to be said for that. GRADE: B-
KIRK FERENTZ, IOWA—Hoo boy. This was the last coach interview of the day, so on one hand you'd like to cut reporters some slack for having next to nothing to ask Ferentz; nobody had any questions after just eight minutes, whereas the other 11 coaches were up there for at least 12 minutes apiece (and usually 14-15). But the next person at the mic was the Big Ten president, and he had no problem getting questions asked. So this wasn't just reporters being done with what they needed to do for the day. People were still in the room. But hey, you go 4-8 and you earn a reputation for saying nothing to the press over the last 15 years, and this is going to happen. We learned nothing about Iowa that we didn't already know and nobody was having any fun. It honestly feels like both sides are completely checked out on this one and that's pretty hard to undo. Bummer, really. Ferentz and the press are like the one couple of friends everyone has with the lousy relationship: you can't not invite them along, but it's just depressing to have to witness it all. GRADE: D
You'll likely notice very little correlation between these grades and the teams' records in the upcoming season, which is probably enough to help you realize that these performances—and thus media day as a whole—is not really all that important anymore. There are so many media spaces, both new and old, talking about these programs 52 weeks a year that this is largely just outdated kabuki theater for the press.
Meyer's situation was different, obviously, what with the news breaking scant days before his appearance, but that's sort of the exception that proves the rule, isn't it? It was O'Brien and the sanctions last year, and it was Meyer and the suspensions this year. For the other 11 coaches, mostly old news being rehashed—because of how well whatever they talked about had already been covered in the last few weeks and months.
So don't take these grades too seriously and don't use them to determine anything serious about the coaches' programs. We're just talking about what was in front of us on Wednesday, and in an industry dominated by people who try not to say much of merit, that's... well, it's just not a lot to work with.