Sam Webb: Much has been said about Rich Rodriguez's transition into Michigan. How his philosophy, his style and scheme will translate into a place that has been traditional by way of the offense. How do you think he is going to fare in Big Ten play?
Gerry DiNardo: "Well Sam, I don't think the technical side is going to be an issue. I think you can come into Michigan and you can win with the spread. Eight of the 11 teams in the conference run the spread. So this isn't a unique idea. Rich is certainly an originator of this scheme and knows it better than most people, if not all people. I think the transition, when I look back when I went from Vanderbilt to LSU; it is the enormity of the job overwhelms you. Michigan is the winningest program in the history of college football. West Virginia is a terrific place and a terrific job, but I think when you sit in the head coaching chair at Michigan, as opposed to the head coaching chair in West Virginia, your life changes. That is the transition, trying to keep everybody happy. Yeah you got to keep a certain amount of people happy at West Virginia, no question, but I got to tell you, I don't know what the multiplier is; how many more people you have to keep happy here, but it is a lot (laughter). That is the transition. Not Xs and Os, it is when you wake up in the morning and you are the head coach of the winningest football program in the history of college football. That is different than waking up in Morgantown. No offense to Morgantown, but it is different."
Sam Webb: Good point, good point though because much of the talk in the off-season hasn't been about the offense or will it work; it has been hey, will he pay attention to this tradition or that tradition; he is going to change this or change that and when it comes to the way they do things off the field, not necessary on the field.
Gerry DiNardo: "Sam I will tell you this, I have felt for Rich a lot of times. The #1 with Braylon Edwards, the captains. You come into these universities and it is not like there is someone next to you saying, hey here is the tradition. Information comes at you so fast that unless you have a guardian angel that is constantly whispering in your ear, don't do that with #1 it is going to cause problems, don't do that with captains. No one has told Rich all these traditions. So I pick up the paper sometimes and I say, I know exactly how it feels, because he didn't know all this when he made that decision."
Sam Webb: That seems to be the case. But if you win games, a lot of that stuff…
Howard Griffith: "Nobody worries about that stuff."
Sam Webb: Yeah a lot of that stuff goes out the window.
Andy Evans: You guys read the press clippings, you guys hear about how Michigan is going to look, the problems; setting all that aside, what are you guys looking for when you look at Michigan
Howard Griffith: "I want to see how the quarterbacks are going to perform. I know one thing, they have one of the best running back coaches in all of football in (Fred) Jackson; I mean he has coached some great ones here. There are some potential great backs on this squad. Defensively, they always have athletes that are there that can make plays. The wide receivers is a situation where they always have guys. So again, I go back to the fact that they still have great players, it is just a matter of them going out and playing in a new system. The question for me is, what is going to happen at the quarterback position. I know a lot of people want to see this high flying attack that was at West Virginia last year. I don't think it is realistic for us to think that we are going to see that. But, I think it is not unrealistic for us to see that this is going to be a good team that is going to be able to go out and not just compete every week, but go out and win big games."
Dave Revsine: "I want to see the offensive line too. I mean to me that is a big variable. Because obviously the running backs are immensely talented. I think the receivers are going to be fine. I don't think the loss of (Mario) Manningham and (Adrian) Arrington is going to be all that huge here just given the young talent that they have got coming in. To me it comes down to the offensive line and the quarterback. You know what, if the offensive line is serviceable, even if the quarterback play is kind of (sound for average or alright); I still think they could be awfully good, because the defense is going to be really good. They will be able to run the football. You have good receivers to try and get them the ball in space on kind of short stuff, which this offense does really well to begin with. I think that they could be awfully good. To me, the line is a huge, huge variable."
Gerry DiNardo: "I think there is a lot of pressure on the defensive guys too; the coaches and the players. They should be up to speed pretty quickly. They have made the decision how much to change the defense. I mean I saw them in the spring. There is not a lot that you can do if you are going to stay in a four man front or a three man front and they are going to go from a four man front to a four man front, so there is not going to be a whole lot of schematic changes. They have the veteran players; I think the defensive coaches probably got to say, we got to take care of business here, especially early in the year. Because I think the offensive coaches, they kind of great a free pass this year (laughter). I think the defense guys might be a little bit more nervous than the offensive guys."
Sam Webb: Last one before you guys get out of here, you all have been around football and not just Big Ten football, but around college football. Much has been made of the fact that Ohio State has lost a couple of National Title games. That has been used to sort of buttress the point that hey, the Big Ten is just a step behind conferences like the SEC, like the PAC-10. What do you make of all that talk? Is that really the case or do you think that that is overstated a bit?
Gerry DiNardo: "I think that it is overstated. I think it is nonsense basically at the top of the league. I think Ohio State is as talented as any team in the country. I think when Michigan is back up and running full speed, they will be as talented. I think Illinois has a chance to be as talented as say lets say the third or fourth team in the SEC. So if you say there is four or five teams in the Big Ten; lets say Ohio State, lets say Michigan, lets say Penn State, lets say Illinois, lets say Wisconsin; if those five teams have good teams; this year is maybe a bad example, but in general when those five are rocking and rolling, they're as good as the five best in the SEC. I think that the difference between the Big Ten and SEC is the bottom half of the league. I think the bottom half of the SEC is much more talented than the bottom half of the Big Ten. I think it reflects who is playing football and other sports in the high schools and the communities that those universities recruit and draw from. There is more interest in football in the south. More kids play the game. I lived in Indiana for five years. You know 15 kids go out for a freshman football team, and 100 go out for a freshman basketball team. Down South it is just the opposite, they can't find five to play basketball. So as a result, there are so many more kids in the South that are recruitable athletes, but it doesn't impact the top half of the Big Ten. That is my take on it."
Dave Revsine: "What I would say to the people that say that the Big Ten doesn't stack up or Ohio State specifically doesn't stack up based on those last two years; you look at the last five years in the NFL draft, Ohio State is tied for the most first round picks. They are second in the most players taken and it is Miami of Florida obviously, not Ohio that is the team that is tied with them or ahead of them in those two categories. The SEC teams are well behind them. The highest SEC team I think is nine picks, nine draft picks behind Ohio State. I think it is like 40 to 31 that is Tennessee, which I think is next. The NFL is not in the business of taking slow guys who are bad athletes and they go through great lengths to make sure that they don't do that. I think there are a lot of things maybe Ohio State could have done differently in those two championship games, particularly I think last year. I think we were kind of led to believe maybe there would be some different things schematically or they would at least come out and give them a little bit of a different look and it never really happened. I think that you can point a finger at that, but I don't think that you can point a finger at the athletes. I mean being down on the field, and again, I always defer to these guys because they are so much better in terms of gauging that sort of stuff, but I don't think there was a huge athletic void. It just seemed like LSU came out with a little bit better game plan."
Howard Griffith: "Yeah, they wanted to play in space and Ohio State traditionally doesn't. I think that is when you talk about what Ohio State is going to do with Pryor; I think that is the addition that he is going to give them, give them an ability to get outside and do some different things. I think and Revsine talks about this all the time, you take Michigan last year going up against Florida."
Dave Revsine: "Yeah. Remind me who won that one (laughter)."
Howard Griffith: "Nobody gave them a chance, including me, okay so."
Gerry DiNardo: "Well some of us did."
Dave Revsine: "Yeah, DiNardo did that is true."
Howard Griffith: "DiNardo called it but that was because…we won't go into that (laughter). The Big Ten is as tough as conference as you are going to find. I think the athletes are here. It is just a matter of getting it done on the biggest stage and that is what everybody ultimately looks at. If your #1 team does not get it done against another's conference #1 team, then it is going to reflect on the entire conference."
For the rest of this interview with the Big Ten Network crew, be sure to check out the conference preview edition of GoBlueWolverine The Magazine.