CHICAGO - While Ohio State wasn’t a part of day one as Big Ten Media Days kicked off in Chicago on Monday, there was still plenty to discuss as six of the conference head coaches and their players took to the podium.
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald started things off by offering a heartfelt tribute to Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler, who passed away in a car accident Sunday.
“It's with heavy heart and great sadness that I kick off here this morning. Obviously, the tragic news the passing of Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler over the weekend,” Fitzgerald said. “On behalf of Northwestern, our football program and all our players we'd like to express all the thoughts and prayers to their families, Coach (Mark) Dantonio, Coach (Mike) Riley and the Spartan and Husker families on their tragic loss. We recruited Mike and know him well. And just sad, tragic news and our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
Fitzgerald followed those comments up by recognizing the contributions of Dennis Green to the Wildcats, as the school’s first African-American head coach. Green passed away last week at age 67 from a heart attack.
The Northwestern head coach then welcomed Rutgers new head coach Chris Ash, Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin and Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys to the “Big Ten head coaches fraternity,” but failed to mention Lovie Smith. Smith is entering his first season at Illinois, in-state and conference rival of Northwestern.
After some Twitter discussion about whether Fitzgerald intentionally left Smith out or did it on purpose started to surface, the NU head coach took to his own account to correct himself.
After Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell finished his session, Ash took to the podium for the first time as a head coach and was asked an interesting question about a possible rivalry between the Scarlet Knights and Wolverines.
“I'll start by saying there's no rivalry with Michigan yet. They've done some things that we have not been able to do and I think it's great when fans get a chance in the offseason to talk about college football and have fun with college football,” he said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Harbaugh and the job he's done at Michigan and the program they've had for several years.
“We're going to work the best that we can here at Rutgers to create rivalries with everybody that we play. And it's great that the fans are involved and care and passionate about what we're doing at Rutgers.”
Claeys was also making his first appearance at Big Ten Media Days as a head coach, and discussed his views on the idea of removing the kickoff from the game of football. The Ivy League is currently experimenting with the idea, and Claeys said it might be time for major college football to take notice.
“My own personal belief is if that play obviously is causing that many injuries and it's that obvious from the data, then we need to replace it. Find a good way to replace it and get it out of the game,” Claeys said. “First, let's try to do it where it's all man blocking, so you don't have the two-on-one blockings at full speed and that, and turn it all into a man-to-man scheme and give that a chance first.”
Lastly, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh addressed the media donning his trademark block ‘M’ ball cap along with his suit and tie.
Among the many things Harbaugh discussed, the most noticeable was his confidence in Jabrill Peppers’ ability to play multiple positions, something he did for most of last season.
“Put him in at corner, put him in at safety. Put him in at nickel. Put him in at linebacker. Ultimately probably nickel is his best position. He can be a returner of the punts, returner of the kickoffs. He could be a gunner. He could be a hold-up guy,” Harbaugh said. “Offensively probably right now could probably be our slot receiver and would give De'Veon (Smith) and all of our running backs a run for their money to be the best running back on the team. Could be a wildcat quarterback. Could be an outside receiver. Can run all the reverses and fly sweeps. I think you get the picture. He is a tremendous athlete.”
Next up during day two of media days, Ohio State is set to be joined by Maryland, Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois with Smith set to open Tuesday’s events at 9 a.m.