As coaches moved along the carousel of going up to the podium and coming down for the next Big East representative to take their place at the center of the stage, one key word continued to come through the microphone at Big East Media Day in Rhode Island: leadership.
But even before they uttered even one word, two leaders were already in focus. One, the person speaking. The other, the individual being spoken about. Interim Commissioner of the Big East, Joe Bailey, mentioned Rutgers University football alum, Eric LeGrand, before bringing up the coaches of the Big East, which demonstrated a desire to focus on what truly matters in life. LeGrand has been in a wheelchair as a result of an attempted tackle in a 2010 game against Army which left him paralyzed. He is a living example of the notion that you can take the player out of the fight but you cannot take the fight out of the player.
Embodying the fight from within was Temple University Head Coach, Steve Addazio, who entered into Big East competition already winning most tenacious coach of the conference, sending an emotionally-driven speech through the Hotel Viking. Addazio stated that he does not know where the Owls will be in the pecking order of the Big East, but did say that he has a group of players that respect the game and that he is "thrilled to death" of the current state of Temple's football program.
University of Cincinnati Head Coach, Butch Jones, painted the picture of a leader when speaking about Offensive Guard, Austen Bujnoch, who was with Jones at Big East Media Day. Jones recalled a game down in South Florida against the University of South Florida Bulls. There was less than one minute left to play in the game, according to Jones. Bujnoch's shoulder had been dislocated. Instead of allowing a timeout to be called, Bujnoch punched the ground and put his shoulder back into place, which the mere thought of sends some to the local trash bins, but not Bujnoch, who allegedly would rather endure pain than leave the field.
Speaking of not leaving, Kyle Flood, Head Coach at Rutgers University, which is firming planted in the Big East, gave a substantially large vote of confidence to the conference.
"Year in and year out. The Big East Conference is the most competitive conference in the country, top to bottom. We are looking forward to competing in that conference."
Leadership-wise, Flood reminded onlookers that Rutgers has been to a bowl game in six of the last seven seasons, winning five of those games. An even more exceptional statistic lies on the student side of student-athlete. Flood announced that Rutgers has been among the Top 10 in the Academic Progress Rate (APR) every year since its institution.
Skip Holtz, Head Coach of South Florida, began his opening address by saying that, "Every football team has a life expectancy of one year," an interesting take on college football that is essentially, true. Year to year, collegiate football teams lose players due to injuries, suspensions, graduations, eligibility running out, and/or declarations for the NFL Draft. During a season, a team's longevity in terms of how long they remain on the field has to do with the output of the players on the roster.
Holtz stated that, " One determinant is senior leadership," bringing four players to accompany him for the Big East festivities, all of which, are seniors. Holtz zeroed in on one senior, in particular, for a comedic moment at the Hotel Viking when he mentioned that Bulls' Quarterback, B.J. Daniels, was a freshman in 2002, which he followed up by saying that it seems like Daniels has been around so long because of the immediate impact he had as a freshman.
Keeping the focus on the players, University of Connecticut Head Coach, Paul Pasqualoni, began his time on the stage by saying, "The most important thing we've got in this game, on this team, and any league you've got in America, are the players." Pasqualoni identified the three C's that matter to him when looking at a player: commitment, character, and class, noting that having five-year seniors on your roster can lead to outstanding leadership. Pasqualoni also led the way of thorough statements, noting that the team needs to replace their kicker and interior receiver as well as focus on the interior of the defensive line and fill the positions of center and left tackle on the offensive line. Pasqualoni also spoke of settling on a quarterback along with building more depth in the backfield.
University of Louisville Head Coach, Charlie Strong, alluded to leadership when he declared that, "Players are the ones that change programs. When they make a commitment to change a program with the right attitude, with the respect, discipline and sacrifice, those things will happen." But, nothing good ever comes without a challenge. "Challenge is all about leadership," said Strong. Senior leadership for the Cardinals will be slim this upcoming season, with only nine players on the roster reaching toward the end of their eligibility.
As far as the schools who will be coming to the end of their eligibility in the Big East after agreeing to join the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) on July1, 2013, the University of Pittsburgh stood before their Big East counterparts for the last time, first. Pittsburgh Head Coach, Paul Chryst, spent less time at the podium than it takes to brush your teeth. With numerous "thank you's" to the Big East for having Pittsburgh there in attendance, Chryst said very little else, leaving the bathroom with a few teeth waiting for toothpaste.
Syracuse University Head Coach, Doug Marrone, followed, joining Holtz by bringing laughter into a room filled with conference members that have been dealing with some serious changes. Marrone remarked that he brought the most players, five, to Big East Media Day because he grew up in the Bronx, so he travels with as many people as he can. Separating Syracuse from other Big East adversaries did not stop with how many student-athletes Marrone had with him. For part of fall camp, Marrone will be taking his players to Fort Drum, a training facility for the United States' military. "We all in this room have a great deal of respect for what the military has done," stated Marrone. Syracuse stands to gain physical as well as mental strength, closer bonds among teammates, and an overall appreciation for the sport they play and the life they lead. Military life and football both involve commitment, hard work, sacrifice, and hope. Leaders are born when those characteristics come together.
This version of the Big East has come together for media day for the final time. West Virginia, Temple, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse have begun a domino effect that will leave less original pieces of the conference's football puzzle standing. Leadership from a front office standpoint as well as by each school will be and should always be of great importance as the Big East seeks to identify what they are and intend to become. Perhaps the Big East Conference should look into offering pencils with erasers to those attending future media days to illustrate the ever-changing canvas that not only the Big East, but college football, in general, has become.