Athlon Writers Talk Anonymously About Interviewing Big Ten Coaches

It’s not easy getting college football writers to comment candidly on the coaches they interview and hope to keep interviewing. In order to get a more accurate assessment of Big Ten coaches heading into 2017, the Fake Punt asked writers at Athlon to talk anonymously about interviewing subjects for their annual piece where Big Ten coaches talk anonymously about conference foes. Here’s what they had to say.

Iowa

“I cracked a joke at the start, asked Brian and Kirk how they knew each other. They thought I was completely serious. Kirk started with the day he met Brian’s mother and gave us a good 20 minute rundown of his relationship with his son.”

“Said an opposing defensive coordinator: ‘I’m going to miss the hell out of Greg Davis, I could defend his offense in my sleep.’”

“Another head coach said, ‘Kirk really makes those postgame handshakes count. After this year’s game he leaned in and said, ‘Make more time for Fumi.’ I’d be divorced without that guy.”

“Brian Ferentz was talking about how the offense is gonna be ‘dynamic and multiple.’ And then you’ve got Phil Parker in the corner making this gagging motion.”

“Kirk told us how good of a father he thinks all of his graduate assistants will wind up being. Surreal that they were sitting right there taking notes.”

“A coach in the East told me Kirk Ferentz is a secret cat lover. Like, more than one. We asked Kirk about it. He snapped, ‘Those are just barn cats.’”

Michigan

“Jim Harbaugh just wanted to talk about chaos theory and the butterfly effect. We asked him what he thought of Indiana and he marveled over the possibility of his answer affecting the Hoosiers’ season–or Bowling Green’s or Real Madrid’s, for that matter.”

“[Defensive coordinator] Don Brown was late. Said he’d killed a deer on the way over. Didn’t say how. His mustache had flecks of blood in it.”

“Their OC, Tim Drevno — he doesn’t belong there. He’s got a Wisconsinness about him.””

“An opposing coach said: ‘I hope Jim Harbaugh hosts an actual satellite camp in outer space, and never comes back.’”

“Brian Ferentz called Jay Harbaugh a ‘poor man’s Brian Ferentz.’”

“Would that there was a drug to make you feel like Jim Harbaugh on a Tuesday afternoon.”

Minnesota

“PJ Fleck will talk at you for hours, but good luck getting him to listen.”

“There’s almost nothing in PJ Fleck’s house except hundreds of preseason college football magazines and his wife’s air mattress.”

“It was more fun last year when Tracy Claeys told us about his favorite restaurants in every Big Ten city. The funny thing was, all of them were chains. Really spoke highly of the Red Robin in Ann Arbor.”

“Fleck said he thinks [Gophers basketball coach] Richard Pitino is one of the strangest people he’s ever met. He told me Pitino uses a makeup girl, even for radio interviews. ‘What a porcelain doll,’ he said.”

“I think Fleck’s going to succeed. That was the most Minnesota-looking coaching staff I’ve seen yet. I mean, Robb Smith?”

“Their OC [Kirk Ciarrocca] told me how to pronounce his name several times, but I kept saying ‘Sriracha.’ Can’t wait to hear Beth Mowins butcher that one this fall.”

Michigan State

“It was Mark Dantonio and three of his lawyers. Mark didn’t say anything, the lawyers just read pre-written statements about each team as Dantonio glared at us.”

“Like every year, we spent half the time assuring Dantonio and his counsel that Urban and Jim wouldn’t know it was him.”

“I had to squint to read the fine print on the documents we were made to sign.”

“Learned a lot about contract law, actually.”

Illinois

“Lovie Smith showed up 45 minutes late, in a Hawaiian shirt. Told us his granddaughter’s birthday party ran long and proceeded to show us pictures of all his grandkids. We were supposed to have 30 minutes with him, but he hung out for a few hours.”

“One opposing coach told me, ‘I love [former UAB coach] Garrick McGee as their OC. The last time that guy got his hands on a program, they shut it down.’”

“Defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson didn’t know the Illini were playing at South Florida. I don’t mean whether it was an away game, I mean whether it was even on the schedule. When I insisted, he told me to look it up. Hardy let out a long whistle. ‘Blows my weekend,’ he said.”

“Lovie is really happy about the stock market right now.”

“I found out [offensive line coach] Luke Butkus is Dick’s nephew, not his son. That’s Illinois: the nephew of what it once was.”

“We should all look so good in retirement.”

Wisconsin

“The Wisconsin staff is well versed in the various laws surrounding the sale of alcohol in each state, where you can buy it at supermarkets, where the stores are closed on Sunday. When we were talking about Michigan, they noted that you can buy beer and liquor at any party store, but not in gas stations in Wayne County. There was a hint of bitterness in the statement, like that had foiled them in the past.”

“Paul Chryst disclosed an interesting medical condition. He has permanent asparagus pee. Ate too much of it as a kid.”

“[Inside linebackers coach] Bob Bostad has sadness in his eyes, like a man who knows he’s superfluous.”

“[OC] Joe Rudolph might as well be a weatherman in San Diego.”

“Wisconsin is on their 3rd DC in as many years, but I can’t tell the difference.”

Northwestern

“The only thing Pat had to say about Michigan was that their game-winning field goal in 2013 was bullshit. Spoke about it like it happened yesterday.”

“Another coach called him “Fat Pitzgerald” by accident, but he liked the sound of it, and referred to him as that for the rest of the interview.”

“I was just teasing Fitz when I said I heard he had interest in the Notre Dame job. Two of my colleagues had to pull him off me.”

“[Offensive coordinator] Mick McCall is one of the biggest readers in the Big Ten. He’s still heartbroken about Bookman’s Alley closing.”

“Pat was adamant that he could still hack it in the Marines. The only job he would leave Northwestern for is second lieutenant.”

Nebraska

“Mike Riley right off the bat: ‘I don’t walk to talk behind the Big Ten’s back. How are you guys? How’s Athlon?’”

“Bob Diaco lives in fear of Brian Kelly.”

“We got to talking about music and I asked Mike Riley what he liked. He said, ‘I think the Top 40 gets it right most of the time.’”

“Mike Riley takes his Coaches Poll vote more seriously than anyone. The burden of being truthful really weighs on the man.”

“Asked about the handful of songs that don’t belong in the Top 40, Riley replied: ‘I’d rather not comment on that. I want to talk about the thirty plus songs that do.’”

“If all you can say about someone is how nice they are, it’s the meanest thing you can say.”

Indiana

“Tom Allen gave two sets of answers to every question, one as head coach and one as defensive coordinator. Those two are really not on the same page.”

“Mike DeBord was cackling about a trick play he’d just advised. It was a play action fake dumpoff to the fullback.”

“New running backs coach Mike Hart kept calling Purdue their ‘kissing cousin.’ It made everyone uncomfortable.”

“Tom Allen is 100% focused on the Ohio State game right now. I asked if anyone had an edge in the running back competition and he replied; ‘I think Ohio State’s receiving if they win the coin flip. Don’t you?’”

“That was ten times less stressful than last year.”

Purdue

“Jeff Brohm says he hasn’t faced expectations this low since he played in the XFL. ‘Darrell Hazell, what a gem,’ he said. ‘Sign me up for whatever job he gets fired from.’”

“Brian [Brohm] said he commutes to and from Louisville every day. Says it’s a straight shot up 65.”

“Out of nowhere one of their coaches started chuckling and said: “Did you know Bob Diaco is terrified of Brian Kelly?”

“The Brohm Brothers love buddy comedies. They have a Bad Boys poster in their office with their heads photoshopped on Martin Lawrence and Will Smith’s bodies.”

“[Co-defensive coordinator] Nick Holt complained, ‘How am I supposed to revamp this defense when all my players have six hours of problem sets to get through every night? Have they heard of kinesiology?’”

Rutgers

“I found most of their comments unprintable.”

“Am I the only person who dislikes Jerry Kill? Oh right, Bob Diaco.”

“One of the Rutgers coaches ripped my shirt open in search of a wire.”

“I enjoyed Chris Ash punning on his own name. Calling his office ‘The Ash Hole,’ I didn’t see that coming.”

“Their staff is relieved they don’t have to play Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa, or Minnesota this year. But they’re dreading facing Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Nebraska, Indiana, Maryland, Purdue, and Illinois.”

“They want to win that Eastern Michigan game bad.”

Ohio State

“Urban Meyer has an encyclopedic memory of every anonymous comment made about Ohio State in our feature over the years.”

“It was weird that Luke Fickell was there.”

“Greg Schiano turned down every single question, but did volunteer that sportswriting is a parasitic profession filled with beta males.”

“When Indiana fired Kevin Wilson, I was overjoyed at the thought I’d never have to talk to him again. Alas.”

“Meyer fielded questions as he shit with the door open. ‘This is an old LBJ trick I read in that Caro biography.'”

Penn State

“James Franklin prefaced his comments about all 13 teams by noting that they hadn’t won the Big Ten championship last year and had to be judged as such.”

“Several coaches around the league talked shit about Joe Moorhead. I remember one from the West saying: ‘Joe Moorhead, what a genius. Why didn’t I think of coaching my quarterback to throw it up for grabs?’”

“Every year, Jay Paterno asks us to interview him for this feature, and every year, we have to tell him no.”

“We were actually the first people to break it to Moorhead that other coaches were knocking his offense. His immediate reply was: ‘Oh, Paul Chryst is a caveman.”

“A PSU assistant said: ‘I don’t think we’re getting that buyout money from [former defensive coordinator Bob] Shoop any more than I’m getting my lawnmower back.'”

Maryland

“DJ Durkin said he would only leave Maryland for a better job.”

“Tom Dienhart called their campus ‘bucolic.’ I don’t think he knows what that means.”

“They take all their recruits to the Buffalo Wild Wings over by the Ikea. Then they take them to the Ikea. And yet somehow it’s working.”

“OC Walt Bell was late. ‘Fucking Red Line.’”

“One of their strength coaches wouldn’t stop reminding us that Phil Steele’s preview writers were in better shape.”

“Those guys are just so thankful there’s Rutgers.”