This off-season was quiet on the Western front, as teams like Northwestern, Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin largely stayed put with their coaching staffs. Minnesota aggressively tried to upgrade after a disappointing 2015, while Bill Cubit and Darrell Hazell basically role-played as firefighters, keeping everything mostly under control as best they could. It's hard to say the West made big improvements, especially with Dave Aranda skipping town. Still, the routine must go on. Here are the West's coaching grades.
Jay Johnson, Minnesota OC: Johnson is fresh off five seasons spent at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, where the Ragin' Cajuns enjoyed four straight nine-win seasons from 2011 to 2014 (they went 4-8 this past year). Before that, the Cajuns hadn't won as many as seven games since 1993.
Under Johnson's direction, ULL's offense became the cornerstone of the program, setting various program records in 2012, 2013, and 2014. In his first couple years, the numbers skewed more toward the passing game, but the last three seasons have seen a more run-based offense - and a lack of development when it comes to the quarterbacks. Perhaps this is because of some recruiting misses; perhaps development will continue to be an issue in Minneapolis. Regardless, Johnson infuses the Gophers' offense with some new ideas, while sticking to the bread-and-butter running game. Whatever his weaknesses might be, he will probably benefit from some of Claeys' experience. A-
Bart Miller, Minnesota OL Coach: Despite his very slick-sounding biography, Miller has a pretty light resume since that one season of emergency action at Wisconsin, where he filled in for a fired O-line coach partway into the season.
Still, I'm tentatively on board with the Bart Train for one, slightly strange reason. FAU's recruiting class in 2015, the first one Miller was able to really put his fingerprints on, consisted of four offensive linemen, a three-star and three two-stars, all of whom looked like much better prospects than their star rankings would suggest and much better than FAU had been getting. This gives me the idea that Miller knows how to cook in the kitchen, so to speak. He'll have some interesting pieces in Minnesota. C+
Dan O'Brien, Minnesota Swiss Army Knife: When Tracy Claeys fired Matt Limegrover, Minnesota's offensive coordinator, and Jim Zebrowski, the QB coach, and replaced both of them with Jay Johnson, he left one position open to be filled later. That turned out to be Dan O'Brien, who will serve a number of roles, none of which draw much attention (assistant defensive backs coach, assistant to the head coach, and co-special teams coordinator). Before joining the staff, O'Brien had worked in Minnesota's athletic department, overseeing day-to-day operations in a role similar to Jim Minick at Michigan.
O'Brien has deep ties to the state, with a lot of recruiting expertise, and obviously has a deep understanding of the game. But it's hard to give this a grade, seeing as the last time O'Brien worked as a coach he was leading the Division II Concordia Golden Bears in St. Paul in 2000. Pass
Jeff Hecklinski, Illinois TE Coach: Is Jeff Hecklinski. D
Ryan Cubit, Illinois OC: I'm not usually a fan of nepotism (going out on a limb, there), but this is probably the best move, to be honest (actually going out on a limb, there). Bill Cubit's offense was successful at Illinois, and Ryan will serve as an extension of his dad while Bill focuses on a larger scope of running the football team. The offense wasn't broke, and this maintains it. B
A.J. Ricker, Illinois OL Coach: Hired away by Missouri a couple years ago, Ricker has returned now that Gary Pinkel is retiring. He was well liked by the players last time around, but it's not clear that he actually did a great job at Missouri. C
Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois RB Coach: Again, it's hard for me to mind this despite Scheelhaase being brand-new to the coaching profession. Scheelhaase worked hard and represented the university well when he played from 2010-13, and he has a terrific knowledge base as a running quarterback to fall back on. B-
Terry Malone, Purdue OC: Malone has won a Super Bowl title with the Saints, mentoring a fellow you may have heard of, Jimmy Graham. Before that, he was the offensive coordinator at Michigan under Lloyd Carr, winning a championship in Ann Arbor as well. The program could certainly use his pedigree; we'll see how his play-calling has held up. A
Tim Lester, Purdue QB Coach: Tim Lester was the offensive coordinator and QB coach at Syracuse the last two years and just the quarterbacks coach for one year before that. The Orange's best season came in 2015, as the team had 19 passing touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 1,881 passing yards and 53.6% completions. That might not seem like much, but at least it's better than the combined 19 touchdowns and 34 interceptions the two years before that. So, I guess you could say he develops his players if you wanted to look at it optimistically. We'll give this a D+.
DeAndre Smith, Purdue RB Coach: The resume is pretty solid. The talent (Markell Jones) will be on campus. The Orange struggled in 2015, but were generally considered a well-coached team. The ground game was the bright spot on offense. B+
Ross Els, Purdue DC: Els coached Nebraska's linebackers under Bo Pelini, and was his recruiting coordinator from 2013-14. Those weren't exactly areas that excelled. With his simple philosophy and dedication to fundamentals, though, perhaps Purdue will be able to get more out of his larger-scale approach. C-
Randy Melvin, Purdue DL Coach: An old friendship comes in handy for Hazell here, as Melvin has extensive NFL experience coaching the position. If he's able to communicate some of that knowledge to a less mature audience, Purdue could do terrific things here. A+
Justin Wilcox, Wisconsin DC? This hasn't been confirmed yet, but a lot of places are saying it's imminent, so I'll throw it in. Wilcox has experience with the 3-4, which is what Wisconsin has been searching for, and he's coordinated defenses at Boise State (2006-09), Tennessee (2010-11), Washington (2012-13), and USC (2014-15). At times, he's been very successful. This past season, he'll be most remembered for Profanity-Gate, where his defense got ripped up by Christian McCaffrey and he was shouting numerous obscenities in the coaches' box. Statistically, his defense ranked 57th this year despite some incredible young talent. Wisconsin won't have that kind of talent. We'll see if this works. C-
Seth Wallace, Iowa LB Coach: Wallace has experience all over the defense except linebacker, but Ferentz has always run his staff in an insulated, unusual way. There's enough collective experience on the staff to keep things on the rails, and Wallace looks like a bright young assistant in his own right. I'll buy in. B-
Hitting the Links Has A Frog Pillow
A hundred and fifty years of Michigan sports, and so far just eleven ADs. Here's hoping Manuel has a long and successful tenure in Ann Arbor.
There were some awesome quotes here. "Coach Harbaugh is one of my favorite coaches through this process," Nordin said. "Coach Harbaugh is a character. He's a brutally honest person, he is going to shoot straight, and that's awesome. There's not a lot of real people like him. He's as real as it gets and a good guy. I do like him as a man and as a head football coach."
I thought Michigan could win 10 games in 2014, and the team went 5-7. I thought Michigan could win 10 games in 2015, and they went 10-3. Probably I'm just an optimistic homer, but even though the team has a tough schedule in 2016, I'm (surprisingly) not that worried about it. Why are we going to win 10 games in 2016? Because of guys like Brian Cole, Zach Gentry, Ty Wheatley and Tyree Kinnel, who haven't even begun to make a mark on this team yet, but certainly have the talent to do so. (Let's hope, then, there are no legs to a rumor that Brian Cole is still in Harbaugh's doghouse and might be on his way out.) Anyway, this slideshow recaps the first class of Harbaugh.
Poggi, the father of current Wolverine Henry Poggi and the coach of Devery Hamilton and Stephen Spanellis, could be moving to Ann Arbor for a job pretty soon. He is also considering working at Maryland.
If Poggi does take a job at Michigan, get comfortable hearing about 2018 five-star defensive tackle Taron Vincent. Vincent, who plays at Gilman High, has offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State, Texas, Michigan, and many others. His game is reminiscent of Rashan Gary, a 6'3" 285-pounder who is flexible and smooth enough to rush the passer and do all sorts of things a big guy doesn't usually do.
There's more context here than the article delves into - Jim Harbaugh being at Michigan has had a big effect for Michigan, and Kyle Flood's and Randy Edsall's struggles factor in too. Still, this is a good - and perhaps necessary - development for the Big Ten.
CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd talks about Neo and the difference-making power of the DT position.
Also, apparently Mike Shanahan will be in town for Signing of the Stars. So will Denard Robinson, Jon Jansen, and Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski. And Lou Holtz. And Todd McShay. And Jessica Szohr. Harbaugh wasn't kidding, was he. Of course he wasn't.
Richardson is a terrific player; you can throw that #84 position ranking right out the door. He'll be a lot of fun to watch and compete against the next few years.
Ohio State has kept an eye down south for years now. Michigan, under Jim Harbaugh, is doing the same. Maryland doesn't have the prestige of those schools, but they are also the closest geographically and can promise recruits some relative proximity to home while playing marquee games in the Big House, the Horseshoe, and Beaver and Memorial Stadiums. There's no reason the Terps can't compete for three-star players that might slip under the radar of FSU, Florida, and Miami. It'll be tough - everybody's recruiting in Florida nowadays - but Durkin and Maryland could pull it off.
This article is not exaggerating one bit; losing Neal is a horrible blow for that defense. Mason Monheim, the other stalwart in that linebacking corps from last season, is graduating, and two of the six departures from Monday are back-up linebackers. The hits have kept on coming for Bill Cubit, who is not popular - to say the least - with Illinois fans. It's hard to go very far if you can't keep the water out of the raft, as an old saying goes.
Michigan has been raiding Penn State on the recruiting trail recently - here is a column by Mark Snyder about it - but there's one position in particular that is hurting for James Franklin. And it's the same one Michael Dwumfour will be playing for the Wolverines.
Things do cut both ways, as James Franklin offered Michigan de-commit Rashad Weaver this week. But there is absolutely no doubt that Jim Harbaugh got the best of James Franklin in this recruiting cycle.
Recruiting successes or failures have a weird way of filtering up to judgments about the health of the program. This situation reminds me in some ways of LSU, which had a portion of the fan base calling for a head coaching change (which would be very expensive) shortly after watching an elite assistant walk out the door for more money somewhere else. Sure, PSU is now looking up at three programs run by better coaches in its division. But there'd better be a more detailed plan in place than "fire James Franklin," if that's the direction this ends up taking a year from now.
This sort of topic is right in their wheelhouse; for a lot of years they've had to stay patient with guys and "measure twice, cut once" to have any kind of chance at developing elite players.
Chris Ash has reeled in three more commits in the last couple days, all of whom are three-stars. Oden, though, is the centerpiece. He falls into the tier of recruit that Rutgers could realistically hold onto, but also bears a lot of resemblance to Ohio State's QB prototype - mobile, athletic, big arm. As a runner Oden is a lot of fun to watch. Overall, a very solid pick-up.
Great stuff. Nebraska has a history of great linemen, but that has fallen by the wayside in recent years. Hopefully this helps.
A very informal poll by Corn Nation had interesting results.
Northwestern has beaten Illinois for 92% of recruits both schools offered (24 of 26) since 2012.— Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan) January 27, 2016
You know what the Brews have been missing lately? Politics. And shoes. And, maybe a turtle or two as well. My bad for not delivering, so here you go - a piece on Donald Trump mingling with Hawkeye players, as well as a snapshot of what Jim Harbaugh would be doing if he were a turtle. Oh, and here are some LED shoes. Good, carry on.
I don't know how, but Jim Harbaugh is probably behind this. And it'll work, too.