What would I do without the Big Ten Network? Thanks to my dear friends at BTN I was able to watch/listen to the Big Ten Football Media Day without actually being in attendance. Ahh the joys of modern technology.
The themes of the day were new coaches (four to be exact with Indiana’s Kevin Wilson, Ohio State’s Luke Fickell, Michigan’s Brady Hoke and Minnesota’s Jerry Kill),Â how everyone feels about the Ohio State debacle, and of course welcoming Bo Pelini and Nebraska to the Big Ten Conference.
Joe Paterno was probably the most amusing coach behind the mic, as he made comments about not realizing his contract was almost up, revealing that back in the day he would help cover up drunk players’ debauchery and the fact that he started the Q&A portion by preemptively asking everyone to speak up. The Mr. Serious award goes to Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern, who clearly knows his facts but didn’t appear to be having fun.
If you want to see all of the speeches, visit the Big Ten Network website, because I’m here to discuss Illinois!’
Thanks to the alphabet, Illinois always gets to go first at these things and Coach Zook looked snazzy in his orange tie. Let’s face it, the guy has the tailor-made look of a coach ala Coach Taylor of Friday Night Lights. He oozes more charm than football knowledge, which is why he has lasted at Illinois so long. If it weren’t for last year’s bowl win we’d have five new coaches at the Big Ten Media Day instead of four.
Like everyone else, Zook said he was excited to get started. Both of his daughters gotÂ married this summer, and he claimed he “learned how to take orders and stay out of the way,” which sounds pretty awesome to Illini fans since last year’s bowl win hasn’t necessarily been attributed to the head coach. Zook next reminded us of the bowl win a few times, just in case we forgot, and pointed out that there was just one turnover in the coaching staff with the addition of secondary coach Mike Gillhamer.
Zook his happy with the team in terms of leadership and attitude, and he mentioned that though everyone is pleased with Nathan Scheelhaase, he is still just a sophomore. Practice starts next Wednesday, and despite holes to fill Zook is happy with where the team is this season. His intro lasted barely over two minutes, which is a nice indication he’s ready to just jump in and get started.
No one in attendance seemed to care about Illinois because the first question posed was regarding the Ohio State incident, while the second was about Russell Wilson joining Wisconsin. Zook agreed that what happened at OSU was cringe-worthy, but something that happens in college football. “It’s obviously very, very important that everybody, not only the Big Ten Conference, but everybody in college football does everything they can do to protect the game and obviously respect the game, for not only where it’s going, but where it’s come from,” Zook concluded.
As for the Wilson question, Zook responded that it’s great Wisconsin has a high-profile player, but he’d rather talk about Illinois football.
When asked about all of the new coaches, Zook remarked that as a seven-year veteran (wow does time fly) he is third in seniority. Otherwise, he didn’t feel that having new coaches as opponents would lead to an advantage or a disadvantage. Perhaps those teams are adjusting, but it also means new things for Illinois to react to as well.
Zook feels that the championship game is a great boost for the conference, and thinks “there’s going to be more interest across the country and it will make it more interesting.”
As for the O-line, Zook is feeling good:
“We feel very, very good about our offensive line. We have one tackle spot, Corey Lewis is a guy that didn’t go through spring, coming off of a knee surgery. Jeff Allen is here with us. Graham Pocic, our starting center, Jack Cornell, a senior, that played an awful lot of football. We got three guys that we feel are really solid players that can help us win. I think, once again, our offensive line has a chance to be our strength. Hugh Thornton, third year as a starter, a lot of experience there. A lot of guys, they know what to do. Obviously, I think in this conference, as in any conference, you have to be able to run the football. It’s something that our offensive coaches have done a great job in implementing a system that allows us with our quarterback to not only be able to run the football, but get him on the move, move the pocket, so you feel very good about where we are offensive line-wise right now.”
When asked if he hoped that his big-name guys would return, Zook responded “absolutely,” but then expressed that of course he is happy for the guys that left for the NFL: Corey Liuget, Mikel Leshoure and Martez Wilson.
Last, but not least, Zook remarked that they had a physical spring practice, and were fortunate enough to have no major injuries at the end of the game.
On the whole, Zook focused on the fact that despite the loss of key players, he’s got basically the same coaching staff and the younger guys (such as Nathan Scheelhaase) are a year older and know their roles. He also mentioned a number of times that the coaches know where to put the players, which is always a good sign.
Closing statement: “Once again, it’s our job as a coaching staff to keep that positive excitement going, feeling going, and continue to improve.” It looks like after seven years Zook is starting to get it.
Looking forward to the first game against Arkansas State on Sept. 3 in Champaign!
See below for links to videos of Zook’s press conference, as well as intervies with Illini playersJeff Allen and Tavon Wilson.