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The OTE Interview: Gerry DiNardo of Big Ten Network, Part I

The BTN studio analyst pulls no punches when talking about why the B1G is getting their clock cleaned in recruiting, why the OSU-UM game should be moved to a night September game, and the early days of the Big Ten Network

One of the really cool things about writing for a site like this is getting to interview people as engaging and knowledgeable as Gerry DiNardo. Coach DiNardo has been part of the BTN studio team, along with Dave Revsine and Howard Griffith, since the network began. We've been lucky enough to interview Revsine not once, but twice, and Gerry DiNardo is just as much fun to talk to as Dave Revsine was.

Oh, and that means we're coming for you, Howard Griffith. Some day, when you least expect it--boom--interview request through the BTN.

Because that's how we roll in the Empire, yo. By the book.

Anyhow, Coach DiNardo has become the recruiting go-to guy for the BTN, and if you're not following him on Twitter, well, you're missing out. The coach was gracious enough to give me his thoughts on B1G recruiting, oversigning, conference realignment, and what the B1G wants to be as a conference. Because of the length, the interview is split into two parts. Part 2 will be tomorrow morning, but for now, enjoy part 1.

With signing day now over, what are your general impressions of the classes for the schools of the B1G?

Gerry DiNardo: General impressions are that Ohio State and Michigan upgraded themselves pretty significantly, with Nebraska a little bit of a distant third. I think Minnesota and Purdue struggled the most, and everyone in between had about the same classes they've had the last six years or so, since I've been following it.

So overall, do you think recruiting in the B1G is getting better, getting worse, or about the same?

I think it's pretty much the same than when Jim (Tressel) and Lloyd (Carr) were at their respective school. You're going to have Urban (Meyer) and Brady (Hoke), who are going to separate themselves; obviously when (Tressel and Carr) were there they didn't have Nebraska, and they can get into the top 10 in recruiting, and I think Penn State, if they wouldn't have been on probation, would've been in the top 10.

Having said that, I firmly believe that what has to happen--and I believe this based on having been in the SEC and the B1G, and now at the (Big Ten) network--that success for the B1G, if they want to catch the SEC, they have to do the following: they have to have four teams in the top ten in recruiting every year, on a consistent basis, and they need to have three more from 11-15. I think when that happens, that will be the change. With Nebraska improving, they have a chance to be a consistent top 10, and I feel certain that when Bill O'Brien comes off probation, he'll be in the top ten.

So there's the four, now we need the next three, and I'm not sure when that's going to happen, but I'm sure it will happen.

That leads right into my next question. Urban Meyer said in an interview on Columbus radio that the B1G needs to 'have a conversation' about how the conference recruits compared to the SEC. You've touched on it, and you've coached in both conferences. Without question, the SEC is beating the B1G. What is it they do differently--is it a different mentality, facilities, quality of coaches--and what does the B1G need to do to close that gap?

The first thing the SEC does is that they recruit year round. I was at an SEC school this past summer and they had prospects on campus every day. Now I know the B1G does that, but I would suggest that the SEC does that more. Now, their footprint is a little bit easier to navigate. The population base is a little bit closer together, and you can hop in a car and get to several of the SEC schools (relatively quickly). You take Minnesota and Wisconsin, that's difficult for a kid to visit in the summer at his own expense, going to Madison and Minneapolis.

I think the marketing of the conference night games early in the season will help them outside the (B1G) footprint. Right now, a kid who plays in the B1G footprint, (let's say) has a Friday night game and his coach has a Saturday meeting followed by some running, and there's a B1G game at noon--that kid can't get to that game. Night games in September, conference night games in September, where Michigan is playing Ohio State the second week in September, at night--EVERYONE outside the B1G footprint is going to watch that game. I'm talking the Florida kids, the Louisiana kids. Right now, the marquee games that happen in the B1G are at 1:00 on a November day. Right now, the kids outside the B1G footprint are going to games inside their footprint (late in the year). So take the Florida kid--he'll go (to the stadium) to watch Florida play at 1:00 and he's not going to stay home to watch Ohio State play Michigan. But he will sit home and watch Ohio State play Michigan in September at 7:00.

I think the intensity of the recruiting in the SEC is different. I think their staffs are built more for recruiting than perhaps other staffs. If you look at staff salaries I think you might find that the recruiting coordinators for SEC schools might be paid more along the lines of the offensive and defensive coordinators.

Do you think the aggressive way that Urban Meyer recruits will force the rest of the B1G to adjust to the way he's doing it?

You know, I don't know. I don't know how everybody is going to respond. That's a great question that I don't know the answer to. But there's also some academic restrictions that have to factor in. Wisconsin has some academic restrictions that other schools in the B1G don't have, and Northwestern obviously does. In the SEC, Vanderbilt does, but other than that, there really aren't any. And that restriction is this: can I sign a qualifier by NCAA rules, regardless if a school like Michigan has (more stringent) qualifiers? Well, in the SEC, other than Vanderbilt, the answer is yes. In the B1G, the answer is 'no' at Wisconsin, 'no' at Northwestern, and 'no' at a few other B1G schools. I think this conversation about recruiting is important, and I think the B1G athletic directors need to hear it as well, especially with the new NCAA rules. The new NCAA rules are going to separate the SEC from everyone else as well if everyone else decides to recruit status quo.

Do you like the new NCAA rules? Will it be good for recruiting as a whole, or will it detrimentally effect recruiting as a whole?

It's going to be a lot more detrimental to the high school student athlete than to the lives of the coaches recruiting them. To me, this has brought college football one step closer to being like the NFL. We are constantly talking about education, and now, the NCAA has said that you can contact a sophomore and send as much information to him as you want. Are they going to send him information about the English department, or are Fatheads going to be at their doorsteps? Think about the millions and millions and millions of dollars that are going to be spent by the 'haves' of college football on multi-colored brochures.

We're talking about the 'haves' here--Kirk Ferentz said this the other day--that (for the haves) it's going to be like the Yankees in major league baseball; they're always going to start in the left lane. Now, programs with the big budgets, they're now literally allowed to send out a multi-colored brochure That means in the football department I'm going to hire a marketing person that doesn't know anything about football, but he or she knows what the best looking marketing brochure looks like.

What this has done is that it's created a nightmare for the student-athlete, but it might be easier for the NCAA because now they have less rules to enforce. I don't think they're going to cut their staff, so now (the NCAA) has a less amount of work for the same amount of people.

So how different is it now from when you coached? You coached in the B1G and the SEC, but how different has the process become with things like social media?

When I coached, there was literally no social media, but my attitude was I was going to communicate with my prospects any way they wanted me to communicate with them. So for coaches that say they're not getting involved with things like Twitter or Facebook, I think that's a really bad strategy. It's not what you like, it's what the prospect likes, so I'd be right in the thick of it with social media. And if I was still coaching with these new rules, I'd probably be the first guy to hire a marketing director, and I'd be the first guy to send out a Fathead with a prospect's face on my uniform to his front door. And I might send him one a week, too. And I'd ensure I'd out-brochure and out-Fathead anyone I was competing with.

Do you think an early signing period would curtail a lot of that?

No! All an early signing period does is move up the early commitments. Right now the early signing period is September 1st, now it's the end of a prospect's sophomore year. Every rule that's been passed lately has lengthened the sprawl, and if you follow me on Twitter, you know how much tape I watch. I'm tired of watching juniors instead of seniors, but there's nothing you can do about it (anymore). Now the NCAA is encouraging you to play better as a sophomore than a junior.

The B1G has had a lot of coaching turnover the last few years. What are your impressions of the two newest hires, Darrell Hazell and Gary Andersen?

Darell Hazell, is very detailed, very measured, and very confident. And he's a terrific, terrific guy. I can see why the Purdue people fell in love with him. For Gary Andersen, I would use the description Barry (Alvarez) used at his press conference: he's a ball coach. He's all football. He loves the X's and O's part of it, he's a veteran head coach and he knows exactly what he wants to do. Very methodical, and very 'head coach-ish' if you will. You can tell this is his third head coaching job.

When you're a new coach, and you're coming into a school that hasn't had a lot of success, what do you have to tell the team, the administration, and the fans?

The most important thing is that you have a plan and that you know exactly what you want to do. You have to make your expectations very clear to them, and you have to connect with them individually so you can connect with them as a team.

Let's move to the BTN and conference realignment. I watch your pregame show and I gotta tell you, it looks like you, Dave Revsine, and Howard Griffith are having a blast every weekend, and that you'd do that job for free. How did you get involved with BTN and are you surprised with the level of early success it's had?

Dave and I worked together at ESPN and did a 7 hour radio college gameday show every week. We traveled a lot together and became really good friends. And Howard, he's just an unbelievable guy and we have a lot in common. We all traveled a lot together in spring practice, the three of us, that first year, before we went on the air. So there we are three guys bouncing around in a car, getting lost, laughing our ass off about different things, you become good friends. I can't tell you how lucky we've been because we do get along. It's hard to do. We're going on 7 years together, and for me, 9 years, with Revsine, and that's hard to do and still get along considering how much time we spend together. It just happened, and we're so lucky. We genuinely do enjoy ourselves, and that's why it comes across that way on the air.

You know, I don't know what my expectations were with the BTN. I rode the same roller coaster everybody else did that first year. What the heck are we doin', you know, we can't get any distribution...and the second year it just takes off. I mean, it's just unbelievable. I sat in meetings as a coach when Jim Delany introduced replay, and then I was with Jim Delany when he started the network. What he's done for college football, I mean just think about it--they're talking about this next contract that could be almost $40 million per school a year. And he's done all of this. Now he's had a good staff and he would be the first one to tell you he didn't do it alone, but a lot of this was his brainstorm.

Thanks for reading...but you're only halfway done! Part II will be coming tomorrow, where we'll talk realignment, oversigning, and the importance of The Rose Bowl. You really, REALLY don't want to miss it--Ted