Phil Miller's college football insider: Whatever it takes to win

  • Updated: October 4, 2012 - 10:52 PM

 That seems to be the attitude now among some Big Ten coaches in their high-stakes and high-pressure jobs.


Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer.

Photo: Kyle Robertson, Mct - Mct

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The silence was the best part, an awkward stillness that effectively dismissed both the question and any further discussion.

Urban Meyer gave a vintage Urban Meyer answer on the Big Ten teleconference this week, six simple words and then a stony stillness. Did he believe, the first-year coach was asked, that Michigan State's public complaint about doctored video received last week from Meyer's Buckeyes might damage his relationship with his Big Ten colleagues?

"It doesn't concern me at all."

Perfect. That may serve as a suitable slogan for this entire league these days and perhaps college football as a whole. This is a cutthroat, bottom-line business, with reputations and legacies and millions of dollars at stake on the unpredictable actions of teenage kids and the bounce of an oddly shaped ball.

The Big Ten increasingly reflects the triumph of competitiveness over collegiality, especially with the coaching changes at the top of the league over the past couple of years. In the past five years, such perceived "nice guys" as Lloyd Carr, Ron Zook, Jim Tressel and especially Joe Paterno have been replaced as the public face of Big Ten coaches. Now, it's the ultra-competitive leaders who set the tone, such fiery coaches as Brady Hoke, Bo Pelini, Tim Beckman, Bret Bielema ... and Meyer.

Football coaching can often resemble a fraternity, with its members sharing an us-against-the-world mentality. But they never forget that their success depends on the other guy's failure, on the field and in a recruit's living room, and most are willing to do whatever it takes -- within the limits of NCAA rules, we can be certain, right? -- to get an edge.

"We wouldn't have all those rulebooks," said Gophers coach Jerry Kill, whose own red-faced competitiveness comes to the fore every Saturday, "if everyone did what they were supposed to do."

Still, what's wrong with a little steely-eyed nastiness between football teams? Rivalry and antagonism are the lifeblood of college football. It's why we watch. It's fun for the fans, and it makes for great story lines. If I'm a fan, I want my coach thinking about how he can beat my most bitter rival, not being a good friend during the postgame handshake. Did Tim Brewster have a better moment in Gophers fans' eyes than when he told off Bielema at midfield?

It also creates delicious tension, such as when Penn State coach Bill O'Brien seethed over Illinois openly recruiting Nittany Lions players for transfers. Or when Bielema and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio accused Meyer of trying to "flip" their recruits' verbal commitments.

Or last week's incident, when MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi revealed that the game video that Ohio State provided the Spartans -- the Big Ten requires members to electronically send video of their own games to each other a week before they play -- was edited to remove pre-snap alignments and shifts. "They changed the tape, I'm not gonna lie to you," Narduzzi told the Detroit Free Press.

Michigan State got complete tapes from Ohio State opponents, and Meyer denied knowing anything about the editing. "That's between the video coordinators," he said, and the schools' athletic directors resolved the issue.

Kill has seen similar gamesmanship during his career, he said. "But we don't do that. Never have, never will," Kill said. "It's about doing what's the right thing to do."

Maybe so. But adding a little spice to the Big Ten is kind of fun, too.

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