Coach speak

Seven of the 14 Big Ten coaches took the stage Monday in Chicago. Here are some highlights from Day 1:


“It’s with heavy heart and great sadness that I kick off here this morning.”

That was from Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, who addressed the media first and put football aside to honor the memories of Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler. The young men were killed in a car crash on Saturday.

“On behalf of Northwestern, our football program and all our players we’d like to express all the thoughts and prayers to their families, Coach Dantonio, Coach Riley and the Spartan and Husker families on their tragic loss. We recruited Mike and know him well. And just sad, tragic news and our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

Nebraska coach Mike Riley and Cornhuskers players did not make the trip to Chicago.

“He was a trailblazer.”

Also from Fitzgerald, who paid tribute to former Vikings and Northwestern coach Dennis Green, who died last week: “First African- American football coach in our program’s history, in the Big Ten’s history. Unbelievable track record in the National Football League.”

“This may be the strongest football team that we’ve had.”

One more from Fitzgerald, who said his Wildcats, the Gophers’ opponent on Nov. 19, set 400 personal records in the weight room this summer. “Our three losses a year ago, we got dominated at the line of scrimmage,” he added. “We’ve got to improve our strength up front to take the next steps to where we want to go to put ourselves into position to compete to be in Indianapolis and to be in that type of conversation.”

“He’s got the fastest 20 [yard dash] time on our football team.”

Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said Brian Lankford-Johnson, who played at Cretin-Derham Hall as a sophomore before moving to Melbourne, Fla., is turning heads in West Lafayette. Lankford-Johnson played for Palm Bay as a senior last fall, rushing 168 times for 1,814 yards (an eye-popping 10.8 yards per carry) and 22 touchdowns in the regular season.

“It’s based upon a meritocracy, the way it should be. Did I make that word up, too, by the way? Is meritocracy a real word or did I make it up? I thought I made it up.”

That’s Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh discussing playing time. Odd, yes, but at least he rules with a fair hand: “That’s one of my favorite things, my personal favorite things about our program, is that you’ll be known by your effort and your talent. By your effort and your talent you will be known.

“So the best players will be the starters and then the backup roles will be earned. The contributing roles will be earned, the specialty roles will be earned, scout team roles will be earned. It’s as simple as that. There is no games or tricks or politics or what class are you in, what year are you, are you on scholarship, are you not on scholarship.”

(And, by the way, Coach, meritocracy is a real word.)

“This is going to be a very important year for us, no doubt, to make progress, to show the direction that we’re going, and our players understand that.”

It’s “Year 1” in a way at Penn State, where coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions are a much happier bunch now that they have a full 85 scholarships. Penn State, which plays host to the Gophers on Oct. 1, lost scholarships in the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse charges. Franklin, ready to only look forward, continued: “I think everybody is aligned and understands that. And excited. Excited about what this year is going to bring. And our guys have prepared as such.”

David La Vaque