Within the palatial confines of the Hotel Viking in the always-alluring Rhode Island town of Newport, the BIG EAST Media Day was launched in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and optimism. Commissioner John Marinatto and all eight coaches of the BIG EAST expressed an eagerness about the quality of football that will be produced within the conference this coming season. Also, they all promoted the growth of the BIG EAST as moving rapidly in the right direction.
Although in a month’s time each coach will be preparing their respective teams to dismantle their conference brethren, today they only exchanged praise and pleasantries for each other’s respective programs. USF Coach Skip Holtz even gave Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano props from the podium in his direct address to the media, commending Schiano’s longevity and success in the conference, which Holtz intimated has helped to grow the profile of the BIG EAST. The common refrain sung by all the coaches was of the 3-D BIG EAST: Depth, Defense, and Discipline.
Despite West Virginia being chosen as the conference favorite in the 2011 BIG EAST Football Preseason Media Poll, every man at the main podium (including WVU’s first-year head coach Dana Holgorsen), commented about the incredible depth of the conference, each mentioning that every program had a legitimate shot at the conference championship. Cincinnati Coach Butch Jones (who shared my “Best Dressed Award” with Greg Schiano) even went as far as stating that the BIG EAST was “the most balanced conference in America, top to bottom.” Newcomer Todd Graham, head coach at Pittsburgh, honored his coaching peers stating, “The football coaches in this conference are first-class.” While new Connecticut Coach Paul Pasqualoni (formerly of Syracuse) described the depth of competition in this way: “Week in, week out it’s gonna be a dogfight.”
Defense was another buzzword bandied about the corridors of the Hotel Viking. Pasqualoni and Louisville’s Charlie Strong have always been known primarily for their dominant defenses. Holgorsen said that despite WVU’s reputation for being an offensive stalwart, he was pleasantly surprised by the talent of his team’s defense. He mentioned that in his review of last season’s games he noticed just how many games were won by the West Virginia defense. Cincinnati is excited to have all their defensive starters returning for the 2011 season. Graham mentioned that defensive lineman Myles Caragein has emerged as the unquestioned leader of his Pitt team, which he presumably expects to lead to encouraging results on the field. So while high-octane offenses in college football are vogue and generate the majority of the highlights and headlines, the coaches in the BIG EAST seem convinced that it is the defense that provides the substance that consistently wins football games.
Finally, more than one coach spoke to the integral role that discipline will play in their football programs. Graham spoke of developing character and discipline on and off the field for his guys at Pitt. Jones mentioned that his team has to be more disciplined with the football this season, decreasing the number of turnovers. He also spoke of mental toughness being a discipline he’s striving to instill within his Bearcats. In an individual media session, Hologrsen described the discipline he must demonstrate as a CEO of a major football program and how he must transfer that same sort of discipline to his team, helping them to focus at the task at hand, one game at a time.
Today’s BIG EAST Media Day served as a showcase for the Conference’s TV network and as a demonstration of solidarity and mutual respect between the eight programs of the conference. And while it was nice and exciting to see the display of conference unity among the men of the BIG EAST, I for one am ready for the players to exchange their pinstriped suits for helmets and shoulder pads and for the coaches to put aside the conference unity in exchange for intense competition for gridiron supremacy.