Throughout the football season, AuburnUndercover.com will offer you various opportunities to a sit down for a Q&A session with a former coach. It will feature a nationally known coach or one more closely associated with Auburn.
We will post the featured guest’s name in the forums and you post your questions. We will pick several of the better questions.
This week’s guest is former LSU, Indiana and Vanderbilt coach Gerry DiNardo. He is a former All‐American guard at Notre Dame and was a member of the school’s 1973 national championship team. He was also the offensive coordinator at Colorado when the Buffaloes won the national championship in 1990. DiNardo is currently a studio analyst for the Big Ten Network. Follow him on Twitter @GerryDinardo
If you were the head coach at Auburn right now, what do you do to even begin to fix this?
I really haven’t watched them very much because I work for the Big Ten Network. We spend so much time on those teams it’s hard to watch much else, but anytime you’re in a position where you’re struggling, go back to basics. Make sure you’re not doing too much. Check your fundamentals. Are you sound? Make sure you’re not doing too much. At a certain point, a lot of your goals may be gone. You reassess. How many plays do you need to have to improve? Usually not many.
Why do you think Mark Emmert took time to single out one, and only one, coach as having a good academic record ?
I don’t know. I have no idea why he did that. Maybe he was caught off guard and it was an impulse. My role, if you followed me on Twitter, was to make sure that I cleared up what happened when I was there. It was not about any other coach. For the first time in LSU history, as a result of my time there, football was recognized for a 70 percent graduation rate by the College Football Association. I just wanted to set the record straight. It was nothing negative about another coach.
Could you talk about the experience of playing for Coach Parseghian?
Ara was a very positive, powerful presence. That’s what made him so successful. He knew everything that was going on with the X’s and O’s in a day when you could do that. He was not a grinder. He was fun to be around. We had fun playing for him. You just loved to be around him. When in his company, you really, really enjoyed it. He filled the room when he was in the room. He was holding court. One of the balancing acts in being at Notre Dame is that you have to have an ego – but you also have to have humility. He understood that it was about the school – not about him. If you don’t have both, you wont survive.
Have you ever seen a fall like the Auburn football program has taken only 21 months after winning a national championship?
Well, we talked about this at BTN the other day. No, I really don’t recall that happening. I’m sure it has, but I can’t recall it. It’s a little bit the way college football is. Look at Derek Dooley. There’s less time on the front end. You used to have four or five years minimum. You’re having less and less time now.
Do you think Bobby Petrino would be a good hire if Auburn decided to make a change?
I think Bobby Petrino is an outstanding coach. I think it’s up to the institution to see if he fits. I’d like to see someone hire Bobby. I believe when someone makes a mistake, it shouldn’t be so hard that that person can’t rebound. I think, when someone has had a problem, the board, the president and the athletic director of the university have to be onboard. Kelvin Sampson had NCAA issues before he was hired. The president was on board when he was hired at Indiana. Everyone has to be on the same page.
The first week of BCS rankings were released with lots of SEC teams ranked highly. Is the SEC as good as advertised or have the past six national championships created a bias in the rankings?
The SEC is as good as advertised. They have set a standard for everyone else.
A lot of it based on recruiting. Everyone should look at the SEC. That’s the formula. If you’re going to challenge the SEC, you have to replicate what they’re doing. Look at the recruiting rankings. They have four in the top ten every year. Then they have three more between 11-15. Other conferences have to figure out a way to get their four most elite teams in the top ten and then get three more in the top 15. When Kramer went to SEC Championship Game, fan bases said, “you mean we can’ t be the best of six?” The only way to do that is to recruit the best. How long do Michigan and Ohio State have to wait to win the division? “We can’t be the best of six? “The same with Nebraska - and Penn State before the sanctions. The model is right on. Everyone should do it.
Can you describe some of the differences in coaching at a program with great football tradition like LSU versus coaching at programs like Vanderbilt and Indiana?
The first difference is recruiting. You cannot recruit elite athletes at Vanderbilt and Indiana. We did at LSU. At other places you’re competing against the bottom of the conference. Culturally, basketball at Indiana has to be successful. Vanderbilt is a little bit the same way. Basketball has to be successful for the athletic department to be successful. There was a time when you had X dollars, you had to invest in the one sport culturally most important. The Big Ten has more important basketball schools, than does the SEC. Everyone has money now, so it’s a little different, but those certain sports are more important at certain places. Look at Minnesota. Basketball and hockey come before football.
At what point, as a coach, do you reevaluate the personnel you have on the field and begin playing younger players to prepare for them for the next season?
Well, one thing that makes you play them is if older players aren’t playing hard. If older players have given up or are passive-aggressive or not playing the way that they could. I never felt like it was fair to an older player - who was playing hard and totally vested - to play the younger player just to get ready for the future. If a guy is not totally vested, then you play the younger guys
Compare the athletes in the SEC to the Big 10. Is there as big a difference in the speed of the players?
There’s not a big difference at the top. Right now the top in the Big Ten is not where it needs to be. When Lloyd and Tressel were rolling, it compared well. Michigan dropped off, but Brady will get them back. Urban will bring Ohio State back. After that, the SEC is a much deeper conference. It goes back to recruiting. Take Nebraska, Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State. That’s four of the top of seven winningest programs in history. Penn State is now off the rails. The depth of the conference is not what it was. The big difference is in the bottom of the SEC and Big Ten. Football is more important culturally in SEC and in the south. More kids play football.
Who do you view as up and coming coordinators who would likely make good head coaches?
Again, I’m more familiar with the Big Ten. At Michigan, you have Al Borges, who was at Auburn. He has often interviewed for jobs. Curt Mallory is close to being ready for MAC job, Pat Narduzzi is ready at Michigan State. Tom Herman and Luke Fickell at Ohio State. Ed Warriner at Ohio State. Harlon Barnett at Michigan State. I like him a lot. Ted Roof could get another shot. Bob Diaco at Notre Dame.
Do you think there will be any rule changes by the NCAA to help defenses against the spread?
Not really. The spread has made college football very dangerous. You have the biggest, fastest athletes in history. Conferences should take over and hire a third party to evaluate head injuries. There are too many inconsistencies. This is not the NFL. The spread is not a championship offense. Unless you have a great quarterback, you can’t win a championship. It’s a talent equalizer. Most college football teams can’t recruit elite athletes, but the spread has made college football very dangerous. I’m not as much for helping defensive coordinators as I am for helping athletes. Match up a great defense versus Oregon, I’m going with great defense. Championship defenses aren’t going to need rules changes to stop the spread. They’re just going to tackle better.
Once a fan base turns against the head coach, how difficult is it to reclaim them?
Well, it depends where you in the country. We all know where most fans are. It may be impossible. Board members and presidents become paralyzed to do the things they need to do at the university when you aren’t winning in athletics. You can’ t attend to issues in the sociology department because everyone is obsessed with something everyone is an expert on. You spend all day responding to football problems. It’s hard to turn it around. The administration becomes helpless. The president should his spend time on academics – not football. In certain parts of the country, if football is bad, that’s impossible to do.
What do you think are the biggest outside pressures or distractions that are challenging head coaches today that were not a factor five to ten years ago?
The first was the BCS. Now it’s the four-team playoff. I’ll use the Big Ten as an example. When the BCS started, Lloyd Carr was at Michigan. He had tougher job that Bo Schembechler. Every successful coach has a tougher job than his predecessor. It used to be that if you made it to a bowl, it was a good season. Then, you had the BCS. All other bowls became irrelevant to an elite coach. That coach now has to get in the BCS. Generations ago, it was one of 32. As you say in the south, it’s fixing to be one of four. That’s the biggest change is that there’s much more pressure – especially at elite programs. Coaches at those places are compensated in a way where they have to respond to pressure. Schembechler took the job at Michigan and didn’t know what his salary was until he got his first check. Ara was never allowed to make more than highest paid faculty member at Notre Dame. I would suggest that’s pretty fair.