CHICAGO - Big Ten Media Days opened on Thursday with Jim Delaney issuing his final address as the conference’s commissioner. Delaney will step down as commissioner June 30, 2020, but the conference is welcoming in several new faces in 2019, including a pair of first-year head coaches.
MORE BIG TEN COVERAGE: Team-by-team breakdown
LOCKSLEY, DAY MAKE MEDIA DAYS DEBUT
The Big Ten welcomes in two new head coaches for the 2019 season: Ryan Day at Ohio State and Mike Locksley at Maryland. Both first-year head coaches appeared on Day 1 of Big Ten Media Days, and shared the state of their respective programs after the first half year on the job.
The Big Ten is not new territory for Locksley, who previously served as an assistant with Illinois. He came to his main podium session with a lot of energy, talked about Maryland being his dream job since he got into coaching and even thanked the media for writing positive articles about his team. Later, Locksley acknowledged that he wanted to use his on-air time as an “infomercial” for the Maryland football program.
Locksley walked into a tough situation at Maryland following the multi-month suspension, that ultimately ended in the firing, of former head coach D.J. Durkin after the death of Terrapin offensive lineman Jordan McNair a year ago. Locksley talked about losing his own son just months before McNair and how that experience allowed him to help McNair’s parents and teammates, as well as bring stability back to the Maryland program.
Locksley spoke at length about his efforts to stabilize the program and build a culture, and how those efforts are now branching out to the wider Maryland fanbase and community. He instituted the “Terrapin Caravan,” which saw Maryland players take part in community service projects this off-season, and said he has met with 45 CEOs in the Washington D.C. metro area in an effort to build allies.
Maryland will be starting the 2019 season with a new quarterback, after landing Virginia Tech grad transfer Josh Jackson. Locksley noted one of the strongest selling points with Jackson is that he is a coach’s kid – son of long-time former Michigan assistant Fred Jackson – and brings a high football IQ to the position.
Day is also starting his tenure as Ohio State’s coach with a new transfer quarterback, but in somewhat of a surprise there is a question exactly which transfer quarterback that will be. Most expect former Georgia signal caller Justin Fields to earn the job after being declared immediately eligible by the NCAA, but Day said Fields and former Kentucky quarterback Gunnar Hoak, a grad transfer, will go into preseason camp competing for the starting gig.
After beginning the 2018 season as Ohio State’s interim head coach while Urban Meyer served a three-game suspension, Day noted it was a challenge to then go back to being an assistant and figuring out how he should handle himself at that stage was a daily grind. Day has now ascended to the top job permanently, but he still has Meyer in Columbus as an assistant athletics director and noted that he goes to his predecessor regularly for insight.
FLECK REACTS TO RECRUITING WINDFALL
Five Big Ten programs currently have 20 more commitments in the 2020 class, which is a huge number in the preseason when the maximum number you can sign is 25. Minnesota is one of those programs, totaling 22 commitments after a run of 16 commitments in the month of June. The credit, according to head coach P.J. Fleck, goes to a philosophy change with how his program handled official visits.
Fleck acknowledged that during the first year of early official visits that took place a year ago, Minnesota did not host many prospects in the months of April, May and June, opting to bring the majority of visitors in during the winter. Summer and winter are very different in the Twin Cities, however, so the Gophers changed lanes in the 2020 class and brought in more than 20 official visitors in the month of June.
“We took advantage fully and it’s paid off ten-fold with the number of commitments in the month of June,” Fleck said.
Fleck used all the assets the Land of 10,000 Lakes offered for his June official visits, noting he had visitors out to his lake home on Lake Minnetonka to have BBQs and take recruits out on his boat. The third-year Minnesota head coach made it clear this approach to official visits would be a permanent change as long as the calendar remains in its current state.