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July 28, 2012
Tim Beckman made his first appearance at Big Ten media days and faced immediate scrutiny for his aggressive recruitment of current Penn State players.
We're no longer in the MAC, Toto. Welcome to the scrutiny of the BCS.
But Beckman downplayed the transition up the college football ladder.
"I think football's football," Beckman said. "You still have to recruit as hard as you can recruit. The players are the same. You demand the same things out of your players that you would at Toledo or Ohio State because you demand it there. I think there's so much more similarities than there are differences. Football's still football. It's still about tackling. It's about blocking. It's still about fundamentals. And people are people.
"It might be a little bigger. Might be, but Toledo sure felt we could play as well against anyone we played against."
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill made a similar jump last year, leaving Northern Illinois to take over a struggling Minnesota program. While Kill has a longer resume of leading programs - Kill has been a head coach at five different programs at four different levels (Division II, FCS, non-AQ FBS and BCS) over three decades while Beckman enters his fourth season as a head coach - he agreed that the football part is the same. It's the non-football parts of the job that differ in the Big Ten.
"You've got more media at the media day," Kill said. "You got more eyes upon you. Every Saturday you're lining up against the best of the best. You might look at a school in the MAC, and say, 'This one's down.' There isn't anybody (like that) in the Big Ten. You better be ready to play every week. Players are a little bit bigger and stronger.
"Your time as a head coach is a little bit different. I know in the Twin Cities we have such a large media market you have to deal with much more media and you have much more distractions because you have donors. You become much more of a CEO. That will be a change. To build your program, you're going to have to have money to do it. You have to get to know the people. Your assistants' lives don't change much, but as a head coach you change directions because it's bigger."
Beckman said running a program in Toledo, a city with a population of about 287,000 (almost triple the population of Champaign-Urbana), has slightly eased the transition. But academic admissions have been one of the toughest changes to deal with, he said. Unlike many programs, Illinois and most Big Ten programs rarely admit student-athletes that simply satisfy NCAA minimum requirements.
"That at the University of Illinois is something that's a little bit more of an adjustment for me than I expected," Beckman said. "Because we're such a strong academic institution, our standards are higher than standards of other universities. But they should be. You get a degree from the University of Illinois and you're getting one of the top degrees in the country, public and private."
Yes, that is Beckman actually tweeting from @coachbeckman. Beckman said he tries to tweet three times from his smartphone after each morning workout and has someone monitor his Twitter throughout the day for responses from followers. Almost all of Beckman's assistants tweet as well. He said Twitter allows him to promote his program to fans, players and - most importantly - recruits.
As for the players, Beckman makes all players fill out a sheet with thier Twitter handles and requires them to follow their position coaches so the staff can monitor their accounts. Beckman encourages players to use Twitter "as long as they use it responsibly." If they don't, he may force players to delete their accounts.
BTN 'whiffs' on coverage
Big Ten Network president Marc Silverman admitted that the Big Ten Network should have covered the Freeh Report press conference more closely. The network received criticism for not airing the press conference announcing independent investigator Louis Freeh's findings into the Penn State scandal. In a statement, the network said it was "not a news organization" before hosting a special covering the Freeh Report the next evening.
"We kind of whiffed on the coverage there, and it's something that we have to come to grips with," Silverman said. "You can make a mistake from time to time."
On Monday, BTN covered live the press conference announcing the NCAA's unprecedented sanctions on Penn State. Its coverage received positive reviews.
"I think we did a great job the last couple of shows we've done on the Penn State coverage, where we were able to rally the troops together, overcome some hurdles that we have and then put on some great programming that I think many of our fans are really pleased with," Silverman said.
The quote of the two-day media summit has to go to Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio who displayed both sympathy and honesty when asked about recruiting Penn State players.
"I don't think there's any winners when you speak to that entire situation," Dantonio said. "But at the same time, acknowledge that we have a program that we have to run and try and get better. And so what we have done is if people have contacted us, a coach, a parent, we've followed through. And that's the extent of it. And if there's people that are receptive to that and come back with us, I understand that. I'm here to create opportunities, but we're not going to invest in going beyond that. I would want to do this with respect to Penn State in any way that I can with integrity. But at the same time, we have a job to do, and we do have relationships with some players that have gone there because we recruited them at an earlier time."
Jeremy Werner is the co-host and Illinois reporter for the "Tay and J Show," which airs weekdays 3-6 p.m. on 93.5, 95.3 ConnectFM in Champaign-Urbana and streams online at www.myconnectfm.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @WernerConnectFM