The Big Ten is wisely utilizing NFL to gain competitive advantage
Football programs across the country routinely use any and every means at their disposal to achieve even the slightest competitive edge. Social media, facilities, satellite camps, all of these tactics promote a program and, hopefully, create a better on field product. Some advantages are inherent to location (most notably the immense recruiting edge the SEC enjoys) while others are created through ingenuity or on the strength of substantial financial backing. One particularly effective method to ensure a program has success on the field as well as the recruiting trail is to leverage coaching experience at footballs highest level, the NFL.
The fighting Illinois are yet another Big Ten program that can now boast about their coaching staffs NFL experience. The hiring of Lovie Smith, who spent nearly a decade working as the head coach of the Chicago Bears as well as a brief stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, provides the university with a proven leader that can sell elite recruits on the idea that their next four years will essentially be at a professional football prep school, much the same way IMG or other elite high schools leverage their ability to send kids to power five programs. This is an emerging trend among the conference.
Michigan's hiring of Jim Harbaugh has already created a firestorm of headlines and fan fair in merely a single season. Much of this has to do with the polarizing personality that now stalks the sidelines in Ann Arbor but his sleepovers and tree climbing would come across as desperate if not for his impressive coaching resume, a resume that is highlighted by NFL success. As much cache as a national championship can bring to a head coach, a super bowl appearance, even one ending in defeat, can create an almost mystical draw for recruits that dream of one day competing on footballs grandest stage.
After Urban Meyer lost his defensive coordinator this off season he too decided to delve into the rich waters of the NFL. Although Greg Schiano had admittedly a less than sparkling tenure with the Buccaneers, you wont find many other college programs that boast coordinators who once ran professional teams. These type of hires can eventually shift the perception of the Big Ten from “three yards and a cloud of dust” to “professional football pipeline”.
Everything from the culture of the program to the scheme of both the offense and defense to the manner in which practices are run will more closely resemble NFL teams at schools like Michigan and Illinois. This edge can help mask inherit disadvantages faced by Midwest programs such as a less than stellar recruiting footprint. When it becomes necessary to recruit nationally a program must offer something that others do not and the NFL appeal surrounding these Big Ten schools can do just that.
The majority of programs in the conference cannot attract NFL names such as Lovie Smith or Jim Harbaugh, this is most evident in Maryland's failed attempt to lure a massive name such as Chip Kelly, yet they would be wise to at least attempt contacting coaches with substantial next level experience. For example, if Penn State struggles again this upcoming season James Franklin may find himself out of happy valley. If that were to happen the Nittany Lions surely have the resources to chase after prolific names and they may want to start that search outside of the realm of college football.
As difficult as it may be to pull off, future Big Ten head coaching hires should try to mimic what has recently occurred in Champagne and Ann Arbor in an attempt to leverage NFL appeal.