NEWPORT, R.I. -- Some final thoughts from the Big East summer kickoff and media day:
It's become a cliche that schools hire the exact opposite guy from the previous one when they have to replace a coach. That couldn't be more true with the three new Big East coaches.New South Florida coach Skip Holtz was probably the most popular interview subject in Newport. Unlike most coaches who sat at their tables while answering questions, Holtz stood and held court for the entire hour-long interview session. He cracked jokes and told stories while looking like he was having the time of his life. Though Jim Leavitt was livelier at this event than he would be most of the rest year, it's still clear that Holtz is as different from Leavitt as can be.
The same can be said for Butch Jones at Cincinnati. No one is a bigger Brian Kelly fan than me, but Kelly rubbed some people the wrong way because they felt he was too much of a self-promoter and politician. Not Jones. He's so unassuming you'd never know he was a big-time football coach if you just ran into him on the street. Jones preaches family and values to his team, and I can totally see why they buy into it.
Finally, there's Charlie Strong at Louisville. His predecessor, Steve Kragthorpe, liked to speak in long, cliche-filled sentences that made you wonder what he was talking about when the answer ended. Strong is low key and gives short, straightforward replies. He still seems a little uncomfortable doing mass media obligations, but he exudes an air of quiet confidence.
I found Holtz's comments about his team needing to come together in training camp interesting. Of course, it's a young team, but he also talked about the players having "wedges" among them. Some of that obviously comes from the Jim Leavitt controversy.
I feel bad for Noel Devine. He has worked hard and is in position to have a huge senior year. He would have been a popular interview subject and would have gotten a lot of exposure at media day. Instead, he couldn't come out of his hotel room because he was sick. There was some talk that Devine ate the yucky part of a lobster on Monday night in his first encounter with that delicacy. I hope his absence doesn't hurt his chances at postseason awards.
My favorite part of the entire event is seeing how players and coaches interact in a relaxed setting. It was fun watching the coaches bust each other's chops on the golf course on Monday. Greg Schiano and Doug Marrone were spotted having a long conversation after the golf scramble, and the two men sure seemed cordial despite a rivalry that's starting to heat up between the programs. Players mingled and introduced themselves at the clam bake, and South Florida and West Virginia players took a walk around downtown together later that night.It was interesting watching when Cincinnati's players walked by the Pitt contingent at the clam bake. Both sides gave each other a hello, but you could also sense the Pitt guys feeling sick to their stomachs seeing the team that beat them for last year's league title.
I sat with Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and the five Panthers players for dinner on Monday. I liked seeing Dion Lewis laughing and cutting up with his teammates. If you've ever seen, heard or read an interview with Lewis, you know he can come off as a very reserved man of few words. But those who know him say he's got a great personality, and I got to see a glimpse of that. I hope it starts to come through more as he gets more comfortable doing interviews.I also got to watch Lewis, Jon Baldwin and Jason Pinkston compete in a no-hands cake eating contest for some reason. Pinkston showed true commitment, diving back down for a piece that dropped out of his mouth to win the, um, honors.
There seemed to be a lot of people working on the "rise of Connecticut" story. The bandwagon is starting to fill up. The Huskies even got one first-place vote in the preseason poll, which would have been unheard of a few years ago.
I really like the new policy of having each team release their injuries on a weekly basis. You can be cynical and say it's for gamblers, but I've always thought there should be a uniform policy instead of having one school not say anything about injuries and an another tell you about every guy who tweaked an ankle. Besides, this could cut down on the endless weekly questions about who's hurt and who's not, and fans will be more informed about their teams when they watch the games.Of course, it only works if every school follows it honestly. I don't expect every coach to offer up major details about important players, but if one coach flaunts the policy the way Bill Belichick does then it becomes almost worthless. The Big East is not going to penalize schools who don't comply with the standard.
I, for one, was happy about the ban on expansion/realignment talk. For one thing, there's nothing new to say about it from the Big East perspective. For another, the coaches may have opinions, but at the end of the day those decisions are going to be made at the presidential and athletic director level, anyway.
Speaking of expansion, the rumor of a Memphis announcement at media day was absurd on so many levels. To name just one: if the league were to do such a thing, it would overshadow the entire event and upstage the other coaches and players. The Big East doesn't seem to be in any kind of hurry to add teams right now.