Coaches are hired and fired based mainly on their ability to beat one another, but most are surprisingly open about sharing ideas in the offseason.
I explore the brainstorming sessions today in a piece that features several Big Ten head coaches and assistants, including Indiana's Kevin Wilson, Penn State's James Franklin, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, and both of Wisconsin's coordinators. Former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, a spread-offense guru who has long been part of such get-togethers, also is featured.
Some coaches are more open than others to the sessions, and there are ground rules for them, but they take place often as coaches try to improve.
How important are these meetings? Consider what happened to both Northwestern and to Wilson, then the Wildcats' offensive coordinator, after visiting Rodriguez at Clemson in 2000.
Northwestern's coaches were looking for answers after a 3-8 season. Their offense had finished 110th nationally in scoring (12.8 ppg). Current Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, then the Wildcats' offensive coordinator, began studying Clemson, which was using a no-huddle, run-based spread offense orchestrated by Rodriguez. At the time, few teams operated as quickly as the Tigers.
After bumping into Rodriguez at a clinic in February, the Northwestern coaches asked if they could visit Clemson. In March, Wilson, head coach Randy Walker and the offensive staff spent a weekend watching the Tigers practice.
"We were changing [to] a different style of mechanics," Wilson said. "It wasn't just, 'What's your plays?'"
When Northwestern began spring practice weeks later, Wilson scrapped the team's traditional offense for the no-huddle spread. That season Northwestern finished third nationally in total offense and ninth in scoring, setting team records for points (441) and rushing yards (3,062), and winning a share of the Big Ten title.
The Wildcats have used a version of the spread ever since. Wilson became linked to the system, coordinating standout offenses at Oklahoma before landing his first head-coaching gig at Indiana, where he uses a fast-paced spread offense.
How much did the Wildcats' coaches absorb from their weekend in Clemson? More than Rodriguez ever imagined.
"I can remember watching one of their games where they scored all those points, and you could hear the audio," Rodriguez said. "And they were calling the same plays, the same terminology, the same checks and even some of the same hand signals. So I remember calling them, Kevin or one of the other coaches, and saying, 'Congratulations, but gosh, I was hearing our plays getting called.'
"It helped their program do some neat stuff. I remember watching it and thinking, 'They're executing it better than we are.'"
Check out the full story here.