Serving a civic duty got us thinking: What if a few Big Ten coaches were put on trial? We’ll break down the cases and deliver the verdicts in this edition of Livin’ B1G.
Maybe some of you can answer a question I’m still tossing around in my head.
How does the husband of a criminal defense attorney get chosen to serve on an eight-person jury out of 120 potential jurors?
Instead of getting picked up by the back of my pants and thrown out of the courtroom, that fact was ignored and I’ll be spending at least the next week – and possibly longer – listening to testimony in a civil trial. Obviously I cannot discuss specifics of the case, lest I incur Uncle Sam’s wrath, but let’s just say I spent all of Monday hoping I’d be released back to my desk at the Campus Insiders office.
That didn’t happen, and Livin’ B1G had to wait, so please excuse the one-day delay. However, sitting in that courtroom being addressed by attorneys attempting to sway my opinion got me thinking.
How would I rule as a one-man jury in trials featuring Big Ten defendants? So load up on some complimentary coffee, get comfortable, and keep an open mind as we delve into this special Jury Duty Edition of Livin’ B1G.
The People vs. Jim Harbaugh
People’s Evidence: Harbaugh has hopped around plenty throughout his coaching career. He got his first head coach position at FCS program San Diego in 2004, and after compiling a 29-6 record in three seasons bolted to take the job at Stanford. Harbaugh spent only four years with the Cardinal, leaving for the San Francisco 49ers after a 12-1 season and Orange Bowl victory in 2010.
Proving again that Harbaugh cannot stay in one place too long, he left the 49ers after going 44-19 with three trips to the NFC championship game and a Super Bowl appearance. He left following the 2014 season after an 8-8 record, claiming management did not support him. It’s thought that Harbaugh’s heart always will be in the NFL, though, and that he will jump at another opportunity to return.
The Defense: Rumors follow success, and a successful coach’s name always will be brought up for other openings because of his ability to get the most out of his teams. The same goes for Harbaugh. But this is a much different situation than his previous coaching stops.
Harbaugh is in the perfect spot at Michigan, where he starred as a quarterback as a player and has shined coaching his alma mater the last two seasons. He’s brought a welcome, familiar face to the program and restored the Wolverines’ storied history by winning consistently immediately. He’s also been a warrior when it comes to recruiting and seems to thoroughly enjoy it. There is no chance Harbaugh would leave Michigan players, fans, boosters and university officials hanging just for a chance at a little more money in the NFL.
Livin’ B1G’s Verdict: Not guilty.
The entire case is based on hearsay. The comments about Harbaugh’s potential interest were made in order to stir controversy, and there is no truth to the rumor that he would leave Ann Arbor for Los Angeles. Harbaugh will stay at Michigan and won’t be leaving any time soon.
The People vs. Urban Meyer & Luke Fickell
The Case: Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer believes his former assistant, Luke Fickell, will be a great head coach at Cincinnati and alleges Fickell is “one of the best in the game.” The People allege this assumption is premature, given the amount of time Fickell had to spend as an assistant before landing his first head-coaching gig.
People’s Evidence: Luke Fickell has been an assistant coach since 1999, with one exception – Fickell spent the 2011 season as Ohio State’s interim head coach. He went 6-6 in the regular season and lost the Gator Bowl, marking the only season since Fickell’s first year as an assistant that the Buckeyes have not won more than six games. Ohio State did not seriously consider making Fickell its permanent head coach and instead sought out Meyer, who decided to keep Fickell on his staff, where he has remained until recently accepting the Cincinnati head coaching job.
If Fickell will make such a great head coach, why hasn’t his name surfaced more often during his many seasons as an assistant? Ohio State also experienced its worst season in the span of 17 years under Fickell’s direction, making Meyer’s assumption off-base.
The Defense: Fickell is only 43 years old, which is still relatively young in head-coaching circles. The delay in him receiving his first job running a program is not for lack of talent, but for his patience. Just because Fickell has not been publicly considered for other head coaching jobs does not mean he has gone without offers to interview. His one average season as the Buckeyes’ interim coach can be explained rather easily: the program was going through a transitional period. Former head coach Jim Tressel resigned amidst an improper-benefits scandal, and Fickell faced the situation head-on and was able to get Ohio State focused enough to win six games.
Furthermore, Fickell has been waiting for the perfect situation, and Cincinnati presents the opportunity to stay in his home state and keep his relationships as a recruiter in talent-rich Ohio. Fickell also had a hand in bringing star players to Ohio State due to his work on the recruiting trail, and he will be able to increase the level of talent at Cincinnati and bring the Bearcats back to the national stage.
Livin’ B1G’s Verdict: Hung jury.
Both sides present strong arguments. The People have every right to be concerned about Meyer’s assertions given Fickell’s long delay receiving his first head-coaching job and him overseeing the worst Ohio State season in nearly two decades.
However, Fickell has a strong reputation as an assistant coach and has rebuttals for The People’s arguments. Fickell, though, must prove himself with results on the field.
The People vs. Tom Izzo
The Case: Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo has been known to be tough on his teams early in the season, scheduling top-tier opponents that need preparation with grueling practices. This often results in late-season success despite early struggles, but The People allege this strategy has finally caught up to Izzo, and the Spartans are destined for a less-than-stellar campaign.
People’s Evidence: No one questions Tom Izzo’s success. Seven Final Four appearances. Seven regular-season Big Ten championships and five conference tournament titles. One national championship. Hall of Fame coach. But Izzo’s practice of scheduling tough finally has caught up to him. Injuries have become more frequent, with Gavin Schilling and graduate transfer Ben Carter lost prior to the season and star freshman Miles Bridges currently out with an ankle issue.
These problems have resulted from fatigue, as Izzo had the Spartans traveling to Hawaii, the Bahamas, New York City and North Carolina already this season. This is something that cannot be done with such a young team relying on freshman contributors in Bridges, Cassius Winston, Josh Langford and Nick Ward. There’s a reason Michigan State is only 7-4 and is on its way to an early exit in the NCAA Tournament.
The Defense: The People are correct – don’t argue with success. Izzo has maintained that preseason expectations don’t mean anything come March. He’s taken a No. 5 seed and No. 7 seed to the Final Four. His teams were placed lower than usual those years because Michigan State’s record wasn’t exceptional. Izzo proved his team was underrated, though, and that was because of a quality schedule and tough practices that prepared his team for the late-season grind.
This season will be no different. Michigan State will become healthy, bounce back and learn from its earlier struggles, propelling the Spartans to yet another deep NCAA Tournament run that has become commonplace during Izzo’s tenure.
Livin’ B1G’s Verdict: Guilty.
This is going to be the year that Izzo regrets the difficult non-conference schedule. Michigan State is too young and inexperienced to recover from the mental toll the losses took on Izzo’s players, and the injuries and fatigue are preventing the team from building cohesiveness and rhythm. The Spartans will be a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournment and have trouble getting out of the first round.