Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports
Northwestern's spring football is devoid of drama, signing day wasn't a big deal, they never change coaches, even assistants, and the players stay out of trouble. I guess all they do is win football games?
Yesterday, we wrote about how Northwestern's spring practice is going to be constructive, but generally boring and lacking drama. It's yet another piece of evidence in a trend I've started to notice: that Northwestern is the worst football team to write about.
Let's pull back the curtain a bit and show you guys a bit of how the sausage is made, a process that makes great use of the metaphor-mixing machine.
As college sports bloggers, we blog about college sports. Generally, this means football, a sport which has 12 - or 13, or if you're lucky, 14 - days on which the team is playing. But your run of the mill college football blogger will still manage to pump out a thousand posts in a year, easily. In the offseason we do this by being smart about what potential news people are interested in, and when and how it might break.
For example: February's National Signing Day is a clusterpoop. Recruits from across the nation are busy committing and decommitting for weeks in advance, and as a result, schools' football futures are being sorted out in real time. Other bloggers across the network worked hard to nail this: they pre-wrote stories about players to slot in whenever they decided to commit or didn't, prepped for everything that could possibly happen and some things that couldn't, and in the end, there was some really awesome, timely coverage by lots of blogs. And as a result of that, lots and lots of people found the news they were looking for at those blogs.
Here? We basically did nothing. Not for lack of effort: just because Northwestern is the worst team to blog about, as it goes out of the way to keep things nice, consistent, and boring. Let me explain.
Northwestern didn't land any recruits after December 2, 2012 - over two months before signing day. Before that, nobody had committed since August: 17 of the 19 players in Northwestern's class committed between April 2012 and the start of the 2012 football season. And thanks to their policy of not allowing players to visit other schools, lest they lose their scholarship, there are very rarely decommittals and certainly no recommittals with Northwestern. As a result, in the run-up to signing day, there were basically only two pieces of news: Ray Davison visiting Cal and losing his scholarship in early January, and James Clark, Northwestern's last open scholarship offer, who ruled out NU with a few days before signing day and decided to go with Ohio State. Long story short: Northwestern recruiting doesn't lend itself to hat games, and as a result, most of the things you could write about happen well before signing day.
Not that that's a bad thing. Fitz's recruiting has been steadily improving, finishing No. 50 in the 247 composite - not great, but solidly better than several Big Ten teams, and a huge step up from just a few years ago.
Another thing that drives a lot of content in the offseason is the coaching carousel. It starts with head coaches - there's the year-long talk of hot seats, whether coaches should be fired, then the eventual firings, then the rampant speculation about which candidates are looking, interested, and eventually sealing the deal by talking about their new coach and members of the staff. But even if there isn't a change on top, the carousel keeps whirling: coordinators and coaches are hot commodities, both for their coaching acumen and recruiting value, and there's a constant stream of guys getting poached and new hirings - not to mention firings if somebody's underperforming. There were 32 coaching changes in the Big Ten this offseason, featuring eight schools.
At Northwestern, there's none of that. Pat Fitzgerald is essentially the coach at Northwestern for as long as he wants to be: a contract through 2020 ensures that its almost impossible for Northwestern to consider firing him until at least 2017 or 2018, and even then, that seems ridiculously unlikely. The last talk of him possibly leaving happened two years ago with the open Michigan job, and since then, there hasn't even been speculation that Fitz could go despite his potential as an exciting, talented young coach. There is no news on this front, and there won't be for some time.
And with assistants, Fitz has been loyal to his assistant coaches, not firing them when it often seems they're underperforming and making sure they're well-paid enough that they don't leave, so the Wildcats are one of only
four (update: Two! Just Minnesota) teams in the country to retain their entire coaching staff for three straight seasons. Their most recent move of any sort on the staff was when Kevin Johns left to rejoin Kevin Wilson at Indiana before the 2011 season, and other than that, there's a lot of guys who have been there for a while. Offensive line coach Adam Cushing, running backs coach Matt MacPherson and linebackers coach Randy Bates have been assistants at NU as long as Fitz has been a head coach, and defensive backs coach Jerry Brown has been at NU since the Gary Barnett era. The only firing I can think of would be then-defensive coordinator Greg Colby in 2007 - I don't think Garrick McGee was fired, right? My point is, it doesn't happen nearly as often as it does at other schools.
And coaching consistency seems to be a good thing. There have been points over the years when many - myself included - have called for the heads of one of NU's coaches, sometimes Mick McCall and sometimes Jerry Brown. I'm not saying that was wrong - there were some bad, questionably coached moments - but McCall has developed two nice quarterbacks and had a fun-to-watch offense in 2012, and Brown's secondary stole the show at the Gator Bowl. Not saying consistency is the sole reason for success, but perhaps NU doesn't start off 5-0 if the team is instituting new schemes, and perhaps the players don't develop as well.
Offseason player news
Read: bad news. People like reading about when players get into trouble, and when they do get into trouble, then the juicy details about what they did wrong and then you get to talk about their status with the team and - if it was something really bad - how the team will cope with their loss.
Let's put it this way: Northwestern players don't get into trouble, ever. The only player discipline incident I can think of with a Northwestern player is Jeff Radek, the backup lineman who got arrested for having a BB gun in his dorm room. It was the lamest arrest ever: BB guns are legal pretty much everywhere,
and its not like he got arrested for going on a crazy cross-campus BB gun spree, somebody - probably a CA and not a snitchy hallmate jealous of his football player - told the cops Radek had a BB gun, the cops came and arrested him, and that was that. (Commenter xycat reports he pretended to drive-by people with the BB gun. I don't remember that, and it wasn't in the ESPN or Daily articles. My point still stands.) He should've been given a slap on the wrist and told not to do it again, and at most schools, that's probably would have happened. Instead, Northwestern kicked him off the team and he was never heard of again. It was way over the top and to be honest, a little bit screwed up. But Radek was made an example, and nobody has gotten into trouble since, and with the harsh example set, nobody likely will. And when nobody gets into trouble, nobody becomes ineligible for important games.
So there you have it.
Northwestern makes sure the recruiting process wraps up early and cleanly, that the coaching staff is consistent, and that the players stay out of trouble. There you have it: 80 percent of the things college football bloggers have to write about in the offseason, gone. (I would have included transfers, but the fact is, Northwestern's had a decent amount of those, both in - Kyle Prater, Quinn Evans - and out - Arby Fields, Adonis Smith, and Cooper Gerami - over the past few years.)
With that gone, we have one thing to write about: football. And in that department, thinks aren't so bad. Northwestern won ten games last year, is ranked in the offseason, and should be in the top 25 when next year begins. If Pat Fitzgerald likes it when things are boring, I guess so do we. It's not flashy, and it means there's no reason for anybody to read my site, but I think I'm okay with it.