August 3, 2010

Big East notes: New faces on sideline

MORE: Edsall's patience pays off at UConn

NEWPORT, R.I. - Coaching changes dominated the offseason landscape in the Big East, as three schools switched coaches.

Louisville's Charlie Strong, Cincinnati's Butch Jones and USF's Skip Holtz are the new faces. And Syracuse's Doug Marrone is entering his second season, meaning half of the league coaches have less than two years experience in the Big East.

It's just the second time in league history that the Big East will have three new coaches. The last time was 2001, when West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez, Rutgers' Greg Schiano and Miami's Larry Coker joined the fraternity.

Holtz and Jones arrive as proven commodities. Holtz, 46, was coach of UConn from 1994-98 and most recently at East Carolina for the past five seasons, bringing a 72-50 record with four bowls and three league titles to Tampa. Holtz replaces the fired Jim Leavitt.

"It has been great," Holtz said Tuesday at the league's Media Day. "I even have used my father [Lou] as a sounding board. He came down in the spring. I gave him a pencil and paper and told him to watch practice and take notes. We then went to dinner and he shared his thoughts. It's good to have his view of things from 30,000 feet."

Jones, 42, was coach the past three seasons at Central Michigan, forging a 27-13 mark with three bowls and two MAC crowns. He takes over for Brian Kelly, who left for Notre Dame.

"It has been about building trust," said Jones, referring to the hurt feelings of players over Kelly's abrupt departure. "And that comes over time. We have tried to spend extra time with the players to build those relationships, which are the foundation for success."

Strong arrives in Derby City with no head-coaching experience and is replacing the fired Steve Kragthorpe. But he's nonetheless thoroughly prepared.

"It is really exciting," Strong said. "You want to be in charge at some point. You feel that if you work hard enough and put in your time, good things are going to happen."

Strong, 50, interviewed for jobs at California, Vanderbilt and Minnesota, among other openings over the years. But he never got a head-coaching job despite an impressive resume that has seen him work at Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Notre Dame, South Carolina and most recently as defensive coordinator at Florida from 2002-09.

Now, Strong has a job with much potential - and one of the best sounding boards in the nation.

"I didn't get to see the facilities until after I was named the coach," he said. "I am very impressed with all of the faculties. We have some players, too. We need to find an identity with some of the guys. We need to find out who we are."

And when he needs some advice?

"I still speak to [Florida coach] Urban [Meyer] a lot," Strong said. "We probably talk once every three or four days."

No news on expansion

Earlier this summer, conference expansion and realignment dominated the headlines, and Big East commissioner John Marinatto used his annual address Tuesday to talk about the league's future - sort of.

"I don't think it's good to get into speculation or to speculate on other people's speculation," Marinatto said. "There are a lot of unknowns right now. We have done an exhaustive study of ourselves and how to grow and enhance ourselves."

Bottom line: No movement is imminent.

The league is continuing to evaluate and monitor the situation, even using NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue as a consultant.

Pitt is the pick

Pitt was picked to win the conference in a poll of Big East media from each of the conference's eight markets.

The Panthers received 22 of a possible 24 first-place votes and two second-place votes to total 190 points, making Pitt the heaviest favorite in preseason balloting since Louisville in 2005.

Two-time defending champ Cincinnati and West Virginia tied for second in the balloting. The Bearcats have an 18-game regular-season winning streak. UConn was picked fourth, followed by Rutgers, USF, Syracuse and Louisville.

WVU and UConn received the other first-place votes.

League changes injury format

UConn coach Randy Edsall never has liked talking about injuries with the media during the season, so he's a big fan of the league's new format with dealing with the issue.

Each Monday, the league will announce which players from each school are out for the season and undergoing surgery. Each Thursdays (or 48 hours before a team's game), the league will announce which players are probable, questionable, doubtful and out for an upcoming game. It's a format similar to the ones used by the ACC and NFL.

"Now, everyone will get the info they need and we won't have to talk about it all of the time," Edsall said.

Giving up some control

After letting offensive coordinator Rob Spence go in the offseason, Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said he would call plays himself. He since has altered that plan.

Marrone was so impressed with the work of quarterback coach/passing game coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, 30, in the spring that he has decided to let the son of former Pitt and USC coach Paul Hackett the call plays.

Unencumbered by play calling, Marrone presumably can focus on the entire team's functions. But he still will be involved in developing game plans, and all of the plays on game days still will run through him.

"Sometime you just get too emotional when you are calling plays," he said. "You get in a fourth-and-short and you say to yourself, 'I have a play that can get the first down.' But your defense may be playing great and your team would benefit from punting the ball. You are better able to stand back and make those judgments when you aren't immersed in the offense."

Quarterback turnover

Cincinnati's Tony Pike is gone. So are Syracuse's Greg Paulus, Pitt's Bill Stull and West Virginia's Jarrett Brown. That quartet sat atop the league in passing last season.

Rutgers sophomore Tom Savage, USF sophomore B.J. Daniels and UConn senior Zach Frazer are returning starters at quarterback, while Cincinnati's Zach Collaros saw significant duty when Pike suffered an injury in 2009. Savage is considered by most to be the league's top returning signal-caller.

"All young quarterbacks think they can do more than they can," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "Tom was no different last year. But he has grown. One of his best attributes is that he never is frazzled."

The new starters are West Virginia sophomore Geno Smith, Syracuse sophomore Ryan Nassib and Pitt sophomore Tino Sunseri.

Louisville hasn't decided on its starter. Senior Adam Froman, senior Justin Burke and sophomore Will Stein are vying for the job, which is expected to go to Froman. He started seven games last season.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for He can be reached at, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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