Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Dan Lyons

Former LSU Coach Talks Iowa’s Chances to Upset Michigan, Sign-Stealing Scandal And More

Gerry DiNardo has been a major figure in college football since the 1970s, when he was an All-American guard at Notre Dame. He quickly entered coaching, and led three power conference programs: Vanderbilt (1992 to ’94), LSU (’95 to ’99) and Indiana (2002 to ’04). He now works as an analyst for the Big Ten Network.

As part of a Big Ten and Samsung-sponsored coaching workshop conducted alongside former Michigan star tight end Jake Butt, DiNardo sat down with Sports Illustrated to discuss a range of topics, including Saturday’s Big Ten championship game, ongoing concerns with sign-stealing in the sport, the Heisman Trophy race, and the College Football Playoff.

DiNardo also weighed in on his former school Indiana’s hire of Curt Cignetti, and went in-depth on the opportunity to mentor some of the state’s high school coaches in Indianapolis this weekend ahead of Saturday’s Big Ten championship. He was particularly passionate about how high school coaches can take a more proactive role in their players’ recruiting in the transfer portal and NIL era.

(Editor’s note: This article has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.)

Former LSU and Indiana football coach Gerry DiNardo (left) is now an analyst with the Big Ten Network.

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen/USA Today Network

Sports Illustrated: Michigan and Iowa play on Saturday for the Big Ten championship. Michigan, obviously, has a chance to punch its ticket to the College Football Playoff, and they’re pretty overwhelming favorite in to beat the Hawkeyes. Do you think there’s a realistic pathway for Iowa to pull the upset?

Gerry DiNardo: I think it’s as realistic as any team in their situation. In other words, they’re probably a couple of touchdown underdogs. But when you look at the anatomy of an upset, which is part of college football, certain things have to happen.

Usually, the underdog has to win the turnover battle. Sometimes it has to be significant. I think I can remember when I was at Indiana, we went out to Oregon and we won, I think they had [seven] turnovers. Time of possession for a team like Iowa is important, whereas that’s not really a very relevant stat in modern day football. Iowa is very good in the kick game. And then the other thing is, ordinarily, the favorite team has to contribute. They have to be flat, or they have to think all they have to do is show up and win. 

So to me, that’s kind of the anatomy of an upset. So does Iowa have a chance? Sure they do. But, you know, like most underdogs, they need help from the favorite. 

SI: A couple of weeks ago, Michigan had that win against Maryland where they just ran the ball nonstop in the second half. Do you see them kind of trying to grind this game away in the same way?

GD: Iowa’s as good a defense as there is in the country. And it’s it’s unique. They’re not a big-man team, they’re a quarter coverage team. Their eyes are always in the backfield, that’s why they get so many turnovers. So I don’t know that Michigan has played a defense as good as this one, except during practice, because Michigan is probably the second best defense in the country. And then Ohio State’s really improved. 

I don’t see I don’t see Michigan just doing whatever they want to do on offense, especially early. When there’s a heavy favorite early in the game, you kind of get a feel that the favorite’s overconfident or the favorite has the right mindset. And depending on how that goes early, you can usually tell. And I think that’ll have a lot to do with the success or failure that Michigan’s offense has against a really good Iowa defense.

SI: One of the stories we can’t get escape with Michigan now is  the sign-stealing scandal. We’ve heard a lot of coaches discuss its impact on the game. When you were coaching, was this a major concern of yours, or was it fairly standard?

GD: Okay, so we all tried to steal signals during the game. I can remember, one of my years at Vanderbilt, I had a young GA who was really good at it. I can remember we were playing up at West Point, and we knew what the play was going to be. And we were communicating to our defense what the play was gonna be, and the tight end at Army stood up turned and looked at me and said, ‘You have to be kidding.’ And so we broke them during the game. 

If it wasn’t advantageous to break signals during the game, then, you know, why would people do it? It is an advantage. Now, you have to do it within the rules, and within the rules is on game day Saturday, but there’s certainly an advantage. I think probably nine out of 10 coaches say we tried to break the signals. How successful they are, I’m not sure. But I’m sure that if it happens, it’s an advantage. So it does impact the the competitive balance.

Jim Harbaugh returns to the Michigan sideline for Saturday’s Big Ten championship against Iowa.

Patrick Breen/USA TODAY Network

SI: You’re here with us via Samsung, and technology has been become such a big part of football. Do you think that college football should move towards an NFL style of calling in the plays to get rid of the whole concern with the signs in general? 

GD: I do. And, and you know, it’s interesting, as I was preparing for this workshop, one of the high school coaches told me that they actually can watch the game in real time in the press box and then on the sidelines. He said, ‘My offensive line coach after the series can sit with his offensive line and watch the previous series.’ I couldn’t believe that. And then as we were talking, he said it’s amazing that high schools and the NFL can use technology during the game, but colleges can’t. 

So the excuse about the helmets has been the default button for NCAA for when they don’t want to do things. ’Not everybody can afford it.’ Well, I have to tell you, not everybody can afford the same facilities either. And not everybody can afford the best locker room and the best travel and, and all that. So the NCAA is stuck on, not everybody can afford the helmet technology. My guess is nowadays we’re in a time where a coach gets $10 million a year and a quarterback gets $1–2 million. I’m guessing they can afford it. So it certainly would make sense. The only reason the NCAA may not do it is because they may have felt they were forced to do it. And they’re a little bit embarrassed that they haven’t done it sooner.

SI: Elsewhere in the Big Ten, it’s a big day at your former school Indiana, as they introduced Curt Cignetti as the Hoosiers’ new football coach. What do you think he needs to be successful at IU?

GD: For Indiana to be successful, the first thing they should do is look at their non-conference schedule. They should consider doing what Nebraska and Rutgers have done. They have constructed an offense and a defense that gives them an advantage versus matchup opponents. For instance, Nebraska runs the 3–3 stack defense. They’re running a really basic option offense. They may evolve from that as they recruit better. [Rutgers coach] Greg Schiano has put in an option offense. The option, since the days of the wishbone, has been a talent equalizer. So for Indiana to be successful, they may want to consider that. 

After listening to the coach today, he’s certainly not gonna take my advice. He is a very confident, confident guy. And I think he’s got a system that he’s going to implement, regardless of what anybody thinks. And then I would get the non-conference schedule aligned. I mean, one of Rutgers’s six wins is Wagner. If they don’t play Wagner, they very well may not have been bowl eligible. So non-conference schedules for the bottom half of the Big Ten are critical, in my opinion in developing a program.

SI: The Heisman will be awarded next weekend, with LSU’s Jaden Daniels, Oregon’s Bo Nix, Washington’s Michael Penix and potentially Alabama’s Jalen Milroe in the mix. You’ve argued for Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. before. How do you see that race shaking out, and do you put more emphasis on personal stats or are you looking more for a player’s impact on team success?

GD: I think you tried to blend it. With the team success, I think the question is how much did this Heisman Trophy candidate contribute to the team’s success, right? I mean, you talk about Jayden Daniels kid from LSU. I mean, 80% of that offense? But you know the last three games. You watch Bo Nix and Michael Penix, they’re going to play one another. I think that’s intriguing. I voted for Marvin Harrison Jr. third last year. You know, he didn’t have a great Michigan game just by virtue of the game flow. So I tell you that it’s a hard. It’s really a hard decision this year.

SI: When the dust settles on Saturday with the conference championship games, which four teams do you think will be left standing for the College Football Playoff?

GD: Well, I’d be surprised if Michigan doesn’t win, so that’s one of them. Georgia, Alabama—if Georgia wins, they’ll obviously be in it. You know, the same thing with the committee every year, it’s it’s it’s three, four and five. The biggest, toughest decision, the committee makes is who’s four and who’s five. And I believe that that decision should be made by watching all of their game tape by people that know the game inside and out. I’m not a big fan of the committee’s process, I’ve been critical of it. And I think the mistake is usually made between four and five. And that’s too bad. There’s not enough emphasis on watching the games.

Undefeated Florida State will try and win the ACC championship without injured star quarterback Jordan Travis available, with a potential College Football Playoff berth on the line.

Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun/USA TODAY Network

SI: How do you feel about the Florida State situation? It looks like they will be playing their third-string quarterback [freshman Brock Glenn] against Louisville in Saturday’s ACC championship. If they win, would you still put them in?

GD: You make my point, I don’t know. I’d have to watch the team with the quarterback [injured starter Jordan Travis], and then after the quarterback got hurt to see what impact this quarterback had. Ohio State won it with the third string quarterback [Cardale Jones in 2014]. We all go back to that story. But I mean, the story of the way Ohio State became ranked four instead of five was because of Baylor and TCU that were co-champs [of the Big 12]. And what the committee finally said, for my information, is ‘Well, if the Big 12 Couldn’t tell us who their best team was, okay, basically we’ll eliminate both, and we’ll take Ohio State.’ But it wasn’t done by watching the tape, it was because it was because they were co-champions in the Big 12.

SI: You’re coming to us on behalf of the Big Ten and Samsung, with a coaching workshop coming up on Saturday featuring former Michigan tight end Jake Butt. What are some of the main points you want to get across to those high school coaches this weekend?

Electronics is, is part of all this, the way that kids are learning math and English in school, tablets are involved. Coaches are more and more involved in technology. Soon, there’s going to be coaches that have had a cell phone since they were in the fifth grade. So I mean, we’re all learning and teaching with electronics. So it’s something that we want to show the coaches, see if it can help them, see if we can make them better coaches.  I’ll be surprised tomorrow when we do this, if the coaches aren’t excited about it, and that the coaches don’t have a real familiarity with tablets and with how electronics can help their coaching abilities. But Samsung also has this vision that they want to help the high school coaches, because they are in all of the communities around our country. 

I go on a tour every year of all 14 Big Ten schools, and I made a list of something I’ve learned that can relate to the high school coaches. Illinois’s Bret Bielema is fabulous in team meetings. Well, all the high school coaches that we have, they have team meetings and if I could share some things that he does in those team meetings, they can take it back. I might go to what Greg Schiano does for ball security, and all that. I want to share I want to share some ideas about preseason camp. 

Recruiting has become insane, am I right? Now that the [transfer portal is in football], let me give you an example. Okay, [if] I’m a high school coach and I have a prospect that’s being recruited. In the past, once in a while that high school coach would come to the home visit when the [college] head coach came into the home. Nowadays, I’m going to encourage the high school coaches to go to the home visit. I want to know, Coach, if I sign with you, and then I want to go into the portal for one reason or another. Will you let me come back if I don’t find what I want? Or if I get into the portal, and you say to me, ‘You can get in the portal but don’t come back?’ Or is it if I’m a great player, I can come back. And so, you know, only 30% of all recruiting classes ever start. And I think the high school coach really can educate the families, especially now with NIL, and with the portal.

I want to make sure that the high school coaches embrace the nowadays athlete. The athlete didn’t start the NIL, that was started by adults. So let’s not get mad at the young people for NIL. The portal only impacted five teams—football, men’s and women’s basketball, hockey and baseball. All the other sports have been a have been doing it for generations. The volleyball player always could transfer without sitting out a year. So in a certain regard, all the portal has done is given the football players the same opportunities as the other sports. 

The reason the reason football players could never move is because the money’s made with football, and it protected the coaches for managing their roster. So now it’s made the coaches’ roster management very difficult. But on the other hand, Bo Nix and Michael Penix would not be up for the Heisman Trophy if they couldn’t transfer. And so it could be life changing for some people. 

When I took the job in Louisiana, I pledged to be in every high school that plays football, before I left as the LSU coach. I did it. When I became the head coach in Indiana, I said I will go to every high school that plays football in this state. And 98% of them didn’t have anybody that was recruiting. So I have always felt this connection with high school coaches. And Samsung has now given me an opportunity to kind of reconnect. I won’t know all these coaches personally. But I’ve been in all nine of their high schools, because I’ve been in every high school in the state. And so I think this is a very cool thing Samsung’s doing.

Jake Butt is tremendous. Part of his story is he was a [projected] first-round draft pick, a Mackey Award winner for two years in a row. He got hurt in the bowl game, and it hurt his draft, and yet who he will say he will do it again. But the relevance to this group that we’re going to talk to, is there are still kids like Jake Butt. At the end of the day, there’s still a bunch of really cool young people that really want to win a championship. It all looks different, in the portal and tablets and all this. But at the heart, I guarantee there’s a lot of guys that will do anything to win a national championship.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.