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Cardinal Corner: Jason Whitlock

OTP is proud to present our next installment of Cardinal Corner. It’s our chance to catch up with Cardinals of the past and gain some inside insight into this year’s Cardinal football team. Today’s guest? None other than Jason Whitlock. Many know Whitlock as a national columnist for FoxSports and the Kansas City Star. What many won’t know is Whitlock was a letterman on the O-line for the Cardinals from 1985-1988. Jason has been a tremendous advocate for the Cardinals this year on a national stage, and like everything else in his career, he calls this Cardinals team, the BSU administration, and the Cards’ shot at national respect exactly as he sees it, no matter how unpopular it may be.

Cardinal Corner: Jason Whitlock

OverThePylon: Jason, normally we ask folks to update us on what’s been going on in their lives since they left Ball State. Clearly most everyone reading this piece will know all about you. Instead, let’s go the opposite way… what is your fondest memory of Ball State University while a student or student/athlete there?
JasonWhitlock: My greatest memory is the celebration after the basketball team reached the Sweet 16. I was a bouncer at The Chug and watched the game there. Everyone ran out into the village after the game and celebrated. It’s a memory I’ll never forget. The athletic teams can bring the campus together like nothing else. Men’s basketball in the MAC was pretty high profile during that time. The guys on that team were all good friends of mine.

OTP: You’ve trumpeted the Cardinals from a national pulpit before everyone else. In fact, when many in the mainstream media and the blogosphere only saw the Cardinals as a punch line, you were proclaiming them as potential BCS busters. How do you balance being a national figure and sports authority with just being a fan and supporting your alma mater?
JW: I’m a fan first when it comes to Ball State. The only balancing I do is let the readers know in advance that what they’re reading is coming from someone who loves Ball State. If you have read my work in the past, then you realize I’m very capable of being critical of something I love dearly.

OTP: It’s not a secret that Ball State has changed institutionally and athletically over the last decade or so… some for the better, some for the worse. What are some of those “better” things in your mind? What are some of the “worse”? What does Ball State need to do to continue to perform at this sort of level or beyond?
JW: I honestly don’t think Ball State has changed at all athletically. The very issues that limited us athletically in the 1980s are still in place today. The school has a business philosophy that makes it impossible to sustain athletic success. Tom Kinghorn should be fired. The only change I’ve seen for the better was when Bubba Cunningham and President Brownell hired an alum to coach the football team. Bubba Cunningham was a highly effective AD. But he could see the limits placed on athletic success and he left for Tulsa.

OTP: As this season draws to a close, do the Cardinals have a realistic shot at fulfilling your prediction of a BCS appearance? What needs to happen outside of the Cardinals scope of control (winning games, etc) for them to get to the coveted BCS? Will those things actually come true?
JW: We will not play in a BCS game. I just think it’s great we’ve been part of the discussion. I just want us to win the MAC championship and win whatever bowl game we play in.

OTP: Coach Hoke has been mentioned this season for more than a few potential job openings. How long do you see him staying at Ball State? As someone with not only the familiarity of Ball State, but also a national coaching purview, who would you like to see be considered for the job should Coach Hoke decide to leave in the next several years?
JW: If our institution was run properly and our alums and fan base understood the capabilities of Ball State, Coach Hoke would not leave after this season. Brady can do more at Ball State and I believe he’d like to do more at Ball State. He is not in a hurry to leave Ball State. He would like to have the tools necessary to dominate the MAC and put Ball State in position to do what TCU, Boise State, Fresno State and Utah do consistently. It can happen at Ball State.

The MAC is a conference on the rise. Some MAC school needs to step out and be the leader. CMU, WMU, Akron, Toledo and NIU are jockeying to be that leader. Our institution has no interest in joining that race. I would like to see our administration publicly acknowledge that. “We are not interested in sustaining athletic success. We are committed to being also-rans.” I can live with that. I can’t live with the lies.

At one point, Jo Ann Gora stepped out with actions and said she wanted Ball State to be the leader in women’s basketball. We desperately wanted Tracy Roller to stick around and we made her the highest paid women’s basketball coach in the MAC and paid her like she was a Big 10 coach. To my knowledge, she was the only women’s basketball coach in D-I athletics who made more than the football coach. Maybe the guy at Connecticut makes as much as the football coach. What do you think the potential is for women’s basketball in the MAC and at Ball State? Can it ever be televised? Will it ever make Dave Letterman talk about us week after week? Could it ever average more than 3,000 fans? Will it ever make kids from the Midwest want to apply to go to Ball State?

Keep in mind, I had no problem at the time with Tracy Roller’s contract. I saw it as an indication that the administration was willing to invest at a high level in its successful coaches. But I’m learning now that was not the case at all. It was a political statement. It was a resume-builder for the administration. It had nothing to do with doing what’s right for the university and the students. Sexism is a two-way street and either you’re against it or you’re not. Either you treat all people fairly or you don’t. I’m a bit off track.

But I believe Brady would like to stay at Ball State if somehow he and his coaching staff were provided the necessary support to dominate the MAC, a level of support that recognizes their level of success. Brady should be paid around $375 to $425k a year (2nd or 3rd highest in the MAC) and his assistant coaches need significant upgrades. They need offices built. Brady should be given control of the football program. If our administration would take the time to look around the rest of the MAC, if they would travel with the team on MAC road trips and see what our peers provide their football coaching staffs, Jo Ann Gora would get a real sense of just what Brady has accomplished.

He hasn’t climbed on any billboards. He built a football program. He’s an alum and we should treat him like an alum we are proud of. If we did that, I think Brady would stick around for three or four more years and maybe longer. But it’s been my experience in life that most people have a very difficult time supporting ideas and hires that were not their own. Most people are selfish and controlled by their egos.

OTP: Still on Coach Hoke, do you see this year as the anomaly or potentially the norm in Muncie under his leadership? Are the pieces there for continued success? Or is this a perfect storm of scheduling, weaker MAC traditional powers, and increased talent on the Ball State side of the ball?
JW: We can sustain a high level of success under Brady. It’s very difficult to go undefeated. But can we win 9 games consistently? Yes. The MAC was not weak this year, particularly the MAC West. In fact, I’d say the MAC West was the best we’ve seen it maybe ever. CMU, WMU and Ball State were all very good. NIU was dangerous. Brady has laid a foundation for continued success. Our defense is going to be very good next year.

OTP: As a former offensive lineman, can you speak a little about the growth and development of that particular unit under Coach Hoke and his staff? Are the pieces there for the success of the offensive line to continue as these Seniors graduate?
JW: Playing Brewster, Gerberry and Ramsey as freshmen paid huge dividends this year. It’s going to be tough replacing those guys. Cornwell, too. But we have some young kids with talent and this group of veterans has set a standard that the young guys will try to reach.

OTP: What do you see as the difference between the coach Lynch era and the Brady Hoke era? Aside, of course, from the number of wins.
JW: Bubba Cunningham and President Brownell relaxed the recruiting restrictions on the football program. Brady can recruit across the country. Brady has a better assistant-coaching staff than Coach Lynch. Brady’s personality and command of his players is superior to Coach Lynch’s. Brady’s team is the most disciplined team I’ve ever seen.

OTP: Talk a little about the future of BSU football in your eyes. Will they be in the same sentence as the Utahs, Boise States, and BYU’s in terms of mid majors with national sway? More importantly, do you ever see the line in the sand between the BCS conferences and the mid majors going away?
JW: I don’t care about BCS vs. midmajor. I just want to win the MAC. Honestly that’s all I really care about. If we are consistently competing for the MAC title, we will earn respect. Given the mindset of our current administration, I don’t see us joining the midmajor powerhouses. To be quite honest, given the mindset of our current administration, I don’t have a good feeling at all about Ball State football.

The history of the program will tell you where we’re going. Paul Schudel took an offensive coordinator job at Illinois rather than stick around at Ball State as a head coach. The administration doesn’t care that 11,000 students changed their travel plans to watch a football game. It’s not about the kids on campus. It’s about building a resume and landing the next job.

OTP: Less about BSU, and more about you, in general, you take a beating on the internet and the blogosphere in part because of your willingness to take a stand and an opinion on any issue, even when it isn’t a popular stance or the issue is a heated one. How does it feel to be the target of more than a few jabs from sports fans with a significant audience in the Wild West of the internet?
JW: Feels good. Real good. People react strongly because they take seriously what I have to say. My opinion is respected.

(Ed. Note: Big thanks to Jason for chatting with us a bit and calling it as he sees it as always. For more of JW’s work, you can check him out at his FoxSports columns here, or his Kansas City Star columns here.)

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