Zook: ‘I have something to prove’

CHICAGO — Rich Rodriguez smiled coyly when asked about his team’s summer workouts.

“Well, I don’t know much about what’s going on in the summer,” Rodriguez said. “Talking to those guys, they really feel good about what went on in the summer.”

Coaches, of course, aren’t allowed to have contact with their players over the summer months, and Rodriguez wasn’t about to open himself to yet another NCAA violation.

Rodriguez’s tone of optimism was typical at the first day of Big Ten Media Days at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Chicago.

While each coach shared the unwavering optimism that dominates every preseason, they weren’t all forthright about the Big Ten as a whole.

Many said their opinion didn’t matter and they weren’t asked by the Big Ten commissioner’s office.

But the popular opinion was that there should and will be a conference championship game.

“I think because of obviously what it means to the Big Ten conference financially and, of course, the exposure, I don’t think there’s any question there will probably be a big championship game,” Illinois head coach Ron Zook said.

One of the questions the always-outspoken Penn State head coach Joe Paterno had:

“I don’t know why we did it so late,” Paterno said. “Do it two months ago.”

Commissioner Jim Delaney later answered that question.

“We went faster than we expected,” Delaney said. “We’ll pause, but we’re not going to turn our back on more expansion.”

Here are a few other storylines from the day.

Paterno’s health

Paterno had reportedly been sick with intestinal issues, but when asked about them, he wanted to clear something up.

“It was lower than the intestines,” Paterno said, apparently talking about bowel issues.

When a reporter commented after the press conference to Paterno that this type of health issue isn’t easy to write about, Paterno replied, “Well, it’s tougher to have.”

And for the second straight year, Paterno had the entire Hyatt ballroom in stitches.

Paterno said he’s fine now and hopes to walk the sidelines this fall.

“I feel good, all right?” Paterno said. “I’m not worried right now about having to leave you guys.”

Zook: ‘I have something to prove’

Despite being on the hot-seat after a disappointing 3-9 record in 2009, Zook denied feeling any added pressure heading into the season.

“I think everyone that stands up here today has got pressure,” Zook said. “Obviously some of us have more than others. I think the thing that you try to do is you do the best you can do.”

Zook said he feels more relaxed than in years past, saying he has spent the offseason water skiing and shopping for appliances.

“I don’t have a reason why, but as I said, our coaching staff, this spring I noticed, (has) done a magnificent job,” Zook said.

Zook will be vying for his second winning season at Illinois in six seasons, having gone 21-39 since taking over the program in 2005.

“I don’t think there’s any question I have something to prove,” Zook said. “I think that’s why you’re in this profession. It’s about winning.”