We sat down with Big Ten Network’s newly hired senior writer Tom Dienhart for a Q&A session. Dienhart is covering both football and men’s basketball, and will also contribute to the network’s on-air and social media platforms. Fans can follow him on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart.
Dienhart comes to BTN after serving as the senior national college football writer at Rivals.com/Yahoo! Sports since 2008. Prior to joining Rivals.com/Yahoo! Sports, Dienhart covered college football at The Sporting News for 18 years (1990-2008). His writing has won several awards from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), while his expertise has brought him appearances on ESPN, NFL Network, the Jim Rome Show, SiriusXM College Sports Nation, FOX Sports Radio, the Paul Finebaum Show, Yahoo! Sports Radio and The Mtn.
As a member of the National Football Foundation and FWAA, Dienhart votes for numerous awards, including the Heisman, Butkus, Thorpe, Lombardi, Biletnikoff, Walker, O’Brien, Manning, Mackey, Guy, Groza and Hendricks trophies. He also has covered every major BCS bowl game, as well as multiple BCS championship games.
Q & A
Derek Reinglass: Where did you grow up and where did you go college?
Tom Dienhart: I grew up in West Lafayette, Indiana. I went to Purdue for college, and graduated in 1987. Both my parents worked at the university, so I was Boilermaker from the day I was born. I was just completely immersed in Big Ten sports because we had season tickets to both basketball and football.
DR: What teams were you a fan of growing up?
TD: Purdue sports were everything to me.
DR: Do have a favorite Purdue sports memory?
TD: The 2000 Purdue vs. Ohio State football game. Drew Brees threw a late desperation pass to win. In basketball, in 1994 Purdue vs. Kansas in the Sweet 16 at the University of Tennessee. Glenn ‘The Big Dog’ Robinson was absolutely incredible.
DR: When did you first know you wanted to be a sports writer?
TD: I always knew I wanted to do something in sports, but once I started getting a little bit older I realized I wasn’t going to be playing professional sports. It was probably around high school when I became interested in sports writing.
DR: What’s the first story you ever wrote?
TD: In the fall of 1983 I wrote a piece for the Purdue Exponent previewing the upcoming season for the Purdue wrestling team.
DR: What’s the first Big Ten game you ever covered in-person?
TD: In 1985 I was in college and I covered the Purdue vs. Michigan State football game. I remember Lorenzo White, the MSU running back, had over 200 yards rushing. He was just a big, tough runner.
DR: What was your first major job?
TD: Editor for a company named Host Communication in Lexington, Kentucky. I edited the game-day programs for various NCAA events such as the Final Four. An outsourced company would write everything up and it was our job to edit the material and put it all together.
DR: What’s your favorite story you’ve ever written?
TD: The same weekend as the Drew Brees game in 2000, I spent the entire week with Brees. I was working for The Sporting News at the time and it was called the BMOC – “Big Man on Campus.” It was just a lot of fun spending the whole week with him – going to his fraternity, out to eat, I even brought him to my parents’ house with me and he met my son, who was only a month old at the time.
DR: Do you have a favorite interview?
TD: I did an interview with Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa right after he got the Alabama job. It was really hard to get 1-on-1 interviews with him, and he’s usually a close-vested guy but I got him to open up and talk about leaving the Miami Dolphins. He almost always just shut down whenever he was asked about it, but that day he opened up.
DR: Who was the most interesting or unique Big Ten player you ever interviewed?
TD: I wrote a feature on Arthur Ray, the Michigan State offensive lineman who was diagnosed with cancer. Wow, just an all-around great kid. He’s remarkably well-grounded for guy who’s had to deal with so much at such a young age. He really helps to keep things in perspective.
DR: Favorite Big Ten coach you’ve interviewed?
TD: A lot of them I’ve dealt with have been great, but I’d say my favorite is Kirk Ferentz. I know his agent real well which I think helps, but he’s just a good guy. He’s always extremely accommodating and a pleasure to be around.
DR: Have you ever been the first to break a huge story and what was it? How did it come about?
TD: I was the first to break the news that Gene Chizik was leaving Iowa State to accept the job at Auburn. I still can’t really say who informed me, but I protected my source’s anonymity by just citing “reputable sources confirm….” My editor trusted me, and it was accurate.
DR: What’s the coolest memory you have from being a sports writer?
TD: In 2010 I went overseas as a part of the Coaches tour with Illinois coach Ron Zook, Oregon coach Chip Kelly (pictured at right), Army coach Rich Elerson, and Harvard coach Tim Murphy. I had never been overseas before and it was just really special. First, we visited a hospital in Germany; we also went to Kuwait and Iraq to spend time with some of the troops. It was an eye-opening experience.
DR: What’s the most difficult part of being a sports writer?
TD: I think the hardest thing is trying not to get too close to your subjects. You want to develop a relationship where you know them as a person, but you have to be able balance the fine line between subject and friend.
DR: What about BTN was most enticing?
TD: It’s just a great way for me to go back to my roots and focus on my first love, which was Big Ten sports. I can dovetail my skills with the first real sports I ever got to know – Purdue sports and Big Ten sports. It makes me feel like I’m home.
DR: Best Big Ten Press box?
TD: Ohio State. It’s spacious, luxurious, and has good food. A close number 2 would be Nebraska. They have great postgame pizza and they’re very hospitable.
DR: Favorite Big Ten Restaurants?
TD: The Varsity Club at Ohio State and Bruno’s Pizza at Purdue.
DR: What aspect of your job will change the most by working at BTN?
TD: I’m going to have a lot more TV duties here. I’ve done some TV stuff but never anything this extensive. I’m excited and looking forward to the challenge.
Winner of legends/leaders: Nebraska and Wisconsin
Winner of inaugural championship game: Badgers win again in Round 2
Offensive MVP: Russell Wilson – I don’t think there’s anyone who’s even really close. Denard Robinson, Kirk Cousins, Montee Ball and Silas Redd are all good players and having good seasons, but they’re not on Wilson’s level.
Defensive MVP: Jerel Worthy, the defensive tackle at Michigan State. Devon Still at Penn State and Chris Borland at Wisconsin will be in the hunt, but I’m going to say Worthy holds on.
Coach of the year: Right now I’d say Dantonio, but by the end it’s going to be Bielema. With the way Penn State is playing right now, JoePa could also be considered.