INDIANAPOLIS -- A foreshadowing of the Northwestern hazing scandal did not escape Matt Entz. Barely two weeks into 2023 the North Dakota State coach lost his defensive coordinator, David Braun, to the Wildcats. Shortly before, Northwestern had made a quiet January announcement that it was investigating a hazing incident. Some sort of intuition stirred inside Entz.
"Dave, have you asked the important questions?" Entz remembered telling Braun. "I know it's the Big Ten. I know it's going to triple your salary. You have to make sure.
"He was reassured, 'No, this is a bump in the road and we're going to move on,'" Entz recalled.
Subsequent events have dragged that statement -- along with Northwestern's institutional reputation as a beacon of truth and enlightenment -- through the mud. Forget football because one must at the moment. Braun, 38, was the lone voice to explain all that has befallen Northwestern lately Wednesday at the 2023 Big Ten Media Days.
His round of interviews was both inspirational and discomforting. Braun didn't ask for this current situation as interim head coach of a program under fire. One day, he may regret the way he became a Big Ten/Power Five coach -- amid the alleged failings of his boss, former Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald.
"He's first class," Braun said of Fitzgerald. "First class."
Don't wince. The two still communicate. They sort of have to despite the stench swirling from a locker room alleged to have "run" players in one of Northwestern's now infamous hazing rituals. Braun is now the coach; Fitzgerald merely a Wildcats parent, father to freshman tight end Jack Fitzgerald.
"It's an emotional roller coaster," Braun told CBS Sports. "One of the primary reasons we decided to come to Northwestern was Coach Fitz. It's an incredible opportunity that you are humbled … to dive into. But there is a mourning process as well.
"I think the best way I can describe it at times is 'conflicted.'"
That also best describes the way forward for Northwestern. The man in charge, athletic director Derrick Gragg, was reportedly in attendance somewhere inside Lucas Oil Stadium; he just wasn't, shall we say, readily available.
Braun manned up and showed up despite his wife, Kristin, being on the cusp of giving birth to the couple's third child. He showed up despite Northwestern's three scheduled player attendees choosing to stay home. The players shared on social media that they were opting out because questions about the scandal would "steal the focus away from football and the upcoming season."
Unfortunately for them, that's already happened.
Those three Northwestern players have been on campus for more than 12 years combined. Their perspective would have been valuable. Meanwhile, Braun has been part of the program six months, interim coach for 2 ½ weeks. He knew he'd have to answer questions Wednesday about whether he was aware of the hazing.
"Absolutely not," he said.
Northwestern's new interim coach turned out to be the ultimate stand-up guy. He had to answer questions about two assistants mentioned as having at least witnessing the hazing. Safeties coach Matt MacPherson was named by USA Today, while strength coach Jay Hooten was named in a lawsuit by a former Northwestern player. Braun was asked by a reporter if those assistants would have "credibility" in the locker room going forward.
"Since I arrived on Jan. 16 of this year, I have seen nothing but a coaching staff -- and the two names that you mentioned -- [who] have rallied around our players," Braun said. "I have full confidence in the [coaches] that are in that facility right now."
These are the types of questions that will linger for, perhaps, years.
Entz is confident that Braun is prepared for the job ahead. Their relationship goes back to when Entz recruited Braun to Winona State as a 17-year-old defensive lineman from suburban Milwaukee. Kristin and Dave used to babysit Entz's kids. From 2019-22, Braun won two FCS national championships with the Bison.
Entz is now a mentor talking Braun through these trying times.
"You have to be a great communicator right now," Entz recalled of his advance to Braun. "Right now, the rug has been pulled out from these players. They're probably not trusting of anybody right now. You come in there and start spouting off new ideas, they're going to see right through it."
Braun is allowed to consider the withering football possibilities ahead. Because the players lost their coach, the NCAA allows them to transfer without penalty outside the normal windows. Multiple players have already entered the transfer portal and found new homes. Further defections could leave a disgraced program already coming off a 1-11 season into embarrassment territory.
"To be very honest with you, I'm absolutely concerned about it," Braun said of the transfer situation.
This is a career audition. Braun could ride this to a long head coaching career. He also knows he could end up as a footnote. The historical lasting impact of interim coaches is not, well, lasting.
"I don't think the full gravity of that hit me until last night," Braun said the road ahead.
One of the tenets of modern marketing was refined right here in Big Ten country. Legendary former Michigan AD Don Canham, a merchandising genius, famously said to never let a negative one day become a two-day story.
We're way past that -- not just at Northwestern. It has not been a pleasant last few months for the Big Ten.
Jim Harbaugh hired mentor Bo Schembechler's son (Shemy) in May; three days later, Shemy resigned after it was discovered he had "liked" racist comments on social media. This week, CBS Sports confirmed Harbaugh may be suspended for the first four games of the season for being dishonest with NCAA investigators.
Iowa reached a with 12 former Black players who filed discrimination lawsuit. The school continues to wade through a gambling scandal involving multiple sports.
Minnesota is being looked at for what was called a "toxic culture" by Front Office Sports, which reported Wednesday a string of concerns that have arisen under the leadership of coach P.J. Fleck.
The Big Ten will not launch a Northwestern investigation, new commissioner Tony Pettiti said. The NCAA long ago learned its lesson not to try and legislate morality in the Penn State / Jerry Sandusky scandal.
At Northwestern, who knows how much will come out and continue to hog an unsavory spotlight.
"I'm scared for the game a little bit," Entz said. "As head football coaches, it's our job to make this game grow. I can't tell you if anybody knew about it or not [at Northwestern]. We have 120 kids on our roster. There are 168 hours a week. They want somebody to know what these kids are doing every hour of the day.