Big Ten Coaches on the Hot Seat
The Big Ten has seen quite a bit of coaching turnover these past two seasons with such schools as Michigan, Rutgers, Maryland, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Illinois all ordaining a new lead man. These recent changes indicate that most coaches are safe from getting the pink slip as the majority are either getting their feet wet or have established themselves as elite, long term options (i.e. Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio). This does not mean that every team in the entire conference is safe though, as the coaching carousel never slows in college football. Below is a list of each Big Ten member and a rating of their coaches job security with 10 being essentially out the door and 1 being a situation where the coach can almost leave on their own terms.
Ohio State- 1
It’s safe to say that Urban Meyer has done enough to stick around until he feels it’s time to depart. Between a national championship and his ability to recruit and produce NFL talent at a historic level, it seems the only thing that can hinder his run of success for the Buckeyes would be another spell of unfortunate health complications.
Jim Harbaugh has not done nearly as much for his alma mater as Meyer has for OSU but with all the fanfare he’s receiving, one wouldn’t have thought that on the surface. Michigan did produce a sterling first season, 10–3 record capped off with a rout of Florida in their bowl, under the new ball coach and the future is as bright as ever for the once block M. The maize and blue fan base hope that Harbaughs energy will run eternal but that doesn't seem realistic especially with all the NFL vultures circling in the off season. One thing is almost guaranteed though, if and when Jim decides he wants a new challenge and he splits ways with his alma mater it won’t be because he gets fired.
Michigan State- 1
Mark Dantonio has solidified his place among the college football greats. He has turned a once perennially middling big ten program into a consistent powerhouse that churns out professionals and regularly competes for conference championships. Most people are doubting the Spartans again this upcoming season but if history teaches us anything that viewpoint is misguided. Dantonio is yet another Big Ten East coach that has solidified his position until he ultimately decides to depart. The triplet of Harbaugh, Dantonio, and Meyer has pushed this division into the discussion of the best college football has to offer.
The number placed by the Terrapins head coach here is a little misguided, just as it will be for the scarlet knights new man, mainly because they are both entering their first year. Both will be given ample time to mold their respective programs. D.J. Durkin is a talented defensive mind who seems to have assembled a terrific staff and is already garnering verbals from a few elite commits such as Joshua Kaindoh. If he can get a few play makers on board as well to help jump start a reeling offense then we could see a long and successful tenure.
Another first year coach, Chris Ash, will have a shot to transform Rutgers from a dormant program into the little giant that some people believe it has the potential to be. With his background at OSU under Meyer and home field advantage in regards to the New Jersey, New York recruiting hotbed, the foundation for success is there. The east is no cake walk though and wins will be hard to come by early. The difficulties won’t effect this upcoming season so Ash, like Durkin, will be given multiple years to produce a winning side before his job comes under scrutiny.
Penn State- 6
I believe patience is growing thinner in happy valley. This will be the first season that the Nittany Lions and James Franklin are working with a roster full of scholarship players and it’s certainly in his best interest to take advantage of the situation. Lackluster performances the past few years have begun to worry some powerful people around the program and although his ability to recruit is unquestioned, his player development and in game tactics have been lacking. It would take an utter collapse from the team this season for him to be let go, as he deserves a least a fourth season to have the team come together, but if obvious progress is not made this year then this 6 rating will be up close to a 10 by next fall.
Kevin Wilson and the Hoosiers were able to reach a bowl game this past season and also gave a few notable teams a bit of a scare. This was a welcomed sight after a largely uneventful beginning to Wilson’s tenure but Indiana must replace a fair bit of talent from a squad that broke their bowl less drought. Nate Sudfield is one of the most decorated quarterbacks to ever suit up for the Hooisers, without his leadership and a few other key components from what was an explosive offense it is not unreasonable to see some regression in Bloomington. If the team record slides to anything resembling four wins or less, the Hoosiers one sterling season may not be enough to dissuade the notion that Wilson isn’t Indiana's best long term option.
Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats are coming off of a massive 10–3 campaign that saw them knock off the Rose Bowl champions early in the season. This performance was preceded by two consecutive 5–7 campaigns that had some folks in Evanston worried the program was growing stagnant. As a Wildcat alum Fitzgerald has always been in love with this coaching position and the school is equally thrilled to employ a coach that has proven he can have success despite the institutions rigid academic standards. With this most recent season once again showing the purple cats can fair well in the Big Ten, and with a stout defense and promising young quarterback, the union between Fitz and Northwestern doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon.
Lovie Smith is a decorated NFL mind that has made an appearance in the Super Bowl. This was an incredible hire for the fighting Illini, and I’m sure administration understands how difficult it would be to grab another coach of Lovie’s standing if this relationship went by the wayside. The people of Champagne will likely be patient as the long time Bears coach finds his stride in the college game once more. After much recent scandal the future of the program and the security of the head man both seem to be much brighter than last fall.
Mike Riley didn’t have the season that most cornhusker fans expected after they were accustomed to a floor of at least nine wins under previous coach Bo Pelini. Big Red only managed to pull out six games after they were granted a bowl appearance following an uninspired 5 win regular season. The Cornhuskers are a favorite dark horse candidate to win the west this season and rightfully so as they return an abundance of talent on both sides of the ball. For Riley’s sake huskers nation is hoping to see something close to a division title because if not, year three will be a strenuous one for the team and staff.
As the highest rating on this list one can imagine that Darrell Hazell is struggling in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers have dwelled at the bottom of the Big Ten throughout his tenure, barely winning games against even weak non-power five sides. Although he gave a rather confident face to the media at Big Ten media days it won’t mean much if a repeat of the last few seasons is on the horizon. It seems there is almost no way Hazell can save his job short of a bowl appearance or some significant progress on both sides of the ball. Purdue has a proudish history with the production of players like Drew Brees spearheading their alumni list, so the institution will likely cut ties with a coach who hasn’t shown the ability to win at the Big Ten level.
Paul Chryst has taken over the ship for the badgers and has continued the consistent, 10 win pace that seems to define the kids from Madison. There has been a fair bit of turnover in recent years with Bret Bielama and Gary Anderson, both of whom coached at Wisconsin, leaving the position for reasons that seem to stem from administrative woes. Chryst seems devoted to holding down the position long term but most of the apprehension involving his job security arises from the same issues that caused the previous two head men to bolt for essentially positions of lateral prestige. It is an uncommon sight to see a coach make such a bold life choice, let alone two consecutive coaches, so the badgers are hoping that Chryst’s tenure is a bit more smooth sailing.
Tracy Claes has taken over the reigns in Minneapolis and provided a sense of continuity after the unfortunate departure of Jerry Kill. He inherits a team with talent and will keep the gophers style similar both offensively and defensively. The only hesitation involved with the once intern coach is that the decision could be viewed as easy or even lazy, a hiring that was motivated by the disinterest in an elongated coaching search. Success is attainable for Claes and he can hold down this spot long term if the team performs but if they slide over the course of the next year or two a real coaching search may be imminent.
Kirk Ferentz and crew had a spectacular season in route to a Rose Bowl appearance and are riding high after the return of a lot of talent, led by nationally awarded corner Desmond King and starting quarterback C.J. Bethard. So why is the rating not a 1 as it is for a few other prominent coaches on this list? Because we’ve seen this act before from the Hawkeyes. Iowa has had their peaks under this regime and mostly they are followed by some comparatively deep valleys. If the black and gold under perform this year and put out the same lackluster effort next season as well, some may grow tired of the inconsistency that has been displayed by Kirk leading to a potential coaching switch.