While the top of the Big Ten coaching circuit is fairly apparent, getting from Nos. 2-6 is hardly an easy task.
The constant struggle revolves around how much value on last year is too much? This ranking tries to weigh recent results against total resume – a task that only further muddles the water.
1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Two BCS national championships and two more undefeated seasons – Utah in 2004 and Ohio State last season – make Meyer an easy choice to top this list. The Buckeyes are considered prohibitive favorites entering 2013 and virtually odds-on favorites to reach the BCS National Championship Game in no small part because of Meyer.
2. Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Say this for the Cornhuskers coach: He is certainly consistent. Nebraska has lost exactly four games in each of Pelini’s five seasons, though he has three 10-win seasons and three trips to conference championship games to his credit. Detractors will point out that Pelini has lost all three conference title games – two in the Big 12 and one, last year, in the Big Ten. Still, he inherited a program headed in the wrong direction from his predecessor and has brought Big Red back to relevance.
3. Brady Hoke, Michigan
It didn’t take long for Hoke to take the Wolverines back toward the top of the Big Ten, leading them to the Sugar Bowl in his first season. Of course, he did benefit from a loaded roster left behind by former coach Rich Rodriguez, but all coaches can do is win with the talent they’re given. Hoke has proven an ability to coach – at Michigan and San Diego State – and has fared well on the recruiting trail. Michigan lost five games last year – three were against the Nos. 1-3 teams in the nation.
4. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Perhaps one of the most consistently overlooked coaches in the league, Dantonio has two 11-win campaigns in six seasons in East Lansing. He tied for a conference title in 2010 and led the Spartans to the Big Ten Championship Game in 2011. Three 6-6 regular seasons, including one last year, keep Dantonio from ranking higher on the list.
5. Bill O’Brien, Penn State
Most coaches with just one year of experience wouldn’t rank this high on a list like this. No coach, however, has ever had to deal with as much as O’Brien faced during his first season at Penn State. Under the circumstances, navigating a 6-2 record in the Big Ten last season was downright amazing. NFL teams agreed, with two contacting him about vacant positions. Now the question is how long will O’Brien stay in Happy Valley?
6. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Leading Northwestern to five consecutive bowl games and its first bowl win in 64 years is undoubtedly an impressive feat. Fitzgerald’s lack of a huge season – his best conference record is 5-3, accomplished three times – keeps him from climbing higher on this list. The Wildcats’ 10 wins last year marked the first time they reached that height since 1995. They had never previously qualified for five consecutive bowl games.
7. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
A decade ago, while in the midst of winning two conference titles in three years, Ferentz would have ranked atop these lists. His previous accomplishments don’t get tossed out the window. They are, however, significantly watered down after he watched his team deteriorate from its 11-win season capped by an Orange Bowl win in 2009. Since then, the Hawkeyes have gone 8-5, 7-6 and, last year, 4-8. The recent slide has some wondering if Ferentz is capable of leading the required turnaroud.
8. Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Remember back in 2009 when Utah State went to hire its head coach? (Utah State? Of course!) It ultimately chose between Andersen and current Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads. To that end, USU AD Scott Barnes hasn’t gotten a better job how, exactly? Before Andersen, Utah State was a college football wasteland. After consecutive 4-8 seasons, he led the Aggies to a winning record in 2011 before elevating them to 11-2 with a bowl win last year. Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez has proven himself as a talent evaluator as well, evidenced by his previous hire – Bret Bielema – leading the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowls.
9. Jerry Kill, Minnesota
Kill has climbed the ranks in the college football world, going from Division II to the FCS division then from the MAC to the Big Ten. He has been successful at every stop and has left every program better than he found it. While Kill managed to guide the Gophers into a bowl game in 2012, there is still plenty of work to be done – especially considering the series of nobodies they played in the non-conference schedule.
10. Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Until 2012, Kent State had won six games in a single season just twice since 1988. Hazell shattered the glass ceiling at his former stop, leading the Golden Flash to an 11-3 record and putting it on the verge of a BCS berth before losing to Northern Illinois. While Hazell won’t have to perform miracles at Purdue, the path won’t be easy in attempting to lead the Boilermakers to their second Rose Bowl since 1966.
11. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
The Hoosiers showed rapid improvement last year after going 1-11 and putting Wilson firmly on the hot seat during his first year of 2011. Indiana especially improved its passing game – a calling card of Wilson during his time as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. The next step for Wilson will be putting a defense in place that gives the Hoosiers a chance to return to a bowl game.
12. Tim Beckman, Illinois
Entering his second season on the job, Beckman finds the hottest seat in the Big Ten. That’s what happens when you inherit a team that went to bowl games in back-to-back seasons and crash to a 2-10 season. He likely needs to quickly correct course or find himself out of work.
Topics: Big Ten, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Purdue Boilermakers, Wisconsin Badgers