Media Days are finally over, and this is the last of our coach rankings among the Power Five conferences. Luckily, this one was a little bit easier to do. In the Big Ten, there are veteran coaches, coaches who are building a program, those who still have a lot to prove, and coaches who have reached success that towers over the rest of the conference. National championships, consistency, winning at smaller levels, and staleness and failure are all aspects of different coaches in this conference. The middle of the conference was the hardest to do, but for now, it’s clear who belongs at the bottom and who belongs at the top.
14. Darrell Hazell-Purdue
When your only year in the Big Ten so far has resulted in a 1-11 season, it’s hard to put anybody below you. Darrell Hazell appears to be a pretty good coach based on the program he built at Kent State in two short years, and he still could be building something strong at Purdue in the long run, but going 1-11 was worse than anybody could’ve expected in his inaugural season. The future doesn’t look great right now either with the 2014 recruiting class next to last in the conference and next year’s class looking to be the same so far. It’s not like Hazell had great recruiting at Kent State, though, and Purdue doesn’t come across as a school that would dominate the league in recruiting. But Hazell better be on to something nobody else is with these guys. One good sign is that he has proven to be a good coach, and he blatantly sacrificed last season to give experience to younger players, which could pay off in the long run. But for now, he has to be last on the list.
13. Tim Beckman-Illinois
Illinois fans might be asking for Ron Zook back. Tim Beckman is 6-18 in two years with the Fighting Illini after inheriting a program that had gone to two straight bowl games and made the Rose Bowl in 2007. Zook may not have been a great coach, but he could recruit well enough to consistently keep the Fighting Illini competitive. Beckman has not done that at all so far. Since taking over in 2012, his best recruiting class ranked 9th in the conference on Rivals. This year, the class was last in the conference. On the field, you would hope a defensive minded coach is able to keep his opponents from scoring more than 30 points a game, but his teams have failed to do that so far. This isn’t completely fair, though. Beckman had to change the culture immediately upon arriving and instilled discipline in the program, which was lacking and made for a rocky start. He still has time to win over fans, and he had a much better 2013 season than 2012, but if he’s going to stick around, there had better be more improvement this year.
12. Kevin Wilson-Indiana
The Indiana Hoosiers have gotten significantly better each year under Kevin Wilson, but he’s still yet to have a winning season after three years there. A 5-7 season last year was simply an improvement to the point the program was at when Bill Lynch left in 2010. This is the year that Wilson will have to show success if there’s any reason to believe that he’s a long-term coach. For now, three straight losing seasons is enough to put him toward the bottom of the list. Recruiting is doing alright, though, with the Hoosiers’ 2014 class ranking 7th in the conference on Rivals. But Wilson has to win on the field, and that has barely happened so far. This year, he’ll either move up this list or lose his job because he needs to reach a bowl game to stay around. Either way, if Wilson is not higher on this list, then he won’t be on it as we go into next season.
11. Randy Edsall-Maryland
Nobody could have asked for a rockier start than Randy Edsall had at Maryland. At the time, the fan base was split between older fans who loved Ralph Friedgen and wanted him to stay and younger fans who grew bored with the program and wanted a splash hire like Mike Leach. Edsall’s hire alienated both fan bases, and after inheriting a program that went 9-4 the year before, his first two teams went 2-10 and 4-8. Improvement has been shown each year though, as the program went 7-6 last year, but it’s still not where it was before he took over, so Edsall still belongs near the bottom of the list. He has been cursed with key injuries each of the past two years, though, and his first year, like Beckman, he had to completely change the culture by instilling discipline and deal with a mass exodus of talent because of that. Now, he’s recruited enough skill players to be competitive during the Terps inaugural year in the Big Ten, and if they can reach 6 wins and show signs of even more improvement, he’ll move up this list.
10. Kyle Flood-Rutgers
After taking over a pretty decent program that Greg Schiano took 10 years to build out of the cellar, Kyle Flood has continued what Schiano left, with a 9-4 season then a 6-7 season. However, that does show regression, and it may not be something Rutgers wants as it enters its first year in the Big Ten. Flood is still not proven enough at all to move up this list, but he’s not done poorly enough to be below the other guys on this list. The jury is still out on him, and he’ll be tested these next two years. He could move down the list if Rutgers struggles in the Big Ten, but he likely won’t be fired because there are some generous expectations. However, it’s not lost in New Jersey that Flood inherited a program that was slowly but surely on the rise, and Scarlet Knight fans have a right to expect a jump to the next level with Flood at the helm. For him to move up the list, a bowl game in the next two years should happen. If not, Flood will fall to the hot seat.
9. Brady Hoke- Michigan
For the Wolverines, firing Rich Rodriguez might be looking like more of a mistake with each passing year. The only saving grace in that is he might have gotten Michigan in trouble. But in the process of installing a completely new scheme, Rodriguez had to start from scratch and improved each year. The improvement and success in recruiting culminated with a very strong inaugural season for Brady Hoke in 2011, as his team went 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl. But they’ve regressed each year since then. After an 8-5 season in 2012 and a 7-6 season in 2013, Hoke is on the hot seat in Ann Arbor this year. Recruiting hints that things should be better after Top 10 classes in 2012 and 2013, preceded by Top 20 classes under Rodriguez. But with a mediocre product on the field, securing prospects has become harder, and Hoke’s 2014 class didn’t crack the Top 30 on Rivals. He still has plenty of resources and talent to return the program to its winning ways, and perhaps this is the first year that he’ll be comfortable with the program because it’s mostly his style of recruits and players on the roster now, but if he’s to move up this list, the Wolverines need to show some sort of return to historic Michigan football.
8. Kirk Ferentz-Iowa
It seems so wrong to put the dean of Big Ten coaches this far down on the list, but it has to be noted that Kirk Ferentz took over a program that wasn’t in terrible shape, and after a few good years in the 2000s, he’s yet to have a Top 25 finish this decade. The program is becoming stale. He’s had a very nice run, and if this were 2010, Ferentz would be much higher on this list. But a 4-8 season in 2012 showed a program on the decline, even if there was a revival with an 8-5 season this past year. Ferentz just seems to be at that point where Phillip Fulmer was in his later years with Tennessee, when the Vols would take two steps back for every step forward. Recruiting has been in the bottom half of the conference each of the past three years, and it appears it’ll be near the bottom for next year. There’s just nothing to suggest that this program is on the rise with Ferentz at the helm. However, he is a veteran coach and has experience winning, so there’s still the chance the program could return to power. But for right now, I’d take the coaches in front of him on this list over him.
7. Jerry Kill-Minnesota
After beginning a long rebuilding process with the Minnesota Golden Gophers when he took over in 2011, Jerry Kill might have the program at the level he wants it now. Despite health issues getting in his way, he’s improved the program each year there, going from a 3-9 inaugural season to an 8-5 season last year. This year expectations have risen for Minnesota, and respect has grown for Kill. He has the Golden Gophers in prime position to be a Top 25 team and compete for a Big Ten divisional title, despite the fact that recruiting has never gone well. That alone is a reason he’s not higher on the list, but if he keeps improving the Minnesota football program and turns it into a consistent winning team, that will have to change. Kill is currently overseeing a program on the rise with evidence of winning, and that’s enough to put him in the top half of the list. This is especially true when you take into account the dismal state Minnesota was in before he took over.
6. Bo Pelini-Nebraska
After six seasons at Nebrasksa have all resulted in 4 losses, it would seem Bo Pelini’s program has become stagnant as well. But it’s also true that he has three 10-win seasons there and is yet win fewer than 9 games. When you take that into account with the fact that he inherited a once proud program that had fallen off the face of the earth under Bill Callahan, and you consider the move into the Big Ten after years of playing in the weak Big 12 North, then it becomes more clear what Pelini is putting together. True, the program seems to show a refusal to take that next step, which is why he isn’t higher on this list, but he’s still managed to have a program that consistently wins and wins a lot. That’s a very good position to be in, and he’ll shoot up the list if he manages an 11 or 12-win season. What he’s building hints to the idea that the Cornhuskers are on their way back to competing for championships, at the conference and national levels. And he’s doing it the Nebraska way, with Top 5 recruiting classes in the conference combined with giving scholarships to walk-ons who perform.
5. Gary Anderson-Wisconsin
Gary Anderson had a tough job living up to the expectations Bret Bielema and Barry Alvarez set at Wisconsin, but with a 9-4 season his first year and the Badgers once again the favorite to win their division and compete for the Big Ten championship, the program might not have missed a beat. It’s hard to sell Anderson being in the Top 5 on this list with only one full season to go on, but after turning Utah State from a consistent loser to a Top 25 program with an 11-2 record in 2012, he’s shown what he can do. Sometimes, winning at other places impressive enough for you to rank high on any list of head coaches, as you’ll see above. Winning at Utah State the way he did, continuing success at Wisconsin, and now having the Badgers back on the rise as a potential powerhouse is enough to keep him on this list. A bright future could also be in store, with the 2015 recruiting class currently ranked No. 3 in the conference on Rivals, and that’s a major plus because Anderson, like his Wisconsin predecessors, has already shown an ability to win without dominant recruiting classes. But adding superstar recruits can only help.
4. Pat Fitzgerald-Northwestern
Pat Fitzgerald has done a very good job continuing Randy Walker’s success with the Northwestern Wildcats. Similar to Vanderbilt in the SEC, this is a very hard place to win at. What’s even harder is to have a program like this just stay decent, and Fitzgerald has exceeded expectations with a Top 25 finish two years ago and five straight bowl seasons before last year. He may not have as great of an overall record as some of the other coaches in the top half of this list, but those other coaches aren’t winning at Northwestern. True, the Wildcats missed a bowl last year, but given the history of the program since the late 1990s, if they’re only missing a bowl game once every five years and during some of those other years competing for a Big Ten Championship and finishing a season in the Top 25, then there’s not much more you could ask for. His 10-3 season in 2012 is tied with the 1995 Wildcats for the best season for a Northwestern team since 1903, back when academic schools dominated football. The most admirable thing about the young coach is that despite offers from bigger, better schools, he is staying at Northwestern to continue to build a winner.
3. Mark Dantonio-Michigan State
After eight years at the helm, Mark Dantonio now has a football program competing with the big boys on a national scale in
football, and he knows it. He’s already ruffled feathers by saying his team would’ve won the national championship in a playoff last year, which is exciting to hear from coaches, and with slowly improving his recruiting classes, he’s put together a program that is now in position to reload, not rebuild, when talent leaves. On top of that, when the talent becomes experienced, like this year, he has a national championship contender. This all comes at a school that had three straight losing seasons before he took over, and Dantonio has built it back up the right way. Right now, the Spartans are the big boys in Michigan. The only bad season the past four years was a 7-6 season in 2012, a year when MSU had to replace all-world quarterback Kirk Cousins. Now, they are slowly stocking the cupboard to the point that replacing quarterbacks like Cousins won’t be as much of a problem in the future, and Dantonio is continuing to turn out great leaders behind center. Yes, Michigan State belongs. They belong with the big boys of college football, and they belong with the big boys of the Big Ten, and Dantonio has almost everything to do with that. The best part is there’s now stability in the program, so it doesn’t look like it will go anywhere anytime soon.
2. James Franklin-Penn State
That’s right, my second ranked coach in the Big Ten is a guy who hasn’t coached a Big Ten game yet. I don’t care. He won at Vanderbilt.
A little more than a week ago, I had David Cutcliffe ranked as the top coach in the ACC simply because he won at Duke, noting that the impossibility of winning at programs has to be factored in. Well, as hard as it is to win at Duke, it’s 1,000 times harder to win at Vanderbilt. As a private academic school that can’t recruit and has to play SEC competition every week, I’ve always said that Vanderbilt is by far the hardest place to win in college football. But not only did Franklin win there. He won consistently, three years in a row. I always thought 6 wins was impossible at Vanderbilt. Franklin went 9-4 twice and had two Top 25 finishes. There is nothing more impressive in college coaching in any sport than what Franklin did those three years there, and to me that might be good enough to call him the best coach in college football. It’s that impressive and Vanderbilt is that hard to win at. The only reason he isn’t No. 1 on this list is because it didn’t seem right to do that when he hasn’t coached a season in the conference yet. However, he’s well on his way to proving himself at Penn State as well, after owning Big Ten Media Days and so far having the best recruiting class in the conference and No. 6 ranked class nationally for 2015 on Rivals. In addition to winning, he’s recruiting at a program still on probation. Nothing in college football appears to be impossible with Franklin.
1. Urban Meyer- Ohio State
It’s hard to overstate how impressive Urban Meyer’s first two years at Ohio State actually were. Okay, so he didn’t win the Big Ten
championship last year. But the roster is still dealing with the effects of the probation, and it’s hard to bet against a guy who won his first 25 games as a coach at a school. Meyer’s proven track record at Florida with two national championships makes him the most successful coach in this list, by far, and his success of his first two years at Ohio State make him the obvious choice for the best coach on the list. He’s winning, recruiting very well, and he’s built up a team in Columbus that’s a heck of a lot more exciting to watch that Jim Tressel’s teams were. The scary part is that a program that was undefeated his first year on the job and went 12-2 his second year is actually a program on the rise. He’s got plenty of talent in the cupboard now along with lots of returning starters. Meyer has scored three straight Top 5 recruiting classes, by far the best in the Big Ten, so he’s loaded enough to dominate the conference the way Nick Saban is loaded to dominate the SEC. There’s not much else to say about Meyer, but as the spread offense continues to, well, spread throughout college football, he remains the king of it. Using it to perfection, Meyer has taken the BIg Ten by firestorm his first two years and is grabbing the conference by its throat to carry it into the 21st century. It’s showing with his consistent winning at Ohio State, which will not stop.
Tags: Big Ten Bo Pelini Brady Hoke College Football Darrell Hazell FBS Feature Gary Anderson Illinois Fighting Illini Indiana Hoosiers Iowa Hawkeyes James Franklin Jerry Kill Kevin Wilson Kirk Ferentz Kyle Flood Mark Dantonio Maryland Terrapins Michigan State Spartans Michigan Wolverines Minnesota Golden Gophers Nebraska Cornhuskers Northwestern Wildcats Ohio State Buckeyes Pat Fitzgerald Penn State Nittany Lions Purdue Boilermakers Randy Edsall Rutgers Scarlet Knights Tim Beckman Urban Meyer Wisconsin Badgers