The Top Ten: The Best Big Ten Coaches of All Time (Part Two)

Kristofer GreenSenior Writer IJuly 30, 2008


Part two of three in a series that lists the best Big Ten coaches of all time.

To see part one of this series click here

The Big Ten has had many fine coaches patrolling the sidelines on Saturdays.  In this report, I list the best coaches the Big Ten has ever seen (plus one).   How did I come to these conclusions, you ask? The usual factors: how many National Titles, Big Ten Titles, wins, and award winners went into the decision making process.  But I also gave serious thought to the coaches legacy at the university where he coached.  

So without further adieu, let's continue our look at the Best Coaches in Big Ten History. 


7.  Henry L. Williams -- Minnesota, 1900-1921
Record at Minnesota:  136-33-11 (.804)
Under Henry Williams, the Minnesota Golden Gophers won eight Big Ten titles. He coached 13 players who became All-Americans and 31 players named to the All-Big Ten First Team list.  He is still Minnesota’s all time winningest coach.
In 1903, the Gophers went 14-0-1. The tie came against Fielding Yost's Michigan Wolverines. Michigan left behind their water jug, which has become known as the Little Brown Jug, one of the oldest and most famous college football trophies. Williams Arena, the Gopher basketball building, is named after Dr. Williams.
Williams was the first to propose the legalization of the forward pass along with Pudge Heffelfinger (at the time an assistant on his staff). He also invented the four-man defensive backfield, and the Minnesota Shift, known and used nationwide by that name.
Williams coached great Minnesota products like Gil Dobie (legendary coach of Washington, Navy, Cornell, and Boston College), Clark Shaughnessy and Bernie Bierman, who both helped turn the Tulane Green Wave football team into an elite national elite power, and Shaughnessy helped transform the way football is played even to this day.
The 1941 National Title Trophy was named after him which was formerly known as the Knute Rockne Memorial Award.  When the Knute Rockne Memorial Award was retired, a new trophy was established called the Henry L. Williams Trophy.
Henry L. Williams was a member of the inaugural class of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

6.  Hayden Fry -- Iowa, 1979-1998
Record at Iowa:  143-89-6 (.616)
Hayden Fry was hired as Iowa's 25th head football coach after the 1978 season. Fry had never been to Iowa, but he knew and liked Bump Elliott, Iowa's athletic director. Iowa had posted 17 straight non-winning seasons, but Fry was impressed by the fan support for a program that had struggled for so long. 
Fry turned his attention to changing a losing attitude and starting new traditions at Iowa. Hayden would not celebrate close losses or moral victories.
Fry famously had the visitors’ locker room painted pink. Fry, a psychology major at Baylor, knew that pink is occasionally used in jails and mental institutions to relax and pacify the residents, and Fry claimed that it might have the same effect on the visiting team.
Principally, though, Fry hoped that the unusual color would distract and fluster the opposing players and coaches.  The visitors locker room remains pink to this day.
Under Fry, the Hawkeyes won three Big Ten titles, had three Rose Bowl appearances, and played in 14 bowl games.  But more than that, Coach Fry established a winning tradition at Iowa, on and off the field. Iowa was no longer considered a coaching graveyard but rather, a place where a great coach could excel.
Fry’s all-time record of 232-178-10 places him tenth in all-time NCAA Division 1-A coaching victories. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003 and he received the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award, presented by the American Football Coaches Association, in 2005. 
Famous assistants to serve under Hayden Fry include Bill Snyder, Barry Alvarez, Jim Leavitt, Bob Stoops, Bo Pelini, Bret Bielema, and current Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
5.  Bo Schembechler -- Michigan, 1969-1989
Record at Michigan:  194-48-5 (.801)
Schembechler became Michigan's 13th head coach after the 1968 season.  He won a school-record 194 games and his teams never posted a losing season.  His Michigan teams won or shared 13 Big Ten titles and made 10 Rose Bowl appearances. His 96-16-3 record during the 1970s was the best of any Division I coach.
Schembechler led the Wolverines to a total of 17 bowl games, going 5-12 in 21 years, placing him ninth in all-time bowl appearances. He was voted national coach of the year in 1969 by both the American Football Coaches Association and the Football Writers Association of America.
Schembechler's greatest victory came in his first season, when he led the Wolverines to an upset victory over a standout Ohio State team coached by his old mentor, Woody Hayes.  In 1969, the Buckeyes came into the game as defending national champions and 17-point favorites with the top ranking in the country and a 22-game winning streak.  Hayes' 1969 squad included five first-team all-Americans.
But Schembechler's 7-2 Wolverines dominated a team Hayes later considered his best, beating Ohio State 24-12.  In a single afternoon, Schembechler and his charges had resurrected Michigan's grand but moribund football tradition and returned the program to college football's elite, a perch it has maintained ever since.
After that glorious inaugural, the Wolverines and Buckeyes proceeded to engage in a fierce "Ten Year War" that elevated an already storied Michigan-Ohio State rivalry into one of college football's greatest annual grudge matches.  For 10 years the two dominated the Big Ten, splitting 10 conference titles between them and finishing second eight times.
They were so dominant that the Big Ten earned the nickname “Big Two, Little Eight” during that era.  After a decade of memorable on-field stratagems, sideline antics, and locker room psychological ploys, the two coaches came out almost dead-even, Schembechler holding a slim 5-4-1 advantage.
Bo Schembechler was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993.

4.  Jim Tressel -- Ohio State, 2001-present
Record at Ohio State: 73-16 (.820)
Since becoming Ohio State's 22nd head football coach, Jim Tressel's team has won a National Championship, achieving the first 14-0 season record in major college football. He has an overall record of 73-16, including 4 Big Ten titles, a 4-3 bowl record and a 6-1 record against arch-rival Michigan.
Tressel's six wins against Michigan place him second in school history to Woody Hayes' 16, and alone in Ohio State football history in winning six of his first seven meetings with the Wolverines.
In fact, on the day he was announced as Ohio State's next head coach, he famously announced to a Buckeye basketball crowd, "I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field" He kept his promise, when 310 days later his Buckeyes did defeat the favored Wolverines in the Big House.
Tressel has coached the Buckeyes to two 19-game winning streaks, one in the 2002-2003 seasons and the second in 2005-2006. Tressel's winning percentage at Ohio State of 83.5% is the second best in school history, behind only Carroll Widdoes' 16-2 (88.9%) mark in the 1944-1945 seasons. Tressel is one of only two active coaches with 5 or more national titles in any division (he won 4 national titles at Youngstown State.)
Tressel is known for a conservative style of play calling, winning games with just enough scoring, strong defense, and "playing field position" that has become known as "Tressel-ball". He has often referred to the punt as the most important play in football.
Although Tressel is only entering his eighth season as head coach at OSU, he has had some notable assistants including Mark Dantonio and Jim Heacock.  Tressel was named the National Coach of the Year in 2002.
To see part three of this series, click here.