College Football 2011: Ranking the Big Ten's Men in Charge
With yet another coaching carousel hitting the bottom tier of the Big Ten, an updated ranking list of today's best Big Ten football coaches must be discussed.
A good hire can turn around a program. It can turn a dull, uninterested home crowd into a rowdy frenzy on game day. A good coach gets players to buy into his system and philosophy without trying to inherit one team and change it to another.
A bad hire can set a program back for years. This fact is all too relevant in the Big Ten today, as we will see three new head coaches on the sidelines this upcoming fall (not including Bo Pelini of Nebraska). He may be new to the Big Ten, but not to Big Red nation.
This list is based on the notion of, "What have you done for me lately?" and track record. Many positions will be arguable, so let the debating begin.
Here are the power rankings listing the Big Ten's top head coaches.
12. Kevin Wilson (Indiana)
Ranking Wilson at the bottom of the Big Ten was all but difficult, considering he has zero head coaching experience—at all. Wilson has a great pedigree and will try to revive a student body that needs something to cheer for, considering basketball has looked just as bad in Bloomington.
Wilson was most recently the offensive coordinator for the Oklahoma Sooners under Bob Stoops and has been coordinating offenses in Division 1A since 1992 (Northwestern, Miami University). In 2008, Wilson was awarded the Broyles Award, which is given to college football's top assistant.
He started his coaching career in 1984, and for his first three years was a graduate assistant at the University of North Carolina, where he played his collegiate ball. If you were a fan of Randy Walker when he coached Northwestern or Miami University, you would be a fan of Wilson's style. Wilson spent a total of 19 years under his mentor Walker (four as a player at UNC), who tragically passed in 2006.
Wilson has been groomed to be a college football head coach, but is Indiana's Big Ten schedule going to prove too tough for the first-time coach?
11. Danny Hope (Purdue)
Danny Hope is heading into his third season as head coach at Purdue University, and if he doesn't start winning now, there will be no hope for Danny to return to West Lafayette.
As an offensive line guru, Hope was offered Purdue's head coaching position once legend Joe Tiller retired. Hope has coached offensive lines at Louisville, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Purdue. During his first stint at Purdue, Hope was in charge of protecting future NFL star Drew Brees from imposing Big Ten defenses.
Also during this time, Hope developed freshman tight end Matt Light into an All-Big Ten left tackle and future NFL All-Pro.
Hope's only previous head coaching experience was at his alma mater Eastern Kentucky. From 2003 to 2007, he acquired a 35-22 overall record at EKU, including an Ohio Valley Conference Title and Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year.
Hope then returned to Purdue to be Joe Tiller's assistant in 2008, and was ushered in as head coach in 2009. Since then, Hope has led Purdue to a 9-15 overall record, 6-10 in the Big Ten. This includes no bowl appearances and some real lackluster recruiting classes.
I'm not holding out a lot of hope for Mr. Hope.
10. Brady Hoke (Michigan)
Following the complete failure of the Rich Rodriguez experiment in Ann Arbor, the Michigan faithful will rally around just about any new coach that can get this program back into elite consideration. If not for Denard Robinson, Rodriguez's tenure at Michigan was basically the worst-case scenario for the program following Lloyd Carr's exit.
I have seen so many lists about coaches around the country that have indicated Hoke is the savior for the Michigan program. There is one problem with this thought, Brady Hoke has a losing record as a collegiate head coach.
Hoke's first head coaching job was at his alma mater, Ball State, where he compiled a 34-38 overall record in six seasons. This record is inflated by his 2008 campaign, taking Nate Davis and Ball State to a 12-1 record and a berth in the MAC Championship game.
Hoke then moved on to San Diego State for two seasons, going 13-12 the past two years. Last year, Hoke's 9-4 Aztecs played in their first bowl game since 1998 and had the most wins for any San Diego State squad since 1971, which is pretty impressive.
Hoke will try to bring Michigan football back to Ann Arbor from a nice three-year vacation. He will have to prove himself in the Big Ten though to move up on my list.
9. Jerry Kill (Minnesota)
There aren't many coaches I admire more than I do when it comes to Minnesota's new hire, Jerry Kill. Kill has taken the long route through smaller schools, continuously improving his philosophy and coaching record. His continued success at where he has been—in college football and life itself—is why Kill is in the position he is right now, head coach for the Golden Gophers.
Kill has had successful head coaching stints at Saginaw Valley State, Emporia State, Southern Illinois and most recently, Northern Illinois.
He first started to get noticed when he hit the scene at Southern Illinois, a mid-major basketball school who also happens to toss the pigskin. After losing records his first two seasons in Carbondale, Kill rolled off five straight winning seasons, making it all the way to the NCAA Football Subdivision semifinals in 2007. His top-ranked Salukis bowed out to eventual NFL quarterback Joe Flacco and the Delaware Blue Hens.
Heading to the north side of the state, Kill took the head coaching job at Northern Illinois University. In his three seasons, he took a former two-win team to three straight bowl appearances.
Kill has compiled a 127-73 overall record as a football head coach, which is impressive in itself. However, the man behind the coach is even more astounding. Kill is a kidney cancer survivor and has started the Coach Kill Cancer Fund for low-income patients in southern Illinois.
Cool Fact: Kill is best friends with TCU head coach Gary Patterson and was the best man in his wedding.
8. Ron Zook (Illinois)
If Ron Zook's recruiting abilities translated to wins on the field, he would be much higher on my list. Unfortunately for Illinois, that is not the case. I still don't know how Zook managed to grab Arrelious Benn out of the Washington D.C. area.
Zook's subtle success at Florida and Rose Bowl appearance at Illinois are the only things he has going for him on the field. Zook was 23-14 with the Gators, but a disappointing 28-45 with the Fighting Illini, including a poor 16-32 mark in the Big Ten.
Just like Danny Hope's situation at Purdue, it's win or go home for Ron Zook in Champaign.
7. Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern)
In due time, Pat Fitzgerald will find himself higher on this list, given the fact that he has done a great job and is only 36 years old.
Fitzgerald was ushered abruptly into the head coaching position at Northwestern after the tragic passing of then-head coach Randy Walker in 2006. During the five years prior, Fitzgerald coached linebackers at Northwestern, something perfectly suited for the former Wildcats linebacker.
During his playing days, Fitzgerald was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year twice, won both the Chuck Bednarik and Bronco Nagurski awards (also twice) and captained the Wildcats' defense to the 1996 Rose Bowl. All this was very new to Northwestern fans, which is why the Wildcat fanbase is extremely connected to him.
Fitzgerald is a great talent evaluator, getting everything out of the guys he gets to commit to the academically-elite university. It's great to see Fitzgerald with a 34-29 overall record at Northwestern, with an 18-22 record in conference.
6. Bo Pelini (Nebraska)
Dear Mr. Pelini, welcome to the Big Ten, you have officially been snubbed to No. 6 because you are the new guy. Within every "new guy" situation, the elder statesmen must get to know the new guy before making any evaluations of him.
Pelini can certainly—and probably will—climb higher on this list in due time. A defensive coach by trade, Bo has been coaching the Cornhuskers since 2008. He has compiled an impressive 31-12 overall record at Nebraska since taking over, including three bowl wins.
Before becoming a head coach, Pelini was the Defensive Coordinator at LSU, Oklahoma and Nebraska. He has also held positions in the NFL during his coaching tenure.
Once again, welcome to the Big Ten Bo, it's going to be quite different than the Big 12 North.
5. Mark Dantonio (Michigan State)
I feel like it's a crime putting such a great coach behind four other coaches in the Big Ten, but that's the beauty of the Big Ten, the coaching is excellent.
Mark is my personal favorite Big Ten head coach, who made this past Michigan State football season one I will never forget.
From calling a fake field goal, down by three, in overtime to win the game against rival Notre Dame is one thing.
To do this all on national television and sequentially coin the play as "Little Giants" before suffering a heart attack is something completely different.
Dantonio has been the face of Michigan State football, a program searching for an identity ever since Charles Rogers and T.J. Duckett. Dantonio is a no-nonsense, bleed-green kind of man. His quotes are outstanding, his stare is intimidating and you never hear even a hint of an excuse out of his mouth.
Before taking over the Spartans in 2007, Mark spent two seasons heading the program at Cincinnati, compiling an 18-17 record while getting "his players" in. Mark then left UC for the Michigan State job, where he was a secondary coach under Nick Saban from 1995-2000. He is a very solid 33-19 so far at MSU, with a great 20-12 conference record. This past season, we won the Big Ten Coach of the Year Award and led the Spartans to a share of the Big Ten Championship.
As long as Dantonio is the man in charge in East Lansing, Spartan football fans can rest easy.
4. Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)
Speaking of being the face of your program, Kirk Ferentz is another excellent coach who has his markings all over Iowa. Iowa football is everything for their residents and students, considering Iowa State's lack of success and the fact that the state of Iowa does not have a single professional sports franchise.
On the gridiron, Ferentz has had vast success at Iowa, much more than these fans had been used to seeing. And the simple fact that the big boys in the NFL have been trying to lure the loyal coach away from Iowa City is a resume builder.
But just as any loyal coach and mentor would do, he has stayed with the program.
Ferentz's first season in Iowa City was one to forget, going 1-10 overall with an 0-8 record in the Big Ten. Since the rocky start, Ferentz has transformed a squad of zeroes into a team of heartland heroes. Kirk is 89-60 overall at Iowa, with a 53-43 run in the Big Ten.
Ferentz has been the recipient of three Big Ten Coach of the Year Awards and one Walter Camp Coach of the Year Award (2002). Kirk has also won two Big Ten Championships with the Hawkeyes.
3. Jim Tressel (Ohio State)
What?! Jim Tressel at third you say?! That's a travesty!
Well actually, it's quite the opposite. Yes Jim Tressel is a great, great coach, but recent allegations of his cover-up regarding players selling memorabilia for tattoos has him sliding in my rankings.
In 10 seasons at the helm of The Ohio State University, Tressel has had a winning season every single year. He has won at least 10 games in eight of those seasons, an astounding feat. Jim is an overall 106-22 at OSU, with an impressive 66-14 record in conference.
Ohio State needed a savior to get the Buckeyes back on top, and they chose a nerdy-looking Youngstown State coach who has an obsession with sweater vests. After that, history has been written.
Just some of Tressel's resume includes 12 combined Coach of the Year awards, seven Big Ten Championships, four Division I-AA National Championships and one memorable Division I-A National Championship in 2002.
If Tressel can get past what happened earlier in the offseason with dignity and poise, he will end up as one of the all-time greats to ever coach in college football.
2. Bret Bielema (Wisconsin)
A little surprise comes in at No. 2 on the power rankings list with Wisconsin's head man Bret Bielema.
His resume and pedigree aren't nearly what Jim Tressel's are, but his record and what he has accomplished in Madison cannot be overlooked.
Tressel has an assortment of recruits to chose from, getting the absolute best players from one of the best states to recruit in Ohio and having a big national appeal. Bielema doesn't have quite the recruiting power nor the options Tressel has available to him, yet still gets the job done.
Bielema has never been a head coach anywhere but the University of Wisconsin, compiling an amazing 49-16 record and a 27-13 record in Big Ten play. Not bad for his first gig. Only one Big Ten coach had a better start to his career than Bielema, and I know it's not anyone you are thinking.
Try this one on for size, Fielding H. Yost. Yost went 55-0-1 at Michigan from 1901-1905.
At age 41, Bielema has a long coaching tenure ahead of him and will look to add to his personal trophy case, which contains a Big Ten Championship from last year and a Big Ten Coach of the Year award in 2006.
1. Joseph Vincent Paterno (Penn State)
Better known as "JoePa", the legendary Penn State head coach is not only the class of the Big Ten, he is the class of all of college football; all while still doing the job at age 84.
This shouldn't be arguable, even though Penn State hasn't had the exact same success recently as they are used to. What makes him No. 1 is not only his vast list of awards, players in the NFL, wins, his astounding age while doing all this, etc.
To put it simply, there is no tool that can measure Paterno's impact on college football.
- Most FBS wins (401)
- Most bowl wins (24)
- Two National Championships
- Three Big Ten titles
- 18 combined Coach of the Year awards
- Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year (1986)
- Derek Cooley's Number One Big Ten Coach (2011)