Spring football is underway and fans are thinking about their hopes for the upcoming season. Rankings will be coming out, discussing where each team stands, what bowl games are likely and how good their coaches are in respect to others.
Rather than looking at the coaches based upon the program, this slideshow examines the Big Ten coaches based upon their job security, counting down from most to least secure. For once, this is a list where you want to be at the bottom.
The rankings were developed using an assortment of factors. These include, but are not limited to, their newness in the position, fanbase expectations, history with the program, level of recent success and off-the-field issues (just ask Bruce Pearl how important those are).
As the year progresses, coaches will move up and down the list, with some being on the dreaded hot seat. But right now, this is where they stand as of spring ball, and hope is in play.
Let the rankings and the discussion begin.
Joe Paterno...what does one say? He has won over 400 games in his tenure at Penn State. He has reached an iconic status where he is almost fireproof.
Even when Penn State struggled from 2000 to 2004, with an overall 26-33 record in those seasons, he was able to continue on. Since the Nittany Lions have joined the Big Ten, Paterno has had some success (.693 winning percentage), but not to the levels that he enjoyed in years prior (.784 winning percentage).
Many have said the game has passed him by and that he is a figurehead at this point, but he is entrenched. While there have been calls for him to step aside, the decision will be his. So unless Joe Pa pulls a Woody Hayes and punches a player or gets himself embroiled in a huge scandal, he will leave following his resignation, and not before.
Winning a share of the Big Ten title will do a lot to remove any heat a coach may feel. Looking at the fact that he has gone 49-16 (27-13 Big Ten), one may not think that there were multiple Facebook groups and a Fire Brett Bielema website created in 2008, when the Badgers struggled in a 7-6 finish.
Bielema has done a good job in stepping out of the shadow of Barry Alvarez and has put together one of the top ten coaching jobs in the Big Ten since Penn State has joined the league. As the Badgers prepare for the 2011 season, they should be adding to Bielema's résumé as Wisconsin is projected for a 10-2 finish.
With his success and what is expected, Bielema will have nothing resembling a hot seat associated with him going into 2012.
Kevin Wilson takes over the helm at Indiana this season. The Hoosiers have not had much success the past 14 seasons, as they have gone 54-108 (15-71 Big Ten). During that time they have had one winning season and bowl appearance and have finished in the bottom five in the conference 11 times.
Expectations are not very high for the Hoosiers this season, which means that Wilson will be safe from the pressures experienced by many of his Big Ten counterparts. Wilson will be working on converting to a 3-4 scheme on defense and evaluating the depth that is in place.
The Hoosiers should have some success in the non-conference schedule and are predicted to finish 5-7 overall this season, so the Hoosier faithful will be looking for growth in 2012.
Jerry Kill takes over a Minnesota program that struggled over the past four seasons, going 17-33. Additionally, when you consider they fired Tim Brewster in midseason, coach Kill is going to be given plenty of leeway in his efforts to turn the program around.
This year will be a year of transition for the Golden Gophers, as they are installing new systems on both sides of the ball. Additionally, Kill is going to work on the mindset and expectations needed for success. With all that lies ahead for the Gophers, another losing season is on tap.
Like Indiana's Wilson, Kill will be given time to turn things around. Projections for the season show little upward movement as Minnesota is looking at probably a 4-8 season, but with progress being made, Kill will be on comfortable footing in 2012.
Pat Fitzgerald has had a level of success that is a mixed bag for the historically struggling program. While Fitzgerald has been to three straight bowl games and has a winning record during his tenure, he has not been able to reach the heights of the Big Ten championship that Gary Barnett obtained twice in the mid-1990s.
Last season looked to be a turning point for the Wildcats until QB Dan Persa got hurt and they lost four of their last five contests. Additionally, holes in the defense were exposed last season as the Wildcats gave up 163 points the last three games.
Even though Fitzgerald bleeds Wildcat purple, the fans want to see more consistency and a long-overdue win in a bowl game. If he doesn't start to address these, the hot seat will start to feel a little warm by season's end.
While Hoke is one of three new coaches in the Big Ten this season, he has the distinction of being at Michigan. The Wolverine faithful are always expecting success, so there is pressure to succeed coming out of the gate.
This season will be one of transition as he works to put his thumbprint on the team. Offensively, Hoke benefits from Denard Robinson's decision to stay and returning 10 starters. Defensively, he needs to work on addressing the holes left via departures and less-than-stellar play.
With Michigan competing in the Legends division, it will be hard to make a run this season, but success early on and in key games can lead to an improvement over last season and give hope for next season, where the seat will be even hotter.
Many coaches have websites calling for their dismissal. The site for Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, www.firekirkferentz.org, is not to that point, as they are not even calling for the firing of Ferentz.
It says, "This website is not calling for the firing of the University of Iowa's football coach, Kirk Ferentz...at this point in time. But as a voice of many Hawkeye fans, he should now be officially put in the 'hot seat' after the very poor performance of his 2010 Iowa football team."
He has been the head man for the Hawkeyes since 1999 and has gone 89-60 (53-43 Big Ten) during that time. While he has two Big Ten titles (2002 and 2004), the Hawkeyes have only contended once (2009) in the six seasons. This lack of success has led to grumblings that many would have never expected when Ferentz was the "hot commodity" for coaching jobs after the 2004 season.
Iowa faces some challenges this season as they are going to be rebuilding. While Ferentz should lead Iowa to a fourth straight bowl game, the rumblings of discontent will grow if there is not growth beyond the 2010 season.
All this taken into account, he will be safe another year, but the websites and fanbase will start to heat up for 2012.
Like Bret Bielema, Mark Dantonio is reaping the benefit of winning a share of the Big Ten title. However, unlike Beliema, Dantonio still has a little heat on his seat. While he has made it to a bowl game in each of his four seasons, he was only 22-17 his first three years.
His critics point to his two showings in the conference's bottom five and his four bowl game losses as reasons to be concerned for his long-term benefit for the program. It will be a challenge for MSU to replicate the success of last year, as there is a need to rebuild the offensive line and the defense lost key pieces in the linebacking corps.
While his 2010 conference title will buy him good will, a return to 2009 or worse will lead to the critics being more and more vocal and his hot seat getting a lot warmer going into 2012.
Bo Pelini gets a chance to take his talents to the Big Ten as Nebraska joins the league this season. It is hoped by the Husker faithful that he can not only lead his team to the conference championship game, like he has the past three years in the Big 12, but also finally break through and win a conference title.
Pelini, like his counterparts at Michigan and Ohio State, faces the pressure of constant high expectations, where 10 wins are considered by many to be a failure. He has won nine, 10 and 10 games in his first three seasons but has heard many points of criticism from the fanbase.
As reported in the Washington Post, moments of anger and frustration have boiled at points for Pelini and have led to the school's chancellor to talk to him about concerns. Continued outbursts and a season that does not live up to expectations, where they are considered a favorite for the Legends division, might lead to Pelini feeling the heat of the hot seat.
Earlier this year, Jim Tressel was listed as the best coach in the Big Ten since Penn State joined the league. As the story of his involvement with the scandal involving six of his players has come to light as well as the ever-changing story of who knew what when, the pressure on Tressel has grown.
At this point, it is hard to see how hot the hot seat will be as we enter the season, since the NCAA has not issued its findings or sanctions. If bowl eligibility or other major sanctions are leveled against the Buckeyes, Tressel will find himself in the crosshairs of the fanbase and administration.
This year will be a challenge as he is suspended for the first five games, along with some of his key pieces. If the team struggles early or takes some time to gel, the losses will ignite the passion to get rid of him. Consider that John Cooper was very successful at OSU (76-22-1) but it was not enough for the Buckeye faithful, as he lost in bowl games and to Michigan.
Right now, Tressel's status is too murky to map. As the spring progresses, it will come into focus.
Luckily for Ron Zook he coaches the Illini, where AD Ron Guenther has accepted mediocrity in football.
A prime example of this is the fact that Zook is the third consecutive Illinois coach to have a winning percentage below .450 and can be viewed as one of the worst coaches in the last two decades of the Big Ten, as evidenced by Zook's six seasons where he has an eighth-, ninth-, 10th- and 11th-place finish in the Big Ten.
Getting to the postseason routinely should be the goal, according to Guenther in a February press conference. However, at the same press conference it was announced that Zook would get a $250,000-a-year raise, boosting his salary to $1.75 million. Two bowl appearances in six years gets rewarded?
The Illini fanbase deserve consistency, and with Zook they have not gotten it. That is why we see that prior to last season there were ample calls for Zook to be fired.
While the talks were muted with a 7-6 season, there needs to be improvement. Another year outside a bowl game might be enough for Zook to be let go, especially if Guenther does not return following the expiration of his contract this June.
Danny Hope was brought in a year early as part of Purdue's succession plan to replace Joe Tiller. Hope had been an assistant during Tiller's best seasons and demonstrated success as the head coach at Eastern Kentucky before being brought in for 2008 season.
The thinking was that Hope would build upon their efforts as Purdue grew to expect some level of success during Joe Tiller's era (10 bowl appearances in his 12 seasons). Additionally, they had eight seasons where they were in the top half of the Big Ten.
In the two seasons that Hope has been at the helm he is south of the Ron Zook line (.383 winning percentage) by going 9-15.
With another weak recruiting class and injury challenges, the outlook for success is poor, as the Boilermakers are looking at a 4-8 campaign. If that is the case, it will be the end of Hope in West Lafayette.