The Big Ten's Best 11: Ranking the Coaches

Kristofer GreenSenior Writer IAugust 15, 2009

The Big Ten is home to "The Vest" and "The Moustache."

JoePa and RichRod call the Big Ten home, as well.

Then there is "The Zooker," Fitz, and Brew.

But, what to call Michigan State's Mark Dantonio or Wisconsin's Bret Bielema? My vote is for "The Stare" and "The Windbreaker.".

The Big Ten has experienced a "youth movement" in the coaching department over the last few seasons. The retirements of Joe Tiller, Lloyd Carr, and Barry Alvarez gave way to Danny Hope, Rich Rodriguez, and Bret Bielema and the untimely deaths of former Big Ten favorites Randy Walker and Terry Hoeppner gave way to Pat Fitzgerald and Bill Lynch.

All in all, seven of the conference's coaches have been on the job for three years or less. But, don't fret Big Ten fans, in most cases these young coaches are doing wonders for their respective universities.

And the others...well they won't be around much longer anyway. Now if I could only figure out what to call Kirk Ferentz.

"The Gum Chewer"? Nah...

My ranking of the Big Ten coaches takes into account only the time each coach has spent at their respective schools.

For Penn State and JoePa that means only since 1993 when the Lions joined the Big Ten Conference and don't tell me how good RichRod was at West Virginia, the only thing that matters is his time at Michigan.

Ranking the Big Ten coaches:

1. Jim Tressel, Ohio State — Ninth Season at OSU (83-19, 82%)

Since becoming the Buckeyes' head man in 2001, Tressel has led Ohio State to a National Championship, five Big Ten Championships, and has had the Buckeyes ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls since the start of the 2002 season.

Oh, and he's 7-1 against archrival Michigan, the first Ohio State coach to win five straight games against the Wolverines, and has a winning record against every team in the conference except Wisconsin (3-3).

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Tressel's program, whether you like it or not, is the face of the Big Ten and when it comes to Big Ten coaches, it is impossible to deny that his teams have been the most successful in the conference over the past several seasons.

2. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State — Third Season at MSU (16-10, 62%)

After going 7-6 in his first season, Dantonio led the Spartans to a 9-4 record last year and was within one game of winning a share of the Big Ten Championship. The talent is starting to flow into East Lansing and now, Dantonio and the Spartans are eying the top prize.

Dantonio's secret to success is simple: smart, tough, disciplined football built around defense. And unlike the teams Spartan fans grew accustomed to under John L. Smith, Dantonio's teams always seem to play to the best of their abilities.

As long as he's in East Lansing, Michigan State will be an upper-division Big Ten contender and a conference title drought that stretches to 1990 figures to end soon.

3. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa — 11th season at UI (70-53, 57%)

Iowa could be the toughest place in the Big Ten to recruit top talent. It's wide open, small community, and well... boring.

Iowa's recruiting classes are never filled with blue-chippers, making what Ferentz has been able to accomplish in the conference all the more impressive.

Under Ferentz, the Hawkeyes are known for being tough and physical, and his teams have always shown the ability to respond to adversity.

His first two seasons of mediocrity were followed by three years of success, in which the Hawkeyes won two Big Ten Championships.

Last season, the Hawkeyes started the season with inconsistent play and ended the season as arguably the Big Ten's best team and its only bowl winner.

4. Joe Paterno, Penn State — 44th season at PSU (136-86*, 61%)

There is no arguing the overall significance of Joe Paterno to the college football landscape. His all-time win total is sitting at 383 (the most for any FBS coach ever), and the legendary coach will certainly add to that total over the next few seasons.

Since joining the Big Ten in 1993, Paterno has led the Nittany Lions to three Big Ten Championships and many believe his undefeated 1994 team should have won the National Championship.

There are some who question how much JoePa actually still does. Those people are crazy. Paterno is still the mastermind behind Penn State football and after receiving a new hip this off-season, JoePa seems more energized than ever.

*Record since joining the Big Ten in 1993

5. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern — Fourth season at NW (19-18, 51%)

In just three seasons, Pat Fitzgerald has taken his alma mater from laughingstock to contender and at only 34 years of age, Fitz's best days are certainly in front of him.

Fitz coaches like he played. Hard, with huge effort and undying enthusiasm. His passion for the Wildcats is unwavering and his team is filled with players who share that passion. And his players do it the right way, both on the field and off.

Northwestern is lucky to have the young Fitzgerald and though it may be hard to imagine Fitz would ever leave his alma mater, if he keeps winning, the offers will come.

6. Ron Zook, Illinois — Fifth season at UI (18-30, 38%)

No one will ever doubt Ron Zook's energy. The coach has a motor that runs full speed 24/7 and that hustle has paid off for the Illini on the recruiting trail.

The Zooker has done tremendous things in Champaign, despite having a losing record, including spearheading a renaissance in facilities and attitude.

Is Zook the best gameday coach in the league? Not by a mile, but he isn't a farce either.

His 2007 Illinois team overachieved and beat No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus en route to a Rose Bowl appearance.

7. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan — Second season at UM (3-9, 25%)

You have heard it a million times by now, but the "round peg, square hole" theory really is the best way to describe Rodriguez's dreadful debut in Ann Arbor. We all know he is a better coach than the 3-9 record would indicate.

The truth is Rodriguez is an innovative offensive mind and a very good recruiter. Entering his second season and after two very good recruiting classes, RichRod is already setting the scene for a dramatic turnaround.

Once the personnel is in place to run his offense effectively, Rodriguez and Michigan will be back to competing for the Big Ten and national titles every season.

8. Brett Bielema, Wisconsin — Fourth season at UW (28-11, 72%)

The honeymoon is over in Madison. After going 12-1 his first season, the recruiting and on-field performance at Wisconsin has been consistently dropping in each season since.

The ever intense Bielema recognizes the problem and has altered his off-season approach to better connect with his players and enhance their development.

But, his recruiting efforts are nowhere near those of former Badger coach Barry Alvarez and until he can get the talent flow back into Madison, his on-field success won't match what Alvarez accomplished, either.

9. Tim Brewster, Minnesota — Third season at UM (8-17, 32%)

After a 1-11 campaign in his first year, Brewster's squad improved to 7-6 in year two due in large part to his fierce recruiting.

Brewster has abandoned the wide open approach he emplyed when he first came to Minneapolis in favor of a power run game that was successful under former coach Glenn Mason.

But will success follow? Last season, the Gophers looked like a team on a mission starting the season 7-1, with their only loss coming to Ohio State.

But injuries and inconsistent play quickly turned into a five-game losing streak.

10. Danny Hope, Purdue Boilermakers — First season at PU

Replacing a legend is never easy, but Danny Hope just might be the man to do it. Like Zook and Fitzgerald, Hope is filled with energy and no one will out-hustle him for recruits.

The upbeat and positive coach is in for a rough first season, but there is reason for "Hope" (excuse the horrific pun) in West Lafayette. With one solid recruiting class—and the transfer of a former blue-chip quarterback—Hope is well on his way to getting the Boilers back up to the top half of the conference.

11. Bill Lynch, Indiana — Third season at IU (10-15, 40%)

Bill Lynch took over the head job in Bloomington after the death of former coach Terry Hoeppner and led the Hoosiers to their first bowl appearance in eons to finished the season with a 7-6 record.

Unfortunately, that 7-6 season is the highlight of Lynch's college football coaching career.

Indiana is and will always be a basketball first school, but there have been coaches who have had moderate success there. For Lynch, 2009 may be his last opportunity and this fall will be key to his future in Bloomington.

This article is also featured on First and Big Ten, a B/R and ChicagoNow blog for Big Ten fans by Big Ten fans.

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