Rating the Big Ten - The Head Coaches
By Tony Gerdeman
If you look at a football team as a cross-country road trip, the map is the team's schedule, the car is the team itself, and the man driving that car is the head coach. (The NCAA is the state highway patrol, but they're usually sleeping under an overpass.)
The head coach decides how hard to drive the car, which way to take, when to stop at a roadside attraction, everything. However, he can only do so much given the car that he has to drive.
That being said, he still needs to get the very most out of his car/team. That is probably the best measure of a coach. Aside from how many Big Ten Coach of the Year Awards they have, of course.
1. Urban Meyer
Urban Meyer has a career record of 116-23 (.834), and has yet to lose a game as Ohio State's head coach. The Buckeyes were 6-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less last season. That's a measure of both coaching and luck; but remember, luck is when preparation meets opportunity. He also has two more BCS titles than the rest of the conference coaches combined. This was the only no-brainer on the top half of the list.
2. Brady Hoke
Yes, I know that many of you will point out what Brady Hoke hasn't done, but we should also point out what he has done. He has won 19 games over the last two seasons, which is the same number as Bo Pelini and Bret Bielema. He still has some work to do, like finally winning a division title. Michigan went 0-4 against ranked opponents last year, but did get a win over an unranked Northwestern, who finished up at #16 and #17 in the rankings.
3. Bo Pelini
If you look at the data, Bo Pelini probably deserves to be #2 on this list. Let's face it, Nebraska isn't as easy to win at as it used to be, but Pelini has pulled off 48 wins in his five seasons. Of course, that's one fewer win than Frank Solich in his final five seasons, so Husker fans may not be as appreciative as they should be. Pelini is 6-2 the last two seasons in games decided by a touchdown or less, but the blowout losses hurt his credibility.
4. Mark Dantonio
The Spartans are 8-6 in games decided by a touchdown or less in the last two seasons, but they were 4-5 a year ago. His .646 winning percentage is the highest at Michigan State in 60 years. Mark Dantonio is 4-6 against ranked opponents the last two years. He's just about as good as Michigan State could hope to have, and he seems happy in East Lansing. Or at least as happy as Dantonio could ever allow himself to be.
5. Pat Fitzgerald
With Northwestern's Gator Bowl win over Mississippi State, Pat Fitzgerald won his 50th game and became the Wildcats' all-time leader in wins. He is NU's first head coach to have a career winning percentage over .500 since Ara Parseghian did it. Fitzgerald is an incredibly hot commodity, but appears to be set in Evanston. Northwestern went 10-3 last year, but didn't play a single ranked opponent. He's 5-13 all-time against ranked teams.
6. Bill O'Brien
Bill O'Brien is a very popular pick for #2 on this list, but one eight-win season with a team loaded with All-Big Ten players doesn't make a coach the best in the business. The Nittany Lions were underdogs in four games last year, losing two of them. Everybody undersold the talent on the roster, and now they could be overselling the head coach. He could be in the top two or three in a year or two, but let's let him get there first.
7. Kevin Wilson
Last year, Indiana lost to Michigan State by four points and Ohio State by three points, and they did it with an undermanned offense. Kevin Wilson's formula (get a high-octane offense, and hope the defense doesn't blow it for you) has worked in the Big Ten before with Joe Tiller, as well as Northwestern. Wilson is recruiting better than anybody could have imagined at Indiana, but eventually it needs to result in bowl appearances.
8. Darrell Hazell
We saw what Darrell Hazell did at a place with no resources like Kent State, so the hope is that with more resources, he will get Purdue to where Drew Brees had them back in the day. It helps that he already has a commitment from 2014 quarterback David Blough, who wowed everybody at The Opening and the Elite 11 of late. It won't be easy this season, but underestimating Hazell hasn't been a wise decision to this point.
9. Gary Andersen
Gary Andersen's coaching record is only 26-24, but last year he got Utah State in the top 25. In fact, in the AP's final rankings, the Aggies were 16th in the nation. While his 26-24 record isn't terribly impressive, the 11-2 season Utah State had last year was. We don't know how he'll do in the Big Ten, but Barry Alvarez's endorsement should give us some idea. Andersen and the Badgers could catch some people by surprise this year.
10. Kirk Ferentz
If not for the obvious candidates, Kirk Ferentz could have been #12 on this list. After all, everybody else is at least trying to keep their jobs. The last time Iowa had more wins than the season before was 2009. Since then, the Hawkeyes' win totals have been 11, 8, 7 and 4. In coaching, as in most everything, if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. Iowa hasn't gotten better in a while, and that's the responsibility of Kirk Ferentz.
11. Jerry Kill
Minnesota is 0-6 against ranked opponents under Jerry Kill. Kill, in an effort to play fewer ranked opponents, has been trying to build the easiest non-conference schedule in America. That is not the sign of a great coach. (Of course, Tim Brewster signed up USC, so a tough non-conference schedule is only indicative of bravado, and not greatness.) Kill is .500 as an FBS head coach. If he's not .500 after this season, it's time to look elsewhere.
12. Tim Beckman
Tim Beckman was a man lost at sea last year, unable to follow the stars, no way to navigate. After a season like that, you don't know if he's still lost at sea until he shows you that he's definitively on dry land. All we know about Tim Beckman is that everything he did last year was the wrong thing to do. Perhaps he pulls a Costanza and starts doing the opposite moving forward. Until he proves otherwise, Beckman was the only choice for last.
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