We have reached the final step in our annual Big Ten ratings — the head coaches.
In the past, this was usually a much easier exercise. Now, with a new man in charge at Ohio State, things get tricky.
Ryan Day isn’t the only new head coach in the Big Ten, however, as Maryland’s Mike Locksley is also getting used to a new office. (Though his presence doesn’t really throw a wrench into these ratings.)
For a good decade or two, the Big Ten was missing coaches who could be considered “lifers.” In other words, coaches who didn’t view their current Big Ten positions as stepping stones. These kinds of coaches build consistency and cultures.
Places with revolving coaches are always going to be at a disadvantage.
Right now, how many Big Ten coaches have jobs that they don’t view as stepping stones? I would argue Jim Harbaugh, Ryan Day, Mark Dantonio, James Franklin, Mike Locksley, Scott Frost, Kirk Ferentz, Paul Chryst, and Pat Fitzgerald could stay at their respective schools forever, should they choose to.
That’s a pretty good chunk of guys looking to build a better Big Ten.
But who among them is the best?
Thank you for asking.
Big Ten East
1. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State Spartans
Mark Dantonio is 107-51 at Michigan State and 125-68 all time as a head coach. He doesn’t have the recruiting base of Ohio State, Michigan, or Penn State, but the Spartans have been step for step with those three programs every year of late except for the 2016 anomaly. Dantonio is 10-11 against Top 10 opponents in 12 years at Michigan State. Dantonio has won the Big Ten three times, which was the same number as Urban Meyer and Joe Paterno.
2. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines
Jim Harbaugh is 38-14 at Michigan and 67-35 overall as an FBS head coach, but he is just 8-9 against ranked opponents, including 1-8 against opponents ranked in the Top 10. His teams have lost at least three games in each of his four seasons at Michigan and are 24-28 against the spread. He has one division title.
3. James Franklin, Penn State Nittany Lions
James Franklin has won the Big Ten once and has a 45-21 record at Penn State, and a 69-36 record overall. He has a 2-8 record against Top 10 teams and a 5-12 record against ranked opponents overall. In his career, his record against ranked opponents is 6-20. Penn State is 35-30-1 against the spread under his watch. Their 31 wins over the last three years are second in the East to only Ohio State.
4. Ryan Day, Ohio State Buckeyes
Ryan Day is currently the Big Ten’s only undefeated head coach, so that has to count for something. The rest of this rating is just educated guesswork, however. It is safe to assume that Day will be quite successful, as Ohio State’s last five coaching searches resulted in four College Football Hall of Famers and Urban Meyer. But he doesn’t have the track record as the guys ahead of him yet.
5. Tom Allen, Indiana Hoosiers
Tom Allen has a 10-15 career record at Indiana and is 0-1 in bowl games. The bowl game was with Kevin Wilson’s 2016 team. In the two years before Allen took over, IU was 1-8 against ranked opponents, but half of those losses were by one score. That’s sort of the story of Indiana football, however. Allen is 0-9 against ranked opponents, with three of those being by one score. Eventually, Allen and the Hoosiers need to beat somebody.
6. Chris Ash, Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Chris Ash’s tenure at Rutgers has been like a car chase on television where one car starts driving through wooden construction barriers with yellow-vested workers waving madly at him to stop and then he hits a large pile of dirt and goes airborne over a cliff and you wonder, “What the hell were they building on the side of a cliff?”
7. Mike Locksley, Maryland Terrapins
This is Locksley’s second stint as Maryland’s head coach, though the first one came from being on Randy Edsall’s staff when he was fired in 2015. He took over for the second half of the season, leading the Terps to a 1-5 mark, with the lone win being at Rutgers. His record at New Mexico was 2-26, which is … yeah.
Big Ten West
1. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern Wildcats
This is Pat Fitzgerald’s 14th year at Northwestern. He is 96-70 overall and 4-5 in bowl games. The Wildcats are 14-25 against ranked opponents under him and 2-12 against the Top 10. It could be argued that no other coach in the Big Ten could do what Fitzgerald has been able to do at Northwestern.
2. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa Hawkeyes
Kirk Ferentz is 152-101 all-time at Iowa, stretching back 21 years now. He is 25-43 against ranked opponents and 9-21 against the Top 10. Ferentz has won two Big Ten titles, one West Division crown, and is a 4-time Big Ten Coach of the Year. He is the elder statesman of the Big Ten.
3. Scott Frost, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Scott Frost has a 4-8 record at Nebraska, but there is no hot seat for the hot shot yet. Nor should there be. Frost is one of the bright, young stars in coaching, and he’s capable of turning Nebraska into a Big Ten West power.
4. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin Badgers
This is already Paul Chryst’s fifth season at Wisconsin and in his four years his Badgers are averaging 10.5 wins per season. In 2017, they were a Big Ten Championship Game win away from making the playoffs. Last year was a down year, mostly because of shoddy quarterback play. He is 3-5 against the Top 10 at Wisconsin and 6-8 against ranked opponents. He may not be as exciting as Bret Bielema off the field, but I bet Barry Alvarez is okay with that.
5. Jeff Brohm, Purdue Boilermakers
Jeff Brohm could have left Purdue after last season but didn’t. He’s taken the Boilers to consecutive bowl games for the first time since 2011 and 2012. He has a career record of 43-23, but just 13-13 at Purdue. The Boilermakers went 3-0 against ranked opponents last year.
6. PJ Fleck, Minnesota Golden Gophers
I feel like I should write this blurb with no spaces or punctuation. PJ Fleck took the Gophers bowling last year, where the blew out Georgia Tech 34-10 in the Quick Lane Bowl. Before that, they blew out the Wisconsin Badgers 37-15 as 11-point underdogs. Fleck is now 12-13 at Minnesota and 42-35 overall. He is 0-4 against ranked opponents with the Gophers, but who hasn’t been?
7. Lovie Smith, Illinois Fighting Illini
Lovie Smith is 9-27 at Illinois and his teams have yet to defeat a ranked opponent. Only one of those games was decided by one score (8 pts). There is nothing left to say.