The Big Ten got two new head coaches over the past few days.
This past Saturday, Nebraskaannounced that it had hired Matt Rhule.
The next day, Wisconsin announced that it hired Luck Fickell.
With Fickell back in the Big Ten and Rhule joining the conference for the first time as a head coach, here’s where I rank the Big Ten’s 14 head football coaches.
Here are my criteria:
- Overall coaching success
- Success relative to the program he runs/the situation he walked into
- Current success
Let’s get into it.
NO.14.: TOM ALLEN, INDIANA
Overall Record: 30-40
Record at IU: Same (17-35 Big Ten)
Seasons at IU: Seven (six as head coach)
Allenisn’t a bad coach. Anybody that can get Indiana in the top 15 at the end of a season– even the wacky pandemic-themed year of 2020– has good qualities. But the Hoosiers are 6-18 since then, and four of Allen’s six seasons as IU’s boss have ended with losing records.
NO.13.: Mike Locksley, Maryland
Overall Record: 22-54
Record at Maryland: 20-28 (11-27 Big Ten)
Seasons at Maryland: 14 (4.5 as head coach, HC for six games as interim in 2015)
Other HC Stops: New Mexico (2009-11)
Like Allen at Indiana, Locksleyhasn’t done a lousy job at Maryland. The Terps have progressed from 3-9 in 2019, Locksley’s first season, to consecutive winning records the past two years.
But a guy with an overall head coaching record of 22-54 isn’t going to rank too high on my Big Ten head coaches list.
NO.12.:MEL TUCKER, MICHIGAN STATE
Record at Michigan State: 18-14 (12-13 Big Ten)
Seasons at Michigan State: Five (three as head coach)
Other HC Stops: Colorado (2019)
NO.11.GREG SCHIANO, RUTGERS
Record: 80-89 (college), 11-21 (NFL), 6-20 (Big Ten)
Record at Rutgers: 80-89
Seasons at Rutgers: 14 (2001-11, 2020-)
Other HC Stops: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012-13)
Turning around Rutgers football is about as easy as teaching a newborn baby how to dunk a basketball, and Schianohasn’t done that as Rutgers’ head coach since before Rutgers it joined the Big Ten. He’s had three straight losing seasons to start his second stint in Piscataway. But he already turned around the program once, and that turnaround took five seasons, so I’ll cut him some slack.
NO.10.P.J. FLECK, MINNESOTA
Record at Minnesota: 43-27 (26-26 Big Ten)
Seasons at Minnesota: Six
Other HC Stops: Western Michigan (2013-16)
Fleck has done ok at Minnesota. He inherited a program in turmoil and led the Gophers to 11 wins in his third year. But his .500 Big Ten record, plus him not having the same pedigree as some of the more established coaches on this list, lands Fleck at a relatively low spot in the ranking of Big Ten head coaches.
NO.9.JEFF BROHM, PURDUE
Record at Purdue: 36-33 (26-25 Big Ten)
Seasons at Purdue: Six
Other HC Stops: Western Kentucky (2014-16)
Purdue football was awful before Brohm came in. It will play in the Big Ten Championship Game in less than a week. Like Fleck, Brohm hasn’t been Big Ten or DI head coach too long, with Fleck starting at Western Michigan in 2013 and Brohm beginning at Western Kentucky one year later. Both are a few good seasons or one great one away from shooting up on this list.
NO.8.: BRET BIELEMA, ILLINOIS
Record at Illinois: 13-11 (9-9 Big Ten)
Seasons at Illinois: Two
Other HC Stops: Wisconsin (2006-12), Arkansas (2013-17)
Bielema is in his second stint as a Big Ten head coach with his second Big Ten school. His run at Wisconsin from 2006-12 was solid. He went 68-24 overall and won two Big Ten championships. He did an excellent job with Illinois this season, going 8-4.
In Bielema’s only other season in Champaign, the team went 5-7, so I’ll need to see Illinois become a consistent winner before putting Bielema higher.
NO.7.: MATT RHULE, NEBRASKA
Record: 47-43 (college), 11-27 (NFL)
Record at Nebraska: 0-0
Other HC Stops: Temple (2013-16), Baylor (2017-19), Carolina Panthers (2020-22)
Rhuledoesn’t have as much experience in coaching as Bielema, but he’s already a proven winner. Yes, Scott Frost turned around a program before he got to Nebraska, and that hire didn’t go so well. But Rhule turned around two programs, one mid-major (Temple) and one Power Five School (Baylor). Yes, Rhule’s NFL run didn’t go well, but it’s not like he’s the first successful college coach to fail in the pros.
If Rhule can’t turn Nebraska around, it’s hard to imagine who can.
NO.6.PAT FITZGERALD, NORTHWESTERN
Record at Northwestern: Same (65-76 Big Ten)
Seasons at Northwestern: 22 (17 as head coach)
Yes, Northwestern stinks right now and stunk last year, too. But Fitzgerald has done an excellent job there overall. Any coach with a winning record at Northwestern after 17 seasons knows what they’re doing. Fitzgerald’s teams have won 10 games three times and made the Big Ten title game in two other seasons. That’s pretty good.
Going 4-20 over the past two years could be better, tho.
NO.5.KIRK FERENTZ, IOWA
Record at Iowa: 185-115 (115-83 Big Ten)
Seasons at Iowa: 33 (24 as head coach)
Other coaching stops: Maine (1990-92)
I know, I know. Iowa might have the most boring program in the country, and Ferentz should step down or at least fire his son, Brian, as offensive coordinator. I agree with all of that. It also must be said that Ferentz made Iowa football relevant again. Like Fitzgerald and Northwestern, Iowa football never became an elite program under Ferentz. But both Big Ten head coaches made their teams winners. It’s yet to be known how Ferentz’s tenure at Iowa will end, but his coaching legacy in Iowa City shouldn’t be in question.
NO.4.:LUKE FICKELL, WISCONSIN
Record at Wisconsin: 0-0
Other HC Stops: Ohio State (2011), Cincinnati (2017-22)
Fickell hasn’t been a Big Ten head coach since 2011, but he’s a winner. He’s the only coach to ever get a Group of Five school to the College Football Playoff, getting Cincinnati there last season. He’s capable of getting Wisconsin there, too.
NO.3.JAMES FRANKLIN, PENN STATE
Record at Penn State: 77-36
Seasons at Penn State: Nine
Other HC Stops: Vanderbilt (2011-13)
Some Penn State fans will love this ranking. Others won’t agree. But there are few coaches in the Big Ten and, honestly, not that many in the country that have won more than Franklin in his nine seasons as a Big Ten head coach. Maybe Franklin’s fourth 10-win year in the past seven will remind people of that.
NO.2.RYAN DAY, OHIO STATE
Record at Ohio State: 45-5 (31-2 Big Ten)
Seasons at Ohio State: Six (four + four games in 2018 as head coach)
Day is getting crushed right now, and that will happen when an Ohio State head coach gets dominated by Michigan two years in a row. Although there’s some truth to Jim Harbaugh’s infamous “born on third base” comment after last year’s game, Day is still 45-5 overall and has been to the College Football Playoff twice. That’s pretty good. But there’s one Big Ten head coach that’s better.
NO.1.JIM HARBAUGH, MICHIGAN
Record: 102-45 (College), 44-19-1 (NFL)
Record at Michigan: 73-24 (51-17 Big Ten)
Seasons at Michigan: Seven
Other HC Stops: San Diego (2004-06), Stanford (2007-10), San Francisco 49ers (2011-14)
Harbaugh would have had a good case for the top spot had Michigan lost to Ohio State this past Saturday, but after his team waxed Ohio State, 45-23, there shouldn’t be any debate. Harbaugh has turned Michigan into a power over the past two years. The team is 24-2 in that time, and one of those losses came against Georgia in the College Football Playoff. Michigan is on the verge of winning its second straight Big Ten championship, and this year’s team can win a bigger prize.