Every year it seems there is a Big Ten coach that gets fired. It is part of the game, unfortunately. You get a small amount of time to fix a program and either you do it or you are gone. Generally, coaches last at least four full seasons under the unspoken “You get one full team of ‘your guys’ in recruiting before you’re gone. It takes a special kind of dumb and/or suck to get fired in less than four years.
Here is the list of coaching casualties in the Big Ten in the last few seasons:
Purdue – Darrell Hazell – was absolutely atrocious as a coach, going 9-33 before getting fired in 3.5 years.
Indiana – Kevin Wilson – was pretty much a dick to injured players.
Minnesota – Tracy Claeys – supported a bowl boycott over player suspensions.
Rutgers – Kyle Flood – was 27-24, but was really, really bad at trying to subvert NCAA rules about academics.
Maryland – Randy Edsall – was 22-24 in 5 seasons.
Illinois – Bill Cubit – New AD/Lovie Smith was available.
(List does not include Jerry Kill, who resigned at Minnesota for health reasons).
Illinois – Tim Beckman - was pretty much a dick to injured players. Also sucked as a coach at 12-25 in three seasons
Michigan – Brady Hoke – had a losing season at Michigan (which is virtually impossible).
Nebraska – Bo Pelini – Couldn’t lose more or less than 4 times per season.
(Does not include Gary Anderson, who left Wisconsin voluntarily to coach at Oregon State)
No firings, but Bill O’Brien left Penn State for the Houston Texans
Purdue – Danny Hope – couldn’t rise above aggressively mediocre at 22-27/had the audacity to ask for more administrative support.
(Does not include Bret Bielema, who left Wisconsin voluntarily to coach at Arkansas)
Illinois – Ron Zook - couldn’t rise above aggressively mediocre.
Ohio State – Luke Fickell – Urban Meyer was available.
Penn State – Joe Paterno – Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooope
Indiana – Bill Lynch – couldn’t even reach aggressively mediocre.
Michigan – Rich Rodriguez – was generally very bad at a school like Michigan.
Minnesota – Tim Brewster – was horrible at 15-30, yet still better than Hazell.
Ohio State – Jim Tressell – NCAA scandal
And that is just this current decade! That’s 21 new head coaches across the 14 schools, and only three left voluntarily for another job while another was forced to step down due to health reasons. It makes what Kirk Ferentz, Mark Dantonio, and Pat Fitzgerald have done even more impressive. They are the only coaches in the Big Ten currently with 10 or more straight seasons in their current jobs. The 2013 season was the only one where, had O’Brien stayed in Happy Valley, all 14 coaches would have made it to the next year unscathed.
So who is on the hot seat as we enter 2017? Well, it should be relatively stable, but you never know.
Still in the honeymoon period:
Jeff Brohm – Purdue
P.J. Fleck – Minnesota
Tom Allen – Indiana
These three are almost certainly safe no matter what happens this season since they are first year head coaches. It would take a massive off the field scandal to see them get fired so quickly, especially considering the buyouts Purdue and Minnesota would have to pay. If Darrell Hazell can survive two and a half more seasons after his disastrous 2013 season, anyone can survive year one as long as they don’t have a load of dead bodies in their trunk.
Recent Success = Happy administration
Urban Meyer – Ohio State
Jim Harbaugh – Michigan
James Franklin – Penn State
Mark Dantonio – Michigan State
Most people think Michigan, Penn State, and Ohio State a are the three best teams in the conference as we head into the season. Some might have Wisconsin ahead of Michigan, but Penn State and Ohio State are No. 1 & 2 no doubt. Penn State is the defending league champion and Ohio State was in the playoff last year with a guy who is 61-6 in the last 5 seasons and 39-2 against the Big Ten. Michigan is also not firing Harbaugh, their favorite son coach.
I will even throw Dantonio in here. Yeah, last year was awful, but he has still built up plenty of goodwill with a couple Big Ten titles and a Rose Bowl win.
Pat Fitzgerald – Northwestern
Fitzgerald will coach at Northwestern as long as he feels like it. It is hard to believe he is in year 12 and is still only 42 years old. An All-American linebacker on the greatest team in their history, he has taken the program to 7 bowl games in the last nine years and won two of them. He always has them somewhere between 6 and 9 wins and even has a pair of 10 win seasons. He could probably burn down Ryan Field and still keep his job.
Kirk Ferentz – Iowa
Yes, Kirk Ferentz is the longest tenured head coach in the country at the Division I level. He has been at Iowa since 1999, has survived a one-win season, and just signed a massive contract extension that will keep him in Iowa City until 2025 (or until he retires and his son takes over). The buyout would be north of $30 million this year, so he is going nowhere.
Looking good in year 2
D.J. Durkin – Maryland
The Terrapins made a bowl in year one under Durkin, which is a great way to start your tenure. Things won’t necessarily be easy in 2017, but he at least has the program pointed in the right direction. He should be fine.
No real problems on the horizon
Paul Chryst – Wisconsin
In an alternate universe Chryst is preparing for his 9th season in West Lafayette and has the program rolling. I hope the me of that reality is enjoying it. As for this reality, Wisconsin is in great shape and Chryst has them as the favorites in the West.
Just don’t have a losing season
Mike Riley – Nebraska
Nebraska fans are infamously impatient about their program, and Riley tested in year one by refusing to win 9 games. He was back on the right track last season, but this is a program that views 10 win seasons as a birthright. They could slip with a lot of questions heading into this year even in the easier Big Ten East. If they fall to 5-7 Riley could be gone.
Year 2 needs to show improvement
Lovie Smith – Illinois
Chris Ash – Rutgers
Neither of these coaches will likely be fired, but man, their situations do not look good going into their second seasons. Smith doesn’t look like he is doing much of anything in Champaign. He looks more like the typical big name not producing any results. For Ash, Rutgers was just atrocious last year and has a very long rebuild ahead. It is still early to see if he is more Ferentz than Hazell, but going 0-fer in last year’s Big Ten and not even scoring in four games is a very bad look.
Realistically, the only coaches that have much of a chance of being fired are Riley (if things go south in Lincoln) or Smith (if Illinois keeps spinning its wheels). That’s about it. We might actually have some stability on the coaching front for once.