The Expendables

By Johnny Ginter on December 3, 2012 at 5:00p

Few expected big things from the Big Ten this year, but I don't think that anyone expected the conference to be quite this bad overall. Having a poor out-of-conference record is one thing; having a poor out-of-conference record against the likes of the FCS and the MAC is another thing entirely.

It's been rough

The Big Ten is obviously down. There really doesn't have to be any debate about it, but to belabor the point just a tad, it might be a good idea to look at some of the favorites in the Big Ten at the beginning of the season.

Michigan State, for instance, was considered to be one of the teams to beat in the conference, largely on the basis of their rushing game and devastating defense. Michigan was "back," Purdue had a young core of players to build around, Wisconsin had possibly the best RB in the country (and certainly the best in the conference), etc.

It goes on like this, but the real point is that we turned out to be (mostly) wrong.

Michigan State did end up with a great defense, but their offense collapsed in on itself like a dying star, Wisconsin lost an absurd amount of overtime games en route to a 4-4 conference record, Michigan never really figured out their defense and Denard was often more of a liability than an asset, Danny Hope lost all control of his team on the field, and nobody else in the B1G stepped up to take on the bowl-eligible slack.

And it all starts up top.

For years various writers and pundits have tried to come up with explanations about why the SEC is now so dominant and the Big Ten sucks so badly (population shifts, oversigning, plain ol' cheating), but the real answer is pretty simple in that most B1G head coaches are bad and in dire need of replacement. The Big Ten will never be a force as a conference until the majority of schools get serious about actually hiring real coaching talent, and the problem is that the schools that need it the most either don't think they do, or aren't willing to throw down enough ducats to hire a decent coach and staff.

Today I'm going to look at all of the B1G coaches, and we're gonna see just how expendable they really are.


I never liked the Kevin Wilson hire, despite the fact that the dude is a former Broyles Award winner as the top assistant coach in college football. Hired from Oklahoma, where he was their offensive coordinator, I immediately began to wonder why a guy would make what is in all reality a lateral (or worse) coaching move to a third-tier Big Ten team.

The answer may be that the dude is not a great football coach. Indiana is 2-14 in conference play under him, and though their offense has at times been good to very good, their defense has been atrocious. I give Wilson another year with the Hoosiers, but losing out on Gunner Kiel (as if there were ever really a doubt that would happen) will hurt him.


I'd be mad too

Iowa is screwed, and it's totally their own fault. By giving Kirk Ferentz a contract extension until 2020, with a buyout that is literally over $21 million, they have effectively tied their leg to the cinder block that is the Ferentz coaching staff and jumped into the Mississippi.

It's not that I think that Ferentz can't coach if he's motivated (although one would think the $3.65 million he makes a year is motivation enough) and/or interested, but keep in mind that Iowa has won 9 or more games only twice in the last 8 years. Part of it is personnel, and an angry Iowa running back hating God hasn't helped matters either. But the truth of the matter is that in 14 seasons under Ferentz, Iowa has been serious contenders in the B1G all of three times. The program is stagnant, underachieving, and in need of an overhaul. But it isn't going to happen for at least another five years.


Pat Fitzgerald is the perfect coach for Northwestern. He's never going to make them great, and I'll be surprised but not shocked if they contend for the Big Ten title soon, but Fitz is a young, smart coach who seems utterly devoted to his alma mater. Eight or nine wins per season wouldn't be acceptable at Ohio State, but at Northwestern it is a legitimate goal that they haven't had since the mid-90s.


As much as I can't stand Bret Bielema the human being, he's a decent coach who fits well with where he's at. Barry Alvarez chose a protege who he knew would carry on the standard for the school, and Bielema has done that. 8-5 was in a lot of ways a disappointment this year, but the record books are still going to say Big Ten Champions 2012 and hang on, I just threw up in my mouth a little.

Michigan State

I like Mark Dantonio a lot, despite the massively disappointing season that Michigan State put together this year. I'm interested to see how long it takes for MSU fans to forget that their previous coach was John L. Smith and they begin to start demanding that Dantonio win championships, but it's also important to point out that even after finishing the year 6-6, Dantonio has the highest winning percentage of any Spartan coach since Clarence Munn, who coached the team from 1947-53.


Purdue made the right call in pulling the trigger on Danny Hope. In four years under him, Purdue has one winning season, and despite some inexplicable recent success against Ohio State, has stunk out loud for much of those four years. 2012 was supposed to be different, as Purdue has been and continues to be a relatively talented team, but that talent was mismanaged and badly coached and the result was a tepid 6-6 season.

Purdue has interviewed Cincinnati's Butch Jones for their open position, which would be a great hire. The larger problem would be convincing Jones that they'd take care of the concerns that Jones has had about Cincinnati, namely upgrading facilities and university alumnus involvement. If they can beat offers from the likes of Colorado, they should be in good shape.


It's hard to believe that Tim Beckman could come in and manage to do an even worse job than Ron Zook, but he pulled it off. The only game in which Illinois was even remotely competitive in Big Ten play was against Purdue (a game they still lost), but going 0-8 in one of the worst conferences in America wouldn't be so concerning if it didn't look like the team was actually regressing as the season went on.

Nathan Scheelhaase, who went from looking like a poor man's Terrelle Pryor as an undergrad to a poor man's poor man in 2012, should be particularly disheartened by what's been going on at Illinois. If he, and by extension the Illini, don't show marked improvement in 2013, there's a better than decent chance that Beckman could be shown the door.


I'll be blunt: Jerry Kill shouldn't be coaching college football. It's cold and callous, but the man has had three seizures while coaching Minnesota, has a history of cancer (thankfully in remission), and has been hospitalized for dehydration after a football game. I don't doubt his love for the sport, but I question whether he can do a job that most healthy people wouldn't even dream of being able to handle, mentally or physically.

There is talent on the team, and they've got some excellent new facilities, but Jerry Kill isn't the person to make sure that Minnesota gets back to the level they were at before Tim Brewster was the coach.


Brady Hoke can coach. Challenges with figuring out how to use Denard Robinson aside, he's got decent talent (with more coming in), a very good defensive coordinator, and though he got completely outcoached against Ohio State, he generally knows what he's doing. He isn't and will never be Bo Schembechler. But he might just be Lloyd Carr.

Ohio State

Ahahahah! Next!


I still haven't been able to figure out Bo Pelini. Maybe part of it is his relationship with Taylor Martinez, and the fact that their fates have been intertwined for a while now. I certainly don't expect Bo to leave Nebraska anytime soon, because for that to happen the Cornhuskers would have to start doing much better or much worse, which probably isn't in the cards.

Still, the loss of Carl Pelini seems to have taken its effect on the defense, which is worrisome. If Nebraska wants to be a contender in the Big Ten, they'll need to start being a much more complete team. And that falls on the coach to get that done.

Penn State

Ohio State had the better season overall than Penn State did, but the job that Bill O'Brien did this past season can't be understated. Personally I think a pretty fair argument can be had that the guy was the legitimate coach of the year in the Big Ten, and the biggest worry that the Nittany Lions have (aside from their inevitable talent loss due to scholarship restrictions), is that Bill O'Brien will jump ship after another two years of dealing with NCAA sanctions.


Overall the Big Ten needs to take a long, hard look at their football coaching talent, and not just at the head coaching level. Until teams start being a lot more proactive in terms of their coaching hiring, the conference is going to continue to be poor.



Royball's picture

You hit it right on the head, Johnny.  It comes down to recruiting and coaching.  It seems like there's only 3 guys in the conference who have shown any ability to do both while running a program (Urbz, Hoke, and BOB before the hammer came down).  Other than that, at best you have guys who can do one but not the other (Fitzgerald, Bert, Dantonio), or guys who... well, what exactly do the other guys do?

4-6 seconds of relentless effort

Matt's picture

I think Michigan would be substantially better if Hoke just dropped Borges.  Mattison might be the best assistant coach in America from an X's and O's perspective (not recruiting perspective), and Hoke is a great CEO/ambassador style coach who has righted the program.  With the talent they have coming in, there's no reason for Borges to be coaching at such an elite program, other than Hoke's loyalty to him.

Riggins's picture

I think the Big Ten Network checks that each school gets should come with stipends on how to spend a portion of it.  X% goes to coaches salaries. Y% goes to facility upgrades, etc. 

Boxley's picture

You beat me to it. With all of the increased TV dollars from sports programming, it should be mandated that those dollars get reinvested into the sports programs, which will strengthen the teams, the conference, and in turn bring in more TV dollars.
Why are we the lowest paying conference of the big four conferences? Just like with major pro sports teams , if you want to win, you have to spend the money to get there. It all starts with coaches and their staff. Good AD's, We need to be able to compete on the field and in recruiting. You cannot do that without great coaches, facilities, and academic sports structure.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

theDuke's picture

ps, Brady Joke is not a coach. He has other people do his dirty laundry.


dumpus's picture

So what did BoB do to win COTY again?  I mean, unless we're going to start diving into the litany of the contrafactual with regards to the banhammer not really hitting them this year - at the end of the day, he finished with approximately the same record they did a year ago with JoePa and Bradley(which coincidentally was approximately the same record they finished with the year before with just JoePa) - how good of a job did he really do?  How much of an improvement did he really make?  He won the same amount of games with approximately the same players - hell, didn't Indiana kinda do the same thing? 
Not to make the genuine "homer" call, but Urban Meyer took a team that was coached by an interim coach (like PSU), during/after a time of intense media scrutiny (like PSU), with a program under duress from the NCAA (like PSU), and with largely the same players as last year (like PSU), and, to quote Roger Dorn, "won the whole f'n thing". 
I mean, I guess its a "feel good" story per se, in terms of COTY, I'd be more interested in seeing how he does when he's down to like 60 schollie players or whatever and pulling in 2* recruits just to fill the roster.  If the argument is to be made that since the B1G sucks this year, they kinda have to give it to someone (as an aside - how funny would it be to award it to no one?), well, they picked the wrong guy straight up. 

Boxley's picture

I think the job he did holding the team together, not getting completely slaughtered in recruiting, even with the players who did bail on him was very good. With knowing that the next three years there is no chance of post season play, and significant recruiting restrictions, he did a very good job keeping the team intact and fighting all the way into the last game.
Next year will be even a more daunting task, as he eventually loses on premier players. will the PSU players quit on the field or not. That will be his biggest coaching challenge over the next three years.
Given the challenges he faced on the field, and in the locker room this year, he did a better job than Luke did with less talent.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

johnny11's picture

I thought Urban should have won it to, but let me put some things into perspective for you. You mentioned BOB did the same things with the same players and got the same record. That is where I totally disagree with you. He lost I believe around 19 total players this year to transfer including his best overall offensive player Silas Redd and  their leading receiver from the previous year (Brown Oklahoma transfer). He also turned possibly the worst quarterback almost in the league (moxie) last year into an all conference performer. They also started a third and fourth string tailback an put together a formidable rushing attack that we only really stopped. Yah 8-4 isn't great, but with what they had that is a lot better than what was expected.

Boxley's picture

Excellent points johnny11. I forgot how much Mcgroin improved just this year.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

otrain2416's picture

I think your being a little harsh and some of these guys aren't has bad as you think and here's my argument
Iowa- Ferentz has been plagued with injuries at running back and considering Iowa is a running team it has hurt them greatly. Since 2010 have had 10 guys get injuried or transfer. I believe they were starting a walk on running back this year for the majority of the season or at least a few games. Remember they were 1 overtime loss short in 09 from a rose bowl birth.
Indiana- Wilson has them improving and he needs more time to evaluate him as a coach. Keep in mind he's coaching IU a basketball school that hardly has any football tradition. He was 2 close games away this year from a bowl birth. He also played us pretty tough and has a pretty good recruiting class coming in. I will agree losing Kiel last year will hurt, but give him time to bring in his own guys.
Northwestern- Pat Fitz is doing a great job and making noise at Northwestern. Even started off the year by beating a currently bowl eligible SEC team (because B1G can't beat them at all)
Wisconsin- As much as I hate Bret like the next OSU fan he's done a good job up there. The man needs to learn to close out BCS games though.
Illinois- I expected more from him this year but its Beckmans first season cut him some slack. He was giving Zooks talent not the guys he recruited. Keep in mind Toledo almost beat us when he was the HC. Give him a few years to get his guys in the program and we can reevaluate then.
Minnesota- I will always stand by firing Glen Mason was one of the worst decisions that school has made. That being said Kill hasn't done a bad job as the Gophers are bowl eligible again.  I do like you question too whether he's healthy enough to coach but I love his passion.
scUM- Brady Joke was a good hire for them but he's not a homerun football coach from what I've seen. Like I've said the whole time the man can recruit, keep them in the top 25, but cannot beat the top tier teams.
Nebraska- As big of a Bo fan as I am he's the one I've been a little disappointed in. Nebraska should be a lot better than they are with their tradition and fan base. The championship game was a disaster. He could make a statement this year in the bowl and turn things around
Penn State- O'Brien was a great hire for them. Aside from his slip ups vs OU and lack of a kicker vs Virginia the man did a great job this year. I look for them to be competitive the next few yrs during scholarship reductions and possibly take off once they can get scholarships for a full team again. He's bringing in a solid QB in Hackerbrg and TE that should be perfect for his offense

We were born to love Ohio State and hate that team up north.

cplunk's picture

 Actually I think you went a little easy on these programs because you focused on the head coaches. Not only do you have to she'll out the big bucks at the head level to really be a good program, but you have to do it at the assistant level too.
just look at our offensive line under Bollman versus the same line (but with a converted TE!!) under Warriner to see the difference those assistants can make.

aj99's picture

Coaching is a primary issue, but maybe not the sole issue.  I tend to think that results on the field are more of a school culture sort of issue that trickles down to athletic directors and then to coaches. At best, coaches are probably a reflection of the athletic director and school culture. They are certainly the ones that bear the day to day job of winning and recruiting, but ultimately they are the fruit of the culture and ad's that hired them. 

Kurt's picture

Great article!  Glad to see something about the B1G coaching situation...some ugliness and some signs of light at the end of the tunnel.  Couple quick thoughts.
Illinois: I can't believe how much Beckman struggled, but I have to think it'll work out for him.  He seemed to make good hires within the staff, notably Billy Gonzales as OC (a former Urban asst).  If Illinois shows half the patience they allowed Zooker he'll start winning.
Indiana: I think Wilson was a great hire and they're showing positive signs.  I'm not even convinced losing Kiel is that big of a deal...his scheme is working well with the mobility of Roberson and crew.

Kurt's picture

I just want to add that I think the assessment that Brady Hoke can coach is way overestimating his abilities and the team's success to date.  He was brilliant to get Mattison.  Borges has been terrible.  And really what more can be said?  He doesn't even know what's going on during the game - no headset.

boojtastic's picture

I agree that the Big Ten coaching is subpar.
I think it's difficult to argue, however, that any one of the Big Ten schools (OSU and UM excluded) has a premier coaching job. Nebraska has a terrible recruiting footprint. Michigan State will always be the little brother. Minnesota is weird and cold, and Indiana is apathetic. Illinois once employed Ron Zook. Worst of all, now there's the stigma of disrespect that the Big Ten is carrying. 
These are huge red marks for a coach thinking about making a move. How are these programs supposed to attract established coaching talent without wheelbarrows full of cash in tow? (See Ferentz, Kirk.) It's not like Urban Meyer grows on trees.

painterlad's picture

I disagree strongly with the appraisal of Fitzgerald, for he is the best coach in the BIG not named Meyer. The offense he runs is better than the one OSU ran this year, although that will probably change with another year under the belt of the Buckeye offense. If Fitzgerald had the talent that OSU had they would be playing in Pasadena and not the Leaders division runner-runner-up.
As far as Hoke goes, he is still stuck with RR's flaming paper bag full of moist dog crap. Once he gets the recruits he wants (and he is well on his way), Michigan would be the leader in the BIG if not for Meyer. Alas for Hoke, Meyer and co. will beat him like a giant bass drum with Purdue written on the side, and he may never survive the storm of 1-4 record against Ohio (State).

To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.

Kurt's picture

I also thing Fitzgerald is excellent, perhaps best in the league behind Meyer...but his offense is not as good as the Meyer/Herman combo.  Fitz was smart enough when he took over (under unfortunate circumstances) to continue the pioneering power spread system that was in place.

Doesntwork's picture

biggest problem with BIG is that most schools are too cheap to pay top rated coaches/coordinators.  with so much money being raked in through BTN, the likes of minnesota, indiana etc need to upgrade everything related to football (they have started doing some of that).

gwalther's picture

FACILITIES AND COACHES. That's what it's about.

Class of 2008

Kurt's picture

Beano had a great quote once about facilities...every coach wants better facilities as if they were nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

Normal Buck's picture

I don't really think most of the schools give a sh*t.  They get a cut of the bowl revenue and the $ that the BTN prints, and putting forth the extra effort isn't going to change that.  Heck, Rutgers and Maryland just joined their party.

JoeinCbus's picture

Tim Beckman isn't getting fired next year, unless he covers up criminal acts or takes a joyride with a blonde.  He's a very good coach, and will do well at Illinois, given a couple of years to change the culture and recruit the kids he wants.

JLP36's picture

Even if he is a disaster,  don't think Illinios can afford to dump him quickly from a financial standpoint.  They held onto Zook longer than they wanted for this reason.


gravey's picture

I don't recall the B1G being all that great ever.  Remember the Big 8 and little 2  ?  It still applies, except we have Penn State and Nebraska now.  Whether either of those places have the raw materials to do what they did in the past without Paterno and Osborne is doubtful.  
Only Ohio has a national championship worthy recruiting base.  The others need legendary efforts in recruiting to make up that difference...and these coaches can't do it with the exception of Michigan.

MediBuck's picture

I'm with CPlunk that the problem is not just with the head coaches, but the assistant coaches. Name any of them other than OSU coaches who are currently mentioned as HC candidates at other schools.

Even our beloved Coach Tressell had a largely anonymous coaching tree, and the only ones worth their salt (Darrel Hazell, Paul Haynes, Mark Dantonio) have fled Columbus since.
A big part of that has to do with stinginess. I'm glad our own athletics department has rectified this situation:
but until programs like MSU, Nebraska, and Indiana commit to bringing in better coordinators, they'll forever stagnate. I'm certain that's the reason the SEC does better on the recruiting trail (along with oversigning).

"There is a force that makes us all brothers, no one goes his way alone." --Woody Hayes

Arkansas Buckeye's picture

Agree completely.  The SEC Coordinators and Assistant coaches receive much higher salaries and as a result, have better staffs.  SEC schools are producing better HC candidates.  The diference shows on the field. The HC may  be the CEO but the rest of the staff builds the team. 

"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Ann Arbor Buckeye's picture

It seems to me that the BIG and most of it's schools have been sitting back and living off their reputation over the last decades.  Other than OSU and scUM the rest of the programs have done little if anything to improve their fascilities or keep competative with pay for both head coaches and assistants.  Until the other programs start to give recruits a reason to go to their schools things will continue as they are.

Yes there are two Buckeyes in Ann arbor on this site!


All the more reason for Gene Smith to beef up the non-conference schedule. Ohio State will dominate this conference but its league schedule will hurt it come playoff time when the powers that be select the Final Four. OSU could very easily go 12-0 and 8-0/9-0 in the B1G and get passed over. That thought was inconceivable 10 years ago. With Maryland and Rutgers coming in it may actually get worse for the B1G. Maryland is a step below Iowa these days and Rutgers may be successful right now but will they be when all of Greg Schiano's players graduate? Not too long ago they were flat out awful, even worse than Illinois was this year.
it's strange how weak the football B1G has become but how strong men's basketball is. Women's hoops, too. Are B1G AD's spending more for basketball coaches than for football? Sounds like it.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

JLP36's picture

I think the jury is still out on Hoke.  Lets see what he can do without Denard.  I think that they were maybe the luckiest team ever in 2011.  He recruited well initially, but that was mostly in a year with no one to guard the border.  I think that he is going to do a lot of 8-4,  9-3 coaching.  I can't call that success in the modern Big Ten.  I don't see much success ahead for him against the Buckeyes.  How long does he keep Mattison? 


Larryp713's picture

It would be nice to see the second and third tier programs pull in some good coaches, like a Fitzgerald for NW, that will actually stay around for a few seasons. The problem is coaching at Indiana or Purdue right now seems like a MAC coaching gig.
I do believe the Big 10 has at least six very good or great coaches. I think Kirk Ferentz might be the best, but you can only do so much with the lack of talent and depth they have. I thought Ferentz should have jumped at a chance this year to go to an Arkansas or Tennessee, but I didn't realize he had been given the keys to the kingdom there in Iowa. Hard to walk away from that contract.
The B1G dip this year is more of a cyclical issue than anything else. There is a fine line between having that stability from a long-time coach, and that coach's message becoming stale. So, I agree that new blood will help these second and third tier programs, and ultimately the conference. Maybe the new teams will bring some freshness to the mix. Go Bucks.



Kurt's picture

Ferentz is terrible.  What more evidence do you need than this.

input4u's picture

My second favorite team in the B1G is no doubt Northwestern... I believe I heard Fitz say that he has the highest cumulative GPA year in and year out, and if they win 9 games and go to a bowl game they consider the season a success.  I  would like to see them close out thier season with bowl wins instead of losses by a few points.
I'm also partial to NU because the golf team - I'm related to the Womens assistant coach.  So I get Purple NU golf gear every once in a while.  And to answer anybody's question it hasn't helped my golf game one bit... LOL
NU lost by one point to Nebraska, Lost in OT to TSUN, and Gave PSU a Game.  Could have been an 11-1 year instead of 9-3 and had better bowl game...
In my mind we need at least 4-5 B1G teams to be really good every year out of 12(now 14, soon to be 16) teams.  These teams will at least need to go 50% against top tier SEC teams when they play them.  OSU is on path to hold up thier end of that deal.  who will be the next 3-4 to step up?

Ashtabula's picture

It all comes down to recruiting.  Look at the 4 and 5 star athletes and count how many are from the mid-west.  There are a bunch of schools after the same small number of players.  The only real shot some of the lower tier B1G schools have is to hope a 3 star athlete becomes a stud.  Plus, with academics being a high priority at many of these schools, going the JUCO route like Kansas State is more difficult.