B1G coaching turnover and down cycles

AndyVance's picture
December 19, 2012 at 11:30a

Image courtesy of the Orlando SentinelTwo facts about the current state of college football are fairly well known:

  1. The Big Ten is "down," and has an overall disappointing season relative to expectations; and,
  2. There are no "legends" left in the B1G coaching cupboard.

Turnover is a big issue in football, especially when it comes to the top leadership. The top performing programs in the country are generally helmed by head coaches who have been tenured at least four or five years, have established their programs, recruiting classes, systems, playbook, etc. Nick Saban, Mack Brown, Les Miles... they've all been steering their respective ships for at least 6 or 7 years. In fact, if you look at the SEC as a whole, the top-tier programs generally have the longest-tenured coaches in the conference.

I mentioned the issue of longevity in coaching last week in a piece on the disparity in coaching salaries between the SEC and the Big Ten, because I think the two issues are highly correlated. An excerpt:

One thing that I think is overlooked in the entire discussion over coaching and staffing expenditures is the simple fact that strong compensation yields longevity, and longevity in coaching - stability, in other words - yields dividends in the form of recruiting, coaching systems, and overall program development. The longer you are at a program as a good coach, the more chances you have to recruit high-quality coaches and players who can best execute your system.


Getting coaches to stick around takes paying them well enough to keep them from taking off the minute more money hits the table (yes, Wisconsin, I'm talking to you). Look at the Big Ten's longest-tenured coach, Kirk Ferentz. He's also been one of the league's best-paid coaches for more than a decade. He's not going anywhere, and although his teams' performances have been nowhere near what they should be for the money invested, the omnipresent Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God has a good deal to do what that.


Consider our own James Patrick Tressel. If he had left Ohio State of his own volition, it wouldn't have been for more money; he would have more likely retired than coached somewhere else. While many discuss Ohio State as a "destination job," part of that destination status is because it pays well. You're not going to make better money too many places outside the SEC, and Urbz compensation competes with the top-tier of that conference.


Look at the longevity of the head coaches steering top half of the SEC, by the way - see anything striking? The best-paid coaches are the longest-tenured in the conference, and those coaches are typically winning the most games. Saban, Miles, Spurrier, Richt and Pinkel have all been at their schools at least 6 years, all make more than $2 million, and four of the five won 10 games or more this season. Muschamp at Florida and Sumlin at A&M, likewise, each won 10 games and make more than $2.4 million - think they're going anywhere any time soon with those numbers?

Turns out I'm not the only one who noticed the turnover issue. Rittenberg pointed out earlier this week that B1G turnover has been at a level higher than any we've seen in 20 years. Paterno, Carr, Tressel are just a few of the names no longer in office at the league's top jobs... Aside from Big Ten Coach of the Year For Life Kirk Ferentz, no one in the league has been coaching here more than a decade - after Ferentz, Bret Bielema was tied with Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald for old-man-on-campus at 7 years, Mark Dantonio is at 6 years at MSU, and Bo Pelini was in his fifth season.

As Rittenberg (frighteningly) points out: "Indiana's Kevin Wilson, who just completed his second season, will be the longest-tenured coach in the Leaders Division in 2013. Eight of the Big Ten's 12 coaches will be in their first, second or third seasons next fall."


The Big Ten, he notes, went through a similar shakeup in the early '90s, and hit a similar down cycle in on-field performance and national prominence. With 60% of the league's members hiring new head coaches between '89 and '92, the league had an abysmal performance in Bowl Games in the first three years of the decade.

"The good news is things improved the next few seasons, as the Big Ten posted winning bowl marks in 1993 and 1994 and won three consecutive Rose Bowls," Rittenberg noted. "Several coaching hires made between 1989-92 worked out well, namely [Barry] Alvarez at Wisconsin and Gary Barnett at Northwestern."

So the bottom line may be "Keep Calm, and Go Buckeyes!"

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AndyVance's picture

Before anyone beats me mercilessly, I think Urbz is a legend in his own right... I just meant that the legends generally associated with the conference are all already gone :)

VintonCountyBuck's picture

Well Andy, I'll spare you the merciless beating. (Not so sure Uban would do the same.) I've been trying to convince my friends that alot of the reasons why the B1G is so down right now is for many of the same ones you just mentioned.

Its alarming, from a football standpoint, that if the school administrators are entertaining the notion of conference realignment, knowing that football and most notably football viewing TV audiences are
where the money is, as to why they cannot grasp the concept of what the higher pay will result in.

Higher pay= Longer Tenure = Better on field results = more viewers = $$$$$

“Right now, Michigan is not at the pinnacle of college football, and that’s all Urban Meyer cares about...He’s been there and knows what it takes to get there.” 


I totally agree with you, Andy. Tressel leaving and the Penn State mess in addition to RichRod nearly destroying TTUN and the mediocrity of the rest of the conference has caused a tremendous amount of turnover which in turn requires a reset button on recruiting (and severely affects the win column). You have to figure a normal recruiting period  rebound after a coaching change is 2-3 years. Meyer is the only new coach of that group that's shortened the learning/improvement curve to 1 year and he only did that because he's Urban Meyer (which yes, does make him a legend). He's his own recruiting brand. We saw that magic work when he nabbed Noah Spence and his 2012 class just a few months on the job.
One other huge disadvantage the B1G copes with is the fact there aren't a lot of "destination" jobs. Nick Saban no longer being at Michigan State is a good example. Outside OSU-TTUN and to a lesser extent Penn State (the Sandusky scandal makes playing there radioactive for the forseeable future and what if Bill O'Brien wants to go back to the NFL?) There aren't any B1G coaching gigs that scream "come coach here and stay here" No disrespect to Coach Hazell, but Purdue is a stepping stone job. He does well someone else is going to want him. Same thing for Wisconsin as Bielema showed. Otherwise he'd still be stinking up their sideline for the Rose Bowl.
And who wants to coach football at Indiana? The same question can be asked about coaching at Kentucky, Duke and even UConn. No talented up-and-coming coach wants to go there. I hate trashing the B1G but there just isnt a lot of glamour. But the B1G has always been that way. It's three-yards and a cloud of dust/smash you in the mouth. It's real football and its what all of us were raised on. Sadly, that might be what's hurting the conference right now. The money and the glitz are attracting the big names away. Or in Bielema's case the big bellys.
P.S. I really hate to say this and I cant believe these words are coming out of my mouth, but Brady Hoke needs to turn TTUN around. We all know Meyer will have OSU in the running every year. But Hokey Pokey needs to grow a set. A stronger TTUN makes OSU stronger. That Alabama game was a friggin disaster and it set the worst tone for the B1G.

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

AndyVance's picture

^^^ 1,000 upvotes for this.
Let's start with the observations that are so obvious they are genius:

  1. M*ch*g*n needs to be good. Tressel's run of dominance was awesome, but at least for many of those years he was playing against a worthy opponent in Lloyd Carr. A strong opponent from up North is good for us, and good for the B1G.
  2. Meyer is indeed his own legend. What he did here this year is awe-inspiring.
  3. "Destination jobs" in the Big Ten are few and far between.

That said, what does it take to create a "destination job?" Outside the two obvious stops in the league - Columbus and Ann Arbor - this is a chicken and egg equation. At one point "The U" would likely have been considered a destination, but the post-2002 meltdown of that program has changed that. Likewise, was 'Bama a destination before Bryant? Frank Thomas had a good run, but he was there 14 years, an eternity in today's coaching ranks.
So, longevity of marquee coaches makes destinations, in my humble analysis. What does it take to keep a guy in the head coach's office long enough to make him a legend? He has to win, but he also has to make enough money doing it that it's not worth leaving. Quality of life is a factor, because your wife and kids need to be happy. You have to enjoy the people you work with, so that means a strong athletic staff, a sound budget for your coaching staff, and an administration that does a good job and largely lets you do your thing (within reason, obviously, re: compliance, etc.).
In other words, building a "destination" brand starts with money. Keeping a guy around because he's able to achieve success on the field, and doesn't feel like he has to leave to earn his next million bucks. Will Indiana ever be a destination football program? I doubt it. Could Purdue become a top 50% team in the B1G? I think so, given a commitment I see coming with the Hazell hire and the incoming president, Governor Daniels (who "gets it," I think). That said, I think Hazell sticks at Purdue until Urbz retires, and then he comes back home (well, that's what my crystal ball says now, anyway).

GoldenBearBuckeye's picture

Bielema could've turned UW into a destination job and it looked like Dick Rod had destinated at Ann Arbor.  The O'brien thing is still undetermined

Dr. House's picture

destination job requires winning lots of it, and winning big games. Winning creates mystique at the school. see Duke and Coach K. Ohio state and woody, tressel. IU with bob knight. 

AndyVance's picture

Very true, House. To get lots of winning, you have to stick around for a while, though. What's it take to get winners to stick?
Let's consider the curious case of Mr. Hazell and Purdue as a hypothetical. If Hazell turns the program around as he did at Kent State, that's a start. We all assume that when he does so, a "better" school will come calling, and potentially make him an offer he can't refuse... so why should he stay? There has to be incentive for him to stay - prestigious jobs don't come along every season (Texas, Alabama, Ohio State, for example), a move like Bielema from Wisconsin to Arkansas wasn't about prestige, it was about $$$$. Will Bielema be more likely to win BCS games at Arkansas than he was at Wisconsin? Maybe, but I doubt it. It was a money play.
So, for a guy like Hazell to stick and turn a middling program into a "destination" as in your examples, the factors have to be right for him to stay around long enough to become a legend.

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Great observations Andy - for a conference and it's up or down cycle, it really is all about the coaches you have, their tenure, and consistency of program. Maybe Hazell will really get attached to that damn giant drum on wheels and the boilermaker train whistle and stay a while......
Here's an interesting note. I was looking up which college football teams have been crowned "National Champions". Guess what, Minnesota won 6 national championships from 1934 to 1960. Yes, that Minnesaota, our  B1G brother Minnesota. Who knew it was a "destination " job at one time? Maybe all it takes is the right coach at the right time at the right place? I didn't look up what the secret to their success was, but you have to admit they had it going on there for a while.....