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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