Honest Takes on all 14 Big Ten Coaches From Media Days

All 14 coaches spoke on the main stage in Indianapolis — some impressed, some did not.
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Whether it was Pat Fitzgerald's purple plaid blazer, PJ Fleck's onslaught of mottos or Ryan Day's beard, the Big Ten coaches left an impression. We decided to put ours on paper, without consulting one another, to see what we thought each guy. Here's what we came up with...

Tom Allen - Indiana

Chris Breiler: Allen is entering his sixth season in Bloomington as head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, and the Hoosiers seem to be getting better each year under his leadership. In 2020, the Hoosiers nearly punched their ticket to Indianapolis to compete for the Big Ten Championship - but a last minute change to conference rules sent Ohio State to Indy instead. Allen is a fiery guy and it’s clear that his players have bought into what he’s selling. With Michael Penix Jr. - one of the top quarterbacks in all of college football - returning to Bloomington for another year, the Hoosiers should once again be a force in the Big Ten East.

Brandon Brown: Tom Allen is perfect for Indiana. I’m not sure he’s in the top half of the Big Ten coaches when it comes to X’s and O’s, but he is at or near the top when it comes to connecting with and pushing his guys, and that comes across when he talks.

Josh Taubman: While many teams struggled in the pandemic season, Indiana reached new heights. Allen seems to care about building up this program and seems like a great guy to play for. If he sticks around, the Hoosiers could really stay relevant.

Bret Bielema - Illinois

CB: Bielema hasn’t coached a college football game since 2017, but he certainly sounds ready to build something special in Illinois. The 2021 season marks Bielema’s coaching return to the Big Ten, where he previously served as head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers and finished with a .739 winning percentage - including two consecutive Rose Bowl appearances in 2010 and 2011. If he can replicate any of the success he had at Wisconsin in Illinois, the fighting Illini could become a big problem in the Big Ten West.

BB: I showed up in Indy thinking that Bielema was a bit of a gump, but I was pretty impressed with him. I liked how he talked, I liked his vision and he really did convince me that he’ll figure some things out at Illinois. At the end of the day, it’s still Illinois, but if I was an Illini fan, I’d like what Bielema seems to be about.

JT: The bar was low but honestly, Bielema was pretty impressive. He had good things to say about his team and was genuine about building up the program in his home state.

Jeff Brohm - Purdue

CB: Entering his fifth season as head coach of the Purdue Boilermakers, Brohm will need to find a way to replace the production and talent of former playmaker Rondale Moore. The bad news is that, even with Moore in town, the Boilermakers have declined year after year in the win column under the leadership of Brohm - culminating in a 2-4 record in 2020. Purdue hasn’t been a threat within the Big Ten conference for a long time and I don’t anticipate that changing in 2020.

BB: I don’t necessarily dislike Jeff Brohm but I found myself kind of rolling my eyes when he was speaking. I just couldn’t really absorb some of what he was saying because he’s at Purdue. When he was talking about wide receiver success, I was on board, but everything else, it just sounds like a longshot sales pitch.

JT: Remember when Brohm was the hottest coaching commodity and chose to stay in West Lafayette? Yeah, he should’ve gotten out when he had the chance. There doesn’t appear to be much to get excited about with the Boilermakers.

Paul Chryst - Wisconsin

CB: Chryst didn’t really say or do anything that stood out to me at Big Ten Media Days, but, then again, he doesn’t really have to. Under his leadership, the Badgers have established themselves as the class of the Big Ten West division - reaching double-digit wins four times in his six years as head coach. Wisconsin is also tied with Ohio State for the most appearances in the Big Ten Championship game since 2011 (6). Put simply, life at Camp Randall is pretty good for Chryst.

BB: Paul Chryst is even more boring than Kirk Ferentz, but he’s also more effective. He talks exactly how he coaches — he’s not too high, not too low, he’s to the point, he’s organized and he has a goal in mind. It’s funny how some of the coaches behave exactly like you’d expect based on how they coach — that’s Chryst to a T.

JT: His voice would be great for one of those podcasts that is designed to put you to sleep. He’s all business but he’ll have Wisconsin in contention for the Big Ten West as always.

Ryan Day - Ohio State

CB: As crazy as it sounds, it looks like he’s taken what Urban Meyer built and made it even better. From recruiting to development, the Ohio State football program is a well-oiled machine that continues to reload and compete for championships year after year. For those folks who were hoping for a drop off following Meyer’s departure from the program, it’s not happening. The Big Ten Conference still runs through Columbus.

BB: It pains me to say it, but Day is just so sharp. I remember the first time I saw him at Big Ten Media Days in 2019, I thought to myself, “Ohio State really might’ve upgraded from Urban Meyer. How the hell is that possible?!” He’s got some charm, he’s really direct, he’s confident in what he’s saying and he’s hardcore. His team feeds off of that and performs for him.

Kirk Ferentz - Iowa

CB: Entering his 21st season as head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes, Ferentz is officially the Bill Snyder of the Big Ten conference. He’s the longest serving active head coach in the conference and has been coaching at Iowa for longer than most of his current players have been alive. Ferentz didn’t really provide anything earth shattering during Big Ten Media Days, but he doesn’t really have to at this point in his career. Under his leadership, Iowa will continue to be Iowa in 2021 - they’ll beat some teams they shouldn’t and they’ll lose to some teams they shouldn’t. That’s Iowa football.

BB: Ferentz is boring, but effective. He is Iowa football personified. The Hawkeyes aren’t that fun to watch, their uniforms are a little blah, they never win at the highest level but they never lose in a dumb way either. That’s Ferentz.

Pat Fitzgerald - Northwestern

CB: I’ve come to develop a respect for Pat Fitzgerald and the job he’s done at Northwestern. While many programs within the conference struggled during the oddity that was the 2020 season, Fitzgerald coached his team to a 7-2 overall record and a 6-1 record within the conference, good for first place in the West Division. After a quick look at Northwestern’s schedule in 2021, don’t be surprised if they repeat their performance from 2020.

BB: I really like Pat Fitzgerald. I’ve talked to him in a one-on-one setting in the past and really enjoyed it. Last week in Indy, he was solid. He’s wholesome, he’s got some humor to him, he’s tough and he’s sharp. He looked put together, conducted himself lightly and seriously at the same time and just got it done at the podium, pretty much like he does on the sidelines.

JT: Decked out in all purple, Fitz was good as always. He joked about being jealous of the NIL deals his players are getting that he missed out on. A rebuilding year could be in store for the Wildcats but they’re in good hands.

PJ Fleck - Minnesota

CB: When it comes to PJ Fleck, you either love him or you hate him. The good news is that the folks in Minnesota seem to love him, as do the guys who play for him. The former Western Michigan head coach led the Golden Gophers to an 11-win season in 2019 and he’s hoping to replicate some of that success with the leadership of veteran quarterback Tanner Morgan behind center. As a side note, if scientists are truly interested in combating global warming and finding a clean source of renewable energy, they should study PJ Fleck.

BB: I used to like PJ Fleck a lot, but he has worn me down. He just comes off as a walking gimmick now. I think it’s a little cheesy when coaches ALWAYS end speaking engagements with their team tagline, like how Pat Fitzgerald always says “Go Cats!” or how Mel Tucker now says “Go Green!” at the end of every speech. Fleck has three. He closed his time at the podium with, “Row the boat, Ski-U-Mah and Go Gophers!” all at once. Enough, man.

JT: Full of energy, full of acronyms. Wow, it seems a little over the top. I’m sure he gets his players up on game days, but Fleck gets up everyday ready to run through a brick wall, build the wall back up again and then drive his car through it. SKI-U-MAH!!

James Franklin - Penn State

CB: After an odd 2020 season that saw the Nittany Lions start off with an 0-5 record for the first time in program history, Franklin is looking to get things back on track in 2021. The good news for Franklin is that he returns veteran quarterback Sean Clifford and a defensive unit that should be one of the best in the Big Ten. 

BB: One thing stuck out to me while Franklin was talking. He flat out said that he doesn’t see NIL as a recruiting tool. I’m not sure if he was just trying to stay on the surface of an obviously deep topic, but that came off as completely ignorant. If I was one of his current players or a recruit considering Penn State, that wouldn’t sit well with me.

JT: I honestly racked my brain for something I remembered Franklin saying at Media Day and I drew a blank. The suit was pretty sharp though.

Scott Frost - Nebraska

CB: Frost looked - and sounded - like he wanted to be anywhere else in the world other than representing Nebraska at Big Ten Media Days. I suppose the good news for Frost is that if he has another terrible season in Lincoln, he probably won’t have to worry about attending another Big Ten Media event for the foreseeable future.

BB: I’ve heard that Scott Frost was super fiery as a player, but the dude is about as boring as they come in a media setting. Throw in the fact that he’s been bad at Nebraska, and he just seemed like a dead man walking.

JT: Man, Frost did not seem happy to be in Indy. In his opening statement he said he was “excited” five times in the same uninspiring, monotone voice. Time might be running out in Lincoln.

Jim Harbaugh - Michigan

CB: Harbaugh looks as focused and refreshed as I can remember since his arrival to Michigan. He was sharp, engaging and provided the media with a whole host of newsworthy items. There’s no question that his job status is shaky at best given how his first six seasons have gone, but there does seem to be a renewed sense of focus and energy within the football program heading into 2021 - and he deserves a lot of credit for that.

BB: As I’ve outlined over the past few days, Harbaugh was great in Indy. He was in a happy mood, he was focused, he never wavered or drifted off while answering questions like he sometimes does and he just seemed to be in great spirits. He also looked healthy and charged up. He’s obviously a football guy through and through, but he looked as fired up to start a season as I can remember.

JT: Harbaugh still has a lot of critics to prove wrong but at least for Media Day, he passed the test. He was upbeat, answered questions on nearly every position group and even gave a hearty “Go Blue!” for the fan present.

Mike Locksley - Maryland

CB: Locksley is entering his third year as head coach of the Maryland Terrapins after spending three years at Alabama as part of Nick Saban’s coaching staff. Though Locksley hasn’t yet put together a winning season in College Park, the Terrapins have hit a bit of a hot streak on the recruiting trail as of late - snagging five-star linebacker Terrence Lewis and former Michigan commit Branden Jennings in the 2021 cycle.

BB: Maryland and Locksley do intrigue me just a bit, but apparently I'm alone on that because he wasn't asked one single question during his podium time. Locksley has a solid vibe about him, he’s got talent to work with and there’s obviously a lot of talent around the DMV. I don’t really have a strong opinion about Locksley, but he was fine during Big Ten Media Days.

JT: Seems like he has a good vision for the program. I like the no BCE’s mantra (no bitching, complaining, or excuses). Tough look not getting a single question asked on the main podium, though.

Greg Schiano - Rutgers

CB: I didn’t see Schiano on the main stage and I didn’t hear him speak. However, I did walk by him a couple of times. Based on that limited interaction only, I’m once again picking Rutgers to finish last in the Big Ten Conference.

BB: Rutgers is Rutgers, but Schiano is kind of a dude. He’s a “chip on my shoulder” kind of guy, and that plays in Piscataway. I actually missed part of his podium time but what I did catch was what I expected — he’s pretty serious, to the point and comes off a little mean, which I have no problem with.

JT: Thanks for coming out.

Mel Tucker - Michigan State

CB: As a Michigan fan, I feel like I’m supposed to hate Mel Tucker - but I’ll admit that I like what I see from him so far. He’s a really sharp guy and he’s committed to continuing a culture of toughness in East Lansing that revitalized the Michigan/Michigan State rivalry during Mark Dantonio’s tenure. After what happened against Michigan in 2020 and listening to him speak at Big Ten Media Days, it doesn’t look like Michigan State will be going away anytime soon.

BB: I like how Tucker conducts himself. He’s talking about winning at the highest level already, which seems a little bit overzealous, but he’s a pretty sharp guy. He’s got some style to him, he talks in a way that makes people listen and he’s a hell of a lot more personable than Mark Dantonio was. The roster at MSU needs a lot of work, but if I was a Spartan fan I’d feel good about Tucker.

JT: Tucker said his goal is to bring a National Championship to East Lansing....alright then.