Ranking the Big Ten Football Coaches from Top to Bottom

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Ranking the Big Ten Football Coaches

This list is not based upon the future, or the past. It is a rating of the Big Ten coaches today and how I would rank them from top to bottom. As with all lists, it is based on my opinion and open to all collective interpretations. Enjoy!

1. Jim Tressel: 9th Season at Ohio State University
83-19 career division one record with an 82% winning percentage
218-76-2 Total career wins with a 74% winning percentage
Tressel is not only the best coach in the Big Ten, but in my opinion, the second best in the nation only behind Urban Meyer. What makes Tressel great is that he has a tremendous ability to identify and develop talent not only with his players, but also with his staff. Now I admit that I like him personally and he is an absolute stand up guy. He does it the right way both with how he runs the program in and outside the locker room. Tressel makes incredible adjustments and as far as football minds go, he is a genius. While his critics will point to the losses he has had in the national championship game, realists will point to the fact that his teams always get into them even when they shouldn’t.

2. Joe Paterno: 44th Season at Penn State University
383-127-3 career division one record with a 75% winning percentage
Of course, if this list was based on career accomplishments Paterno would be number one. Is he the old JoePa? No. He is, however, a great coach and even with his critics trying to push him out he keeps winning. A sign of a great coach is the ability to identify strengths and weaknesses, most importantly your own. As Paterno has aged, he has grown from being a strong hands-on coach to more of a CEO type. He is able to do that due to great assistants who have been with him for years. He has built a program that doesn’t require him to spend the hours on the road that most of his colleagues do, but yet he has the star power to “close the deal” when they are ready to offer and secure a recruit. Some have suggested that his coaches do “all of the coaching,” but I can tell you that a dear friend who played for Paterno told me last year, “He doesn’t make all the plans, but he gives them the outline and he has his hands in all of it.” Even at this age, he is a great coach and that is why he makes number two.

3. Mark Dantonio: 3rd Season at Michigan State University
34-27 career division one record with a 56% winning percentage
Dantonio learned a lot from his close friend Jim Tressel and although he is his own man, it has distinguished him as not only one of the Big Ten’s best, but one of the nation’s top up and coming. The job he has done on and off the field at MSU is extraordinary. He develops strong relationships both with his staff and players. At this level, great coaches can fail with bad staffs and bad coaches can flourish with good ones. The art is to get both and MSU has it. Dantonio learned from coaching for Nick Saban how not to treat his people and although he is as demanding on his staff and himself as he is on his players, he puts a premium on those men and they are loyal back to him. To be a great coach you have to be able to recruit and coach. Dantonio can do both. Look at the youngsters that he brought to Ohio State? You may say well that was OSU and it was, but look at Cincinnati. He brought in a myriad of unheralded players that went on to the NFL and last year went to a BCS game. Dantonio can do it all and with only two complete seasons at MSU, people around the nation can see that he truly is among the best. I admit some bias here. I consider Dantonio a friend and with all of the accolades you can give the man as a coach, he is an even better man.

4. Kirk Ferentz: 11th Season at the University of Iowa
70-53 career division one record with a 57% winning percentage
Ferentz, like the top three, is exceptional in the handling of his staff and can get more out of less with a consistency that screams of his talent. He is a fine coach that has the respect of his peers as a winner. While others talk about toughness, year in and year out, you know that the Hawks under Ferentz’s leadership will bring it. How good is Ferentz to his staff? Both his DC Norm Parker and OC Ken O’Keefe have been with him for his entire 11 years in Iowa City.

5. Rich “M ROD” Rodriguez: 2nd Season at the University of Michigan
63-35 career division one record with a 64% winning percentage
M Rod came to Michigan after an incredible career at West Virginia. He was the favorite son and turned down a huge contract to stay at WVU. When the University continued to not live up to their part of his agreement, he finally had enough and left. It was sad to see the divorce happen considering had the school simply done what had been agreed upon, he would have stayed at WVU forever. M Rod was slated to bring to Michigan a more wide-open offense (which is what the fan base wanted) and he will. He has had to fight a lot of battles, some of his own and many not, since arriving in Ann Arbor. He had a rough year one, but it doesn’t change that he knows how to coach and proved it at WVU. Will it work at UM? That is a tough question. It is one thing to have to compete against MSU and OSU, but he also has (like John L. Smith had) to battle some close to the program problems.

6. Bret Bielema: 4th Season at the University of Wisconsin
28-11 career division one record with a 72% winning percentage
Bret came to Wisconsin with no head coaching experience and quickly showed that he could handle the pressure. Last season was the first he truly showed some new coach struggles, but it doesn’t change that he can recruit, coach, and has a terrific relationship with his players. Bielema inherited a good program and took over having been an assistant. Rarely am I in favor of an assistant with no head coaching experience to take a Big Ten head-coaching job, but this is one of those times. A proven assistant taking over with a departing successful coach to keep continuity with a program is one of those times.

7. Ron Zook: 5th Season at the University of Illinois
41-44 career division one record with a 48% winning percentage
Zook took over for Steve Spurrier when the program was down. Spurrier got out while the getting was good. Talent had fallen off and the cupboard was not full. Zook responded in a harsh environment with fans that never wanted him from day one and had some of the nations best recruiting classes. He was let go and Urban Meyer won a title with those youngsters. He came to Illinois where the cupboard was not only bare, but the cupboards had been stripped off of the walls and were missing. Zook has once again done an incredible recruiting job and has talent at every position for the Illini. Is he the best game coach in the league? No, but he isn’t a farce. His high-energy approach appeals to many and should lead the Illini to a ten-win season in 2009.

8. Pat Fitzgerald: 4th Season at Northwestern
19-18 career division one record with a 51% winning percentage
Fitzgerald took over with no head coaching experience. Something that I don’t like at the Big Ten level unless it is a successful assistant taking over for a quality program that loses a coach to retirement or a new job. In this case, it was the death of my friend Randy Walker. Fitzgerald is as great of a guy as he was a football player with a bright future at NW. In each season he has coached, the Cats record has gotten better and continues the winning tradition. He is well respected by other coaches around the league as well as his own staff and players. I heard an interesting story once from a recruit that was being courted heavily from NW, MSU and another school that he ended up choosing. He told me that when he mentioned MSU to Fitzgerald, “Fitzgerald had nothing but praise for what Coach Dantonio would do at MSU. In fact he told me that he thought I would look better in purple, but green would be a good choice.” That always stood out to me. I don’t have issues with coaches that tell the truth, but I despise negative recruiting and I always respected him for this and many other stories about him. He is growing every year in the job and this list is based upon RIGHT NOW. I will almost guarantee that when we make this list again down the road, he will be much higher. He played at NW and bleeds purple. A school like NW could be in great shape for years when you look at his age and the fact that he has purple in his bloodstream. If another school can get him, that would be about the only way NW could fail. If they take care of him, he could be there a long time.

9. Tim Brewster: 3rd Season at Minnesota
8-17 career division one record with a 32% winning percentage
Brewster came to Minnesota with no head coaching or coordinator experience. They sold the fans on a wide-open system (he has since abandoned it), and the fact that he could recruit. He can recruit, but almost as soon as his staff hit the ground in Minneapolis several were calling friends in the profession complaining about having made the choice to join his staff. He has had to learn on the job, and people need to remember that the Gopher fans were spoiled under Mason (who was fired) and losing won’t last here. They are moving into a new stadium and Brewster has to deliver ASAP or his days in that new stadium may not last long.

10. Bill Lynch: 3rd Season at Indiana
47-68 career division one record with a 41% winning percentage
91-82-3 total career coaching record with a 52% winning percentage
Lynch is a great guy and was a good OC for the Hoosiers. He is in a tough spot. Someone can win at Indiana (Mallory proved that), but it takes a rare bird and Lynch is not that. Like so many jobs, he is just in the wrong spot. I root for good people and Lynch certainly is one. He is, however, in a bad spot, in a bad program, and he simply can’t and won’t cut it at IU.

11. Danny Hope: 1st Season at Purdue
0-0career division one record
35-22 career record at what we formerly called 1-AA EKU with a winning percentage of 61%
I wrote about the situation Hope found himself in at Purdue with their team scouting report http://spartannation.com/?p=6302 . Tiller took the Boilers to 10 bowls in 12 seasons and the fans still weren’t happy. Hope is in a no win situation. If he has the success Tiller did, which would be great at Purdue, the fans will call for his head. If he struggles, which he may, then he will be gone. We very well could see him higher on this list in later years, but with no division one head coaching experience he has to start on the bottom.