Rating Big Ten Football Coaching Staffs

The Big Ten Conference has always had good coaching. When you look at the league right now, you see living legends, promising 'youngsters', legends in the making and more. But who has the best coaching staff in the league? Jon Miller takes a crack at this question, complete with rankings and commentary.

Come on, time. August cannot get here soon enough. But when it does…well, it will be time to feed the beast that is the addiction of college football. The Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon is on August 5th, and Iowa Football Media Day is on August 10th. From the 10th on, you will have wall-to-wall football articles and interviews, along with recruiting stories, through the New Year and beyond.

In the meantime, here are more summer ponderings, thoughts, rambles on college football…

Let's say that it's halftime in this year's Iowa-Michigan game at Ann Arbor, and Iowa is within a touchdown of the Wolverines.

You have to feel pretty good about Iowa's chances then, don't you? And don't you think Lloyd Carr and his charges might not be feeling so good?

Kirk Ferentz and his staff have shown that they are very good at making halftime adjustments, and those skills were clearly on display last year against Michigan and Wisconsin.

But back to Michigan.

In 2002, Iowa held a scant one-point halftime lead, only to come out and blow things open in the third quarter.

In 2003, Michigan opened a quick 14-0 lead on Iowa and looked like a pro team in doing so. But by the break, the Hawkeyes were within three points, though they were getting killed statistically, and they held the Wolverines to just seven second half points.

Here is a thought: What if Kirk Ferentz and his staff coached at Michigan or Ohio State? Would the rest of the league even stand a chance if those men had that level of talent to work with?

I respect Lloyd Carr and he is a very nice man. Do I think of him when I am asked to name the best coaches in college football? No, I don't.

Here is how I would rate the best coaches in the Big Ten this ten seconds. Keep in mind that these rankings also take into account the quality of assistants that are at each program:

1. Kirk Ferentz/Iowa Staff: Name me a coaching staff in college football that has done more with what the recruiting experts consider to be less, than these guys? Their pre-game and in-game coaching also is near the top of the list nationally, as are their talent evaluation and development skills. It would be hard to argue that there is a better coaching staff in college football that does all of those things as well as this staff.

2. Joe Tiller/Purdue Staff: Tiller brought in his wacky WAC offense several years back and it caught the Big Ten off guard. Since then, he has refined it, as well as adding a fearsome defensive scheme, one that has flat out given Iowa fits the last three years. Iowa was lucky to beat Purdue in 2002, and it took some now legendary plays in that game by some of the best playmakers to ever don the black and gold to pull it out. Purdue is another program that does not land the best of the best recruits. They do a fine job.

3. Jim Tressel/Ohio State Staff: Sure, they get all the blue chip talent they want, and some might feel that any halfway decent coach could win with that lineup. But one has to respect Tressel's approach, his professionalism, his respect to tradition and his class. I know that I do. Some call them the ‘Luckeyes' for the good fortune that has befallen them the last two years. Here is what I truly believe luck is: When preparation meets opportunity. The Bucks have been prepared, and they have seized the moment almost every single time.

4. Lloyd Carr/Michigan Staff: They too get the best talent, but they have not done as much with it in recent years as Ohio State has. But still, they are always in the Big Ten title hunt. Is that from great coaching, or is it good coaching with great talent? I think it's the latter. Watching Michigan implode last year at Iowa City in the second half and their special teams approach to that game was a comedy of errors. They came out and landed two roundhouse rights to Iowa's jaw, but the Hawkeyes got up and fought back.

It's at this point where I see a considerable drop off in the Big Ten.

Yes, Joe Paterno is a legend and he knows football. But has any team in the country done less with what the recruiting experts considered to be more in recent years than Penn State? They always seem to have a top 25 class, and the last few years in Big Ten play, they have been inconsistent at best, and not good the rest of the time.

Glen Mason at Minnesota has won eight or more games in three of the last five years, including last year's 10-win season. But they have beaten just one Big Ten team with a better than .500 league record over the past four years, fattening up on the league's cellar dwellers and any D1-AA opponent they can find in their OOC loop. Last year they were 5-3 in the league. Three of those wins came against Penn State (3-9), Illinois (1-11) and Indiana (2-10).

Ron Turner (Illinois) and Ferentz had a similar career track through four years at the head of each school…Turner was 0-11 his first year, Ferentz 1-10. 3-8 in year two, Ferentz 3-9. 8-4 in year three with a bowl win, Ferentz 7-5 with a bowl win. Though Illinois went 5-6 in year four, and Ferentz wen 11-2, Turner went 10-2 in year five with a Big Ten title.

But since that Sugar Bowl birth in 2001, things have just been bad, and Turner is likely not long at Illinois.

It's hard to say if Randy Walker at Northwestern has enjoyed some mild success due to what Gary Barnett built. But then again, its not like NW has been to the Rose Bowl in recent years. They went to the Motor City Bowl last year (does that even really count?) and lost to Bowling Green. Their other bowl appearance under Walker was in the 2000 Alamo Bowl where Nebraska beat them 66-17.

John L. Smith got off to a great start at Michigan State, but he inherited a ton of talent. Let's see what he does in years two through four before anointing him as the next big thing.

The Badgers appear to be past their prime under Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin. They are just 9-15 in Big Ten play the last three years, and Alvarez has a career B10 record of one game under .500. But he does have three Rose Bowl wins, and the only thing meaner than a Badger is a wounded Badger. We'll see if Bret Bielema can inject some life into that coaching staff.

I actually like Gerry Dinardo. How can you not? He has perhaps the most difficult job in the Big Ten: head coach at Indiana. I sort of look for Gerry to have a decent year this year. They return a lot on both sides of the line this year, and they were close in some losses last year: 14 point loss to Michigan, six to NW and eight to Purdue.


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