OrangeandBlueNews - Ranking the Big Ten football coaches
football Edit

Ranking the Big Ten football coaches

Big Ten football coaches maybe haven’t made the headlines in the last week that SEC coaches Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher have the last week regarding NIL and recruiting. But that doesn’t mean that the Big Ten lacks high-level coaches atop the conference.

With the summer months quickly approaching and training camp less than two months away, Orange and Blue News’ Alec Busse ranks all 14 of the Big Ten’s football coaches.

14. Scott Frost, Nebraska

Scott Frost came to Nebraska with a lot of expectations after leading UCF to an undefeated season and being the former quarterback from some of Tom Osborne’s best teams in the 1990s. But it just hasn’t worked for Frost at Nebraska yet.

The Cornhuskers went a disappointing 3-9 last season, which included finding ways to lose games to both Michigan and Michigan State in the second half. Nebraska restricted Frost’s contract heading into the 2022 season, but if the Cornhuskers don’t find more success this season Frost will likely be gone.

13. Mike Locksley, Maryland

Mike Locksley has just a 13-23 record in three seasons with the Maryland Terrapins despite being able to recruit at a competitive level. The Terps did play in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl a year ago and routed Virginia Tech 54-10 to end the season on a two-game winning streak.

Similar to Rutgers and Indiana, it’s tough for Maryland in the Big Ten East to stack wins when Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State are all on the schedule every season. If Locksley is able to make the Terps a consistent bowl team, Maryland should be pretty happy.

Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema, left, and Maryland Terrapins head coach Mike Locksley shake hands before the start of their game, Friday at Memorial Stadium.
Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema, left, and Maryland Terrapins head coach Mike Locksley shake hands before the start of their game, Friday at Memorial Stadium. (Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)

12. Bret Bielema, Illinois

Bret Bielema is in his second stint as a Big Ten coach, this time with Illinois after previously serving as the head coach of Wisconsin where he won three Big Ten titles. Bielema helped Illinois to a 5-7 record in his first season with Illinois in 2021 and is hopeful that 2022 can mean a bowl game for the Illini.

Illinois has been one of the worst programs not just in the Big Ten, but in the country over the last decade. Bielema’s ultimate goal is to make the Illini experience sustained success. A 5-7 season, which showed solid improvement across the board could inspire hope that Bielema can navigate Illinois to more consistent wins.


11. Tom Allen, Indiana

Tom Allen won the 2020 Big Ten Coach of the Year award and 2021 was supposed to be his best season with the Hoosiers after going a combined 14-7 in the previous two seasons. But Indiana went just 2-10 in 2021, which included eight consecutive losses to end the season.

Allen did sign a top-30 recruiting class in 2020, so that could help him regain his footing in the Big Ten East, but there’s reason to have concern that the 2019-20 seasons were a fluke and that Indiana is now returning to previous levels of Hoosier football.

Indiana Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen walks along the sideline during the fourth quarter of a NCAA Division I football game between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021 at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind.
Indiana Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen walks along the sideline during the fourth quarter of a NCAA Division I football game between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021 at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. (Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK)

10. Greg Schiano, Rutgers

In his second stint with Rutgers, Greg Schiano immediately elevated Rutgers football. Schiano has a combined record of 76-81 at Rutgers and won the 2006 Big East Coach of the Year in his first tenure with Rutgers.

If the Big Ten rids of divisions, which could be coming in the near future, Rutgers would greatly benefit from not having to play Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State every single season. Until then, it’s hard to imagine what the ceiling is for Rutgers.

9. Jeff Brohm, Purdue

Purdue has had some magical moments with Jeff Brohm as their head coach, including wins over No. 2 Ohio State in 2018, No. 2 Iowa in 2021 and No. 3 Michigan State in 2021.

Brohm has yet to win 10 games at Purdue in a season, but he won nine games in 2021 and with Aidan O’Connell returning at quarterback for 2022 the Boilermakers could swing their bowl game victory over Tennessee into momentum.

The Boilermakers don’t always recruit the deepest classes, but they have recruited some elite talent under Brohm including Rondale Moore, David Bell and George Karlaftis.

Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm reacts during the second quarter of the Music City Bowl, Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm reacts during the second quarter of the Music City Bowl, Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. (Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK)

8. P.J. Fleck, Minnesota

PJ Fleck was hired in January of 2017 at Minnesota and since he’s taken over the Golden Gophers, Minnesota has gone 35-23, which includes an 11-win season in 2019. Minnesota went 9-4 last season and beat Wisconsin for the second time in four seasons.

Fleck has also done a good job of recruiting quality Midwestern talent from surrounding states, which has helped him overcome the recruiting shortcoming that comes with being the Gophers' head coach.

7. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

It’s hard to not have respect for what Pat Fitzgerald has turned Northwestern football into. Quietly, the Wildcats are one of the Big Ten’s more respected programs. Fitzgerald has just a 109-90 record in his time at Northwestern, but the Wildcats have played in two of the last five Big Ten championships – both losses.

Fitzgerald was the 2018 Big Ten Coach of the Year, and his 109 wins are 60 more than the next closest coach in Northwestern history. It’s hard to not respect what Fitzgerald has accomplished at one of the country’s more difficult programs.

 Iowa Hawkeyes football coach Kirk Ferentz, left, talks with Northwestern Wildcats football coach Pat Fitzgerald before a Big Ten Conference football game between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa Hawkeyes football coach Kirk Ferentz, left, talks with Northwestern Wildcats football coach Pat Fitzgerald before a Big Ten Conference football game between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Iowa Hawkeyes (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

6. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Kirk Ferentz is the longest-tenured head coach in college football and he led Iowa to their second Big Ten title game appearance a season ago. While the Hawkeyes were embarrassed in that game by Michigan, it showed some of the stability that Ferentz continues to display at Iowa.

He’s a four-time Big Ten coach of the year and Iowa has seven 10-win seasons in his 23 years as the head coach. In each of the last three seasons, Iowa has finished in the top-25.

Ferentz was able to get past accusations of racial inequities inside his program from players during the summer of 2020, which eventually led to Iowa firing strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle as a result. But Ferentz seemed to regain confidence from Iowa’s administration during the 2021 season.

5. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Wisconsin, similar to Iowa, has been the model of consistency in the Big Ten West division, but the Chryst has led the Badgers to three Big Ten title games, so Chryst gets the nod over Ferentz.

Since Barry Alvarez took over Wisconsin in the 1990s, the Badgers have long found success running the football and playing stout defense no matter who the head coach is. There might be better in-game coaches in the Big Ten than Chryst and there might be better recruiters, but Chryst just keeps winning football games and he does it without making much noise.

If Graham Mertz takes a step at quarterback this season, the Badgers' offense could add a new wrinkle. But Mertz has been inconsistent in his first three seasons completing just 60.8 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on during the third quarter against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the 2022 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium on January 01, 2022 in Tampa, Florida.
Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on during the third quarter against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the 2022 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium on January 01, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

4. James Franklin, Penn State

James Franklin has compiled a 67-34 record at Penn State, which includes a Big Ten title and three 10-win seasons. Franklin routinely recruits in the top-20 nationally. But the issue is that in his last two seasons, Franklin has only led Penn State to a combined 11-11 record.

Franklin signed a 10-year contract extension last season that will pay him a total of $95-million dollars, and while Franklin has helped Penn State return to one of the top-15 programs every season in the country, it’s probably fair to question if Franklin was deserving on a 10-year contract extension.

3. Mel Tucker, Michigan State

It probably isn’t fair to count the 2020 season against Mel Tucker too much. After being hired after the coaching carousel stopped turning as a replacement for Mark Dantonio, Tucker struggled in 2020 as Michigan State went just 2-5.

But 2021 showed that Tucker might have what it takes to keep Michigan State atop the Big Ten. Tucker quickly built the Spartan roster through the transfer portal last season and running back Kenneth Walker III paced the offense while earning first-team All-American.

The 2021 season gave Michigan State so much confidence in Tucker that they gave him a fully guaranteed 10-year, $95-million-dollar contract extension before the conclusion of the regular season. Tucker doesn’t have the track record that says he’s deserving of that, but the Spartans had to secure Tucker before elite programs came after him.

This season, Payton Thorne is back at quarterback and will have a chance to compete atop the Big Ten East with Penn State, Michigan, and, of course, Ohio State.

 Michigan Football Head Coach, Jim Harbaugh, walks out of the tunnel prior to the spring football game at Michigan Stadium on April 2, 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Michigan Football Head Coach, Jim Harbaugh, walks out of the tunnel prior to the spring football game at Michigan Stadium on April 2, 2022 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Jaime Crawford/Getty Images)

2. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

While many Michigan fans called for Harbaugh’s job after the conclusion of the 2020 COVID season, few are now disappointed with their head coach. Harbaugh led Michigan to their first College Football Playoff appearance in 2021 and coached Michigan to their first Big Ten title since 2004.

Harbaugh hasn’t recruited at the elite level that Ohio State has in his tenure with the Wolverines, and that’s largely why it took him seven seasons to beat the Buckeyes. But as one of just two coaches in the league to appear in the College Football Playoff it’s impossible to rank him any lower than third on this list.

1. Ryan Day, Ohio State

You know you’re doing a good job of as a head coach when an 11-2 season and a berth in the Rose Bowl is viewed as a disappointment – that’s why Ryan Day is the clear choice for the best head coach in the Big Ten.

Day has led the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff on two separate occasions in 2019 and 2020 and the 2022 Buckeyes could be primed to return to the playoff behind a high-powered offense led by quarterback CJ Stroud, wide receiver Jaxson Smith-Njigba and running back TreVeyon Henderson.

The Buckeyes are also the only program in the Big Ten that has recruited at an elite level every single year, and that’s largely why Ohio State has proven to be the only Big Ten program that can compete with the elite teams of the SEC.

The hiring of Jim Knowles as defensive coordinator from Oklahoma State could help the Buckeyes win their first national championship since 2014 when Urban Meyer was the head coach.

• Talk about this article on the Grange Grove message board.

• Watch our videos and subscribe to our YouTube channel

• Listen and subscribe to our podcast on Podbean.

• Follow us on Twitter: @IllinoisRivals, @JohnSupinie, @Alec_Busse

• Like us on Facebook.