Urban Meyer and Thad Matta of Ohio State top the list
For several years, the Big Ten has had a roster of basketball coaches that could rival only the ACC.
Now, the league is working to make sure its roster of football coaches rivals only the SEC.
Names like Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan, John Beilein and Thad Matta are on the top of anyone’s list of college basketball coaches. Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh would be the same among college football coaches.
Those additions on the football side — plus Penn State’s James Franklin — give the Big Ten one of the most interesting rosters of coaching tandems in the country.
The goal of our coach tandem rankings is to look at each football and basketball duo as a pair. In general, we’re looking at the duos most likely to keep each school’s fans happy and entertained from the start of football season through the end of basketball season.
1. Ohio State
Football: Urban Meyer | Basketball: Thad Matta
Meyer and Alabama’s Nick Saban are the Nos. 1A and 1B of college football coaching with good reason. After Ohio State’s improbable run to the 2014 national championship, Meyer and Saban are the only coaches to win national titles at two different schools. Meyer is 38-3 with the Buckeyes and has six AP top five finishes at Utah, Florida and Ohio State. Matta has one of the most underrated careers in college basketball, partly because he’s never won a national title and partly because of his low-key personality. Remember, when Matta took over at Ohio State, the Buckeyes were emerging from NCAA sanctions. Since then, Ohio State has won 30 games three times and reached the Final Four twice. In 15 seasons as a head coach, he’s won at least a share of eight regular season conference titles.
2. Michigan State
Football: Mark Dantonio | Basketball: Tom Izzo
This duo rarely makes a big splash with major recruits, but Dantonio and Izzo both excel at developing upperclassmen capable of winning in the Big Ten and the postseason. Dantonio has elevated Michigan State football to one of the powers in the Big Ten. He’s led Michigan State to four seasons of 11 wins or more in the last five and back-to-back top-five finishes, something that hasn’t happened in East Lansing since 1965-66. Izzo is in interesting territory. He is enduring his longest Final Four drought (five seasons, boo hoo) and his team is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997. The track record, though, is elite: Izzo has six career Final Fours and a national title.
Football: Jim Harbaugh | Basketball: John Beilein
Give credit to both of these coaches for not taking the easy route: Harbaugh’s first head coaching job was at San Diego of the non-scholarship Pioneer League; Beilein’s was at Erie Community College. All Michigan is asking of its new hire Harbaugh is to do what Beilein has done — return a program to national contention. In basketball, the Wolverines reached the Final Four in 2013 and the Elite Eight in 2014. Harbaugh would seem to be up to the task at his alma mater. He built Stanford into a Pac-12 contender and took the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl.
Football: Paul Chryst | Basketball: Bo Ryan
Ryan was already one of the best coaches in the country when he led Wisconsin to top-four finishes in the Big Ten every year since 2002. Now, he’s looking to take the Badgers to back-to-back Final Fours. And he’s done all of that without a ton of major recruits on his roster. Wisconsin football has had an unbroken record of success under Barry Alvarez, Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen. Chryst, a former Badgers player and offensive coordinator, knows the territory. His record at Pittsburgh — 19-19 overall, 10-13 in the ACC — was nothing special, but he took over program with a tumultuous coaching situation.
5. Penn State
Football: James Franklin | Basketball: Patrick Chambers
Penn State is nearing full strength after severe NCAA sanctions, and it has the right coach to lead the program back to national prominence. Franklin is the only coach in Vanderbilt history with back-to-back nine-win seasons and three bowl appearances. In his first season at Penn State, he capitalized on the Nittany Lions’ first post-Paterno bowl bid with a win over Boston College. There’s only so much Chambers can do with Penn State basketball, so flirting with a winning record in consecutive seasons has to be taken in context.
Football: Mike Riley | Basketball: Tim Miles
Riley’s move to Nebraska was one of the most puzzling of the offseason on two fronts — first that Riley would leave Oregon State after 12 years of resisting overtures to go elsewhere and second because Nebraska would hire a coach who averaged fewer than six wins in his last five seasons. But he can unearth and develop recruits, which is what Nebraska might need. In basketball, the momentum has stalled in Miles’ third season in Lincoln, but two NCAA appearances in four years at places like Colorado State and Nebraska is no small feat.
Football: Jerry Kill | Basketball: Richard Pitino
Opposing coaches will tell you how good a coach Kill is — his teams are routinely one of the toughest to play in the Big Ten. Top 25 finishes and major bowl games aren’t plentiful at Minnesota no matter the coach, but Kill has led the Gophers to back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time since 2002-03. The 32-year-old Pitino is one of the names to watch in the sport, and not just because of his bloodlines. He his first season at Minnesota, he led the Gophers to an NIT championship, and in his only season at FIU, he led the Golden Panthers to their best season in 17 years.
Football: Randy Edsall | Basketball: Mark Turgeon
Maybe Big Ten affiliation will be good for Maryland in ways beyond finances. Turgeon should get to double-digit conference wins for the first time during his tenure at Maryland, and Edsall presided over wins over (weakened) Iowa, Penn State and Michigan squads in his Big Ten debut. Progress is good, but there’s still a lot of work for both coaches. Football hasn’t won eight games or won a bowl game since 2010 and basketball hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2003. Edsall and Turgeon are on the clock.
Football: Pat Fitzgerald | Basketball: Chris Collins
Two years ago, it would be tough to find a hotter name in coaching that Fitzgerald. In 2012, he had led the Wildcats to a 10-win season and five consecutive bowl appearances. He’s 5-7 in each of his two seasons since. Some hard-luck injuries have been a factor, but either way, the momentum in Evanston has stalled. Hopes are high that Collins, a former Duke assistant, will be the one who turns things around for Northwestern hoops, but it’s a long climb.
Football: Kirk Ferentz | Basketball: Fran McCaffery
Neither coach will win a popularity contest. Ferentz is 34-30 in his last five seasons and struggling to live up to the standard he set with three top-10 finishes from 2002-04. McCaffery is prickly with the media and combustable on the bench, but his team ended an eight-year NCAA Tournament drought last season.
Football: Darrell Hazell | Basketball: Matt Painter
After two losing seasons, Painter is leading Purdue to its best season since Robbie Hummel left. During one stretch, Painter led the Boilermakers to six consecutive NCAA appearances, including two Sweet 16s. Hazell is 4-20 in two seasons with the football program.
Football: Kevin Wilson | Basketball: Tom Crean
Give Indiana credit for featuring two coaches who put up a ton of points but can’t seem to stop anyone from scoring. Crean pulled Indiana out of the depths of NCAA sanctions stemming from the Kelvin Sampson era, but what has it done for the Hoosiers in terms of sustainability? Indiana won 29 games and spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in 2012-13 — yet it yielded a Sweet 16 at the end of that season and a 17-win campaign the next. Indiana football is as good as any Big Ten team on offense — yet hasn’t reached a bowl game in four seasons under Wilson.
Football: Tim Beckman | Basketball: John Groce
Give Groce credit for making the most of this season despite some bad luck. He missed on some key recruits and had players miss stretches due to injury. But Illinois could reach the NCAA Tournament this year or should at least win 20 games for the third time under Groce. Beckman has led a two-game improvement at Illinois every season as head coach.
Football: Kyle Flood | Basketball: Eddie Jordan
Three consecutive bowl games at Rutgers is still a notable feat, and Flood has done it in his first three seasons. Rutgers basketball is destined for 10 or more conference losses, no matter the conference or the coach.