Ranking college football coaches is no easy task. Similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.
While it’s difficult to rank coaches, this aspect of college football is arguably the most important to winning a national or conference title. No matter how much talent a program has, winning a national title is difficult if the coaching is questionable.
Wins are a telling and important statistic, but they don’t provide a complete picture of how successful coaches are. Winning 10 games at Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky. Also, every program has a different amount of resources available. Hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. A good coach can elevate a program. However, it’s easier for programs like Alabama, Florida, Ohio State and Texas with more built-in advantages to contend for a national title on a more consistent basis.
A couple of other factors to consider when ranking assistant coaches: How well are the assistants paid? A good program is willing to spend big to keep its assistants. And a staff with two of the nation’s top coordinators could be a sign the head coach is better as a CEO and may not be as strong in terms of developing gameplans. How is the coach in the X’s and O’s? Can the coach recruit? Are the program’s facilities on par with the rest of the conference? Much like assistants, a program needs good facilities to win big. If a team is winning at a high level with poor facilities and a small budget, it’s reflects positively on the head coach. Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs?
Again, wins are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire?
Considering how important coaches are to teams or even making preseason predictions, Athlon is taking a look at how all 128 college football coaches rank nationally and by conference.
Ranking the Big Ten’s College Football Coaches for 2014
1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Record at Ohio State: 24-2 (2 years)
Career Record: 128-22 (12 years)
Ohio State’s Program Rank: (No. 1 in Big Ten, No. 5 nationally)
Meyer has been a head coach at four different jobs and has won at a high level at each program. A hallmark of Meyer’s tenures has been a quick turnaround or immediate improvement in the first season. Bowling Green went 2-9 in the year prior to Meyer’s arrival, and the Falcons recorded a 17-6 mark under his watch. At Utah, Meyer inherited a team that won five games in 2002. However, the Utes went 22-2 under Meyer and finished No. 4 nationally in the final Associated Press poll in 2004. Meyer was hired at Florida prior to the 2005 season and guided the Gators to a 65-15 record. Florida won two BCS titles under Meyer and finished No. 3 nationally in 2009. After stepping away in 2011, Meyer returned to the sidelines at Ohio State in 2012 and won the first 24 games in his tenure. The Buckeyes closed 2013 on a two-game losing streak but have won all 16 regular season Big Ten games under Meyer’s watch. With elite recruiting, combined with a top-five program like Ohio State, it’s only a matter of time before the Buckeyes win the national title under Meyer.
2. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Record at Michigan State: 64-29 (7 years)
Career Record: 82-46 (10 years)
Michigan State’s Program Rank: (No. 6 in Big Ten, No. 26 nationally)
Under Dantonio’s watch, Michigan State has emerged as one of the top programs in the Big Ten. The Spartans have won at least 11 games in three out of the last four years and went 25-7 in Big Ten play during that span. Dantonio guided Michigan State to a 13-1 finish last season, including a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford. The Spartans also finished No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll, which was the highest finish in program history since 1966. Prior to taking over at Michigan State, Dantonio went 18-17 in three years at Cincinnati. Dantonio recruited only one top-25 recruiting class from 2010-13, yet the Spartans rank No. 2 in the Big Ten during that span in conference victories. And with a hefty contract extension, Dantonio is poised to continue his success at Michigan State for the foreseeable future.
3. James Franklin, Penn State
Record at Penn State: First Season
Career Record: 24-15 (3 years)
Penn State’s Program Rank: (No. 3 in Big Ten, No. 14 nationally)
Franklin comes to Penn State after a successful three-year stint at Vanderbilt. The Pennsylvania native is one of the top coaching hires for 2014 and should win big with the Nittany Lions. Franklin won 24 games with the Commodores, which tied the best three-year stretch in program history. Vanderbilt also recorded back-to-back nine-win seasons, finished in the Associated Press poll twice and claimed two bowl victories under Franklin. Prior to taking over with the Commodores, Franklin worked as the offensive coordinator at Kansas State and Maryland and served as an assistant with the Packers in 2005. After winning at one of the toughest programs in the BCS, Franklin is now at a job where he can consistently compete for titles. Franklin is also regarded as an excellent recruiter. With the resources available at Penn State, Franklin will have the Nittany Lions in contention for Big Ten titles and a spot in college football’s playoff in the near future.
4. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Record at Northwestern: 55-46 (8 years)
Career Record: 55-46 (8 years)
Northwestern’s Program Rank: (No. 13 in Big Ten, No. 59 nationally)
Fitzgerald’s career record doesn’t compare to Urban Meyer or Mark Dantonio, but let’s keep in mind he’s also coaching at one of the Big Ten’s toughest jobs. One way to look at Fitzgerald’s ranking is this: If he was at a program at the top of college football’s food chain with more resources, we think he would win at a higher level. In eight years at Northwestern, Fitzgerald has been outstanding. The Wildcats are 55-46 under his watch and played in five consecutive bowl games from 2008-12. Northwestern also won the 2013 Gator Bowl, which was the program’s first postseason win since 1949. The 1-7 mark in Big Ten play last season was Northwestern’s worst conference record under Fitzgerald, but the Wildcats were hit hard by injuries. Under Fitzgerald, Northwestern will always be a factor in the bowl picture and should be a tough out for the rest of the Big Ten.
5. Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
Record at Wisconsin: 9-4 (1 year)
Career Record: 39-35 (5 years)
Wisconsin’s Program Rank: (No. 5 in Big Ten, No. 24 nationally)
Andersen isn’t as experienced in the Big Ten as Ferentz, Kill, Hoke or Pelini, but he has a strong resume in just six years as a head coach. Andersen’s first head coaching job came at Southern Utah in 2003. The Thunderbirds went 4-7 Andersen's debut, which represented a three-game improvement from 2002. After one season at Southern Utah, Andersen worked at Utah from 2004-08 as an assistant, including the final three years as the defensive coordinator. In 2009, he was hired as Utah State’s head coach. Andersen went 8-16 in the first two years but recorded an 18-8 mark over the final two seasons. Utah State’s 11-win campaign in 2012 was the most victories in school history. Andersen went 9-4 in his Wisconsin debut and all four losses were by 10 points or less.
6. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Record at Iowa: 108-79 (15 years)
Career Record: 120-100 (18 years)
Iowa’s Program Rank: (No. 7 in Big Ten, No. 32 nationally)
Ferentz may not be the flashiest coach, but he is easily one of the top-six coaches in the Big Ten. Iowa is a solid job, but it also has its drawbacks. There’s not a ton of in-state talent to build a team, but the Hawkeyes are 15-17 in conference play over the last four years, which is almost equal to Michigan during that span (18-14). Ferentz went 4-19 in his first two years at Iowa, but the Hawkeyes recorded six consecutive bowl appearances from 2001-06, including an Orange Bowl trip after the 2002 season. After missing out on a bowl in 2007, Iowa earned four straight postseason trips from 2008-11, and Ferentz got the program back on track after a 4-8 mark in 2012. With a favorable schedule and 12 starters back, Ferentz should have Iowa in contention for the West Division title in 2014.
7. Jerry Kill, Minnesota
Record at Minnesota: 17-21 (3 years)
Career Record: 144-94 (20 years)
Minnesota’s Program Rank: (No. 11 in Big Ten, No. 56 nationally)
Kill was a successful coach prior to taking over at Minnesota and has guided the Golden Gophers to back-to-back bowl games for the first time sine 2008-09. In five years at Saginaw Valley State (1994-98), Kill went 38-14 and followed that stint with a two-year stop at Emporia State (11-11). From 2001-07, Kill recorded a 55-32 mark at Southern Illinois, which included five consecutive appearances in the FCS playoffs. And in three years at Northern Illinois, Kill went 23-16 with three bowl trips. After a 3-9 mark at Minnesota in 2011, Kill is 14-12 and clearly has the program on the right track. Also, last year’s 4-4 Big Ten mark is the first record of .500 or better in Big Ten play by Minnesota since 2005.
8. Brady Hoke, Michigan
Record at Michigan: 26-13 (3 years)
Career Record: 73-63 (11 years)
Michigan’s Program Rank: (No. 2 in Big Ten, No. 10 nationally)
A few years ago, Hoke would have ranked higher on this list. However, Hoke’s stock has been on the decline after finishing 8-5 in 2012 and 7-6 in 2013. Prior to taking over at Michigan, Hoke recorded a 34-38 record in six seasons at Ball State, which included a 12-1 mark in 2008. He went 13-12 in two years at San Diego State and helped the program break an 11-year bowl drought with an appearance in the 2010 Poinsettia Bowl. Hoke went 11-2 in his Michigan debut in 2011 and led the Wolverines to a victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. However, despite back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes, the Wolverines are just 15-11 from 2012-13. Considering the expectations at Michigan, Hoke needs to show the program is headed in the right direction in 2014 to avoid the hot seat.
9. Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Record at Nebraska: 58-24 (6 years)
Career Record: 58-24 (6 years)
Nebraska’s Program Rank: (No. 4 in Big Ten, No. 17 nationally)
Pelini is still looking for his first conference title or an appearance in a BCS bowl, but he has won at least nine games in each of his six seasons at Nebraska. While nine or ten victories a year works at most programs, is that an acceptable benchmark in Lincoln? Winning at Nebraska in 2014 is probably more challenging than it was in 1995, but according to recruiting rankings, the Cornhuskers have the No. 3 roster in the Big Ten. Although Pelini’s win total has been consistent and has five consecutive finishes in the final Associated Press poll, the expectations are huge at Nebraska. Would a 7-5 or 8-4 record in 2014 force athletic director Shawn Eichorst to rethink the direction of the program?
10. Randy Edsall, Maryland
Record at Maryland: 13-24 (3 years)
Career Record: 87-94 (15 years)
Maryland’s Program Rank: (No. 8 in Big Ten, No. 40 nationally)
Maryland has made steady progress in each of Edsall’s first three seasons and are in good position to make a bowl in 2014. Edsall was hired at Maryland in 2011 after 12 seasons at Connecticut. Under Edsall’s direction, the Huskies went 74-70 and claimed the Big East title in 2010. Edsall never recorded more than nine wins in a season at Connecticut, but he overachieved considering the program hierarchy in the Big East at the time. The Terrapins finished 2-10 in Edsall’s debut but improved their win total to four in 2012 and then seven in 2013. Maryland needs time to transition to the Big Ten, but Edsall is making gains in the right direction.
11. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Record at Indiana: 10-26 (3 years)
Career Record: 10-26 (3 years)
Indiana’s Program Rank: (No. 14 in Big Ten, No. 69 nationally)
Wilson was a highly regarded assistant prior to his hire at Indiana, and he has made a difference in three years with the Hoosiers. After a 1-11 mark in 2011, Wilson won four games in 2012 and five last season. Indiana was just a couple of plays away from a bowl, as it lost to Minnesota by three points and Navy by six last year. There’s no question Wilson is one of the Big Ten’s top offensive coaches, but the Hoosiers have struggled mightily on defense. Indiana has ranked last in the Big Ten for three consecutive years in yards allowed, and Wilson hired former Wake Forest coordinator Brian Knorr to call the plays in 2014. If Knorr can fix the defense, Indiana has plenty of firepower on offense to reach six wins. However, the Hoosiers drew a tough schedule in realignment, as they will play Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State every season.
12. Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Record at Purdue: 1-11 (1 year)
Career Record: 17-21 (3 years)
Purdue’s Program Rank: (No. 12 in Big Ten, No. 57 nationally)
Hazell’s debut at Purdue was a disappointment. The Boilermakers finished 1-11 and were largely uncompetitive in Big Ten games. However, Hazell’s long-term outlook is positive after a successful two-year stint at Kent State from 2011-12. The Golden Flashes won 16 games in Hazell’s two years, which was the most by a Kent State coach since Don James won 16 from 1973-74. And in a good sign for the Boilermakers in 2014, Hazell’s second team at Kent State improved by six victories. There’s not much that separates the bottom three coaches in the Big Ten, but Hazell’s success at a tough job (Kent State) is enough to give him somewhat of a pass on what transpired in 2013.
13. Tim Beckman, Illinois
Record at Illinois: 6-18 (2 years)
Career Record: 27-34 (5 years)
Illinois’ Program Rank: (No. 10 in Big Ten, No. 52 nationally)
Beckman has struggled in two years at Illinois, which comes as a surprise after a successful three-year stint at Toledo. In three seasons with the Rockets, Beckman went 21-16 and lost just two conference games over the last two years. The Fighting Illini went 2-10 in Beckman’s debut and improved to only 4-8 last season. Hiring Bill Cubit paid dividends for Illinois’ offense in 2013, but the defense has been dreadful, allowing at least 5.8 yards per play in back-to-back years. Another reason for concern is recruiting. Illinois ranked 70th nationally in the 247Sports Composite in 2013, which ranked 13th in the Big Ten.
14. Kyle Flood, Rutgers
Record at Rutgers: 15-11 (2 years)
Career Record: 15-11 (2 years)
Rutgers’ Program Rank: (No. 9 in Big Ten, No. 50 nationally)
Flood was promoted to head coach after Greg Schiano left for Tampa Bay in 2012. Although he has guided Rutgers to back-to-back bowl games, Flood is still largely unproven. The Scarlet Knights won nine games in 2012, yet lost their final three contests and a chance to win the Big East title. In 2013, Rutgers slipped to 6-7 in a weaker conference (American Athletic) and finished with losses in four out of its last five games. Flood overhauled his coaching staff this offseason, which included the hire of former coach Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen as the team’s offensive coordinator. The week-to-week grind in the Big Ten will be a challenge for Rutgers, but adding Friedgen and changing defensive coordinators should help Flood in 2014.