2012 Big Ten Leaders Coaches
The Hot Seat Factor
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Ten Legends Coaching Analysis & Hot Seat Status
Picture this. You're a beleaguered athletic director with an opening at the top of the football organizational chart. Your checkbook is open, and your fan base is glaring at you with unwavering anticipation. Which of the
Big Ten's current head coaches would you put in charge of the program for the next five or so years? Knowing that your own job hangs in the balance, to which man would you entrust your future?
This is NOT necessarily a ranking of how good the head coaches are. This is a ranking based on who would be best to take over a program and build it up, so age is a major factor. A coach might be legendary, but he might not have another five years of greatness left. So with that in mind, who are the top candidates to run your program?
6. Bill O'Brien, Penn State
There's a chance he could be special. Just 43 this October, O'Brien is young, smart, and fortunately for the times, outside of the Penn State family. There's no pressure on him, and there's all the pressure in the world weighing on his shoulders, all at the same time. Following in the footsteps of one of the greatest coaches in American sports history is obviously a daunting task, especially when emotions are still so raw and there's still such blind affection coming from the base, but he might be in an unwinnable situation with no real expectations whatsoever.
If Penn State football becomes mediocre to awful, there's a ready-made, built-in excuse that everyone will buy – parents just might not want to let their kids go to Penn State. Even so, he's young enough and energetic enough to do what's needed to rebuild the program from the rubble, but it might be the toughest job in all of college football.
Hot Seat Status: It'll be interesting to see what happens if he's just good enough to keep the program going. He can afford two awful years before being in make-or-break trouble, but what if Penn State is 7-5-to-8-4 good and finishes third in the Leaders for the next few seasons? Will that be good enough? No matter how the system worked with Joe Paterno at the helm over the last several years, the wins were still there.
5. Danny Hope, Purdue
Few head coaches have had the poor luck with injuries and personnel that Hope has had to endure over his first few seasons. He's never going to get the four and five-star recruits to come to West Lafayette, and he has to recruit to a type, but Purdue is still a good football school with a great legacy and decent expectations. In many ways it's the Quarterback U. of the Big Ten with explosive and innovative offenses, but Hope's Boilermakers haven't been able to find their groove yet. Hope is starting to turn things back around after the slide at the end of the Joe Tiller era, but it's been slow going.
Hope's issue is that his teams have always been just above mediocre. He had five straight winning seasons at Eastern Kentucky, parlaying a strong 2007 into the Purdue job in the transition from Tiller, but he hasn't been able to come up with a big statement campaign. After going 7-6 last season and with a win over Ohio State, the needle might be pointing up.
Hot Seat Status: It's coming close to make-or-break time. Finally getting a winning season was nice, but the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl isn't exactly the goal everyone is shooting for. Everyone around the program wants Hope to succeed, and he'll be given several chances, but it's been a long time since the Boilermakers were players in the Big Ten race. Hope has to show this year that the potential for big things is coming.
4. Tim Beckman, Illinois
Illinois needed to make a big splash. There's no real football buzz at the basketball school – with the flubblng of the search for a hoops coach taking center stage – and getting Beckman didn't exactly move the needle. He's not Mike Leach, and even one of the hotter prospects out there, like a Kevin Sumlin, wasn't really in the picture. Beckman struggled early on to round out his coaching staff, and he didn't exactly win the initial press conference, but all that'll matter is whether or not he's able to come up with wins.
He turned around Toledo and made it a winner again, tying for the West title last year and getting to two straight bowl games. However, he's a defensive coach – working as a defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and Bowling Green – whose Toledo teams struggled defensively. However, the offenses were outstanding, and if he can bring a high-powered attack to Champaign, he'll win the crowd and the fan base.
Hot Seat Status: Considering what he did at Toledo over the last few years, this is a good stepping-stone job. If he has any success whatsoever he'll have to get out in a hurry or risk beating his head against the Urban Meyer/Ohio State wall for the next decade. Beckman doesn't have to win Big Ten titles for the Illini fan base to be happy, but he has to make the team interesting and relevant. And he has to do it right away.
3. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Wilson is a no-nonsense, gruff, and brutally honest coach – and he's exactly what Indiana needs. He's not making any bones about the fact that the program needs to improve the talent level in a huge way before it can make any sort of a move, complaining from the start that the players aren't in place to do much. He was either right, or he did a lousy job with a 1-11 first season without a victory over an FBS school. However, he started a slew of young players and he's trying to build up the infrastructure through his recruiting classes. It might take awhile.
While past coaches like the late Terry Hoeppner were able to sell the idea of winning at an unwinnable football school, Wilson is trying to completely and totally change the overall attitude. He did a brilliant job as the offensive coordinator at Miami, Northwestern, and Oklahoma, and he knows how to get an offense moving. He just missed out on getting top quarterback prospect Gunner Kiel, but he doesn't need the best high school quarterback to make an offense go. As he said from the first day on the job, he needs more players.
Hot Seat Status: He'll be given a long time to make something happen. Indiana has had just one winning season since 1994, and it's going to take a major change to turn the program into any sort of a player in the Big Ten. In a lot of ways Wilson is like another Barry Alvarez, who had a similar daunting task at Wisconsin. Wilson will get at least two more years before he's in trouble, but another 1-11 could speed up the timetable.
2. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin
In some ways, Bielema has taken what Barry Alvarez created and made it better. Of course, Alvarez was 3-0 in Rose Bowls and Bielema is 0-2, but Wisconsin now is an intimidating force that's crushing and killing teams. It's not like the Badgers are a bunch of bullies; Bielema has a plan and has a formula that worked in the reloading process after a tough 7-6 2008, and nothing is going to knock him off the track.
He and his staff recruit to a type; the offense is always going to blast away with the running game; the passing game is going to be efficient; and the defense is going to dominate the weak and the sad. Using this style, Bielema is now among the elite head coaches in college football with four ten-win seasons in six years, 32 victories in the last three, and two straight Big Ten titles.
However, with the formula relying on players that aren't four and five-star talents, there might be a very, very thin line between going to the Rose Bowl and being a Big Ten also-ran. Even so, Wisconsin was two deep pass plays away from playing in the BCS championship last season, and it had chances to win in each of the two Rose Bowl losses. Bielema is only 42 and he's still learning and growing into the job. He'll get offers from other places – the St. Louis Rams, among others, made a pitch for Alvarez during his heyday – but there might be no better fit for what he does than Wisconsin.
Hot Seat Status: He was in a bit of hot water after 2008. He made some awful coaching moves in some inexcusable losses, and the Badgers didn't look like they belonged on the same planet as Florida State in a bowl blowout. Everything changed in a hurry, though, and now he's locked up through the 2016 season.
1. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
He'd be No. 1 on every list in every way except for one problem - is the commitment going to be there for the long haul? He's only going to turn 48 this year, making him a relative pup when it comes to coaching lifecycles, but after the health scares at Florida with the retirement, the comeback, and the retirement again, maybe there will be a point when he really does want and need to spend more time with his family again if Ohio State isn't rocking at a national title level every year.
Ohio State hasn't exactly been the squeakiest of clean programs; can Meyer
avoid the off-the-field problems many of his Gators
had? And what about the way things ended in
Gainesville? He's recruiting his tail off at OSU, but he brought in an all-timer of a class late in his Florida run and did nothing with it, closing out with an 8-5 season.
For all his faults and all his overbearing flaws, he's the best in the game when he's running at peak capacity, and he appears to have the fire back. There's no one better at closing on recruits, and his track record is peerless.
He went 17-6 at Bowling Green, and the program has stunk ever since. His 2004 Utah team should've been in the national title discussion. His 2009 Florida team had one of the greatest seasons in college football history, and he ended up going 13-1 three times with the Gators. Now, the Ohio native has the job he was born and trained for, and if everything works out as planned, he's about to make an already elite program truly special.
Hot Seat Status: Here's the problem; its national titles, plural, or bust. He's Urban Meyer and this is Ohio State. The Ohio State head coach is supposed to win national titles and beat Michigan – not necessarily in that order - on a regular basis, and Meyer is expected to do the impossible and improve upon the Jim Tressel era.
With this coach and this program, going 10-2 and winning the Fiesta Bowl won't be good enough. There's obviously no hot seat, but no coach in America will have more pressure to win and win big than Meyer will in 2013 once Ohio State is eligible again to go bowling again. It might seem unfair and unreasonable, but considering what Nick Saban has done at Alabama, the Meyer era probably won't be seen as a success if it ends with just one national title. Again, you don't hire Urban Meyer if you're Ohio State and not reasonably hope to play in the BCS championship every year.
Ten Legends Coaching Analysis & Hot Seat Status