Big Ten Legends Coaching Analysis
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald
Posted Apr 2, 2012

If you needed a coach to take over your program, which Big Ten Legends coach would fit?

2012 Big Ten Legends Coaches

The Hot Seat Factor

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Leaders Illinois | Indiana | Ohio State
Penn State | Purdue | Wisconsin

Legends Iowa | Michigan | Michigan State
Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern

Big Ten Leaders 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. Jerry Kill, Minnesota
Kill is a proven winner with a proven track record of revamping and reviving programs. He took over a miserable Southern Illinois team and went 1-10 in his first year. Two seasons later he went 10-2 and win the first of three straight Gateway Conference titles and finished up his seven year run going 12-2. He rebuilt Northern Illinois and set the foundation for a MAC champion. But Minnesota is a tough task with no one able to make the program into a Big Ten title contender.

Kill is great at generating big-time running games, but he still needs a few years and a few good recruiting classes to get the pieces he needs to get the offense moving. Throw in the lack of in-state talent and the steps back taken by the Tim Brewster era, and Kill has an uphill battle. However, he has the personality and the talent to be the right fit for the job, but patience will be a must.

Hot Seat Status: There's a lot of work to be done and Kill will be given the time to make something happen. This is at least a three year project just to make the Gophers competitive, much less any sort of a threat, but Kill should be the man for the gig. The biggest concern, though, is his health, suffering a frightening seizure on the sidelines this year and having past cancer issues. However, as always, it's full speed ahead or Kill.

5. Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Pelini stopped the slide. It was the exact thing past Nebraska administrators were worried about – a dip into mediocrity – and it was the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Pelini who took over the job and brought three Big 12 North titles and a 30-12 record to Lincoln. However, his first year in the Big Ten wasn't exactly a positive with the defense falling flat and the offense too predictable and without many options. As much as everyone around the program didn't want to make a big deal out of going to the new league, it was a big deal and there's still and adjustment period.

Pelini has to be given a pass, though, for last season. Every game was a big moment in the inaugural campaign, and just when things appeared to be dying down in terms of the novelty, the Huskers were thrown into the Penn State ugliness with the first game following the scandal. It might have been a disappointing year, but 9-4 still isn't anything to be upset about.

Hot Seat Status: Is Pelini the Point B to Point C guy? Yeah, he had success in his three years in the Big 12, but he never won the conference title. To be fair, it took a bomb of a field goal to beat Nebraska in the 2009 title game, but still, it's been a while since the program was a major factor in the BCS title chase. He's not on a hot seat, but this could be a big year to see if the team is on the right track.

4. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Ferentz isn't as hot a name now when it comes to job openings, but he's still among the most respected coaches in football. His teams always play hard, they always produce, and he's great at producing with the talent he's able to bring in. However, 2004 is a long time ago. That's the last time he was able to win a share of the Big Ten title, and he has yet to get the Hawkeyes to Pasadena in his 13 years. Worse yet, it doesn't look like there will be any out-of-the-blue runs into national prominence any time soon.

A young 56, turning 57 this summer, he still has plenty of coaching life to go. There a few better at putting together and developing offensive lines; he'd be snapped up in a heartbeat by some NFL team as an assistant if anything ever happened and things went south in Iowa City. It would be interesting to see what he could do at an elite program with a pipeline of four and five-star talents flowing in, but he appears to be settled in. If he didn't strike while the iron was hot following some of his bigger years, he's not going to jet now.

Hot Seat Status: Locked up until 2020 and with more than $3.5 million after incentives coming in, he's not going anywhere. It would take at least two dud seasons before there'd be any thought of getting rid of him, but soon he'll have to come up with a good run. Iowa has only been a factor in the conference title chase once in the last seven years.

3. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
A true believer, the Wildcat legend has said from the start that Northwestern can and should be in the Rose Bowl chase on a regular basis and strong enough to be a power. Call it youthful fire, but the 37-year-old is willing to do all the work needed to try to make his beloved program successful. However, at the moment, just winning a bowl game might be enough.

Going into his seventh year, he has gone a commendable 40-36 overall and has been decent in Big Ten play. Considering the recruiting restraints he's under and what he has had to work with, though, there might be a hard ceiling on what he can accomplish. Yes, Northwestern was able to be a factor under Gary Barnett and Randy Walker, but that was because the spread offense was taking everyone by surprise and defenses were reeling. It's a different time now, and while the attack still works in Evanston, getting consistent wins without the top-shelf talents is going to be tougher and tougher.

Hot Seat Status: Northwestern is Northwestern, and it'll take a few awful years to even think about replacing its beloved son. However, at Fitzgerald's age and with his energy, enthusiasm, and upside, he'll always be on the short list for the next-step-up job openings like a Colorado or a Maryland. He might not have the track record yet for a premier job, but he'll be in the running for gigs at places where he'd have an easier time recruiting.

2. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
Nick Saban was just okay as the Michigan State head coach. He had four mediocre years before having one big 9-2 campaign that he parlayed into the LSU gig, and few in Baton Rouge were doing cartwheels over the hire. Is Dantonio, Saban's defensive backs coach in the late 1990s, be a Saban-like talent? He's starting to show he might be, but instead of bolting to another school he's producing at Michigan State.

After three decent years, Dantonio has gone 22-5 in the last two seasons and came within a miraculous Russell Wilson pass of going to the Rose Bowl. No, he's not getting the talent that Saban was able to bring in at LSU and now at Alabama, but he's getting the program really, really close to a truly special season.

It seems like a long time ago, but remember, Michigan State was long known for being the flakiest of the flaky programs with past coaches fielding million dollar teams with ten-cent heads that always crumbled in key moments. Dantonio has changed all that with his Bill Belichick-like demeanor steadying the ship. By improving the lines, solidifying the defense, and getting good play out of smart veterans on offense, the system is in place to do even more.

Hot Seat Status: But there's the heart issue. He's supposedly as good as new after the heart attack suffered after the 2010 win over Notre Dame, but that's always going to be a concern in terms of his longevity as a coach. Even so, the job is his as long as he wants to be the head of the Michigan State program. The buyout to get out of his contract extension is steep, and while he's not making Saban-like money, the school will make sure he's happy.

1. Brady Hoke, Michigan
Hoke is what a football coach should be like. He's not the cold, clinical type in the Belichick-Saban mold, and he's so far lacking the big-timer paranoia of the Urban Meyer types. Hoke runs his program, he appears to be having fun with it, and he's a bear of a worker both in the film room and on the recruiting trail. Yeah, he took what Rich Rodriguez started and ran with it, but he's the one who punched it across the goal line with an 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl win.

No one, no one, has ever been able to do anything with a weak Ball State program, but Hoke managed to build up the Cardinals over his six seasons to a 12-1 MAC monster in 2008. No one, no one, was able to come up with the winning formula at San Diego State, but Hoke needed just one year to crank out a 9-4 season complete with a bowl win. He left the cupboard full for coach Rocky Long, and now the Aztecs are preparing for life in the Big East.

But it's the hope he has generated in Ann Arbor that's making him one of the biggest new coaching superstars. While it was RichRod's team he took to New Orleans, it's not the personnel or the style he necessarily wants. Instead of a running playmaker in Denard Robinson under center, Hoke likes pro-style passers. He still needs more receiving weapons, and the defense needs an infusion of new stars, but his latest recruiting class is a whopper and there's more talent to follow. Not only is Hoke making Michigan, Michigan again, but he appears to be making it even stronger.

Hot Seat Status: Now there are big expectations. Michigan will be the favorite to win the Big Ten title this season and the sky's the limit if it can pull off an opening weekend win over Alabama. The program might be a year or two away from being a true national title contender, and Ohio State is regrouping in a hurry, but Wolverine fans can't ask for anything more coming off the Rodriguez era.

Big Ten Leaders Coaching Analysis & Hot Seat Status