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2009 Big Ten Coaching Grades - BB, Fitz, Dantonio

Here's part two of my coaching grades, still going in order. The big question here - Should coaches be given tons of credit for formulating cohesive passing games...or was a batch of improved quarterbacks the main reason?


You want to talk about improving a passing game?  Joe Tiller will teach you how to improve a passing game.

Bret Bielema, Wisconsin


Last Year's Overall Grade: D

Adaptability and Gameplanning: Bielema should be not only be judged on the close games he won this year (NIU, FSU, Mini, Indiana, The U), but exactly how he won these games. Not only did he avoid the end-game disasters of 2008, but he looked more calm and confident at the helm. Was it the winning that created the calm, or vice versa? Either way, Bielema's decisions to diversify the offense and start 10 game winner Scott Tolzien both worked outstandingly well.

Discussion: Bielema was spotted at the Rose Bowl and congratulated by our own Law Buck. Sporting relaxed clothes and a confident grin, Bielema fit the part of a man who stepped soundly off the hot seat in 2009, even inspiring articles like this in the Wisconsin State Journal. Without giving too little credit to the team or too much credit to BB, I can confidently say that Bielema started acting more like an adult this year and stopped killing his team with bad decisions in the clutch.

Season Grade: A

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern


Last Year's Overall Grade: B+

Adaptability and Gameplanning:Fitzy impressed TRE last year with his intensity and increased ability to run the NW program. This year he impressed us the way he rallied the troops after a disappointing start.

Early losses to Syracuse and Mini showed a defense weakened by injuries and short on toughness. These early games also exhibited an uninspired team (16-6 over worst in D1 Miami OH?). Did Fitzy make any changes on either side of the ball? Nope, he showed confidence in his system and was rewarded with upset wins over Wisky and Iowa.

I have no complaints about the fake FG either - That was a wild game in which Fitzgerald's kicker was trying to lose with all his heart, they were behind the eight ball either way.

Discussion: Fitzgerald was obviously upset when his team came out of the gate meekly, but his troops managed to rally, coming within a missed FG from beating Auburn. One thing I loved about NW's near-upset of the Tigers? Kafka threw the ball 78 times and was picked 5 times, but was never pulled and was given the green light the entire game. That shows me a coach who just wants to win, dammit, and will do anything to get there.

6-6...9-4...8-5...Fitz has steadily improved his Wildcats and solidified his system at the same time. He's straightforward with his recruits and obviously has admin support. His next step? Staying within 3 touchdowns of Penn State and Ohio State...and finishing a bowl game strong.

Season Grade: B+


Mark Dantonio, Michigan State Dantonio_medium

Last Year's Overall Grade: A-

Adaptability and Gameplanning: This will be the oddest grade I'm sure. Dantonio has been ripped for allowing Glenn Winston back on the team and for (apparently) fostering an environment that breeds roving gangs of thugs. I'm not one to judge a coach for those things - sometimes people you recruit turn out wonderfully, convictions notwithstanding, and sometimes you end up with Maurice Clarett.

One thing I can shred Dantonio for is his continued support of Pat Narduzzi, the D-Co, and the insistence on not meddling in the defensive scheming. Forgodsakes, Dantonio was the DC at Ohio State during the 2002 national title year, he's got to know something. Wouldn't it be nice if it leaked out that Dantonio was going to "play a more active role in the defense" during the 2010 season? Of course people read into those kind of statements, but after this record breakingly bad year in Spartan defensive lore, Narduzzi needs a bit of help and everyone knows it except Dantonio. Two factors are influencing his non-meddling attitude: 1) He's best friends with Narduzzi and 2) just like Tressel, he's loyal to a fault.

Discussion: Last year we recognized the great influence that Dantonio's calm personality had on the entire Spartan program. I wrote:

He is a calm, somewhat humorless man who has earned the respect of the East Lansing faithful. Most importantly, he has avoided boneheaded coaching moves, idiotic public statements, and player scandals - things which plagued former coaches Nick Saban, Bobby Williams, and most noticeably John L. Smith.

This year we watched a smart, flexible offense and an unchanging, confused defensive unit. We also watched a handful of Spartans get in serious trouble with the law. This year felt like a grace period in East Lansing for MD - He had outrecruited UM in-state and hung tight with Georgia in the Cap One in 2008. Next year, with a disappointing 6-7 record and one big scandal in his rearview mirror, we'll learn a bit more about how Dantonio reacts to challenges.

Two other factors influenced my grade. Not only did MSU suffer ANOTHER blowout loss to Penn State, but the Media shot expectations pretty high (#3 in the Big Ten) in the preseason, only to watch as injuries and end-game chokes decimated the Spartans chances for a winning season.

Season Grade: C-