I keep hearing a lot about Jim Harbaugh, and what he has to prove. I mean we all know his best finish at Michigan is third in the West. Taking a poo show of a franchise to the Super Bowl erases any doubts about Harbaugh’s ability to coach for me. If that isn’t enough, he turned around a Stanford team that won a single game the year before he took over, and had 2 winning seasons in 8 years. Prior to that, he coached FCS San Diego to a 29-6 record. Crazy people can coach, too.
Urban Meyer has already cemented himself a spot in the Hall of Fame, and Kirk Ferentz is what he is. Paul Chryst has continued the success started by Alvarez at Wisconsin, and Dantonio has done enough at Michigan State to earn a pass for the debacle that was last season. Pat Fitzgerald is doing great things at Northwestern, at least by Northwestern standards. Tom Allen, Jeff Brohm and PJ Fleck are in their first seasons at Indiana, Purdue and Minnesota, respectively. Fleck won 1 game in his first season at Western Michigan, before improving each year, culminating in a Cotton Bowl bid last season. That’s very telling on what you can glean from a first season.
The 5 coaches left, Mike Riley, James Franklin, Chris Ash, Lovie Smith, and D.J. Durkin are all in potentially pivotal years for themselves and their programs.
Mike Riley, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of Bo Pelini. He brings me back to an era when coaches did a lot of spiting while they screamed at players. While I fully understand why that is the way of the dinosaur, it’s still fun to watch from time to time. Throw in Faux Pelini, and it’s sheer entertainment.
I understand it was time for Pelini to go at Nebraska, however, hiring Mike Riley was a puzzling move. A guy in his 60’s who’s best season was 10-4 didn’t seem like the right move for one of the top programs of all time. Pelini was perpetually on the hot seat for having the same record. Throw in the fact that Riley had losing seasons in 3 of his last 5 while at Oregon State, and it didn’t make sense why he would be given a destination job.
In Riley’s first season with the Huskers, they posted just their third losing season since 1962. Last year, Nebraska was able to get to 9-4. This is a pivotal year for the Huskers when writing their history. Their schedule isn’t particularly brutal, but they also don’t have quarterback Tommy Armstrong back. From the outside, it’s looking like another 9-4 type of year. If that’s what you are going to get, why deprive your fan base of the tweets of Faux Pelini about Bo Pelini?
James Franklin, Penn State Nittany Lions
It’s hard to judge what Franklin is doing at Penn State because of the all that comes with taking that job in this day and age. He only coached three seasons at Vanderbilt prior to taking the Nittany Lion job, so I feel like any judgement of his coaching ability at the moment is a shot in the dark.
I personally think he is a good coach, and good things will happen as long as he stays at Penn State. This year is especially pivotal, at least to me, because he returns one of the best players in the Big Ten. Saquon Barkley is my early favorite for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. I know I am going out on a limb picking the guy that won last year, but you watch.
The schedule this year is set up to let us know where Penn State stands. They have to travel to Iowa and Northwestern out of the West, and Ohio State in the East. They also have Michigan State, Michigan, and Pitt. There are a lot of potential losses on that schedule for a slightly above average team. If they are a great team, then they should have no problem winning 10 or 11 games.
Chris Ash, Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The Ottuma, Iowa, native was a rising star in the coaching world. After assistant coaching stints with Wisconsin and Arkansas, he was the defensive coordinator of the Ohio State team that won the first ever playoffs. His defense played a huge role in shutting down a potent Oregon team in the finals.
He took the Rutgers job, and promptly went 2-10. Now, Rutgers isn’t a very good football program. They weren’t in good shape when he took over, and they played a brutal schedule, taking on 4 teams that finished in the top 10. They also had some close losses, so it’s not really fair to make any judgements about Chris Ash as a head coach.
The bar isn’t very high at Rutgers. Greg Schiano mixed in a 10 win season with a handful of 9 win seasons and even a few losing seasons, and turned that into an NFL job. If Ash can manage to win 5 or 6 games, it will be enough to convince me he has a chance. If he has another dumpster fire of a season, then he’ll be on the hot seat in only his third year.
Lovie Smith, Illinois Fighting Illini
Smith won over 50% of his games in the NFL, went to three playoffs and a Super Bowl. I know he can coach. What I don’t know is if he can coach in college, and more specifically, can he coach at Illinois?
Illinois hasn’t been a very good football team very often over the last 5 decades. They have only finished the season ranked 6 times since 1964. That’s an amazing stat, because it seems like they should be better than that. I thought they hit it out of the park when they hired Smith.
The 3-9 record doesn’t scare me near as much as how the Illini looked last season in some terrible blowouts. As is the case with Ash, or any first year, I am not making a huge deal out of it. If that turns into a second year of complete suckage, then I will.
D.J. Durkin, Maryland Terrapins
Durkin might have done a fantastic job last season, it’s hard to tell. The Terrapins had a tough schedule and weren’t very good the year before. They have a brutal schedule this year, so it’s going to be difficult to judge the second year coach.
If Maryland is anywhere around .500 or above, I would consider that a good sign for their future with D.J. Durkin. Even if they do poorly, I wouldn’t hold it too much against Durkin. The Maryland rebuilding job was always going to be rough, and he isn’t yet 40. I am sure he and their fans don’t look at it like that, but it will be more about how is team responds, especially defensively, than it is about wins and losses this season.