B1G football coaching hotseats - post game 4 rankings

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

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Last week you guys surpassed the amount of comments I felt were needed for me to continue doing this in a fanpost as opposed to a comment on SMCD, so here it goes again. I've added salary and buyout info. Please note that the salaries and buyouts are based on the best information I have been able to find; they may not be 100% accurate. Head coaching buyouts are what they will be at the end of the season.

Deep Dive of the Week - Michigan Wolverines


So this space was originally reserved for Illinois but then they went and won. As I'm starting to write this Michigan is down 21-0 early in the 2nd quarter (I'll update some information after the game is official). So let's talk about the Michigan situation and I'll swing back to Illinois next week. Jim Harbaugh is 48-21 at Michigan which wouldn't be terrible for most B1G programs, but isn't where Michigan wants to be.

Worse is that against top 25 teams he is 11-16, against top 10 teams 2-10, and against rivals Michigan State & Ohio State 3-8. In year 6 the offense is a disaster, the defense is a disaster, and they don't look like they belong on the field when playing competent teams. For a program like Michigan that has the fan expectations that they do this isn't going to cut it. But can Michigan afford to move on? Most years this is 100% yes as the program has more money than they know what to do with. With COVID financial difficulties however...

Per their own estimate back in early July, Michigan is projecting an athletic department deficit of $26 million. The athletic department has instituted a hiring freeze and in September they eliminated 21 positions. Temporary furloughs and reductions in hours for staff have also been discussed but to the best of my knowledge have not been implemented yet. Unlike Iowa and Michigan State, though, Michigan has made no moves towards cutting teams. Things aren't great for Michigan or any athletic department at the moment and the optics of paying someone a lot of money to not coach and also pulling together the money to lure a good candidate would be bad. Of course the optics of the current Michigan football team may be even worse.

Jim Harbaugh is in the sixth year of a seven year contract. It is unusual for coaches to have only one year left on a contract without an extension or being fired. There were reports that Harbaugh was undergoing extension negotiations this past spring but when COVID hit, the AD suddenly had much bigger concerns. If fired at the end of the season, Harbaugh would be owed $6.367 million. Putting that into the context of what is already at least a $26 million deficit and it is staggeringly high. Michigan does have some wealthy boosters and with some creative accounting they might be able to keep the football money separate from the rest of the pile. But if I had to make a bet I would lean towards Michigan holding onto Harbaugh for another year purely due to the financial situation. It won't be a popular choice, but at least Michigan isn't getting rid of teams.

Post B1G game 4 HC/OC/DC hot seat rankings:


  1. Illinois HC Lovie Smith (1). 5th season. Salary - $3.8 million/yr following voluntary COVID paycut (would be $4.0 million). Years left on contract - 3. Buyout at end of season - $2 million. Since Smith is in his 5th year, firing a coordinator isn't going to cut it if the administration wants to make some changes. Plus Smith is his own DC. I've seen comments that Smith's buyout is $1 million, but based on several news articles I've been able to find it is $2 million during the 2020 season and won't drop to $1 million until the end of the contract year in late January. Either way the buyout looks small enough so long as the athletic department isn't in complete shambles (more on that next week once I take a look at their particular situation). Lovie did get the win against Rutgers, but that isn't going to be enough. Remaining games: Nebraska, Ohio State, Iowa, Northwestern.

  2. Michigan DC Don Brown (N/R). 5th season. Salary - $1.7 million/yr if you count his retention bonus. Years left on contract - 1. Buyout at end of season - Unable to determine whether 2021 salary is guaranteed or not ($1.7 million). First off hat tip to Bagels for pointing out my assumptions on the Michigan DC tenure being incorrect. I had it in my head that Brown had replaced a fired Michigan DC, when he replaced DJ Durkin after Durkin took the Maryland HC position. The biggest issue for Brown isn't his performance over the course of his tenure, it's Harbaugh's record. Brown has put together some strong seasons as the Michigan DC, but in a season where Harbaugh is facing some serious heat the defense is looking lost way too often. If financial issues prevent Michigan from moving on from Harbaugh and they decide to go with getting rid of a coordinator it seems like Brown is more likely than OC Gattis. Remaining games: Rutgers, Penn State, Maryland, Ohio State.

  3. Michigan HC Jim Harbaugh (2). 6th season. Salary - $7.7 million/yr following voluntary COVID paycut (would be $8 million). Years left on contract - 1. Buyout at end of season - $6.367 million. See above. I'll add that Michigan assistants are among the highest paid in the conference. If any of them are guaranteed money for 2021, firing Harbaugh gets even more expensive as a new coach will want his own staff. Remaining games: Rutgers, Penn State, Maryland, Ohio State.

  4. Penn State DC Brent Pry (N/R). 7th season on staff, 5th as DC. Salary - ~$700k/year. Years left on contract - Unknown. Buyout at end of season - Unknown. First off, let's acknowledge that there is a gigantic gap between the 3 and 4 spots here. The top 3 guys are in serious trouble while the remainder of the list are guys that are still more than capable of turning things around this year. With that being said, Penn State has only their second 0-4 start in program history. The defense hasn't been giving up a lot of yards but they have been giving up a bunch of points. In Pry's 5th season on staff things shouldn't be able to fall apart this much even with Franklin's distractions & the COVID cloud that has been hanging over the season. I do think Franklin will be loyal to his coordinators but if they don't win a couple of games this season he may be forced to make a change. I think Pry is more likely than Ciarrocca primarily due to Pry's longer tenure in the program. I would expect the longer tenured guy to pick up Franklin during a year when Franklin is struggling. Remaining games: Iowa, Michigan, Rutgers, Michigan State.

  5. Minnesota DC Joe Rossi (N/R). 3rd season on staff, 2nd as DC. Salary - $625k/yr. Years left on contract - 1. Buyout at end of season - Unable to determine whether 2021 salary is guaranteed or not ($650k). After one week out sick with COVID, Rossi returned to the sidelines this week. The Minnesota defense responded by giving up 35 points. The good news of the week is that they only gave up 347 yards which is actually their best showing of the year in non-Illinois games. The Minnesota defense has given up 49, 45, 14, & 35 points this year. The 14 points occurred while Rossi was out sick. Minnesota only returned 4 defensive starters from last year so maybe Rossi gets a pass, but the Gophers should probably stop giving up more than 30 points regularly to bad teams. They will have the opportunity to start doing that next week against a mediocre Purdue team. Games against Purdue, Wisconsin, Northwestern, & Nebraska are left.

Coaches out of top 5 from last week:


What do you mean I'm not ranked?

  • Iowa Emperor Ferentz the Elder (5). 22nd season. Salary - $4.6 million/yr following voluntary COVID paycut (typically $4.8 million). Years left on contract - 5. Buyout at end of season - $20.7 million. The off-field stuff lingers with the lawsuit going forward, but unless Gary Barta suddenly cares about it more or more information comes out it doesn't look likely to direct cause a firing. With a 2-2 record and the only losses being narrow ones to Purdue & Northwestern the on-field performance probably isn't going to be an issue either. Due to the off-field stuff Ferentz will probably remain in the on the radar group for the remainder of the year unless sufficient information becomes available to completely dismiss the complaints of the former players. Or maybe I'll change my mind and decide "hot seat" should only apply to on-field performance. These are my rankings and I'll do what I want.

  • Penn State HC James Franklin (4). 7th season. Salary - $6.7 million/yr. Years left on contract - 5. Buyout at end of season - ~$28 million. As mentioned last week, Franklin was a placeholder for his coordinators so he was coming out of the top 5 regardless of what they did against Nebraska. Despite the lack of on-field success this year, Franklin's statements to the press this past week remind us that because his daughter is immuno-compromised Franklin has been away from his family for months. Franklin has enough success and good will built up in the athletic department that he should get a pass this year so long as he can scrap together a win or two. Franklin seems to be taking complete responsibility for his team's performance so his coordinators may also be safer than they would be in a usual year with this record/performance. Franklin will stay in the others on the radar category until either Penn State wins a game or it gets late enough in the season that a winless season becomes plausible.

  • Nebraska Cornhuskers HC Scott Frost (3). 3rd season. Salary - $4.8 million/yr following voluntary COVID paycut (would be $5 million). Years left on contract - 6. Buyout at end of season - $25 million. Frost got off the mat with a win against Penn State. His overall record in 3 years is still terrible and the offense is a mess. Two things will keep Frost from being fired this year: his history as the QB of their '97 team and his huge buyout. His coordinators may not be as lucky. Frost will get at least another year, but his seat may be pretty hot going into next season.

Others on the radar:

Nebraska OC Matt Lubick (win vs Penn State, offense scored 23 points) - even with the win the offense feels stagnant.

Nebraska DC Erik Chinander (win vs Penn State, defense gave up 23 points) - the defense held Penn State when it mattered but gave up more than 500 yards. Bend don't break doesn't really work that often.

Penn State OC Erik Ciarrocca (loss vs Nebraska, offense scored 23 points) - the good news: the offense had 501 yards. The bad news: both QBs were not good.

Michigan OC Josh Gattis (loss vs Wisconsin, offense scored 11 points) - probably the strongest candidate to move into the top 5 from this group.

Illinois OC Rod Smith (win vs Rutgers, offense scored 23 points) - Rod Smith isn't in the top 5 for one simple reason. I don't see a scenario where he gets fired but Lovie doesn't. No one is clamoring for firing Rod Smith and only Rod Smith.

Purdue Boilermakers DC Bob Diaco (loss vs Northwestern, defense gave up 27 points) - run defense was very effective. Pass defense, particularly when they deployed zone coverage schemes, was not good. Diaco may be moving towards the safe category.

Iowa OC Ferentz the Younger (win vs Minnesota, offense scored 35 points) - despite Iowa fan complaints about his shortcomings he will move to the safe category next week. The record is going to be good enough that the Emperor won't face enough pressure to name a new heir.

Safe coaching staffs:


Darth Vader himself

Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan State, Maryland, Rutgers, Northwestern, Wisconsin