Checking in on the Big Ten basketball coaches

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The season is hurtling towards its finale and with it will sadly come the end of several coaches tenures. Will any of those be B1G coaches? You'll have to read on to find out.

With between 6 and 10 conference games left, I figured it's time to check in on every Big Ten coach and see what each of them need to accomplish the remainder of the season to continue entertaining us on BTN in the winter of 2021-22. It also serves as a ranking of the likelihood that each coach gets shown the door at season's end (until I abandon that ranking system to just start listing coaches halfway thru). In a normal year falling attendance numbers would indicate a serious problem, so thanks to COVID I get to make this up as I go. All opinions are my own and all scenarios listed below are plausible. If you don't like them, write your own fanpost next time let me know about it in the comments and send a donation to Indiana University athletics for the purposes of extending Archie Miller. Also please put your favorite B1G basketball coaching gifs in the comments. As always, all spelling and grammar mistakes are intentional.

The Seriously Endangered (2 coaches)

1. Penn State Nittany Lions: Interim HC Jim Ferry (1st season)


Ferry is obviously in his first season at Penn State as he was given the interim tag following the resignation of Chambers back in October. Ferry has previous experience as a head coach and it is a mixed bag. He was semi-successful at the D2 and D3 levels in the late 90s/early 00s and although it was a long buildup of the program, he won the Northeastern Conference regular season and tournament in back-to-back years during his 9th and 10th seasons at Long Island. On the other hand, during his time at Duquesne, Ferry never finished above 10th in the Atlantic 10 in five seasons. This season, PSU holds a 7-10 (4-9 conference) record.

The case for keeping Ferry is that he has experience in the recruiting region, a history of some success, represents continuity (possibly preventing transfers/decommitments), and despite not being the most talented team in the conference this year PSU has consistently been a tough out. The case against Ferry is that he failed to compete in the Atlantic 10 (I'm an A10 fan, but the B1G is harder to coach in), most recruits have already decommitted (only 1 2022 guy is left and he's expected to decommit at some point), players have a free transfer available at the end of the year due to COVID, and the program may not want continuity from Chambers since he resigned under pressure. So what does Penn State need to do for Ferry to lose the interim tag and become the official head coach? Here are a couple of scenarios:

Scenario A: Penn State wins 5+ of their last 7 to get to at least 9-11 in conference play and strong NCAA bubble consideration. The administration decides that getting close to tournament consideration (or even a tournament bid) during a year PSU wasn't supposed to be competitive is more than enough to award Ferry the job. Honestly, the Nebraska loss probably makes keeping Ferry based on performance unlikely.

Scenario B: Penn State decides they don't care about basketball, their COVID financial situation makes money tight, and their new offensive coordinator is too expensive. As a bonus, attendance is actually up for the men's basketball program this year. Ferry agrees to be head coach for a limited salary.

2. Northwestern Wildcats: HC Chris Collins (8th season)


Collins is the only coach to ever bring Northwestern to the fabled lands of the NCAA tournament. He even found the legendary first round victory that they had previously only heard rumors of. How is it even a question on whether the best coach Northwestern has ever had keeps his job? Well for one thing, he's not particularly good at his job. Outside of THE YEAR(TM), Collins has never finished above 9th in the conference - the tournament year he finished in a 4-way tie for 5th (also of note, 3 traditional conference basketball heavy weights made coaching changes following that year). Consistently finishing at the back of the conference isn't good for any coach's job security and that's what Collins has done year after year. At 3-11 in conference (how did they start 3-0?!?), it looks like that's going to continue. Scenarios that Collins keeps his job are:

Scenario A: Northwestern shows signs late in the season, gets to 7-13 in conference and the dead cat bounce is enough to convince the administration that Collins truly is going to replace coach K one day (they just don't realize the prophecy means at Army, not at Duke).

Scenario B: Northwestern's administration cites financial shortages to their boosters, but publicly lie that they fully believe in Collins ability to build a consistent winner at Northwestern.

Scenario C: Northwestern's administration wants to get back to the good old days when it was acceptable to read books at the games. Academics is the priority, not athletic success. Collins has them on the right track.

It Could Happen this Year or the Next (3 coaches)

3. Minnesota Golden Gopher: HC Little Pitino (8th season)


Pitino doesn't have the best resume at Minnesota and it feels like he was originally given the job only because of his father. I will also never understand why they fired Tubby Smith. Since Pitino got the job, he has 2 tournaments bids in his first 7 seasons. For the purposes of historical comparison, Tubby Smith had 3 tournament bids in 6 seasons before getting the boot following a 2nd round NCAA loss. Definitely feels like in a normal year this would be a win or else campaign for Pitino. At 6-8, Minnesota is still in the running for a tournament bid with games remaining against Illinois, Indiana, Penn State, Northwestern & Rutgers (plus a potential make-up game against Nebraska). They've already got some great wins against Ohio State & Michigan to help carry the tournament resume so they may be able to get away with a 9-11 conference record and still get a tournament bid.

Scenario A: Pitino backs in the tournament with wins only against against Penn State, Northwestern & Nebraska.

Scenario B: Minnesota convincingly makes the tournament winning 5 of their final 6 games (losing only to Rutgers) and receives a 6 seed. Minnesota's AD gives Pitino a huge 6-year contract extension prior to their first NCAA game where Minnesota loses 111-42 to 11 seed Loyola-Chicago matching the most lopsided NCAA tournament game ever (which coincidentally also involved the Ramblers - this one in 1963 against Tennessee Tech).

Scenario C: Minnesota decides to prioritize all winter athletic efforts on hockey, realizing that they can't compete in the Big Ten basketball conference.

4. Indiana Hoosiers: HC Archie Miller (4th season)


Miller has yet to make the tournament and during his tenure Indiana has their longest losing streak to Purdue since John Wooden roamed the court (as a player, not a coach). These aren't things that make the fans want to keep Miller long term. Neither is his record at Indiana following wins against top 25 teams (just 3-9 including a thrilling 2OT victory over Northwestern recently). On the other hand, Archie sure can beat Iowa. And while he's not as easy to make gifs of as Tom Crean (we miss you Crean!), he does have some good ones. Some will say Indiana was going to make the tournament last year (side note: if you don't finish at least .500 in your conference you don't belong, give me more Atlantic 10 & Missouri Valley teams), it wasn't a sure thing. At 6-7 in conference this year, Indiana has some work left to do to secure a tournament bid and a contract extension for Archie. Fortunately, the schedule is manageable with only one ranked team left (if the other Michigan game gets rescheduled two ranked teams).

Scenario A: Indiana gets to 10-10 in conference play but extends their losing streak to Purdue to 10 games after losing the regular season finale and a conference tournament game to them. Fans are irate, but Miller has the team making progress in year 4. The AD gives him a 10-year contract extension at $12 million/year after receiving a suspiciously high amount of donations from West Lafayette, IN earmarked for that purpose.

Scenario B: Archie Miller makes a bet with the athletic director. If he gets a win in Mackey Arena this year, he gets to keep his job. Indiana finishes conference play at 9-9 (neither of their two postponed games are made up) and Indiana is placed into the first four. Since they aren't allowed to play at Assembly Hall, they are placed in the first four games at Mackey. Archie beats random ACC school and the athletic director is forced to give him a contract extension per the terms of their bet.

Scenario C: Indiana securely makes the tournament, Archie Miller is given a 20-year, $35 million/year contract extension with all the $ guaranteed.

Scenario D: Despite not meeting any fan expectations in his first four years, Indiana embraces their newfound status as a football school and is unable to get boosters to pay for Archie's buyout.

5. Nebraska Cornhuskers: HC Fred Hoiberg (2nd season)


First off congratulations to Nebraska on their first conference win of the season. Nobody causes Nebraska to lose their 27th conference basketball game in a row! Nobody! Hoiberg has honestly been a bit of a disappointment as a fan of B1G basketball. I knew it would be a major rebuild, but I didn't expect things would get this bad. That being said, college basketball coaches don't get fired after two seasons for performance-based reasons. Especially when the athletic department has no money and needs to save every dime to buyout Scott Frost next fall. Hoiberg gets at least a year 3. Even Eddie Jordan got a year 3. The only scenario in which Hoiberg got the boot, was a winless conference season. He avoided that this past weekend. Hoiberg gets placed here because if he doesn't turn things around, he's going to be feeling the pressure in year 3 to at least make visible progress. While other coaches further down the list could similarly see pressure to perform next year, they can all buy two more seasons with a good finish this year.

Very Specific Yet Plausible Scenarios Could Lead to Termination This Year

The point at which scenarios change from what coaches need to accomplish to keep their job, to what needs to happen for them to lose their job.

6. Iowa Hawkeyes: HC Fran McCaffery (11th season)


Fran currently has his best team of his Iowa tenure. But he's never finished in the top 2 in the conference or made a Sweet 16 at Iowa. Neither are fire able offenses as only idiotic athletic departments fire a coach coming off a tournament bid for performance reasons (oh sorry, Minnesota I didn't see you there. How long were you listening?). I wouldn't be shocked to see Fran get the boot at some point in the nearish future (2-3 years) if he stops making tournaments post Garza as the highs haven't been super high. But for him to get fired this year requires two things to happen.

Scenario: Gary Barta suddenly retires or is forced out due to scandal (this would have to be some scandal as Barta has survived several controversies during his tenure). But let's face it, the last time Barta seriously evaluated any head coach was over a decade ago. When it's time for their annual reviews, Barta partially fills out a contract extension with the salary left blank and allows his employees to fill out the number. But in a hypothetical scenario where Barta isn't running the SS Iowa's helm into the ground, there exists a plausible scenario where Fran could definitely be at risk. After losing to Indiana for a 3rd time this season (conference tournament), Fran attempts to choke out the refs postgame. At his post-game press conference, he is unrepentant and when asked about it by reporters states that Indiana (not Iowa) was responsible for the attack. Publicly reprimanded by the university, Fran surpasses this performance during his opening round NCAA game (also at Lucas Oil) by sprinting towards the Drake bench and throwing haymakers at the opposing coaches. The University of Iowa fires him immediately and he is not allowed to attend the post-game press conference. When reached by reporters in the days after his firing, Fran states that he was angered by Drake breaking the rules of basketball. After the natural follow-up question, Fran says "They were attempting to prevent us from scoring, that's illegal!" When the reporter asks, "you mean defense?", Fran responds, "I keep hearing people say that word, but I don't understand what you all are talking about."

Honestly feel this scenario should be ranked higher.

Maybe Next Year if Fanbases are Insane

7. Purdue Boilermakers: HC Matt Painter (16th season)


I don't think this scenario is particularly likely as I rank Painter as the 2nd best coach in the conference (call me a homer if you want - for the record I'd have put him behind Beilein, Matta, and Bo). He's also got a roster with 4 freshmen that have won conference player of the week and is bringing in two of his top 5 highest rated recruits ever next fall. The future looks bright. But should Purdue collapse this year and not make the tournament and then follow it up next year without making the tournament, things could get a little dicey as that would be three straight seasons without a tournament bid.

8. Michigan State Spartans: HC Tom Izzo

(?th season - he's "experienced" and I'm clearly running out of steam)


Following up a disastrous 2021 performance with a repeat in 2022, Michigan State fans begin to panic. Message boards are full of comments about losing program momentum and repeating Dantonio's end in the other major sport. Facing reckless pressure from the fans, the athletic director makes a move that will lead to his own firing in 3 years and forces Tom Izzo to retire.

Barring Major Recruiting Violations or Them Voluntarily Leaving You are Stuck with Them for at least 2 seasons after this

This section can be broken down into two categories. Coaches that could take another job and coaches that won't.

9. Coaches that Could Take Another Job - Illinois Fighting Illini HC Brad Underwood, Michigan Wolverines HC Juwan Howard, Rutgers Scarlet Knights HC Steve Pikiell.

Underwood to a blue blood, Howard to the NBA, Pikiell to a program with legitimate aspirations of conference contention. Not saying any of these will happen and every one of them states they love their job, but I wouldn't be shocked. Rutgers, I like what Pikiell has done but it requires a pretty big jump to go from tournament bid contention to conference contender if your program doesn't have a history of recruiting that caliber of players - just ask Iowa.

12. Coaches That Will Continue to Entertain for Years - Ohio State Buckeyes HC Chris Holtmann, Maryland Terrapins HC Mark Turgeon, Wisconsin Badgers HC Greg Gard.

Honestly forgot Gard's name while I was writing this and I'm surprised just recalling his brand of basketball did cause me to fall asleep. Turg is perfect at doing just enough to keep his job. Holtmann is capable and in a good spot for recruiting at Ohio State - but I don't think he's done enough to justify getting a blue blood job or a NBA job. If you are wondering why I include Underwood in that group but not Holtmann, Underwood did more in his pre-Illinois days to get consideration for a promotion, but I suppose Holtmann could surprise me and change the narrative. I'd prefer if Holtmann add something to his repertoire instead - maybe a spinning bicycle kick of the game ball into the crowd following wins or crab walking along the sidelines during games.