clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2021 Spring Previews: Best Coaches in the Big Ten

Come for the rankings, scroll to the poll, stay for the dumb arguments in the comment section

It’s time to rank the coaches! Here’s how the writers at OTE feel about the the 2021 B1G Coach Rankings:

  1. Ryan Day - Ohio State Buckeyes
  2. Tom Allen (this was quick) - Indiana Hoosiers
  3. Kirk Ferentz (lolllllls) - Iowa Hawkeyes
  4. James Franklin - Penn State Nittany Lions
  5. Paul Chryst - Wisconsin Badgers
  6. Pat Fitzgerald - Northwestern Wildcats
  7. PJ Fleck - Minnesota Golden Gophers
  8. Greg Schiano - Rutgers Scarlet Knights
  9. Jeff Brohm - Purdue Boilermakers
  10. Jim Harbaugh (my how the turntables) - Michigan Wolverines
  11. Bret Bielema - Illinois Fighting Illini
  12. Mel Tucker - Michigan State Spartans
  13. Mike Locksley - Maryland Terrapins
  14. Scott Frost - Nebraska Cornhuskers
Why does he look so damp?

Of course, listing how the writers ranked them is both boring and inaccurate. Ranking them at all is boring, because after Ryan Day, it really doesn’t matter until you get to Scott Frost. Those two are the only rock-solid obviously-ranked choices.

Instead, I opted to simply group the coaches into various tiers based on How Good They’ve Been versus How Much Attention They Get, and then analogized that ratio to a well known sports thing. Are the analogies all great? No. Are the analogies mostly good? Eh, maybe. Are the analogies all there for you to read? Mostly. But the point is, this article gives you everything readers love: Rankings, analogies to other things, trips down memory lane, and weird inside jokes.

And now, we present the utterly silly 2021 Big Ten Notoriety versus You Know, Accomplishments Divisions:

Tim Tebow


Jim Harbaugh

49-22 at Michigan, 1-4 bowl record, avg. division finish 3rd

Tim Tebow was never a good NFL quarterback. He was never a good NFL QB prospect. It was widely understood, I think, that depsite being very good at college football, he never had a real chance to be good in the NFL. Nonetheless, he got endless attention—before the draft, before he played any games, while he rode the backs of his defense and kicker to the playoffs, and when he threw the ball like 3 yards across the middle and the wide reciever ran 73 more yards to win that one playoff game. He even got repeatedly promoted through the New York Mets’s minor league baseball system, despite being a very bad pro prospect and an even worse minor league actual player, because he generated hype and attention.

That’s Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. Not the unearned promotion or getting credit for weird things, but the “people never stop talking about him even though he hasn’t done anything worthwhile” part. While at Michigan, his teams have finished 3rd in their won division on average. Third! And yet, every preseason we hear a bunch from and about him.

In both Harbaugh’s and Tebow’s defense, the hype and discussion and attention hasn’t come from them. Skip Bayless and Lee Corso and Hottake McHottake do most of the work. In other words, it’s not really Harbaugh’s fault that everyone else won’t stop caring about him, despite his paltry performance. Nontheless, Harbz gets the Tebow tier all to himself.

Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, and that Third Guy

Tom Allen

24-22 at Indiana, 0-2 bowl record, avg. division finish 4th-ish

Okay so Tom Allen isn’t the three player core of those really good Spurs teams by any measure of success. The Spurs were really, really, really good, won a ton, and nobody ever cared or talked about them. It was weird.

I didn’t realize it until I posted Allen’s Indiana record, but he did not have a good first couple years at all! He’s come on strong the past two years though, especially in 2020 when he got Indiana to jump from “Wow they really hung in there against that good team” to “Wow they are an actual good team.” He’s certainly drawing a lot more attention after last year, but it still doesn’t feel like he’s in the top, say, ten of most-talked-about-Big-Ten coaches, does it? He should be talked about more! Those Spurs teams should have gotten more attention! Do you understand the analogy?

Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Big Ten

Scott Frost

12-20 at Nebraska, avg. division finish 5th, 0-0 bowl record

This is not creative, but is there honestly a better way to categorize the disparity between attention received and things accomplished for Scott Frost than “how the Nebraska Cornhuskers have done since they joined the Big Ten”? They have sucked. He has sucked. They get good recruiting classes and endless attention nationally. He will not shut up with his moronic takes about hooded sweatshirts and whatever other dumb stuff he’s on about. Nebraska is the target of wildly unrealistic expectations, so is Scott Frost. The annoyance and anger directed at Nebraska by non-Nebraska fans is as unnecessary and misplaced as that directed against Scott Frost. Match made in heaven, plus I’m running out of ideas.

Unnamed Tier


Mike Locksley

6-17 at Maryland, avg. division finish 5th, 0-0 bowl record

Greg Schiano

3-6 at Rutgers this time, avg. division finish 5th, 0-0 bowl record (previously 68-67 at Rutgers, finished 2nd in Big East twice, 5-1 bowl record)

Bret Bielema

0-0 at Illinois (previously 68-24 at Wisconsin, won the division and conference, made and lost the Rose Bowl a bunch)

This is the hardest tier. These guys aren’t Mel Tucker (see below), because they’ve either been here longer, been here previously, or been “here” previously. They don’t get much attention, at least outside of their fanbase, and they don’t deserve much tbh. Locksley has not been a good head coach and has never been. Schiano was more mediocre than I thought/remembered, but he’s a great fit for a school dying for mediocrity. Bielema had a bunch of success at Wisconsin, loudly and dickishly left for Arkansas under some delusion that all that was keeping him from the playoffs was...not being in the SEC?, failed miserably, and is now at Illinois where he may actually do pretty well! He’s also most famous for that weird slow trip/fall/stumble thing when walking on extremely flat and smooth asphalt whilst at Arkansas.

I dunno, readers, how would you analogize the attention these guys get versus the attention they deserve? Please do my work for me.

Notre Dame

James Franklin

60-28 at Penn State, avg. division finish 3rd, 3-3 bowl record; has won conference

Ryan Day

23-2 at Ohio State, avg. division finish 1st, 1-2 bowl record; 2/2 at making playoff

This division isn’t necessarily named to anger the OTE readership. I stand by its accuracy independent of any side effects. Notre Dame gets plenty of attention. Not Bama or Duke or Tim Tebow attention, but lots. And the thing is, they kinda live up to it! Not all the way, and not every single year, but kinda! We’re all loathe to admit it, but it’s not like Notre Dame is, say, Nebraska of the past ten years. They’re good.

James Franklin gets plenty of attention and praise and discussion...and hate and dislike. But you know what? He also has plenty of success. Not every year, and not in every game, but the list of Big Ten coaches who’ve won the conference is short, and he’s on it. He’s pretty good, and he probably deserves about 90% of the attention he gets.

Ryan Day was hard to place. He is about on the same tier of press/praise/hate as Franklin, and when you think about it, considering Ohio State’s expectations of making and winning the national championship every year, he’s had about as much success as Notre Dame. Right? Too much of a stretch? He’s been really good so far, but not as good as the name on the front of his hoodie expects him to be. Shut up this works.

The 21st Century Minnesota Twins


Paul Chryst

56-19 at Wisconsin, avg. division finish 1st-ish, 5-1 bowl record; 3 div champs

Kirk Ferentz

168-106 at Iowa, avg. division finish uhhhhh pretty good but to hard to calculate by mental math, 9-8 bowl record; has won division

Pat Fitzgerald

106-81 at Northwestern, avg. finish uhhh not that great actually, 5-5 bowl; has won division

The Minnesota Twins of the past two decades won a LOT. They’ve made the playoffs nine times since 2002, and for those of you who don’t follow Major League Baseball, not that many teams make the playoffs! They’ve also, uh, very notoriously, lost eighteen straight playoff games. Oof. Which is to say, although they can win the division, they haven’t been great at really winning when it counts. Oh also, because they’re a baseball team that’s from Minnesota, they really don’t get much attention beyond “oh yeah they’re pretty good for their division too I guess.”

These three dudes have wildly different winning percentages and division finishes and bowl records, but they’re the only three guys to win the West Division since its creation. They’re currently thought of as “solid” or “pretty good” or “yeah I guess they can beat up on their own division” or “lol WTF how does Northwestern ever win a game let alone the division.” They’re also only talked about as “solid” coaches, except during the season they win, or almost win, the division, at which point they’re “very good” coaches with “solid” careers. None of them are thought of as great coaches. Except maybe Fitz, but that’s only in a “considering he coaches at Northwestern, he’s great” sense. I don’t like him or his school or face.

The Miami Dolphins Wildcat Offense

PJ Fleck

26-19 at Minnesota, avg. division finish 4th, 2-0 bowl record

Jeff Brohm

19-25 at Purdue, avg. division finish 4th, 1-1 bowl record

Does everyone remember how the NFL lost its mind when the Miami Dolphins debuted their version of the Wildcat Offense with, I think, a pre-lost-year Ricky Williams? There were probably other players involved, but Ricky is the one I remember. The offense was wildly successful that first game and was discussed endlessly. Like for YEARS commentators would lose their minds about the Wildcat (I think? It’s been a while and I’m getting on in age also what even is time anymore) any time a team ran it. Even now I can just imagine Cris Collinsworth about the “whacky” or “creative” or “different look” a Wildcat play gives. It doesn’t get the attention it once did, but it certainly gets more discussion and conversation than its level of success after that first season warrants.

That’s these guys, right? Both came in with very optimistic expectations and a ton of hype (for the Big Ten, I mean. It’s not like these guys were a preseason Texas Longhorns team). Like the Wildcat, both of these guys have also seen their bright shining moments! Brohm geniused the recruiting of Rondale Moore and the single greatest game involving Ohio State University in the past several years. His offenses are/were exciting and inventive and stress inducing for opposing fans. Ultimately, though, he just...hasn’t been that good. As his record has stayed below 0.500, the hullabaloo surrounding him has slowly dissipated and, at this point, is probably about where it should be: worth mentioning his creativity and explosive ideas and that time he beat OSU, but that’s about it.

PJ Fleck, on the other hand, is a slightly more successful Brohm. Lots of hype, much of it generated by himself, much of it generated by people who don’t like him or his team. And his on-the-field success has been a single 2nd place division finish and a bunch of mediocrity. Readers of this website will still insist he gets too much attention, is overhyped, etc..., but as an intellectually honest, fully neutral observer of college sport, he gets about what he deserves. If you think he belongs in the Tim Tebow Tier, that’s probably your own fault for paying him way too much attention.

Plus, Ricky Williams had a shaved head for lots of his NFL career, and PJ Fleck has a shaved head. Analogy complete.

Mel Tucker Tier

Colorado seems nice

Mel Tucker

2-5 record at Michigan State, avg. division finish 7th, 0-0 bowl record

What do you want me to say, readers. He wasn’t very successful before he got to Michigan State. He hasn’t been successful at MSU so far. He’s only been there a season, nobody talks about him or hypes him up or was impressed with his hiring. He hasn’t had a chance to do anything, really, although I’ll argue “better than I expected” is not a bad place to be for the HC who had to follow the mess that Dantonio left. He’s Mel Tucker, he’s had Mel Tucker levels of success, and he gets Mel Tucker levels of attention. It might be fair to say that he is the best fit of “attention vs. success” of any coach in the Big Ten. So congrats, I guess, Michigan State University college football fans?


Which OTE Writer Ranking Is Silliest

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    Tom Allen at 2
    (85 votes)
  • 23%
    Kirk Ferentz at 3
    (68 votes)
  • 9%
    Jim Harbaugh at 10
    (27 votes)
  • 11%
    PJ Fleck above Bret Bielema
    (32 votes)
  • 25%
    Scott Frost only at 14
    (74 votes)
286 votes total Vote Now