Hello and welcome back to another college football season.
Since we are just a day away from the Big Ten season kicking off, it’s time to take stock of which head coaches and coordinators (no, special teams coordinators don’t count) are already on the hot seat heading into week 0. Will Scott Frost be left in Ireland? Will Brian Ferentz ever have to accomplish something other than being the Emperor’s son? Does Northwestern have the worst coordinators ever? All of these questions and more will be answered.
**DISCLAIMER*** BoilerUp89 does not wish unemployment upon anyone and asks that you remember these coaches are real people with a family. Watching the performance of some of these coaches is inappropriate for young children, degenerate gamblers, and fans with addiction problems. All viewers watch their games at their own risk.
Recap of last season
For the first time since the 2013 postseason the Big Ten did not see any head coach get fired. It is also the first time since 2010 that the Big Ten returns every head coach as in addition to not getting fired, none of them
sought out were sought out by the greener pastures of the NFL.
That 2010 season that saw all 11 B1G coaches return was the final season for four of them: Rich Rodriguez, Jim Tressel, Bill Lynch, and Timmy Brewster. If that precedent means anything, buckle in for another turbulent season.
Although the head coaches have all returned, the conference did see a bloodletting of sorts as 8 coordinators were let go following staff shakeups across the conference. Just about every coach that ended the year on last season’s hot seat (Scott Frost and the Northwestern coordinators excepted) was axed, so we have a bunch of fresh new faces on the hot seat list this season.
Only three teams had zero coaching turnover across their head coach and coordinator positions - Iowa, Michigan State, and Northwestern. One of these three is not like the others.
Thirteen fresh new faces fill the coordinator positions across our conference. I’m willing to bet at least one is gone by the end of the season.
OTE’s Coaching Dead Pool Competition
If you want to play along at home and prove you know more than me (which shouldn’t be that difficult), enter you prediction on the 1st head coach or offensive/defensive coordinator fired in the conference this year. In the event teams are using co-coordinators, the guy who is calling the plays is listed. Tell me who, when, and how in the comments. Hopefully one of you can rise up and beat me at my own competition this year after I won last season because for some reason nobody else knew that Matt Lubick was going to be fired (seriously, how was I the only person to guess Lubick).
Your options are:
Indiana Hoosiers HC Tom Allen, OC Walt Bell, DC Chat Wilt
Illinois Fighting Illini HC Bret Bielema, OC Barry Lunney Jr., DC Ryan Walters
Iowa Hawkeyes Emperor Kirk, Prince Brian, DC Phil Parker
Maryland Terrapins HC Mike Locksley, OC Dan Enos, DC Brian Williams
Michigan Wolverines HC Jim Harbaugh, OC Matt Weiss/Sherrone Moore*, DC Jesse Minter
Michigan State Spartans HC Mel Tucker, OC Jay Johnson, DC Scottie Hazelton
Minnesota Gophers HC PJ Fleck, OC Kirk Ciarrocca, DC Joe Rossi
Nebraska Cornhuskers HC Scott Frost, OC Mark Whipple, DC Erik Chinander
Northwestern Wildcats HC Pat Fitzgerald, OC Mike Bajakian, DC Jim O’Neil
Ohio State Buckeyes HC Ryan Day, OC Kevin Wilson, DC Jim Knowles
Penn State Nittany Lions HC James Franklin, OC Mike Yurcich, DC Manny Diaz
Purdue Boilermakers HC Jeff Brohm, OC Brian Brohm, DC Ron English
Rutgers Scarlet Knights HC Greg Schiano, OC Sean Gleeson, DC Joe Harasymiak
wisconsin Badgers HC Paul Chryst, OC Bobby Engram, DC Jim Leonhard
*Weiss and Moore are co-coordinators with neither being designated as the primary play caller preseason. Feel free to take either of them if you want and you can get credit for them if they get fired/demoted after one of them grabs the actual offensive coordinator responsibilities.
Without further ado, let’s get to this year’s preseason rankings.
The Top 5
1 - Nebraska Cornhuskers HC Scott Frost - 5th season, salary - $4 million, contract remaining - 4 years, buyout - $7.5 million after October 1, 2022
Last season’s most talked about head coach on a Big Ten hot seat was Scott Frost. As the season was winding down the new AD Trev Alberts had seen enough and from what it looks like on the outside he gave Frost an ultimatum. Accept a reduced buyout and salary to get one more chance at leading the Cornhuskers or take the money you are owed now. In addition to not knowing how to coach football, Frost lacks all common sense and doesn’t realize that retired head football coach is the best job in the country. He took the reduced contract. Trev Alberts also axed Frost’s entire offensive coaching staff making me the winner of last season’s OTE coaching dead pool.
Frost enters his 5th season with a 15-29 record (10-25 in the B1G) having never finished better than 5th in the West and without a single bowl appearance. On the bright side, Nebraska has the most recruiting talent in the West and Frost has a special teams coordinator for the first time in his tenure in Lincoln. The schedule is friendly enough that if Frost stays out of the way and allows the coordinators to run the team without him they should easily make a bowl. Then again, if the team is having success in spite of Frost not actually running the show, then why should he remain the head coach?
The buyout goes down to $7.5 million after game 6. The reduced buyout agreement and 2020 financial losses from COVID are the main reasons why Frost is getting a 5th opportunity to steer the SS Nebraska away from that iceberg. Anything less than a 5-1 record after game 6 will have us watching Lincoln for smoke signals.
Frost could also survive a 4-2 record thru six games, but with him bragging about his new O-line coach having all the O-linemen puking once/practice on average, I’m less certain Frost can even survive that. For those of you unaware, it takes a complete jackass of a coach to think that players puking this much is a good thing. Puking can be a sign of rhabdomyolysis or heat exhaustion and if it is happening this often, intelligent administrators are likely to investigate further. This is the type of behavior that can get Frost fired for cause even if he says he was joking.
In the event Frost does have a successful season and finally makes a bowl game, don’t be shocked if Whipple or Chinander turn that into better opportunities elsewhere. Frost is the only coaching candidate that is currently looking at a decent likelihood of a midseason firing but that could change by our next hot seats article.
2 - Northwestern Wildcats DC Jim O’Neil - 2nd season, salary - PRIVATE SCHOOL DOLLARS, contract remaining - PRIVATE SCHOOL YEARS, buyout - PRIVATE SCHOOL DOLLARS
I do enjoy that my search for Jim O’Neil contract information returns my own previous hot seat articles in which I lament the fact that Northwestern does not feel the need to share their contract information with us plebeians. shakes fist at Northwestern
Jim O’Neil joined the Northwestern coaching staff last season and took a division winning defense (15.9 points/game) and turned them into a 1-8 conference record (hurray for Rutgers!) defense (29.0 points/game).
FBS teams averaged 31.1 points/game. P5 teams averaged 33.6 points/game and that includes the Rutgers win and a game against Iowa’s “offense”. In one season, the Wildcats dropped from being the 5th best team nationally in points allowed per game to 89th.
Jim O’Neil (or JON as his Wildcat “fans” like to call him) almost certainly deserved to fired last season but for reasons that we will call loyalty (blackmail is another possibility) was not. As a result JON enters the 2022 season high in the hot seat rankings.
Now I know what the Wildcat fans are going to say - if Fitz was loyal last year to his good buddy JON, what’s going to change this year? My answer is that while the Northwestern athletic department is not overly concerned about petty things like wins and losses, at some point the athletic director would step in and send a tersely written letter via his butler to Fitz informing him that his services are no longer needed. That won’t be this season - Fitz has earned the right to three consecutive 1-8 conference seasons before being fired - but if JON repeats last year’s performance and Fitz holds onto him again, he is risking putting his own head into the guillotine in 2023.
I saw enough last season to think that JON does not have the capability to manufacture a turnaround. Looking further back into his coaching resume - NFL DC opportunities with the Browns and 49ers were turned into three losing seasons (admittedly the Browns had and continue to have other issues). His only other DC experience prior to taking the job at Northwestern: the 2005 Towson squad that went 6-5 and gave up 62, 56, 44, 48, and 55 points in their losses. I don’t think JON will be the first coordinator or HC fired in the B1G this season, but after the Illini game I do think he will be handed his walking papers.
3 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights OC Sean Gleeson - 3rd season, salary - $1.025 million, contract remaining - 2 years, buyout - $1.05 million (2023 salary)
At the time of his hire, Gleeson became the highest paid Rutgers assistant ever. In 2021, a raise and contract extension made him the first million dollar assistant at Rutgers. With this high pay, comes high expectations. In year 3, Rutgers offense needs to start showing some signs of life that have been largely absent during the first two seasons of Gleeson’s tenure. No more scoring 7 points against the turnstiles that are Northwestern like defenses.
2020 actually saw the Scarlet Knights average 26.7 points/game (good for 80th in the country) and got Gleeson the raise and extension as it was a drastic improvement from 13.2 points/game in 2019 (129th out of 130 FBS teams). But as we now know, the COVID season was full of odd statistical happenings and while 80th is an improvement from the Chris Ash years, the drop back to just 19.7 points/game in 2021 (120th) in a season that included non-conference games to pad the stats compared to 2020 was pretty inexcusable. Rutgers reached the 20 point mark in just four games last season: 61 vs 3-9 Temple, 45 vs FCS Delaware, 20 vs 5-7 Illinois, and 38 vs 2-10 Indiana.
Under Gleeson, the sleepy giants of Piscataway have lacked a downfield passing attack and struggled to gain a push along the O-line to allow for a competent rushing attack. Former 4 star QB Gavin Wimsatt played in 4 games last season but was able to maintain his redshirt. From the limited snaps he had, he certainly appeared to need more seasoning but perhaps he is ready and can save Gleeson’s job. I feel more confident in saying that projected starting QB Noah Vedral is not the guy to turn around an offense by himself.
So where does that leave Gleeson if Vedral is the QB? Well, there are a couple of reasons for optimism. He had a very successful stint as the OC at Princeton and a decent single season at Oklahoma State. There is also the massive number of incoming transfers along the O-line and at the WR position that could make up for the shortcomings in the backfield. If they do, my ranking of Gleeson here is going to look stupid. If they don’t, well I would be very surprised if another anemic offensive season saw Gleeson return for a 4th year in Piscataway.
4 - Northwestern Wildcats OC Mike Bajakian - 3rd season, salary - PRIVATE SCHOOL DOLLARS, contract remaining - PRIVATE SCHOOL YEARS, buyout - PRIVATE SCHOOL DOLLARS
Bajakian has been a offensive coordinator for 11 seasons at five different schools. His years at Central Michigan and Cincinnati under Butch Jones were pretty good (although it’s worth noting that Butch Jones inherited well run programs from Brian Kelly at both stops). At Tennessee (also under Butch Jones), the offense sputtered in year 1 and was middling in year 2 but got really good the season after Bajakian left. Bajakian’s single season at Boston College was likewise underwhelming.
Just looking at the stats put together by Bajakian’s offenses at Northwestern, he should not be the OC this season. The less said about the 2020 and 2021 offensive performances the better for Wildcat livers. But he’s further down the list than JON because I suspect Fitz is more likely to be loyal to him based on the fact that Fitz never cared about how terrible most of Mick McCall’s offenses were. Plus JON will likely take the majority of the flak from the fanbase.
As for reasons for optimism... uhhh... Ryan Hilinski returns at QB and he completed 95 of 176 passes last season for a 5.6 yards/attempt along with 3 TDs and 4 INTs. Maybe highly recruited Brendan Sullivan takes over the QB spot but he would be a redshirt freshman. There are some returning running backs and receivers but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. No offensive transfers of note. True freshman Reggie Fleurima (4 star WR) may be counted on way too much by QBs that don’t look that capable. Pass the Malört.
5 - Indiana Hoosiers HC Tom Allen - 6th season, salary - $4.3 million (with annual raises), contract remaining - 5 years, buyout - $24.9 million at end of year.
So in all honesty I don’t expect Allen will get the boot this season (although I do think it is looking possible that 2023 could be his final year), as despite going 0-9 in B1G play last season, his first four seasons the Hoosiers went 5-7, 5-7, 8-5, and 6-2 which makes him the second best Hoosier head coach in my lifetime.
More importantly Tom Allen signed a 7 year, $34.3 million contract after the 2020 season. It was structured such that Allen’s salary increases by $200k/year for an average salary across those years so that the average salary would be $4.9 million. Following last years performance Allen took a $200k pay cut for the next four seasons (departed OC Nick Sheridan was owed approximately $200k for early termination so Allen effectively paid for Sheridan’s buyout).
From what I’ve been able to find, Allen’s contract is fully guaranteed - no reduced buyout terms exist on the Indiana side (let me know if the comments if this is wrong). Furthermore, every additional year that Allen makes a bowl game the contract is automatically extended 1 year with the salary of the additional year being a $100k increase from the final year of the contract.
Allen got off to a great start in Bloomington, winning 8 games in his third season and finishing the 2020 season ranked in the top 15 of the final AP poll. It’s possible 2021 was a one off aberration and the Hoosiers rebound to bowl eligibility this season. Personally though, I take the viewpoint that departed coordinators Kane Wommack (now head coach at South Alabama) and Kalen DeBoer (now head coach at Washington after a successful two years at Fresno State) were the secret to the success in 2019 and that 2020 the Hoosiers were the benefactors of COVID weirdness.
Allen’s new hire at the OC position following the disaster of 2021 doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in his program moving forward. New OC Walt Bell oversaw some poor Maryland offenses, sped up the decline of Florida State, and continued his upward failure as the head coach of UMass where he went 2-23.
I mentioned it above but it’s worth repeating that a) Allen took a $200k salary cut for the next four years and b) his contract still runs thru 2027. Even though Indiana doesn’t look like they have to worry about a basketball buyout anytime soon, I’m not sure the big money donors for Indiana care enough about football to pony up for an early Allen buyout. For this reason, Allen is very likely to get a year 7 so long as he avoids a second consecutive 0-B1G season. He takes the 5th spot in the preseason hot seat rankings for now as we wait to see which of the thirteen new coordinators suck at their job. And should Allen go winless in conference play again, his job status will be very much under discussion.
None of these guys are people I currently expect to get the axe this season (with the possible exception of Walt Bell), but they are coaches I’ll be watching closely early in the season to see how they are doing.
Indiana OC Walt Bell. Bell enters his 1st season at Indiana with a track record of mediocrity. Fans were not happy with his hiring and I don’t see a lot of reasons for optimism here. This reminds me of Purdue hiring Bob Diaco.
Rutgers DC Joe Harasymiak. Harasymiak is another first year coordinator and moves within the conference from Minnesota where he was a co-DC (but not the play caller). He’s just 36, from New Jersey, and has some head coaching experience at Maine where he did well. This is still a large step up for him in terms of competition and responsibility. While I think Rutgers is going to be patient with Schiano, at some point Schiano is going to have to show some results on the field. If he doesn’t, the staff is going to get shook up and Harasymiak could get caught in that crossfire.
Purdue DC Ron English. English was part of the trio of co-DCs on the Boilermakers staff last season, but departed Brad Lambert was the play caller. It has been a few years since English was last calling plays and his record calling plays is mixed. I really liked his performance developing players last season, but with another co-DC on the staff (admittedly Mark Hagen has never called plays), a poor defensive start to the season could see an early shakeup here.
Michigan OC Matt Weiss? Sherrone Moore? Weiss and Moore are reportedly sharing play calling duties as they take over Josh Gattis. I’m sure that will work out nicely. Perhaps Harbaugh can get in on the action and one of each can call 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down plays respectively. I’m going to assume Weiss is the actual play caller since he is the QB coach and Moore is the O-line coach, but we await the clarification on this that comes with game 1.
Maryland HC Mike Locksley. Last season was an important one for Locksley as he eked out a couple of close wins over bad teams to get to bowl eligibility. It would be easy to assume that all is good in College Park following a bowl win, but I think It will be important for Locksley to maintain the program momentum in year 4. He doesn’t have a signature victory and he has been continuously blown out by top 25 quality teams. If Locksley can survive at Maryland until the elimination of divisions, I think he could still be a long time coach for the Terrapins. That makes this season one of the most important of his tenure. He most likely needs to split games against SMU and Purdue to get to six wins. If he loses both, Locksley is probably still okay as long as he doesn’t stumble upon one or two of the easier games on his schedule or continue to get blown out by the top half of his division. I’m high on the Terrapins this year and think they could surprise a team or two, but I also don’t have to squint to see things going downhill fast and that keeps Locksley on the watchlist portion of this article for now.
Other guys who should be fired, but nepotism is legal in Iowa
Iowa OC Brian Ferentz. No further comment
Coaches that are safe for 2023
None. This is preseason and they can all still go 0-12.
The below win totals are the #s needed to be 100% safe for returning next season. They are a reflection of contracts, season expectations, and past performance. I would expect many of these coaches to return even if they don’t meet these thresholds, but if they fail to do so this is where we start talking about the realm of possibility barring off field stuff we don’t already know about.
Coaches needing three wins to be safe: Bret Bielema, Mel Tucker, Kirk Ferentz
Coaches needing four wins to be safe: Pat Fitzgerald, James Franklin
Coaches needing five wins to be safe: PJ Fleck, Paul Chryst, Tom Allen
Coaches needing six wins to be safe: Jeff Brohm, Mike Locksley, Greg Schiano, Jim Harbaugh
Coaches needing seven wins to be safe: Ryan Day
Coaches needing eight wins to be safe: Scott Frost (honestly this would have been 7, but Frost’s comments on conditioning moves this up)
Should Brian Ferentz be an offensive coordinator?
This poll is closed
Yes, because it benefits my team that Iowa can’t score
Will Scott Frost be fired immediately after his buyout goes down?
This poll is closed
No, he will be fired before then
No, he will be fired at the end of the season
Tell me your picks for the dead poll in the comments and I’ll see you all in a month unless Scott Frost forces me to write again an update before then.