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College Football Hall of Fame Nominees: Coaches

What B1G (adjacent) coaches are on the ballot this year?

Most people don’t care that much about the College Football Hall of Fame, but the nominees were announced last week, and I want to take a chance to spotlight B1G (adjacent) names and salute each player and coach who is up for enshrinement this year. We’ll do coaches first, then spend a couple of articles on the players later in the week.

In alphabetical order, this year’s nominees are:

Mark Dantonio

After three solid years at a then-moribund Cincinnati, Dantonio came to East Lansing to helm a Michigan State squad that was struggling to recapture what they had late in the Nick Saban era. The Spartans had gone 38-45, with just one bowl appearance, from 2000-2006 and the most memorable moment from that period didn’t even take place on the field:

The 1-12 record against Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State (and the one win was plenty controversial) let you know where the Spartans stood in the B1G pecking order. If not, Mike Hart was there to remind you:

That comment actually came in 2007, Dantonio’s first year. From that point forward, MSU would go 8-4 vs. Michigan under Dantonio, including winning 7 of the next 8.

Sparty won a share of the B1G title in 2010, and won it outright in both 2013 and 2015. I’m not sure the ‘13 team really could’ve beat national champ Florida State, but Dantonio had earned the right to claim that Spartans team was playing as well as any team in the nation by the end of the year.

The end wasn’t great, but it rarely is, and six double-digit win seasons and twelve bowl bowl appearances in a 13 year run let you know the heights scaled by MSU under Dantonio. He’s a B1G legend and easily deserves enshrinement.

Ralph Friedgen

I don’t know if I’ve ever said this before, but Ralph Friedgen makes me wish Maryland Terrapins had joined the B1G sooner. Maryland, a school with considerable football history, was a basket case before Friedgen re-appeared (he was a Maryland alum), going to exactly one bowl game in the 15-year stretch from 1986-2000 (which, hilariously, they tied).

Fresh from a four-year stint as OC at Georgia Tech, where he turned 5’10” QB Joe Hamilton into a Heisman runner-up and CFB HOF enshrinee, Friedgen hi the ground running. In 2001, he led Maryland to a 10-2 season and the outright ACC championship. This was quite the feat, given that Florida State had won the ACC (at least a share) their first nine seasons (1992-2000) in the league. Yeah, FSU won head-to-head, and, yes, the Terps were thoroughly outmatched by Florida in the Orange Bowl. Still, though, one of the most surprising instant turnarounds you’re ever going to see. And, contrary to reputation, Maryland actually ran for slightly more yardage than they passed for that year.

That would be Friedgen’s only ACC championship, but he would win 11 games in 2002 and 10 in 2003, despite dropping two games before September was up each year. Add in 9-win seasons in 2006 and a 2010 swan song (Maryland fans can tell you all about how awkward that was...and the resulting Randy Edsall “era”), and a 5-2 bowl record, and Friedgen’s tenure set a standard (albeit in a weaker conference) that the Terps are still chasing. If nothing else, a few Purdue/Maryland matchups in the 2000s would’ve been awesome shootouts. [They did meet in the 2006 Champs Sports Bowl, a 24-7 win for the Terps.]

Darryl Rogers

A football vagabond, Rogers has stops at Cal State Hayward, Fresno State, San Jose State, Michigan State, and Arizona State before helming the Detroit Lions for four years in the 1980s, and even spending one season in the CFL in 1991.

Honestly, the overall record probably isn’t HOF worthy, but his ASU squad started 9-0 in 1982 and finished #6 after thoroughly outplaying Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl (google Marcus Dupree’s performance for the Sooners that day). And the 1981 team, which was on probation, went 9-2, including a 26-7 drubbing of eventual Pac-10 champion Washington in Seattle.

In terms of the B1G, Rogers’ 1978 Spartans team deserves mention. Also on probation (yeah, not a coincidence), MSU started the year 1-3, with losses to Purdue (9-2-1), USC, (12-1, co-national champs) and Notre Dame (9-3). Sparty ripped off seven straight wins to end the season, including a 24-15 win over Michigan in Ann Arbor to start the winning-streak.

This win meant that, but for probation, MSU would have been the B1G representative in the Rose Bowl as they and Michigan tied for the conference title at 7-1 (As it was, either Michigan or OSU made the trip 13 straight years, from ‘68-’80). Michigan State averaged 280 ypg and finished #2 in scoring offense with 37.4 ppg average, breaking 40 on six occasions.

Frank Solich

It’s Nebraska week, so it’s appropriate we finish up with Solich, whose firing—and replacement with passing-oriented Bill Callahan—is one of the most criticized decisions in Nebraska football history.

Solich went 58-19 in six years at Nebraska, winning the Big 12 in 1999 and playing for the national title in 2001. Even at Nebraska, this was a hell of a run...except for when it follows a three natty in four year streak. After a troubling 7-7 season in 2002, Nebraska’s 9-3 regular season in 2003 wasn’t enough to save Solich’s job.

After a year, Solich took the Ohio job where he became a MAC institution, winning 115 games and four division titles (though no MAC championships) over a 16 year run.

His 1999 team at Nebraska probably would’ve have given Florida State a game in the Sugar Bowl, but a for a 24-20 loss in Austin which kept them out of the national title game. The Huskers would go on to soundly defeat #6 Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl, still Nebraska’s last victory in a major bowl game.