Welcome to another year of Big Ten football coaching hot seats!
For those of you new to OTE, first of all I’m so sorry but now you’ve been exposed to our contagious disease and cannot leave. I’ll also take this moment to tell you just what our hot seat rankings are since you are stuck in here with us.
With just 14 - yes, still 14 programs for this season - putting together a hot seats list containing only head coaches is a semi-unproductive endeavor. You run out of head coaches under serious consideration for getting the pink slip after 2 or 3 and struggle to complete a list. With that in mind, my hot seat rankings include the top 5 head coaches, offensive coordinators, and defensive coordinators most likely to be fired this year. In addition, a watchlist of coaches who could join the top 5 is included in case you want to know just how close your most hated coach is to getting replaced.
Last season saw the firing of two Big Ten head coaches in Scott Frost and Paul Chryst. In addition to also seeing the departures of their respective coordinators, we watched Rutgers start over at offensive coordinator after getting rid of Sean Gleeson and Northwestern part ways with Jim O’Neil.
During the end of season coaching carousel, we also saw a large number of Big Ten coaches take promotions or lateral jobs. As a result, Minnesota gets a new offensive coordinator, Illinois gets a new defensive coordinator, Ohio State gets a new offensive coordinator, Maryland gets a new offensive coordinator, and your Purdue Boilermakers start over at all three positions.
The final coaching change to the Big Ten since the start of last season is Pat Fitzgerald. All told we have 15 new head coaches and coordinators in the Big Ten this year (Northwestern defensive coordinator David Braun is filling in as interim head coach as well).
Buyouts are listed for the end of the season and where further details are relevant will be discussed. I’ll try to update at the end of September, twice in October, and then weekly in November (although last year’s Paul Chryst firing took much of the enthusiasm for this series temporarily away).
Without further ado, let’s get into the rankings.
**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 these games at their own risk.
The Top 5
1 - Northwestern Wildcats HC/DC David Braun (previously not ranked)
salary: NORTHWESTERN DOES NOT REPORT
contract: NORTHWESTERN DOES NOT REPORT
buyout at end of season: NORTHWESTERN DOES NOT REPORT
Alert readers may notice the absence of Northwestern offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. Let me explain. Bajakian, like most of Northwestern’s coaching staff is almost certain to be let go at the end of the season due to the scandal that brought down Pat Fitzgerald. Even if they perform well, a new full time head coach is going to want to bring in his own guys and clean house. Since I don’t want to rehash the cultural issues of Pat Fitzgerald’s program every hot seats update, I’ve elected to just leave Bajakian off the list with the assumption that he and most of the other Northwestern coaches are gone at the end of the season.
David Braun is somewhat of an exception. Although how much knowledge any of the coaches had of the locker room issues is unknown, Braun has more plausible deniability since this was to be his first season in the program. Indeed, that’s likely why he was selected as the interim head coach. We are operating under the assumption that Braun is clear of any association with those issues as we rank him. As an interim head coach, Braun will have to put together at least a bowl appearance to keep his job and even that might not save him. While he could lose the #1 spot, expect Braun to be a fixture in the top 5 all season long, regardless of how Northwestern does.
2 - Michigan State Spartans DC Scottie Hazelton (previously 3)
contract: thru March 31, 2025
buyout at end of season: $1.47M
Hazelton has overseen a poor Michigan State passing defense for three years in a row now. The passing numbers rebounded slightly last year, but that’s probably partially due to the fact that the Spartans were losing so often and opponents were running out the clock. The 2022 Spartans defense gave up 416 yards a game on their way to giving up 30+ points five times. In 2021, they were the worst passing defense in the country.
Hazelton has been the focus of fan ire for over the past year. As he enters year 4, it’s time to put up results. His contract runs thru March 31, 2025. At $1.1M a year, his buyout at the end of November is the 1 and 1⁄3 year salary.
3 - Michigan State Spartans OC Jay Johnson (previously 5)
contract: thru March 31, 2025
buyout at end of season: $1.8M
Following the departure of Kenneth Walker III, the Spartans offense nosedived last season. The Spartans eked out just 353 yards of offense in 2022 good for 97th out of 131 teams in the Division 1 and somehow 8th in the Big Ten. Don’t take that 8th best offense in the Big Ten out of context. Out of the five offenses in the conference worse than Johnson’s last year, three replaced their offensive coordinator, another was in his first year and returns to top 5 of the hot seat rankings, and another is almost certainly to be let go at the end of this season due to off-field issues.
The Spartans will need to replace last year’s quarterback with an internal option that Payton Thorne beat out in 2022. They will also have to find a way to replace their top two wide receivers. In a division containing Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State, Johnson does not have an easy job. Due to the expectations of the Spartan fanbase though, one good season in four isn’t going to be enough. Sparty doesn’t need to repeat 2021 for Johnson to stick around. But they do need some sort of a rebound to respectability.
4 - Indiana Hoosiers OC Walt Bell (previously 4)
contract: expires December 31, 2023
buyout at end of season: N/A
Let me start off by saying that I don’t think Walt Bell was the primary culprit for Indiana’s offensive woes last season. That title belongs to the now departed offensive line coach Darren Hiller. Bell does have to find a way to make it work with the pieced together offense line though. While Indiana brought in respected offensive line coach Bob Bostad, offensive lines don’t typically improve dramatically from one season to the next. If Bell can’t find a way to make the Hoosiers offense competitive, replacing him is a cheap and easy way for the Indiana football program to look like they are making a change without eating Tom Allen’s buyout.
5 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights HC Greg Schiano (previously not ranked)
salary - $4M/year
contract: thru 2027 season
buyout at end of season: $12.3M
We’ve reached the point of the article where I’ve run out of obvious candidates for the hot seat rankings. I’ve narrowly decided on Greg Schiano over Tom Allen for the final spot due in part to a) the lower buyout and b) the consensus thinking of Indiana fans that Tom Allen will not be fired this year. Once Big Ten play begins, expect someone else to take this spot unless Rutgers has faceplanted to begin the season.
Greg Schiano enters year 4 of his second stint at Rutgers. He has been an improvement from Chris Ash, but the Scarlet Knights have also failed to reach 6 wins in each of his first three seasons and the amount of conference wins have decreased each year. It’s difficult for a head coach to get more than 4 years to become bowl eligible for the first time (yes, I know 5-7 Rutgers got to be a COVID bowl fill-in at the Gator Bowl for 2021). Schiano has also had to replace his offensive coordinator. His defensive coordinator somehow departed before being let go. You also don’t get that many chances to get your coordinators right, so Rutgers needs these guys to work. Schiano’s first stint at Rutgers bought him a lot of good will. But that stint ended over a decade ago, and if they can find the money, I can see Rutgers deciding to start over once free of playing Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State every year. A new lighter schedule and new coach might be just the thing to bring some optimism back to the Rutgers football program.
Indiana Hoosiers HC Tom Allen
After last season, it is looking increasingly likely that Kalen DeBoer and Kane Wommack were responsible for a large portion of the Hoosiers success in 2019 and 2020. Without either of them, the Hoosiers performance on the field has cratered.
Tom Allen avoids the top 5 due to his buyout. If fired at the end of this season, Allen would still be owed $20.8 million. The Hoosiers aren’t a football fanbase that has shown a history of being willing to kick out that much money for making a change in the football program. A complete collapse may change things, but it’s unlikely that Indiana becomes the first Big Ten school to cross the $20 million mark in college football buyouts.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights DC Joe Harasymiak
Last year wasn’t truly awful for the Rutgers defense - at least in the first half of the season when Rutgers was playing offensive challenged teams like Boston College, Iowa, Indiana, and Wagner. Things did however nosedive in the second half of the season with the Scarlet Knights giving up 31, 52, 27, 55, and 37 points in their final five games. Entering year 2, Harasymiak’s defense will need to be more competitive. Incremental improvement could be enough. A repeat could see Harasymiak as the sacrificial lamb needed for Schiano to get one final opportunity.
Michigan State Spartans HC Mel Tucker
For all the reasons Indiana and Rutgers aren’t likely to get rid of Allen and Schiano, Michigan State is even less likely. Tucker will still be owed over 70 million dollars at the end of the season. The Spartans also had a magical 2021 season going 11-2 under Tucker and winning the Peach Bowl.
Sparty fans assured us all that the athletic department isn’t responsible for Tucker’s contract and that donor money has already covered the entirety of it. If that’s actually true, I wouldn’t be completely shocked if another drop off in record like the one from 2021 to 2022 brought about a change. It’s more likely that Tucker disappears from this list completely by the next edition of the hot seat rankings. Even if he doesn’t, starting over at the coordinator positions makes more sense.
Prince of Iowa Hawkeyes Brian Ferentz
hahahahaha, Brian Ferentz will continue to be offensive coordinator for the Hawkeyes until he ascends to the throne. We will continue to watch him in this column for the laughs.
The Ohio State Buckeyes Ryan Day
Calm down. Ryan Day is not likely to be fired. The guy is 31-2 in the Big Ten and 45-6 overall. That being said, some Ohio State fans are delusional and aren’t super happy about losing to Michigan two years in a row. If the overall record slips to something like 7-5 or 8-4 and the Buckeyes lose to Michigan for a third year in a row, it will become a hotly discussed topic.
Coaches that should be safe for 2023
The season hasn’t started yet, everyone can still go 0-12 which would make any coach fireable.
The win totals each head coach needs to reach to be safe for next season (barring off field issues). These reflect coach’s tenure, season expectations, and contract. Note these are the win totals needed to be completed safe - most coaches would return anyway with less wins than these levels.
Coordinators can be let go regardless of record, so you won’t see them with a win requirement. Instead they will move to the safe category in the second half of the season when their unit has accomplished enough.
Need 2 wins: Purdue HC Ryan Walters
Need 3 wins: Emperor of all Iowa Kirk Ferentz, Maryland Terrapins HC Mike Locksley, Nebraska HC Matt Rhule
Need 5 wins: Indiana Hoosiers HC Tom Allen
Need 6 wins: Minnesota Gophers HC P.J. Fleck, Rutgers Scarlet Knights HC Greg Schiano
Need 9 wins: Ohio State Buckeyes HC Ryan Day
Who do you think will be fired? Who am I completely off on? Sound off in the comments and make your predictions for who gets fired first.
I’m going with Scottie Hazelton on November 25th, 2023.
Who gets fired first?
This poll is closed
Ryan Day after starting the season 0-2