There's been a bit of a changing of the guard in our Big Ten coach rankings the last couple of years. Last year saw the departure of Urban Meyer, a coach who had never finished lower than third in our annual ranking of Power Five coaches. This year, the conference loses Mark Dantonio. While never reaching the level of Meyer, Dantonio was a constant presence in our top 15 who sometimes cracked the top 10.
With both gone, there's a bit of a vacuum atop the Big Ten that needs to be filled. James Franklin remains atop the conference rankings, but there's been some shuffling behind him. Despite some changes at the top, the Big Ten fared well overall in our rankings. It only had two coaches finish in the top 10, but seven of its coaches were ranked in our top 25. All in all, the 14 Big Ten coaches finished with an average rank of 30.8. Only the SEC bested that average, finishing at 28.2.
While the conference's overall standing is strong, there is a clear divide between the top and bottom. Seven coaches finished in the top 25, but there were also five coaches who finished in the bottom 25. Then there are a couple in the middle where arguments can be made for them being on either end of the spectrum.
Complete Power Five coach rankings:|
|James Franklin (9 overall): With Urban Meyer's retirement following the 2018 season, it should come as no surprise to see Franklin still atop the list. He's the most accomplished coach in the conference during the College Football Playoff era. He's won a Big Ten title at Penn State and led the Nittany Lions to three major bowls. Before coming to Penn State, he went 24-15 in three seasons at Vanderbilt. To put that in the proper context, Vandy had won a total of 25 games in the six seasons before Franklin and has only won 27 games in the six since he left. I had him as the top Big Ten coach on my list as well, though I had him a spot higher at No. 8. Last Year: 1 in Big Ten|
|Ryan Day (10): Seeing Day take such a massive leap in the rankings wasn't much of a surprise. In his first full season as coach at Ohio State, the Buckeyes won the Big Ten and reached the CFP. Once there, they came close to knocking off Clemson and reaching the title game. All that said, while I respect my colleagues' opinions, I didn't have Day this high on my ballot. As impressive as 2019 was, it's not like Day didn't step into a great situation. Day finished 15th on my ballot, behind three other Big Ten coaches. Last Year: 10|
|Jim Harbaugh (12): Harbaugh is one of the more polarizing coaches in the country. I was surprised to see him climb three spots in the rankings, as I thought another season without a win against Ohio State would further hurt his perception. However, what I think happened was that he didn't climb as much as he moved up three spots thanks to guys like Dantonio and Chris Petersen no longer being around. No matter your feelings about him as a coach, he's raised the floor at Michigan considerably. Combine that with what he did at Stanford and it's hard to justify ranking him outside the top 20. Last Year: 3|
|Kirk Ferentz (14): I had Ferentz at No. 9 on my ballot, just behind Franklin. While it's been 16 years since Iowa's last conference title in 2004, he is the only current Big Ten coach to win the conference more than once. More than that, however, is longevity and consistent production. Since the 2001 season when Ferentz's first recruiting class was in its third season, Iowa has been to a bowl game 17 times in 19 seasons. That includes two Orange Bowls and a Rose Bowl. He's also seen 73 Iowa players drafted into the NFL. That's an average of 3.8 per season. Last Year: 5|
|P.J. Fleck (15): Another polarizing presence, Fleck took a massive leap in our rankings this season after going 11-2 last year and leading Minnesota to a win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl. He's now shown the ability to build up two programs. However, I think this is still a little too high as I had Fleck at No. 23 on my list and eighth in the Big Ten. As impressive as Minnesota's 2019 season was, we've yet to see Fleck have sustained success anywhere, while other coaches who finished behind him in our rankings have done just that. Last Year: 9|
|Paul Chryst (17): One of those coaches would be Paul Chryst. In five seasons at Wisconsin, he has gone 52-16, winning at least 10 games in four seasons and the Big Ten West three times. Because of that, I had him ahead of Fleck on my ballot. There's also a strong argument that Chryst should be even higher on the list, and possibly ahead of names like Ferentz and Harbaugh. I keep him below them because while averaging 10.4 wins per year is impressive, Wisconsin had already been averaging 10 wins per year in the six seasons before Chryst took over. Also, fair or not, the fact Wisconsin resides in the Big Ten West was a factor too. I'm not sure Chryst's Badgers would be as successful in the East. His teams have gone 2-8 against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, with both wins coming against Michigan. He has dominated the West, though, and that's what matters most for the Badgers in reality. Last Year: 6|
|Pat Fitzgerald (21): I have Fitzgerald ranked third in the Big Ten and 11th overall on my ballot. The fact he dropped five spots this season doesn't come as a surprise considering how awful Northwestern was in 2019, but the fact Northwestern was horrible, and the world noticed speaks to the job Fitz has done. Northwestern has had five 10-win seasons in its history. Fitzgerald played on one of those teams (1995) and coached three (2012, 2015, 2017). The other one was in 1903. In 112 seasons before Fitzgerald took over, Northwestern football won 439 games, or 3.9 per season. Fitz has won 99 in 14 seasons. That's 7.1 per season. How many other coaches are out there who you believe could have done the same in Evanston? Last Year: 4|
|Scott Frost (34): Frost isn't easy to rank because there's not a large sample size, and three of his four seasons as a head coach have featured more losses than wins. Of course, there's also that one season in 2017 when he led UCF to a 13-0 record two years after the team went 0-12. That's what led to Nebraska fans demanding he return to Lincoln. The rebuild he inherited there isn't going as swiftly as hoped. After a 4-8 start in 2018 that saw the Huskers finish strong and raise expectations for 2019, the team mostly fell flat last season, going 5-7. Still, with this ranking, it's clear our voters respect what he did at UCF and aren't ready to bury him yet. I had him at No. 39. Another losing season at Nebraska will likely see Frost fall out of the top 40. Last Year: 7|
|Greg Schiano (39): Schiano hasn't been at Rutgers or a college head coach since 2011. That hurt him on the ballots of many of our voters, but not mine. I remember what Schiano did at Rutgers during his first stint and had him at No. 22 overall and seventh in the Big Ten because of it. Like Fitzgerald at Northwestern, Schiano experienced a level of success at Rutgers that was largely unprecedented. His 2006 team finished 11-2 and at No. 12 in the AP Top 25 poll. It's the highest the program has ever finished ranked by the AP. Of course, it's one of only four times Rutgers has finished a season ranked. It hasn't since. What remains to be seen is if Schiano can have the same kind of success in the Big Ten, as Rutgers was a member of the Big East (remember the Big East?) during his first tenure. Last Year: N/A|
|Jeff Brohm (44): I'm well aware of my personal bias toward Brohm. I like him -- a lot. I had him at No. 30 on my ballot and ninth in the Big Ten. His final ranking of No. 44 is probably a fairer assessment, so I thank my colleagues for balancing my Brohm bullishness. Still, it's hard to ignore what his offenses did at Western Kentucky, where he went 30-10 and won two conference titles in three seasons. Purdue was headed in the right direction during his first two seasons before a setback in 2019. Of course, I am inclined to believe that the drop to 4-8 had a lot more to do with injuries to multiple quarterbacks and star receiver Rondale Moore than Brohm. I'm expecting an improvement in 2020, and I guess I'll have to reconsider my position if it doesn't happen. Last Year: 8|
|Tom Allen (46): Allen has put Indiana in a position where I feel comfortable saying it will be the fourth-best team in the East in 2020 behind Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. Maybe that doesn't seem like a lot to you, but this is Indiana football we're talking about. It's not a program steeped in football success. Indiana joined the Big Ten in 1900 and has won the conference twice, and hasn't done it since 1967. Even then, it was as a co-champion. The Hoosiers won eight games last season, which was the most wins it has had in a season since winning eight in 1993. It's only managed to win nine games twice (the two years it won the Big Ten). Allen's going to fly up this list if he can pull off an encore or improve in 2020. Last Year: 12|
|Lovie Smith (54): Smith jumped up six spots in our rankings this year, and I think his landing spot is fair. I had him 12th in the Big Ten on my ballot and 53rd nationally. The Illini reached a bowl game last year, which was a major step for a program that has been mired in misery for most of this century. Smith has also helped oversee significant improvements to the school's facilities and has Illini fans feeling optimistic about the future for the first time in a long time. Still, he's just 15-34 overall and 8-28 in the Big Ten. It's hard to justify ranking him above the other coaches ahead of him on this list. Last Year: 11|
|Mel Tucker (55): Tucker climbed nine spots in the rankings this year, but remained outside the top 50 largely due to small sample size. He was only the head coach at Colorado for one season and went 5-7, matching what the program had done the two years before his arrival. Now he'll begin his Michigan State tenure in a bad spot. Not only was he hired much later in the process than is typical thanks to Mark Dantonio's unexpected retirement, but shortly after arriving on campus, students were sent home because of COVID-19. Odds are it'll be another year or two before we can get an accurate reading of Tucker as a head coach. Last Year: N/A|
|Mike Locksley (61): Locksley is just getting started at Maryland, and the way he's recruited out the gate, there's reason to be optimistic about the program's future. Still, it's difficult to rank him any higher than this based on his record as a coach. He's 6-40 overall between stops at New Mexico and Maryland. The odds are that win percentage is going to improve, but right now, it is what it is. And what it is won't get you much higher than 61st on our list or last place in the Big Ten. Last Year: 13|