Big Ten Football: Is Coaching Hurting the Conference's Perception?

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor INovember 22, 2013

USA Today

Big Ten football isn't what it used to be. There's no denying its public perception has slipped in the past half-decade or so—but, why? 

Some would say style of play. Others have offered up a talent drain, and still others have offered up a lack of speed in recruiting. However, a former Big Ten coach brought up an interesting point this weekend—could the Big Ten's woes be due to a lack of coaching talent? 

During halftime of the games on Saturday, former Minnesota Gopher head coach Lou Holtz argued that he doesn't think the coaching in the Big Ten top to bottom is as good as it used to be.

Good as it used to be? What era is Coach Holtz speaking of? 

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Head Coach Rich Rodriguez of the University of Michigan Wolverines during the Gator Bowl at EverBank Field on January 1, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida  (Photo by Rick Dole/Getty Images)
Rick Dole/Getty Images

Just take a look at the names in the Big Ten five years ago. Ron Zook, Tim Brewster, Bill Mallory and Rich Rodriguez were residing on Big Ten sidelines. Outside of Rodriguez none of those guys inspire confidence in coaching ability. 

Maybe Holtz was talking about ten years ago, then? 

2003 featured the worst of Gerry Dinardo's reign in Bloomington, as Indiana finished 2-10 and 1-7 in Big Ten play. Ron Tuner was in the midst of his worst season ever at Illinois, but the rest of the conference was pretty good. 

Technically, only Penn State finished alongside Indiana and Illinois with losing records thanks to Joe Paterno's wins being erased. 

So, maybe that's the answer, but is it really worse now or just different names in different places in the Big Ten hierarchy?

Was Holtz talking about comparing the Big Ten to other conferences? If so, there are plenty of coaches across this country you could point to worse than anything the Big Ten has to offer. 

May we present to you Charlie Weis at Kansas as a prime example. 

While his point may be relative, Coach Holtz did bring up a point worth at least examining—there has to be a reason why the Big Ten is "down" these days, right? 

One thing that may be a contributing factor is that the Big Ten's coaching landscape has had a serious overhaul in the last three to four years. 

Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin have all undergone changes at the head coach position. 

That's nearly three-quarters of the league changing their head coaches and that means the identity of the Big Ten was bound to change with it. 

Does it mean the Big Ten is better or worse because of it? It depends on your definition of better, but it's hard to argue with some of the returns the new guys have produced to date.

Indiana has flirted with making a bowl game this season for the first time since 2007 and is clearly a better offensive team than they were under the previous regime. Head coach Kevin Wilson has the offense humming along, but needs to find a defense to go along with it if he wants to become a serious challenger moving forward.

No longer are the Hoosiers a doormat of a team. Other teams are taking them more seriously now, and the recruiting has really picked up under Wilson as well.

Wilson has as many Big Ten wins (six) in his three years as Mallory could muster in four and the 2013 season isn't over just yet. 

Nov 9, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Gary Andersen during warmups prior to the game against the Brigham Young Cougars at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Year one of the Gary Andersen era at Wisconsin has been more of the same consistently good-to-great football, and the Badgers are arguably the second best team in the Big Ten right now.

Wins over Minnesota and Penn State to close out the season and the Badgers may be in the BCS at-large picture.

On the recruiting trail, the Badgers are doing things they haven't done before and now have a Top 25 class nationally for the first time ever, according to 247sports.

Minnesota is in year three of Jerry Kill era and is in the midst of its best season in over a decade, already sitting at eight wins and ranked No. 25 in the latest BCS rankings. It's the first time the Gophers have been ranked since 2008. 

Ohio State is in the midst of a 22-game win streak and haven't lost a single game since Urban Meyer took over for the 2012 season. If OSU finishes this season undefeated, it will only be the 11th time in school history. This would be Meyer's second straight undefeated season with OSU—one more than Jim Tressel had in 10 seasons in Columbus.

If the Buckeyes end up going 14-0 on the season, it would cap off the longest win streak in Ohio State history and sit just three games away from tying the longest in Big Ten history at 29 (Michigan from 1901-1903). 

Penn State is in a very strange situation with the NCAA sanctions and scholarship limits, yet Bill O'Brien could have back-to-back winning seasons on his hands should PSU win one of its remaining games. His coaching job has led some to consider him for coach of the year in the Big Ten. 

He's also managed to stay afloat in the recruiting world, despite the sanctions, O'Brien currently has the fourth-ranked class in the Big Ten. 

Most left the Penn State program for dead following the Sandusky scandal and sanctions, but it appears O'Brien's hire has kept this program afloat, and then some. 

The only miss of the bunch of new hires in the past half-decade appears to be Tim Beckman at Illinois. The Illini currently have a 20-game conference losing streak going and are regressing defensively instead of progressing in year two of his tenure there. 

Patience is wearing thin in Champaign already and Beckman may not survive following this season.

Speaking of patience running thin—there's Bo Pelini at Nebraska. 

Nov 16, 2013; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Bo Pelini talks to his players prior to the game against Michigan State Spartans during the pre-game warmups at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Is he an amazing head coach that will win you national championships? He hasn't been so far in his time at the helm of the Huskers. 

Yet, he's managed to win nine games or more every year at Nebraska and could do that this season as well. 

Is it enough for a Huskers program starved for a conference or national championship? That's a whole different question, but he's hardly a bum coach in the grand scheme of things.

As for Darrell Hazell at Purdue? This season was a lost cause from the get-go, but once Hazell has his players for his schemes in place, the clock will be ticking. Look for year three to be the bellwether as to his success or failure. 

Overall, the Big Ten is a more diverse coaching league and a more offensively diverse league than it's ever been before. 

We haven't even gotten to the vets of the group in Kirk Ferentz, Mark Dantonio and Pat Fitzgerald at Iowa, Michigan State and Northwestern respectively.

Ferentz is the dean of coaches in the Big Ten now that Joe Paterno is no longer around, and his team has turned a corner following a disastrous 4-8 campaign in 2012. The hot seat he has been on is as cool as its been in the last four years thanks to a quick turnaround offensively.  

Dantonio has the Michigan State program at heights it hasn't seen since the 1950s and could be one win away from the school's first Rose Bowl since 1988. His 60-29 record over the last six-plus seasons has produced the best winning percentage (.674) for an MSU coach since Clarence Munn's .846 from 1947-1953.

What about Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern? All you need to know is the bowl game win last season—Northwestern's first since the 1948 Rose Bowl.

He is the all-time winningest head coach in Wildcats history with 54 wins and counting and currently has had only one losing season as a head coach. 

Now, that's at Northwestern, a school that you aren't supposed to have sustained success at. 

While Lou Holtz can hold up a national championship trophy, his argument about Big Ten coaching doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

The Big Ten may not have a bunch of Top 10 teams in its fold, but the middle of the conference is better now than it has been in years. Coaching is the least of the Big Ten's problems, perception is. 

Perception seems to be reality these days and until the Big Ten goes out and wins the majority of its bowl games, perception—of its coaches or teams—won't change for the better.


*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.


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