5 B1G assistants who would have no problem stepping in if the head coach tested positive for COVID-19
With each passing day, the sports world is collectively realizing that sports are going to be difficult to pull off during a pandemic.
There has been plenty of focus on the players’ health, and with good reason. What about the coaches? According to medical experts, they are the more vulnerable population and need to be extra careful.
Just as the coaches have backup plans for players testing positive for a game, they surely have a plan if someone on the coaching staff tests positive. It gets really interesting if the head coach tests positive. Who would take over? And what would they value in their replacement? Would they want the assistant who ranks the highest on the coaching hierarchy, or someone who would still allow both coordinators to do their jobs? Would they value someone who has been with them a long time over a newer assistant? Would the coach need head coaching experience?
We don’t know the answers, but we can speculate as to which direction these programs would go. Here are the 5 assistant coaches who could seamlessly step in and run the team:
Don Brown (Michigan defensive coordinator)
Brown was the highest-paid assistant in the Big Ten in 2019 at $1.5 million, so I think he’d be the easy choice if Jim Harbaugh was unable to coach. While Brown has been a defensive coordinator for the past 11 years, including the past 5 at Michigan, he was previously the head coach at UMass for 5 seasons and Northeastern for 4. He led the Minutemen to their best 5-year stretch in program history at 43-19. Brown has twice been a finalist for the Broyles Award while at Michigan.
Phil Parker (Iowa defensive coordinator)
While the more obvious choice could be Kirk Ferentz’s son, Brian, who is the offensive coordinator and possibly the head coach in waiting, there’s another prominent assistant with extensive ties to Ferentz.
Parker doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but he has been on Ferentz’s staff for the entire tenure at Iowa dating to 1999. He is heading into his 9th season as the defensive coordinator, and the defense has thrived under his leadership. Also the defensive backs coach, the Hawkeyes led the nation with 21 interceptions in 2017 and finished 2nd nationally in 2018 with 20 picks. Besides helping Iowa field one of the top defenses in the country each year, Parker has the sort of institutional knowledge that would be an asset leading a program. Ferentz often opts for a very conservative offensive game plan, knowing that Parker’s defense won’t let him down. Well, Parker wouldn’t let him down in this case, either.
Kevin Wilson (Ohio State offensive coordinator)
Ohio State has other well-respected assistants who would do a fine job like Larry Johnson, Greg Mattison and Kerry Coombs. Mattison and Coombs are the highest-paid assistants on staff, but you can’t ask for much more than an assistant with 6 seasons of Big Ten head coaching experience.
Wilson is not an assistant because he couldn’t win as a head coach. He was a coach on the rise at Indiana, signing a 6-year, $15.3 million contract extension in 2015 that ran through 2021. But he was fired after allegations of mistreating players. He has been the offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes since 2017. Who knows if he will ever get another shot at being a head coach, but there’s no doubt he could step in for 1 game for Ryan Day.
Joe Rudolph (Wisconsin offensive coordinator)
Rudolph is the associate head coach, so he makes the most sense for the Badgers (assuming Barry Alvarez is unavailable). He has coached Wisconsin’s top position group, the offensive line, for the past 5 seasons. Wisconsin’s offensive line routinely ranks among the nation’s best, so why not go with the architect of that unit? Rudolph is a former All-Big Ten guard himself and was a captain on the Badgers’ 1993 Rose Bowl team.
Plus, Rudolph has coached with head coach Paul Chryst since 2008. They were both offensive assistants for the Badgers until 2012, then Rudolph followed Chryst when he got the head coaching job at Pitt to be his offensive coordinator. When Chryst took over at Wisconsin in 2015, Rudolph came back with him. He is the logical choice.
Brent Pry (Penn State defensive coordinator)
Pry goes way back with head coach James Franklin. They first became friends when Franklin was a QB at East Stroudsburg, playing for Pry’s dad. Pry joined Franklin at Vanderbilt in 2011, and the duo was instrumental in helping the Commodores finish in the Top 25 twice, which hadn’t happened since 1948. And they’ve continued that run of success at Penn State, with Pry serving as the defensive coordinator for the last 6 seasons — 4 of which he was also either the assistant head coach or associate head coach. He no longer holds that title (Terry Smith is the assistant head coach), but Pry’s familiarity with Franklin’s program means he could do the job.