Plenty of Big Ten coaches need to show strides in 2015
Will five Big Ten coaches actually be fired at season’s end? Probably not. Last year, only Bo Pelini and Brady Hoke got the ax. But the five coaches on this list have strides to make in 2015. And for all of them, a bump in the win column would go a long ways toward establishing some job security.
Tim Beckman, Illinois
Sure, Tim Beckman did himself a favor by taking the Illini to the Heart of Dallas Bowl last year. Keep in mind that he won just one of his first 16 Big Ten games before 2014. He did right the ship after Wes Lunt went down, which warrants him partial credit.
But any time former players are accusing a coach of abuse, it’s a slippery slope. Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas did all he could do to publicly diffuse the situation. That’s exactly what an AD has to do when its biggest hire is being attacked. There might not be many people left in Beckman’s corner, especially after he challenged the media to “be more positive.” If that’s not a desperate coach fighting for his job, I don’t know what is.
Kevin Wilson, Indiana
Four years and no bowls yet for Kevin Wilson at IU. As he enters the fifth year of his 7-year deal, that has to change. Indiana football or not, six Big Ten wins in four years isn’t cutting the mustard. When IU Athletic Director Fred Glass was asked why he fired previous coach Bill Lynch in 2010, his reasoning was, “six Big Ten wins in four years.” Lynch even led Terry Hoeppner’s group to Indiana’s last bowl game in 2007.
Wilson is Glass’ splashiest hire as athletic director. He knows his job is directly related to Wilson’s success, which has been scattered, to put it kindly. But if Nate Sudfeld can return to form and develop a 1-2 punch with UAB transfer Jordan Howard, the IU offense could out-gun its way to six wins. That’s all it’ll take in Bloomington.
Darrell Hazell, Purdue
They knew it was going to take a little time in West Lafayette when Darrell Hazell was hired in 2012. But four wins and only one (!) in conference wasn’t what Purdue fans had in mind. Even worse for the Boilermakers, their 35,269 fans per home game was the worst in the Big Ten last year. It’s a good thing Drew Brees just wrote a $1 million check to the program.
It’s been an uphill battle full of injuries, position battles and subpar recruiting for Hazell since he took over the program. His 6-year deal, which he is entering the third year of, pays him $2 million annually. That might not sound like much in today’s college football, but that was more than double what Purdue paid previous coach Danny Hope and was richer than Mark Dantonio’s deal at the time. He’s still under contract for four more seasons, but Hazell is running out of time to prove himself worthy of the investment.
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Forbes Magazine did a story last September that answered the question that many Hawkeye fans have to be wondering. Can Iowa afford to fire Kirk Ferentz? It seems like a lifetime ago that he signed a 10-year, $35 million deal after Iowa’s 2009 Orange Bowl win. The Big Ten’s longest tenured coach, however, hasn’t lived up to the billing in the five seasons since that improbable run to a BCS victory. Only once in that stretch did Ferentz lead the Hawkeyes to a winning conference record.
But let’s get back to the question because it’s worth asking if Iowa underachieves again in the inferior Big Ten West. If Iowa chooses to fire Ferentz at the end of the 2015-16 season, he’ll be owed roughly $10 million over the next four seasons. That’s a steep price to pay someone not to coach. Just ask Nebraska and Bo Pelini. And Bill Callahan. But, as the Forbes article said, Iowa is second in athletic revenue in the country. It can absorb the blow — and afford to pay a new coach a top-20 salary — if it believes Ferentz’s 34-30 mark under the new deal isn’t improving any time soon.
Mike Riley, Nebraska
I know, I know. Riley’s job is not at stake in his first year at Nebraska. Unless the Huskers go winless in the Big Ten, Riley has already earned himself a second year in Lincoln. Shawn Eichorst took a major risk to eat Pelini’s contract and take a chance on a relatively unknown coach from Oregon State. That’s also why Riley will be on the hot seat in Lincoln.
Nebraska fans, home to the nation’s longest sellout streak, weren’t exactly jumping for joy when the hire was made in December. Who is this old guy without any midwest ties? How could Eichorst hire a coach that didn’t even make a bowl game this year? Riley’s tenure at Nebraska will be defined by how he publicly deals with defeat. Pelini didn’t take it well, nor did his predecessor Callahan. Riley could just be the happy-go-lucky guy needed to handle the heat because inevitably, his seat will get hot in Lincoln.