Ranking head coaches in college football is a nearly-impossible task. There are so many factors involved with each program and every coach that makes it tough to judge.
But, hey, I’ll give it a go.
CBS Sports recently ranked all 65 Power Five head coaches, a list that I had a few disagreements with, prompting this B1G-related rankings story. I don’t expect everyone to agree with how each head coach is evaluated, but this list is focused more on what the 14 conference head coaches have done so far more than their potential.
So, without further ado, here’s how I’d rank all 14 B1G head coaches entering the 2020 season:
14. Mike Locksley, Maryland
There’s no question Locksley is an excellent recruiter and he’s starting to put together some really nice classes at Maryland. But his record on the field speaks for itself. In four years as a head coach and interim coach, he’s compiled a 6-40 record at New Mexico and Maryland. The Terps seemed to regress as the 2019 season continued, which wasn’t a good sign.
13. Greg Schiano, Rutgers
Yes, I’m aware Schiano did some spectacular things during his first stint at Rutgers, but that was nearly a decade ago. The game has changed over the last 10 years and the Scarlet Knights have gone from the Big East to the B1G East. Rutgers made the right hire in bringing Schiano back to New Jersey, but after being away for the college game for so long, he’ll have to prove himself again.
12. Mel Tucker, Michigan State
It’s tough to judge a head coach after just one season. Tucker went 5-7 at Colorado before landing the head coaching job at Michigan State. Tucker is low on this list simply because we don’t know much about him. He’ll have some mighty big shoes to fill in East Lansing, after the program enjoyed monumental success under Mark Dantonio.
11. Lovie Smith, Illinois
Smith finally found a recipe for success at Illinois last season, getting a few upset wins under his belt and leading the team to its first bowl berth since 2014. Now, the question is whether or not the Fighting Illini can sustain that success. Smith has his most-experienced team for the 2020 season, so back-to-back bowl appearances should be the goal. While things are trending in a positive direction, Smith’s overall 15-34 record lands him at No. 11.
10. Scott Frost, Nebraska
If this list ranked coaches on their potential, then Frost would undoubtedly be higher. But Frost has yet to lead Nebraska to a bowl game and has just one winning season in four years. Yes, he inherited a mess when he took the job at Lincoln and the Huskers improved by a win from 2018 to 2019. Recruiting has picked up, as well. The future is still bright at Nebraska, but it’s hard to rank Frost much higher based on his accomplishments as a head coach.
9. Tom Allen, Indiana
Last season really served as a boost for Allen. Indiana had its best season in nearly three decades, finishing 8-5, appearing in the Gator Bowl and being ranked in the Associated Press poll for the first time in 25 years. Allen has also assembled two of IU’s best recruiting classes in the program’s history. It’s hard to have that kind of success in Bloomington and Allen deserves plenty of credit for what he’s been able to do. Much like Lovie Smith, though, we’ll find out if Allen can find sustainability at IU.
8. Jeff Brohm, Purdue
Brohm is coming off his worst season at Purdue, but the number of injuries the team dealt with was unprecedented. Still, Brohm walked into a program that had been desolate for four seasons, guided the Boilermakers to back-to-back bowl appearances, upset No. 2 Ohio State in 2018 and has won two Old Oaken Bucket games. The bar will be set a little bit higher in 2020 for Brohm and Purdue and it’s time to start looking more like a B1G West contender.
7. P.J. Fleck, Minnesota
In just three short years, Fleck has accomplished several feats that his predecessors couldn’t. Minnesota defeated Wisconsin in 2018 and followed that victory with an 11-2 season and a win over Auburn in the Outback Bowl. Recruiting is at an all-time high (currently with the 2021 class) and the culture is in place in the Twin Cities. Fleck has the potential to be a big riser on this list if the Golden Gophers can produce another big season.
6. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
Surprising to not see Harbaugh in the top five? Based on what he’s done over the last five years, it’s hard to nudge the other coaches out of the way for the Michigan leader. Yes, Harbaugh has brought consistency back to Ann Arbor and the Wolverines are in a much better position now than under Brady Hoke or Rich Rodriguez. Winning 10 games three times in five years is no small feat. But, by now, Michigan should have at least one win over Ohio State and claimed a division title, considering the talent that resides within the program.
5. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
Northwestern has appeared in nine bowl games, finished ranked in the AP poll four times, posted three 10-win seasons and won a division title in Fitzgerald’s 13 seasons as head coach. Having that much success at a place like Northwestern for that period of time is really remarkable. And with new facilities and an uptick in recruiting following the 2018 season, there’s no reason to believe the Wildcats won’t continue their winning ways moving forward. Not many coaches in the country could do what Fitzgerald has accomplished in Evanston.
4. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Ferentz has been a pillar of consistency in the B1G for over 20 years now. Iowa has appeared in 17 bowl games over 21 seasons and owns a 9-8 record in the postseason. The Hawkeyes have hit the double-digit win total six times, have won two B1G titles and were the West champs in 2015. Iowa has also won at least eight games each of the last five years and six of the last seven seasons. Plus, Ferentz is almost always good to pull off a remarkable upset at least once per season. Ferentz is considered to be an old-school coach who preaches fundamentals, and even though the game has changed over the last two decades, Iowa has continued to win at a high level.
3. Ryan Day, Ohio State
You can argue that Day belongs in the No. 1 or No. 2 spots on this list, based on what he did at Ohio State as a first-year head coach. Going 13-1, winning a B1G title, producing two Heisman finalists and coming so close to a national championship are unbelievable accomplishments. Recruiting is at an even higher level than it was under Urban Meyer, which is incredible. But it is only one season. If Ohio State replicates its success this fall, then Day could easily jump up two spots to No. 1.
2. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
Chryst might be the most underrated head coach in college football right now. He’s won 10 games or more in four of his first five seasons at Wisconsin, guided the Badgers to three B1G Championship Game appearances and owns a 52-16 record during his time in Madison. Sure, Wisconsin has fallen short all three times in Indianapolis, but hitting 10 wins nearly every season is no small accomplishment. To maintain his spot, Chryst is going to have to capitalize on a B1G Championship Game trip, but having Wisconsin in the national spotlight essentially every season should be applauded.
1. James Franklin, Penn State
It took a few years for Franklin to get things rolling at Penn State, but once the Nittany Lions won the B1G title in 2016, they really haven’t slowed down. No, they haven’t been able to make a return trip to Indianapolis, but they have hit 11 wins in three of the last four seasons, have continued to land highly-ranked recruiting classes and have returned to college football’s upper echelon. Not too shabby for a program that was once considered a “has been” following the Joe Paterno era. Franklin will have a great shot to win his second conference title in 2020, and if that happens, he’ll solidify his spot atop this list for another year.