Ranking the top 5 B1G basketball-football coaching duos who I'd want to hire as an athletic director
Yes, there are more important things going on than sports right now.
My intent today is not to downplay the significance of that. But what I would like to do is to help you, person who needs an escape with some good old-fashioned sports debate. So, maybe for the next 6-8 minutes, you can join me in doing that.
My focus is to rank the basketball-football coach combos who I’d want running my teams if I had to be an athletic director right now. It’s a fascinating question that factors in what I believe a coach’s potential to be in both sports. That’s an important caveat. This isn’t strictly résumé of past accomplishments. This is about right now and how they project moving forward.
Longevity, stability and program ceiling is factored into the equation. And yes, basketball and football are weighed 50-50 here. That can absolutely impact a rating for a coach.
Here are my top 5 in the B1G:
5. Mel Tucker and Tom Izzo, Michigan State
I’ll be honest. I almost had Iowa in this spot. Why? Well, because Mel Tucker hasn’t proven he’s a legitimate Power 5 coach yet, and this ranking is entirely Izzo’s doing. Izzo is, by any measure, the best basketball coach in the B1G. Leaving him off this list wouldn’t sit right.
(And sorry, Iowa fans. I’m a Kirk Ferentz supporter, but I’m not a Fran McCaffery guy. I never have been and don’t think I ever will be. Someone who combusts that much would drive me nuts. He’s a walking technical who has still yet to reach a Sweet 16 in 20 years as a Division I coach.)
Izzo does the heavy lifting here even as a 65-year old. The guy doesn’t miss the NCAA Tournament, is a yearly contender to win the conference and he went to 3 Final Fours in the 2010s alone (8 total). His résumé speaks for itself. The promising thing is that Izzo doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. He just clinched his third straight season with at least a share of the B1G regular season title.
As for Tucker, well, 5-7 ain’t exactly top-5 worthy. So far, I give him credit for how he’s handled a difficult situation. His staff hires and public comments are about as good as you can ask for.
But yeah, he’s not exactly helping MSU’s ranking on this list yet.
4. Jeff Brohm and Matt Painter, Purdue
You could make a case that Brohm and Painter deserve to be in the top 2 or 3 based on projections. Both now look stable at their respective jobs, and both have raised the floors of their programs considerably.
It wasn’t long ago that Purdue looked like it was destined for the football basement under Darrell Hazell. Brohm brought the program up considerably. I didn’t think Purdue would have a 12-15 B1G record 3 years into the Brohm era after Hazell went 3-24 in conference play. Brohm’s ability to recruit is what sets him apart. As long as he’s in West Lafayette, he’s going to continue to maximize talent.
Painter might not have that Final Four berth, and I’m not sure he ever will, but in terms of fielding a competitive team on a yearly basis, he’s one of the better coaches in the country. He came into this season riding a streak of 3 consecutive trips to the Sweet 16. This year marked the first time since 2014 that Purdue finished worse than third in the regular season B1G standings.
And the crazy thing about Painter is that he still isn’t even 50 yet. It feels like he’s been around forever. Lord knows he’s had opportunities to go elsewhere (let’s not forget how close he was to leaving for Mizzou). That’s stability that I want in a head coach of a Power 5 program.
3. James Franklin and Pat Chambers, Penn State
I’ve actually been an on-the-record Chambers fan since I got to talk to him for 10 minutes at B1G Media Days back before his first season in 2011. His passion and his ability to communicate sold me on him a long time ago. This season was nice to see Penn State’s faith in him pay such great dividends. I’ve always thought he had the potential to be what Painter is to Purdue. And like Painter, Chambers is just 49. The Lions are in good hands with him.
“They say Penn State’s a football school…Looks like it likes basketball, too.”
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 4, 2020
Franklin, as some of you know, I’ve gone back and forth on. I think from an in-game standpoint, he does things late in games that are absolutely maddening. Coming into 2019, I told whatever stock I had in him and I was ready for the Lions to take a step back to pre-2016.
That, however, didn’t happen. Franklin proved me wrong by reaching a New Year’s 6 Bowl for the third time in 4 years. The guy is 28-8 in B1G play with 3 top-8 finishes the last 4 years. He can coach, and admittedly he can coach better than I gave him credit for. I’m not willing to say he’s a top-5 coach in America just yet because I don’t believe he’s on that level from an Xs and Os standpoint. Still, though.
In the “under-50 division,” there aren’t too many basketball-football coach duos better than this in Power 5.
2. Paul Chryst and Greg Gard, Wisconsin
If you have this duo at No. 1, I won’t argue with you. It’s tough to get much more stability than these 2.
What Gard did at Wisconsin was absolutely worthy of B1G Coach of the Year. That’s not the first time that’s been said. Gard had major “don’t be the guy to follow the legend” vibes coming into this year. When you don’t win an NCAA Tournament game in consecutive seasons at Wisconsin, people get fed up. Bo Ryan made the tournament in 14 straight seasons and won a game there in 12 of those years. That’s absurdly good.
Living up to that obviously hasn’t always been easy for Gard, who made the transition between his promotion and Ryan’s retirement more seamless than some probably realized. But the fact that he earned the No. 1 seed in the B1G Tournament with a team that was 6-6 in conference play and looking like an NIT team was incredibly impressive.
Chryst is already nearing “best Wisconsin coach of the 21st century” talk. Compare his 5 years side-by-side to Bret Bielema’s 7 and it’s certainly a discussion:
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(I forgot that Wisconsin lost 5 Rose Bowls during the 2010s. That’s baffling.)
What’s Chryst’s ceiling? Ask anyone and they’ll tell you he met it by going to the Rose Bowl. A B1G Championship would be a way to Chryst to truly show that he’s every bit as good as Bielema, but that seems like a tall task with how good Ohio State looks for the foreseeable future.
Speaking of the Buckeyes …
1. Ryan Day and Chris Holtmann, Ohio State
Wait a minute. Didn’t I just write about what a risk it was to give Day that rich new contract? Why, yes. Yes I did.
But if you’re asking me to roll the dice on anyone, I’m picking the guy who just did something that no other active B1G coach did. That is, reach the Playoff. Day just turned 41 and has what appears to be a bright future ahead. The job he did with Justin Fields might’ve gone a little under-appreciated because he’s one of the highest-rated quarterback recruits ever, but Day’s offense was plenty explosive in Year 1.
I mean, Urban Meyer never even had a 13-0 start at Ohio State. Day was the first Power 5 coach in the Playoff era to go 13-0 with a 9-game conference schedule. That’s about as good of a start as Ohio State fans could’ve hoped for.
And while Day is more of the household name already, college basketball fans know how good Holtmann is. The guy had an NCAA Tournament victory in 5 consecutive seasons (3 at Butler and 2 at Ohio State), and he was in good shape to make it 6. He’s got 6 consecutive seasons with 20-plus wins, and he’s a respectable 34-24 in B1G play since taking over for Thad Matta, who missed the NCAA Tournament in his final 2 seasons. Holtmann is part of an exclusive group of people with 3 conference coach of the year honors from 3 different conferences … all of which happened since 2013.
Yeah, the guy can coach. Ohio State has 2 guys under 50 who know what they’re doing, and could very well be set up for a long time.
That’s a scary thought for the rest of the B1G, and really the entire country.