The B1G's five splashiest coaching hires in the last 10 years
Stop right there.
Before you get upset about this list, think about what the word “splashy” means. It doesn’t mean “best” or “smartest” or “most significant.”
Mark Dantonio was not a splashy hire. One could make the argument that he’s the top coach in the B1G right now, but he wasn’t a high-profile hire when he came from Cincinnati in 2007.
Kirk Ferentz is certainly one of the best coaches in the B1G, as is Pat Fitzgerald. Why aren’t they on this list? They weren’t splashy hires, and Ferentz doesn’t fit the 10-year requirement.
Former coordinators D.J. Durkin and Chris Ash, though they could end up being big-name coaches in three or four years, weren’t splashy hires, either.
So who falls under this umbrella? Well, look no further than Lovie Smith. A former NFL coach whose addition was the story of the day/week in college football is certainly splashy. Paying big bucks for a coach and buying him out of another head coaching job is splashy, too.
Ok, now that we’ve got the ground rules out of the way, here are the B1G’s five splashiest coaching hires in the last 10 years:
5. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan — Lloyd Carr’s replacement was going to make a major splash. That splash was supposed to be made by Michigan man Les Miles. Kirk Herbstreit even reported that it was a done deal. But that never materialized, which led to Michigan turning to West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez.
After three straight double-digit win seasons, Rodriguez shockingly left his alma mater for the Wolverines. That was after Rodriguez was a gimme victory against Pitt away from going to the BCS National Championship. Instead, he lost and left the team before its Fiesta Bowl game to take the job in Ann Arbor.
After a drawn-out contract dispute, Michigan paid Rodriguez’s multi-million buyout from West Virginia. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, that headache was a sign of things to come. Rodriguez went 3-9 in his first season, which was the worst in school history. In his brief three years, he had the lowest winning percentage (.405) of any Michigan coach ever and he went 0-6 against Michigan State and Ohio State. Yikes.
4. James Franklin, Penn State — Regardless of what you think of Franklin now, his addition was indeed splashy. Penn State paid his $1.5 million buyout from Vanderbilt, where he turned a dormant program into a nine-win team in the SEC. The 41-year-old Franklin earned $4.3 million in his first season in State College, making him instantly the second-highest paid coach in the B1G.
After the frustrating departure of Bill O’Brien to the NFL, Franklin’s addition provided instant hope that Penn State would assert itself back among the college football powers. The thought was if Franklin won nine games at Vanderbilt, the sky was the limit at Penn State. It’s only been two years, but that hasn’t come to fruition yet. If Franklin is going to live up to those high expectations he came in with, Year 3 will have to be a significant improvement.
3. Lovie Smith, Illinois — Nobody is saying Smith is the third-best coach in the conference yet. But given Smith’s NFL pedigree coupled with the job he accepted, he made a monumental splash. His arrival instantly turned Illinois from a pathless mess into a program with the most preseason hype it’s had in the 21st century. That’s because Smith was a guy many felt was wrongly fired after helping turn around the rebuilding Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Guys with 11 years of NFL head coaching experience don’t come to Champaign. And usually, Illinois isn’t willing to invest in a coach with Smith’s pedigree. His predecessor, Bill Cubit, was three months removed from signing a two-year, $2.4 million deal.
Smith got a whopping six-year, $21 million and he also got a $4 million budget — that ranks third in the B1G to only Michigan and Ohio State — to hire his staff. In just over a day after he was hired, Illinois already sold 1,700 season tickets. That’s a major splash for a program that didn’t appear to have any water in the pool three days ago.
2. Urban Meyer, Ohio State — I know, I know. A national title, a 50-4 overall record and a 31-1 B1G record make Meyer the most accomplished coach in the B1G. Nobody can argue with that. His addition gave Buckeye fans the optimism they were looking for following “Tattoogate.”
So why isn’t Meyer No. 1 on this list? Well, think about what he was doing before he was hired by Ohio State. Meyer was trying to live a stress-free life after his sudden departure from Florida. He stayed in the spotlight as a college football analyst on ESPN, but many expected him to take a job at another powerhouse. There wasn’t a major surprise element, and optimism was limited because the program was set to face NCAA sanctions. That’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of hype surrounding the addition of an A-list coach.
Meyer obviously overcame those sanctions with great success and got Ohio State back into the yearly national title discussion. It’s worth repeating once again that splashy and successful are two different things.
1. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan — Believe it or not, there was once a time that Harbaugh to Michigan was just glorified message board banter. The thought that a guy considered to be one of the NFL’s top coaches wouldn’t take another head job and would instead go back to his alma mater seemed crazy.
But as it turned out, that wasn’t so crazy. In fact, given the way things ended with Harbaugh in San Francisco, it was the perfect storm. The Wolverines finally got their dream candidate who was both a high-profile name, and one who bled maize and blue. Those two factors helped get casual fans back on board, but the diehards were fired up about Harbaugh’s track record as a rebuilder. He did that at San Diego, Stanford and in the NFL with the 49ers.
So far, Harbaugh has done exactly that in Ann Arbor. He inherited a five-win team and led it to 10 wins and a Citrus Bowl victory in Year 1. With that foundation and Harbaugh’s highly touted 2016 recruiting class, the B1G’s splashiest recent hire has only built up the hype train since his head-turning arrival.