The blowup between Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher has been the talk of college football this week, and not just because we are in the doldrums. These are 2 of the biggest names in the sport engaged in a full-fledged feud. If they exchange Christmas cards this year, at least 1 of those cards is liable to include a photocopy of someone’s butt.

There’s certainly nothing of that caliber in the Big Ten at the moment, though there are a couple of hotspots to monitor.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Ohio State coach Ryan Day clearly aren’t fond of each other, as you’d expect from someone in their respective positions.

And if they were in the same division, there’d be potential for a blowup between Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Penn State’s James Franklin.

Ferentz implied that Penn State players were faking injuries at Iowa, which is based on the amusing notion of an opponent needing to slow down the Hawkeyes’ tempo. Franklin was displeased by the implication. But Iowa and Penn State don’t play this year, so there’s no telling whether that will escalate into something more bitter.

Though things are a bit dry in the B1G at the moment as far as feuds go, it hasn’t always been that way. Not by a long shot.

The list that follows includes 8 of the fiercest coaching feuds in Big Ten history.

Unsurprisingly, more than 1 spot is needed for Robert Montgomery Knight.

8. Bruce Pearl vs. Jimmy Collins

Our undercard includes a feud between a pair of assistant coaches, though it likely belongs closer to the top.

In 1989, Pearl was an assistant to Dr. Tom Davis at Iowa while Collins was Lou Henson’s top lieutenant at Illinois. Both were after Deon Thomas, a star at Chicago Simeon High School, which remains the city’s most reliable source of talent to this day.

Pearl secretly recorded a conversation with Thomas in which he got Thomas to say Collins offered him $80,000 and a Chevy Blazer to play for Illinois. Like a tattling dweeb, Pearl then sent that tape to the NCAA.

The NCAA never substantiated that such a thing took place, but Illinois got hit with a couple of years of probation and Pearl remains a pariah in Champaign-Urbana to this day.

Most of the coaching fraternity backed Collins, blackballing Pearl to the Division II ranks for a decade. The duo crossed paths in the Horizon League for 4 years, with Pearl coaching Wisconsin-Milwaukee while Collins was the head man at Illinois-Chicago. Collins never shook Pearl’s hand after a game.

Collins didn’t bury the hatchet until a chance encounter with Pearl at the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans.

That amounts to 23 years of beef.

7. Bruce Weber vs. Kelvin Sampson

In this feud, it was the Illinois coach who was rankled by a rival’s recruiting tactics.

Weber, who coached the Fighting Illini to the 2005 national championship game, was pursuing Indianapolis North Central High star Eric Gordon to build his next great team. Gordon committed to Illinois after that season, though he still had 2 years left in high school.

When Kelvin Sampson replaced Mike Davis at Indiana, he made recruiting Gordon his top priority. At the time, recruiting a player who had already committed was considered somewhat outrageous. Gordon flipped to IU a month before signing day, leaving Weber without a shooting guard in his recruiting class.

Things got ugly in Gordon’s only visit to Champaign, with fans throwing plastic bottles and ice cubes at his dad. But the simmering Weber-Sampson feud was nipped in the bud when Indiana forced Sampson to resign 2 weeks later due to NCAA rules violations.

6. Joe Paterno vs. Jackie Sherrill

Penn State was not yet in the Big Ten when this feud peaked, and of course Pitt has never been a conference member. But the beef between Joe Paterno and Jackie Sherrill is too juicy to be ignored.

Its genesis was in 1978, when the following apparently happened while both coaches were out on the recruiting trail.

After midnight, Paterno received a call from his wife, Sue, who said Sherrill had phoned and insisted to know where Paterno was staying.

According to Mrs. Paterno, Sherrill called Paterno a derogatory name and threatened to find him and injure him. She added that Sherrill called her several names before hanging up.

Talking smack to another coach’s wife is a pretty brilliant tactic in feud escalation, to be sure.

A year later, Paterno was asked at a dinner party if he would consider leaving coaching for politics. His response was “And leave coaching to the Sherrills and Switzers of the world?”

He soon apologized to Barry Switzer for the comment. As for Sherrill?

“I didn’t give a damn about what Sherrill felt,” he said in his 1989 biography.

Sports Betting in Big Ten Country

There is big news coming to the upcoming 2022-23 Big Ten football season (and NFL season). Ohio online sports betting and Maryland sports betting are on the way.

21+ and present in OH. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.

The enmity didn’t last forever, however. It was a newsworthy item when the Paternos hosted the Sherrills for dinner in 2004.

5. Bob Knight vs. Gene Keady

Gene Keady threatened Bob Knight’s control of basketball in the state of Indiana, and the territorial Knight made the IU-Purdue rivalry deeply personal through the 1980s and ’90s.

Like any good feud, it involved prop comedy. Specifically, a donkey wearing a Purdue hat.

Success was the best way to get under Knight’s skin, and Keady had his number in that regard. He went 21-20 in head-to-head meetings with Knight. It’s no coincidence that Knight’s signature tantrum came against the Boilermakers.

These days, though, the former rivals are best buds. Knight caused a stir in 2017 when he showed up to an event with Keady wearing a gold sweater. It’s clear Knight has far more affinity for Keady than IU in his golden years.

4. Bob Knight vs. Lou Henson

The feud between Sampson and Weber was mere child’s play compared to that of their predecessors.

Knight had a distaste for Illinois coach Lou Henson, whom he considered a cheater. And Henson, who was a mild-mannered gentleman, considered Knight to be a raging jerk. Neither party was necessarily wrong in their assessments.

Things came to a head after the Hoosiers beat the Illini in the 1991 regular-season finale. The real fireworks came after the game, when Henson and Knight got into a 5-minute shouting match outside the locker rooms.

And then came their press conferences.

“He’s a classic bully,” Henson said. “I was in the [Indiana] locker room, he jumped on me and I wanted him to come outside. He intimidates the Big Ten office; he tries to intimidate everybody. His entire life is based on intimidation, but the big bully won’t intimidate me.

”He runs over everybody in his path and he’ll continue to do that. It’s obvious the people in Indiana can’t stop him. The governor, nobody, can stop him … Bobby Knight is one of the primary reasons we have our problems and the Big Ten coaches know that.”

Knight used his podium time to make fun of Illinois’ NCAA Tournament ban following the Thomas investigation.

“I really think there’s an international conspiracy to get Illinois,” Knight said sarcastically. “When I was at West Point I had a chance to meet some people that were in military intelligence. And, they’ve given me reason to believe that somewhere here on campus … are a couple of subversives that have really created the problems that have existed here.”

Much like Saban and Fisher this week, Knight and Henson were reprimanded by the league office for their comments.

Once again, the hatchet did not stay buried forever. Knight presented Henson with a chair in a ceremony after their final meeting prior to Henson’s 1996 retirement.

3. Bob Knight vs. Press conferences

Why write words when we’ve got videos? Though, naturally, most of them include language not safe for the workplace. Unless it’s Knight’s workplace.

2. Woody Hayes vs. Bo Schembechler

This is the OG version of Saban vs. Fisher, pitting mentor against protégé in a bitter battle. Schembechler was a former Hayes assistant who was charged with turning Michigan’s fortunes around in 1969. The former colleagues rarely spoke thereafter.

Even within the massive context of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, their chapter gets its own volume known as “The Ten-Year War.” And it really was a war.

Near the end of Michigan’s 1971 win, Hayes was ejected after arguing so vehemently over a missed pass interference call that he ended up tossing penalty flags into the Michigan Stadium seats and threw a down marker onto the field “like a javelin.” Buckeyes linebacker Randy Gradishar then punched Michigan quarterback Tom Slade in the face after the final kneel-down, precipitating a 10-minute brawl.

Hostilities increased after the teams tied in 1973. By a 6-4 count, Big Ten athletic directors voted to give Ohio State a Rose Bowl berth over the Wolverines. Schembechler was obviously infuriated by the decision, which he ascribed to “petty jealousies.”

For Hayes, the rivalry was more pathological than personal. He famously didn’t utter the word “Michigan,” instead using euphemisms like “the team up north” and “the state up north.” And there’s the apocryphal story of when he wouldn’t let an assistant coach stop for gas while on a recruiting trip in Michigan.

“We’ll push this [expletive] car to the Ohio line before I give this state a nickel of my money!” Hayes allegedly erupted.

But retirement — a forced one in Hayes’ case — always has a way of softening these things. Woody was pro-Bo in his later years.

“We’ve fought and quarreled for years, but we’re great friends,” Hayes told Ohio State’s student newspaper in 1986.

1. Fielding Yost vs. Knute Rockne

Now wait just a minute, you’re saying to yourself. How can the best feud in Big Ten history involve a coach who wasn’t in the Big Ten?

The answer: This feud is the only reason Notre Dame is not in the Big Ten. And a century after that momentous bit of acrimony, it continues to make seismic waves across the entire sport and college athletics as a whole. Much would be different if the Fighting Irish were approaching their 100th year in the B1G.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever see anything bigger than the Fielding Yost-Knute Rockne feud. Which, for those in the audience under the age of 90, might require a refresher.

As you might expect, this feud involves accusations of cheating. But unlike the others, it devolves into accusations of being too cheap to pay for a guy’s funeral and anti-Catholic discrimination.

Yost is the reason Hail to the Victors includes the then semi-accurate lyric “champions of the West.” The Wolverines were the first college football power West of the Appalachians.

In 1909, Michigan lost to the then-upstart Fighting Irish. Yost lamely attempted to claim it was an exhibition game, then canceled the scheduled rematch the following season. Highly suspicious behavior for an “exhibition” loss, to say the least.

Yost stated the reason for the cancellation was because Notre Dame had an ineligible player on its roster. He never again scheduled a game against the Fighting Irish — which is pretty significant considering he was Michigan’s AD until 1941.

That’s 31 years of beef.

In the 1920s, Rockne turned his alma mater into 1 of the sport’s ascendant powers. Given South Bend’s location, Notre Dame made an ideal fit for the Big Ten to expand to 11 schools.

Yost wasn’t having it. Since he thought they were cheaters, he led the crusade to block Notre Dame from joining. On top of that, he even convinced Minnesota coach Doc Spears to stop scheduling games against the Irish.

Rockne ascribed Yost’s opposition to much darker forces.

Anti-Catholic bias was all the rage in those days. The Ku Klux Klan was as anti-Catholic at the time as it was anti-Black, as Catholicism was seen as a cult for immigrants who weren’t really Americans. Since Mass was still conducted in Latin, it was easy for people to latch on to that falsehood.

As a native West Virginian whom Rockne publicly derided as a hillbilly, Yost made an easy target for his claims of bias. (In a bit of a strange coaching feud twist, Saban and Fisher each grew up in counties bordering Yost’s native county. Some traditions live forever, apparently.)

When a fan wrote Rockne a letter asking why Notre Dame didn’t play Michigan, Rockne compared Yost to a prominent anti-Catholic Senator from Alabama, and told the letter-writer that he didn’t care if that thought was shared.

In a letter to Yost regarding the Big Ten’s blocking of Notre Dame’s membership, Rockne sarcastically suggested that the conference would next make Klan membership a requirement for joining. (At the time, the league was officially known as the Western Conference.)

“We live up to Conference eligibility rules as given in your code book, but not your special regulations, as we are not a member of the Western Conference… …The Western Conference could put in a regulation that all coaches had to join the Ku-Klux-Klan, but that certainly will not apply to us any more than some of the other freak regulations they may have.”


Yost wasn’t above talking smack about Rockne, either.

He stooped as low as tell a tale of how Rockne and Notre Dame didn’t pay George Gipp’s medical or funeral expenses when the star died from pneumonia in 1920.

Feuds don’t get uglier than this. And unlike most of the others on the list, there’s no happy resolution. Rockne was killed in a 1931 plane crash, so any attempt at mending that fence died with him in a Kansas field.

Yost apparently tried to make his peace by visiting a bust of Rockne on Notre Dame’s campus in the late 1930s. Clearly, he had regrets. But there’s no guarantee Rockne’s bust didn’t tell him to buzz off.