The strain of inevitability begins to show on prominent fan bases in the Big Ten. Picture a smoky bar, solitary bartender with gnarled hands and the face of sins observed and sins committed regularly filling up a patron’s shot glass. “One More for My Baby” by Frank Sinatra plays on repeat, the soundtrack to the end of something. 

Not necessarily something special, but something that emotionally drained the better part of your fandom and questioned your decision to stay inside while leaves formed feuding civilizations in pockets of your backyard. Others have been there and are on the other side. Now it’s time to finalize the breakup and part amicably. “Amicable” is not a word that describes most fans but just go ahead and get it over with. Scream your piece into a pillow and promise to do 100 pushups to let off steam. You’ll feel better after about 12 and get aggravated that you have 88 more left in your promise. Poof! A transference of anger. 

You’re not all in this spot, though some of you wish you were. A few programs are stitched to their coach, the most identifiable individual tied to any program. For those of you who aren’t, let’s speculate and look toward the future. 

Author’s note: Author has no industry sources unless you count the handful of college football podcasts he listens to and The Athletic for a week until his subscription expires. No flights were tracked, no search firms contacted, no Twitter profiles searched for likes. Budgetary restrictions due to COVID taken into consideration when necessary. Enjoy the conjecture. 

Illinois

Current head coach: Lovie Smith
2021 head coach: Lovie Smith

Ever since he took the Chicago Bears head coaching gig, Smith enjoyed the big chair so much he never returned to the NFL as a defensive coordinator. The erratic nature of the season plays to Smith’s benefit. Even though his buyout drops in 2021, do not expect the Illini to make a change since the university still seems pleased with its efforts to land Smith in the first place before the 2016 season. 

Indiana

Current head coach: Tom Allen
2021 head coach: Tom Allen

Why leave a football school unless under the absolute perfect circumstances? 

Iowa

Current head coach: Kirk Ferentz
2021 head coach: Kirk Ferentz

Iowa recovered well from the two-game skid to start the season and, with its recent play, tamped down whispers about Ferentz’s job security. The combination of the pandemic and the lawsuit claiming racial discrimination brought against individuals within the football program, including Ferentz, mixed for a volatile concoction, but Ferentz’s claims that he has taken steps to address the concerns — and the Hawkeyes improved play — are enough to keep him around for the 2021 season. 

Maryland

2020 head coach: Mike Locksley
2021 head coach: Mike Locksley

It’s comical that after a rather underwhelming first season in College Park, the national media who urged the Locksley-to-Maryland move trotted out Locksley’s charm and handle on recruiting the DMV as the only redeeming part of the hire. Makes sense since his most marketable player is from Ewa Beach, Hawaii. Regardless, there’s a swirl of enthusiasm around the program unseen since Ralph Friedgen coached the Terps.  

Michigan

2020 head coach: Jim Harbaugh
2021 head coach: Matt Campbell

This is more of a maxed out situation on both sides. What other gig is going to pop up for Campbell to jump at after five seasons at Iowa State? The understanding between both program and coach in Ann Arbor seems glaringly obvious that now’s the time for a pat on the back, suspension of alumni donor requests and a hearty good luck to whatever pro franchise Harbaugh takes over. But since he’s the coachiest of all the coach Harbaughs, there is going to be an awkward and unintentionally frank conversation to tell him it’s time to part ways.

Michigan State

2020 head coach: Mel Tucker
2021 head coach: Mel Tucker

Michigan State’s efforts never appealed to the beauty and artistry of the sport. The program historically likes to take a sledgehammer and can of spray paint to whatever sort of efforts other teams produce. With wins over Michigan and a previously undefeated Northwestern, Tucker continues the assembly line of ruining the good work of others in the conference. 

Minnesota

2020 head coach: PJ Fleck
2021 head coach: PJ Fleck

The Fleck schtick is an acquired taste. It means success, but success that comes with a sort of grating presence that will not sell everywhere. Fleck wins and wins big wherever he goes, but the jobs out there aren’t the type of openings that would endure his brand of salesmanship. 

Nebraska

2020 head coach: Scott Frost
2021 head coach: Scott Frost

At least Harbaugh’s tenure at Michigan had the faintest whiff of dominance. The whiff out of Lincoln is another odor all together, one of dominance perpetrated on, not dominance exerted. Even so, COVID and a tough schedule will blanket the Huskers with a suitable excuse for keeping Frost.

Northwestern

2020 head coach: Pat Fitzgerald
2021 head coach: Pat Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald is comfortable in his corner of the world and has been for quite some time. Mentioned as a candidate for the Packers job that went to Matt LaFleur in 2019, if Fitzgerald chose to try his hand in the NFL, Northwestern would cease football operations until he got that out of his system and would immediately reinstate the program when he chose to return to the Wildcats. 

Ohio State

2020 head coach: Ryan Day
2021 head coach: Ryan Day

Day deserves legitimate looks from NFL franchises, and instead of the pairing of Pastor Dabo and Trevor Lawrence, teams should look to bring in the duo of Day and quarterback Justin Fields. It won’t happen, because the NFL likes to flirt with names for a year or two before anything materializes, but can you imagine the scenario where Day takes an NFL job and the Buckeyes turn to Urban Meyer for a second run in Columbus? Line up the Papa John’s

Penn State

2020 head coach: James Franklin
2021 head coach: Luke Fickell

Aw hell, let’s get weird. Enough of this by-the-book nonsense. Remember how at the start of the year we collectively decided the 2020 season was a year but not really a year? Well, tell that to Penn State, whose Playoff hopes were dashed in Week 1 and then suffered Mr. Bill-like tragedies week after week. Franklin isn’t fired but takes another job, think USC or Texas. Fickell can’t allow himself to coach That School Up North, but there’s not the amount of deeply-rooted hatred between Ohio State and Penn State. He’s also aggravated that Cincinnati is on the outside of the College Football Playoff and itches for a job with more exposure in a Power 5 conference. I told you it was time to get weird. 

Purdue

2020 head coach: Jeff Brohm
2021 head coach: Jeff Brohm

Purdue seems charmed by Louisville’s infatuation with Brohm and the sort of creative playbook he brings with him along with his parade of brothers. The university forgives losses to Rutgers in favor of the niche appeal of their head coach.

Rutgers

2020 head coach: Greg Schiano
2021 head coach: Greg Schiano

Schiano exceeded expectations in a season in which Rutgers could finish with as few as two wins. No reason to look elsewhere. 

Wisconsin

2020 head coach: Paul Chryst
2021 head coach: Paul Chryst

Is there a better pairing of coach and university than Chryst and the Badgers? No. It’s a meat stick in a Bloody Mary, snow suit and frozen goatee sort of pairing. With respect to Schiano and Rutgers and Fitzgerald and Northwestern, no other coach in the conference better embodies his place of employment.