The Big Ten coaches are tougher to rank than any other Power 5 conference.
The coaching talent is there. Seven Big Ten coaches ranked in the Top 25 in SN’s 1-130 coach rankings, the most of any conference.
Ohio State’s Ryan Day is the top choice after leading the Buckeyes to a pair of Big Ten championships in first two seasons. Where do you go from there? Penn State’s James Franklin and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh continue to chase Ohio State in the Big Ten East, and Indiana’s Tom Allen is building a winning culture in an unlikely place.
Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz continue to produce steady results in the Big Ten West, and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald has maintained a winning culture in an unlikely place. It’s a loaded group, and Bret Bielema, who won three Big Ten championships at Wisconsin, is back with Illinois.
Here’s a deeper look at our Big Ten coach rankings (overall record in parentheses):
2021 Big Ten coach rankings
— Aside from Day, Fitzgerald had the most top-10 votes in our staff poll. Fitzgerald has led the Wildcats to a pair of Big Ten West championships the last three seasons, and Northwestern has won its last four bowl games. Expecations might be higher at other Big Ten programs, but Fitzgerald earned this spot.
— Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh is always a polarizing pick. Everyone knows the Ohio State record, but he’s 3-3 against Penn State and 2-3 against Wisconsin after last season’s losses to both schools. One could flip Harbaugh with Chryst, but you could also flip the divisions for both coaches and arrive at the same close-to-call answer. Franklin, Harbaugh and Chryst are a combined 1-15 against the Buckeyes. That’s everyone’s problem.
— Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck slipped out of the Top 25 after a 3-4 season, but the bounce-back potential with the Gophers is real. Minnesota returns starting quarterback Tanner Morgan, but Fleck has a 15-19 record in conference play the last four seasons.
—Don’t fret about Bielema’s spot at the bottom. We noted the three Big Ten championships at Wisconsin, and now the challenge of rebuilding Illinois looms. The Illini haven’t had a winning season since Ron Zook’s final season in 2011, and Bielema hasn’t coached in college since 2017. He’s bunched up with Rutgers’ Greg Schiano, Maryland’s Mike Locksley and Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, at least for a year.
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