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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Power Ranking the Big Ten Football coaches headed into the 2023 Season

Power Ranking the Big Ten Football coaches headed into the 2023 Season

Publish Date: 03/24/2023
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

Power Ranking

Let me start by saying that the Head Coaches in the Big ten got a massive upgrade with the Arrival of Luke Fickell and Matt Rhule. I also think that Purdue hit a home run with Coach Walters, so I expect the big Ten to be more competitive starting this season than it has been in a while. Guys like Walter and Rhule will be higher in these off season ratings after next season.

14) Tom Allen, Indiana Hoosiers

The only thing saving Tom Allen’s job is a contract with a massive buyout clause.

After two seasons of unexpected success in 2019 and 2020 — 8-5 and 6-2 — the Hoosiers have gone on to post just 6-18 records the last two years, as Tom Allen seems to have lost whatever spark he had midway through his Indiana tenure.

Allen has recruited some impressive assistants at Indiana, such as Washington’s Kalen DeBoer and South Alabama’s Kane Wommack; unfortunately, the quality of play has suffered since they left town. The Hoosiers should have named DeBoer the head coach instead of letting him leave. Allen is a border line clown on the sideline, which is ok if you are winning, but he’s not.

Allen has four losing seasons in six years as Indiana University’s head coach, and his defense, which is Allen’s speciality, has taken a significant hit recently. Finishing last in multiple categories in 2022, Allen hopes to turn around his program through transfers; however, barring an unexpected season, 2023 could be Allen’s last year in Bloomington.

Video: Indiana head coach Tom Allen's fiery pregame speech is an absolute must-see | FOX COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Indiana head coach Tom Allen’s fiery pregame speech is an absolute must-see | FOX COLLEGE FOOTBALL

13) Greg Schiano, Rutgers Scarlet Knights

When Rutgers was in the Big East, Schiano had a reputation for sending lots of talent to the NFL. He recruited New Jersey and Florida particularly well. That reputation has since faded away; although he out-recruited some of his Big Ten peers early on, the Scarlett Knights recently signed their worst class under Schiano (59th nationally, 13th in Big Ten) with punter Adam Korsak as their lone representative at the NFL Combine).

Rutgers University is one of the most challenging jobs in all of the Power 5. It took Schiano five seasons to produce a winning season during his initial tenure with the Knights. Perhaps more patience is necessary, considering they must now play Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State annually.

Maybe Schiano can work his magic once again, but I highly doubt it.

Video: Greg Schiano talks 2023 #RFootball Pro Day -- #Rutgers Scarlet Knights Football

Greg Schiano talks 2023 #RFootball Pro Day — #Rutgers Scarlet Knights Football

12) Mel Tucker, Michigan State Spartans

Two years ago, Mel Tucker pulled off one of college football coaching history’s greatest heists! The Spartans are paying for this ridiculous contract right now.

He arrived at Michigan State late in 2020, just as the pandemic had started. But Tucker quickly transformed himself into the original portal king, packing their roster with nearly 20 transfers, including star tailback Kenneth Walker II. Michigan State went 11-2 that season – including wins over Michigan and Penn State and a victory in the Peach Bowl – before parlaying that success into an incredible $95 million contract – an all-time milestone.

Now we’ll see if he can bring the Spartans back into contention after an unsteady 2022 campaign (especially considering what transpired off-field at Michigan). He is great getting transfers, but his ability to recruit high school players is not at the elite level it needs to be to win in East Lansing.

Video: Welcome, Coach Tucker | Spartans All-Access | Michigan State Football

Welcome, Coach Tucker | Spartans All-Access | Michigan State Football

11) Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern Wildcats

Fitzgerald is not at the bottom of this list because, over 17 years in Evanston, he boasted a 110-101 record and three 10-win seasons.

Conversely, results have been trending downhill over the last several seasons. The 2020 Big Ten West title (7-2 with a loss to Ohio State) during the shortened COVID season stands as an anomaly; Wildcats won just seven games combined between 2019-2021 and 2022 (7-29 combined record).

The Wildcats won just one game last year(Thank God for Scott Frost). Can Fitzgerald get the Wildcats back to being competitive in the Big Ten? We will soon find out.

Video: Northwestern | Pat Fitzgerald 100 Career Wins

Northwestern | Pat Fitzgerald 100 Career Wins

10) Mike Locksley, Maryland Terrapins

Mike Locksley began his head coaching career with five consecutive losing seasons, including an unsettling stint at New Mexico from 2009-11 (2-26). Since then, he has produced back-to-back Bowl-winning teams at Maryland, which is no easy task.

The Terps are coming off their best season since 2010, finishing 8-5 with a win over NC State in the Mayo Bowl..

In 2023, recruiting took a slight step back (they signed the 11th-best class in the B1G after finishing eighth in 2022). Still, Locksley hasn’t been afraid to grab impact players from within the portal to fill immediate holes – particularly those from Washington, D.C., looking to play closer to home.

Video: Maryland coach Mike Locksley gets doused in Mayo after win over NC State ๐Ÿ˜ฒ๐Ÿ˜‚

Maryland coach Mike Locksley gets doused in Mayo after win over NC State ๐Ÿ˜ฒ๐Ÿ˜‚

9) Ryan Walters, Purdue Boilermakers

Walters spearheaded Illinois’ historic defense in 2022, leading the nation in scoring, taking home two second-place finishes, allowing only 3 yards per play allowed and ranking among the Top 10 for third-down stop percentage. I know it seems weird to have a coach ranked over guys that have been head coaches, but I think Purdue knocked it out of the park with this hiring.

Walters, 37, has assembled an outstanding staff, and the OC-QB pairing of Graham Harrell and Texas transfer Hudson Card is one of the more intriguing new pairings in the conference.

Video: FB | Welcome to Head Coach Ryan Walters

FB | Welcome to Head Coach Ryan Walters

8) Matt Rhule, Nebraska Cornhuskers

Rhule has earned a reputation for being an insightful evaluator and successful player-development coach. At Nebraska, Rhule will have more resources and doesn’t inherit quite the same challenging conditions that confronted him in his previous two college head coaching stops. The Previous two stops at Temple and Baylor were so impressive he got the job as the Head Coach of the Carolina Panthers. We all know how that worked out, but I fully expect when I make these rankings next year that, Rhule will be in the top 5.

Video: Matt Rhule on becoming Nebraska's next head coach | College GameDay

Matt Rhule on becoming Nebraska’s next head coach | College GameDay

7) Kirk Ferentz, Iowa Hawkeyes

Since 1999, Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz has had 19 winning seasons – one of the longest-tenured head coaches in College Football . Last season’s 8-5 showing was considered a down-season after several 10-win campaigns the prior years.

Ferentz’s reluctance to move on from his son as offensive coordinator is ultimately holding the program back. In 2022, Iowa had one of the nation’s best defenses; had they even fielded a functional offense, they might’ve been contenders for the CFP in 2023. If he fired his son, he would be in the top 5.

Video: Kirk Ferentz Reflects on 23 Years at Iowa | Iowa Football | The Journey

Kirk Ferentz Reflects on 23 Years at Iowa | Iowa Football | The Journey

6) Brett Bielema, Illinois Fighting Illini

The Fighting Illini nearly won the Big Ten West title, boasting an incredible defense and smash-mouth rushing attack. Bielema had a stellar career at Wisconsin (three Big Ten Championships), so he appears to be back home in his old league at Illinois.

Video: Bret Bielema building pride in Illini football | NBC Sports Chicago

Bret Bielema building pride in Illini football | NBC Sports Chicago

5) P.J. Fleck, Minnesota Golden Gophers

Minnesota has enjoyed back-to-back 9-4 seasons. That is not easy to do in Minnesota.

Though their style of play may not be visually appealing (the Gophers’ ground-and-pound offense led the Big Ten in both rushing attempts per game and time of possession in 2022), their results have been remarkable: four winning seasons in six years at Minnesota.

Fleck has earned a perfect 4-0 record in bowl games with the Gophers and boasts a 13-1 season at Western Michigan to his credit. He can be a bit eccentric which can rub some people wrong, but Fleck has won every place he has been.


“Be You” – P.J. Fleck’s Pregame Speech vs. Wisconsin (Nov. 27, 2021)

4) James Franklin, Penn State Nittany Lions

Franklin has achieved 11-win seasons on four separate occasions in Happy Valley and signed his two best recruiting classes during each of the last two offseasons. Penn State is among the favorite teams of this offseason to possibly make the College Football Playoff field for the first time under Franklin’s guidance.

Franklin and PSU must aim to start winning more games against their rivals (4-14 against Ohio State and Michigan), if they ever want to get over the hump.

Video: Why Penn State coach James Franklin is much more intense in practice than during games

Why Penn State coach James Franklin is much more intense in practice than during games

3) Ryan Day, Ohio State Buckeyes

Many Buckeye fans believe Day is overrated, while others feel he is under-appreciated. As head coach of Ohio State, however, you must balance these expectations as expectations are high: beating Michigan, winning the Big Ten and playing for a national championship. The pressure gets even more significant as the Buckeyes have lost back-to-back games to the Michigan Wolverines.

Expectations are unrealistic at Ohio State, which will eventually be Day’s downfall.

Video: Ryan Day's plan for Ohio State's bounce back after a tough Michigan loss | ESPN College Football

Ryan Day’s plan for Ohio State’s bounce back after a tough Michigan loss | ESPN College Football

2) Luke Fickell, Wisconsin Badgers

Fickell had an impressive 57-18 record with the Bearcats, including three 11-win seasons. Though many expected him to go back to the Big Ten eventually, few expected it would be at Wisconsin. Yet Fickell sees room for improvement at Wisconsin and growth within what had already become one of its most successful programs over two decades.

Fickell is an excellent recruiter; he has sometimes struggled with game management.

Video: Wisconsin Football: Coach Fickell's First Day

Wisconsin Football: Coach Fickell’s First Day

1) Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines

Over the last two seasons, Michigan is 25-3 with two conference titles and College Football Playoff berths under their belts. While Harbaugh has downplayed some of his significant cultural and philosophical changes before the 2021 season, he deserves credit for pivoting and overhauling his staff.

Beating the Buckeyes twice in a row is a massive feather in his cap. Still, like Ohio State, Michigan fans are unrealistic, which means nobody in Ann Arbor will be happy until winning and National Championship.

Video: Inside Jim Harbaugh's office: Michigan coach gives behind-the-scenes tour

Inside Jim Harbaugh’s office: Michigan coach gives behind-the-scenes tour

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