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Ranking the Big Ten Head Coaches: Where does Harbaugh stand heading into 2022?

The Big Ten has some of the best in the business.

2021 Big Ten Championship - Iowa v Michigan Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Big Ten is one of the premiere conferences in college football. Together, the conference boasts some of the most prolific head coaches in the country who have seen success for large periods of time. A healthy balance of the new and the old styles of play creates two dynamic divisions that each have their own strong points.

Some have been built from the ground up, others have taken over and watched their program continue in mediocrity. Today, we’ll evaluate the best and the worst this conference has to offer by ranking the top coaches in the Big Ten heading into 2022.

No. 1: Ryan Day, Ohio State Buckeyes

  • School Record: 34-4 (89.5%)
  • Big Ten Titles: 3
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 2
  • Honors: 2019 Big Ten Coach of the Year
  • 10-win seasons at Ohio State: 2
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-5

Yes, as Jim Harbaugh would put it, Day was “born on third base,” but his success at the program has been nothing to sniff at. Day has sustained success beyond Urban Meyer and continues to bring in powerhouse classes chock-full of talent. That is translating to success on the field with only four losses in his tenure, and a National Championship appearance. That is something no one else on this list can boast.

No. 2: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines

  • School Record: 61-24 (71.8%)
  • Big Ten Titles: 1
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 1
  • Honors: 2021 AP Coach of the Year
  • 10-win seasons at Michigan: 4
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-15

Surely Harbaugh has had his shortcomings while in Ann Arbor, but the fact of the matter is he has taken care of business against the bottom feeders of the Big Ten. That hasn’t meant a ton of success over Michigan State and Ohio State, but he finally got over the hump in 2021 by conquering the Buckeyes and taking home a Big Ten Title. With a College Football Playoff appearance under his belt, he deserves to be ranked this high on the list.

No. 3: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa Hawkeyes

  • School Record: 178-110 (61.8%)
  • Big Ten Titles: 2 (0 Championship Game wins)
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 0
  • Honors: 2002 AP Coach of the Year, 2002, 2004, 2009, 2015 Big Ten Coach of the Year
  • 10-win seasons at Iowa: 7
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-45

Ferentz is the longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten by a long shot. For the most part, Iowa has been one of the most consistently successful programs in the country during his tenure. In 23 years, the Hawkeyes have seven 10-win seasons and went from irrelevancy to multiple Big Ten titles in a very short span of time. In each of the last three seasons, they have finished inside the top-25. Iowa has been two Indy twice to compete for the Big Ten title and nearly won it in 2015.

Ferentz has had some marks as of late due to how he runs his program, but on the field he has been one of the best in the conference for quite some time.

No. 4: James Franklin, Penn State Nittany Lions

  • School Record: 67-34 (66.3%)
  • Big Ten Titles: 1
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 0
  • Honors: 2016 Big Ten Coach of the Year
  • 10-win seasons at Penn State: 3
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-20

The gap between Franklin and Harbaugh isn’t large. Both recruit at a high level and have a Big Ten Championship. The difference is much of that success came early for Franklin. In his last two seasons, Penn State is 11-11 and they did that with a lot of talent on the roster. Harbaugh has been ridiculed for poor performances in big games, but Franklin should be getting that same heat, if not more, in his ninth season with the program.

He recently signed a 10-year extension but if Franklin doesn’t start a turnaround soon, he may start to feel some pressure from administration.

No. 5: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin Badgers

  • School Record: 65-23 (73.9%)
  • Big Ten Titles: 0 (3 appearances)
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 0
  • Honors: 2016 and 2017 Big Ten Coach of the Year
  • 10-win seasons at Wisconsin: 4
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-40

There may not be a coach in college football who does as much with very little provided to him as Paul Chryst. According to On3, Wisconsin is No. 51 in the country in money spent on recruiting. That’s less than Maryland, Illinois, Purdue, Indiana, Rutgers and more. Yet, Chryst has led Wisconsin to the Big Ten Championship Game three times and routinely formulates a contender.

Maybe this is taking advantage of a much weaker West Division, but Wisconsin is a powerhouse without spending powerhouse money. Chryst deserves much of the credit.

No. 6: Mel Tucker, Michigan State Spartans

  • School Record: 13-7 (65.0%)
  • Big Ten Titles: 0
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 0
  • Honors: 2021 Big Ten Coach of the Year
  • 10-win seasons at Michigan State: 1
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-40

Obviously, it is really early in Mel Tucker’s career, but so far so good. He’s the first coach in program history to go 2-0 against Michigan and he turned this program around really quickly. Now he is bringing in some really talented players out of the transfer portal while returning the recruiting to the top-25 in just his third cycle. All signs are pointing up for the Spartans since he has taken over.

No. 7: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern Wildcats

  • School Record: 109-90 (54.8%)
  • Big Ten Titles: 0 (1 appearance)
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 0
  • Honors: 2018 Big Ten Coach of the Year
  • 10-win seasons at Northwestern: 3
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-60

Northwestern academia has always been top-notch. The talent of the football program has been a different story. At a 54.8% winning percentage, the Wildcats have had chances to make a run and compete for the Big Ten crown. Fitzgerald has 60 more wins than any other coach in the program’s history. The success of his tenure hadn’t been matched in Evanston since the 1920’s.

No. 8: P.J. Fleck, Minnesota Golden Gophers

  • School Record: 35-23 (60.3%)
  • Big Ten Titles: 0
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 0
  • Honors: 2019 Big Ten Coach of the Year
  • 10-win seasons at Minnesota: 1
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-45

Fleck has brought the flare back to Minnesota. The whole country rallied behind the Golden Gophers in their 11-2 season in 2019 as they narrowly missed the Big Ten Championship Game. Then, in 2021, they had a respectable 9-4 record including a win over Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan’s Axe. A softer 2022 schedule could mean another 10-win season incoming for Fleck and company.

No. 9: Jeff Brohm, Purdue Boilermakers

  • School Record: 28-29 (49.1%)
  • Big Ten Titles: 0
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 0
  • Honors: None
  • 10-win seasons at Purdue: 0
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-50

The Boilermakers had a really solid 2021 season including two wins over top-5 opponents against No. 2 Iowa and No. 5 Michigan State. Brohm has been a good recruiter for the program and some elite talent has come from West Lafayette over the past few seasons. If he can continue producing NFL talent, Purdue could continue to hover around 8-9 wins moving forward.

No. 10: Tom Allen, Indiana Hoosiers

  • School Record: 26-32 (44.8%)
  • Big Ten Titles: 0
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 0
  • Honors: 2020 Big Ten Coach of the Year
  • 10-win seasons at Indiana: 0
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-50

Ok, Tom Allen got a lot of hype in 2019-20 and I’m not 100% sure it was well deserved. Yes, the Hoosiers outperformed their expectations going 14-7 in a two-year span, but after being No. 17 in the country to enter 2021, Indiana finished the year 2-10, including eight straight losses to end the season. Bringing in a top-30 recruiting class in 2022, we will see if Allen can get the Hoosiers back on track.

No. 11: Greg Schiano, Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • School Record: 76-81 (48.4%)
  • Big Ten Titles: 0
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 0
  • Honors: 2006 Big East Coach of the Year
  • 10-win seasons at Rutgers: 1
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-50 (since his return)

Schiano was off to a hot start at Rutgers. They were 3-0 and played particularly well against Michigan, nearly igniting an upset at the Big House. Then the Scarlet Knights fell off a cliff. They were crushed by Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland with their only conference wins coming against bad Illinois and Indiana squads. Schiano coached this team well a decade ago, but I’m skeptical he can repeat that success now in a far superior conference.

No. 12: Bret Bielema, Illinois Fighting Illini

  • School Record: 5-7 (41.7%),
  • Big Ten Titles: 3 (All at Wisconsin)
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 0
  • Honors: 2006 Big Ten Coach of the Year
  • 10-win seasons at Illinois: 0
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-65

Bielema is back in the Big Ten and he wants to run the football with the best of them, just like he did at Wisconsin. That’s easier said than done in today’s college football. He doesn’t have the talent he had in Madison, and I wonder if he ever will. Legacy-wise, he is one of the better coaches on this list. However, he hasn’t coached a team that has won more than 10 games since 2011. He’s got some work to do to regain some respect in this conference.

No. 13: Mike Locksley, Maryland Terrapins

  • School Record: 13-23 (36.1%),
  • Big Ten Titles: 0
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 0
  • Honors: None
  • 10-win seasons at Maryland: 0
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-35

Mike Locksley should be commended for his recruiting. The Terps have recruited fairly well in his tenure, including a top-20 class. He even scored the transfer of Taulia Tagovailoa from his previous job as the offensive coordinator at Alabama.

But that isn’t unlike previous Maryland squads. Recruiting has been rather steady for the Terps since entering the Big Ten. Now is the time for results, and Maryland has seen so very little of that so far. With Tagovailoa entering what could be his last season in college, it’s do or die time for Locksley and this program.

No. 14: Scott Frost, Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • School Record: 15-29 (34.1%),
  • Big Ten Titles: 0
  • College Football Playoff Appearances: 0
  • Honors: None
  • 10-win seasons at Nebraska: 0
  • Average Recruiting Class: Top-25

There is not a bigger disappointment in all of college football than Scott Frost. After returning to his alma mater, Frost has not even gotten Nebraska bowl eligible. The Cornhuskers used to be a blue blood program, but they have been anything but for a majority of their time in the Big Ten, and Frost has only sunken the ship even further. He must be an excellent swindler, though, because despite 3-to-5 win seasons, Nebraska consistently brings in top-25 recruiting classes. He may have the hottest of hot seats in the Big Ten this season.