Athlon Disses Bo Pelini
As is often the practice during a long offseason, Athlon decided to compile a ranking of the coaches in the Big Ten and opted to place Bo Pelini ninth on that list. The ranking defies logic and common sense, but perhaps these lists are intended just to make the blood boil. Let's review:
The top spot in the rankings goes to Urban Meyer. No qualms with that. With two national championships and just two losses in the last two seasons, hard to argue with him there.
Mark Dantonio is second. Coming off of a 13-1 season and conference championship, this is probably a flavor-of-the-moment kind of ranking. He certainly wouldn't have gotten this kind of esteem after his first 6 seasons as a head coach in college. His team went 6-7 in year six and he'd won just two more games than he'd lost in conference games in a half dozen years at Cincinnati and Michigan State. But given that three of his last four seasons have gone very well, this is a tolerable ranking.
There is no greater testament to the hype surrounding the SEC than James Franklin's spot on this list. In three years at Vanderbilt he had a losing conference record but a winning overall record and finished fourth in his division every year. Admittedly, Vandy was awful before he arrived. But he's basically built his reputation on beating Kentucky and Ole Miss. He has yet to coach a game in the Big Ten or at Penn State.
An even greater testament to the mindset of the "it's-better-to-be-almost-successful-at-an-awful-program-than-win-at-a-good-one" school of coaching rankings is Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern. His teams are ten games below .500 in the Big Ten, with losing conference records in three of the last four years. Time and again, we've seen Fitzgerald's teams snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. How he's near the top of such a list boggles the mind. His ability to connect with young people has them seeking to unionize.
Gary Andersen began with the Franklin/Fitzgerald formula. His resume starts with three four-win seasons, followed by a 7-win season before an 11-win campaign at Utah State that delivered him a Potato Bowl victory and the head gig at Wisconsin. In his debut for the Badgers, he saw his team lose a great chance at victory to poor end of game management at Arizona State. Then he lost at home on Senior Day to a limited-by-sanction Penn State squad. That's two games a standout coach shouldn't lose.
Kirk Ferentz only belongs near the top of this list if it's a lifetime achievement award. He has a losing conference record over the last four seasons. But maybe he gets a bump for having a winning conference record last year after letting his program gravitate below mediocrity.
Jerry Kill deserves some respect for winning most everywhere he's been in a long coaching career. So far as a Big Ten coach, he's still got a lot of work ahead of him. He had his first winning season in three tries (though just .500 in the Big Ten) this past year. Technically, shouldn't much of the credit for getting 8 wins go to acting head coach Tracy Claeys, who stepped in when Jerry Kill was on leave for more than half of the season? Claeys presided over all four conference victories.
Brady Hoke has both a winning overall record and winning conference record in his three years at Michigan. After a strong debut in 2011, his team moved backwards in the win column each year, and won only 2 conference games this past season despite a roster that's the envy of most of the conference.
You had to get through all of those names to get to Bo Pelini. Pelini is the only coach with a Big Ten division title after the first two names on the list. He has a winning record against the five coaches on the list that he's faced more than once. He has a far better record over the last six seasons (conference and overall) than everyone but Meyer and Dantonio. He's the only coach on this list with a winning conference record in every season he's been a head coach. Reread that last sentence. It seems almost personal that he would sit so low on this list. His standing here is probably a statement about the power of public relations. If he was a bit chummier with the press he might sit third or even second on the list.
Among the rest of the coaches, you could certainly argue that Randy Edsall and Kevin Wilson have equal or better credentials that some of the aforementioned lovable losers. Seeing as how actual performance doesn't seem to be the main criteria, why not?