Ranking the Big Ten Coaching Positions

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 13th, 2013

In the always debatable world of athletics and rankings, a recent post from Will Leitch at Sports on Earth discussed the top college basketball coaching jobs. The column included quite a few Big Ten programs, with five among the top 25 and two in the “just missing the cut” line. This prompted the obvious follow-up question of how would we rate the 12 coaching positions in the Big Ten. Remember that we aren’t just talking about the history and quality of the programs (measured in national titles and draft picks), but the coaching position itself. There is a difference. For this analysis, we examined each program’s history and recent success, its facilities, commitment to basketball, recruiting ease, coaching salary (where available, as Northwestern and Penn State do not report salaries), the normal pressure of the position, fan support, location, academics and more. All in all, it’s a lot to take in, but if all coaching positions in the conference came open tomorrow, what would be the most appealing spots for prospective coaches to move in and take over? Feel free to tell us how we are wrong.

Tom Crean sits in the top coaching position in the Big Ten (AP).

Tom Crean sits in the top coaching position in the Big Ten (AP).

  1. Indiana. The “blue blood” of Big Ten basketball has quite the history in terms of conference championships, Final Fours and national titles. It has tremendous support within the Hoosier State and sits in arguably the biggest recruiting hotbed of the nation. Assembly Hall is an historic venue and its lack of modern conveniences will recede as a critique as the Hoosiers look to start a renovation campaign soon. Tom Crean also earns plenty in salary, ranking second in the conference only behind Tom Izzo. A small drawback may be the pressure of the position, as some fans are already starting to question Tom Crean’s likelihood of bringing a national title to Bloomington. Still, it’s the top job in the Big Ten.
  2. Michigan State. Izzo gets paid the most of any coach in the Big Ten and his big competitor in the state is a football school at Michigan. He may not face much pressure given all of his success there, but for a new coach the honeymoon period probably wouldn’t last very long. The Breslin Center is a good arena and Sparty’s fan support is near the top of the list for all schools. Include the successes of the past with Magic Johnson’s championship team and Izzo’s Flintstones along with its recruiting location near Detroit and not far from Chicago and Indiana, and Michigan State represents as an attractive national position when the job reopens.
  3. Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ massive athletic budget is certainly a good place to start in its effort to become the Texas of the Big Ten. The school is still a football school at its heart, which has its positives and negatives for the head basketball coach. Your team may not be the biggest show on campus but it certainly relieves some of the pressure of the position if there area  few down years. Thad Matta has the third highest salary in the league, and the Value Center Arena, while not brand new, is still a solid basketball venue. As the longtime flagship school of a highly-populated state, Ohio State has also shown a propensity to bring in recruits as well.
  4. Michigan. History with the Fab Five and last year’s national runners-up are a good place to start, but let’s also mention the new renovations to the Crisler Center that were completed last season. The school is in a good recruiting position near Detroit and has another massive athletic budget. John Beilein doesn’t make the most money in the conference, but the same positive/negative drawbacks of being a football school like at Ohio State can apply here too. Michigan is also one of the best academic public universities in the country. One negative is trying to recruit against Michigan State in their own back yard, historically a better basketball program with Izzo at the helm.
  5. Illinois. It’s a basketball crazy school and sits close enough to Chicago for recruiting purposes, two huge advantages for any coach. It’s tough to judge salary with John Groce still near the bottom of the Big Ten in only his second season. A little more success and that number will easily increase. It also has a good-not-great basketball history, but that fan support can turn negative quickly if things go south (see: Bruce Weber).
  6. Purdue. The Boilermakers and Illinois jobs were very close to each other, but it says here that Purdue falls a step below the Illini. The school recently renovated Mackey Arena and the surrounding practice facilities, so that is a plus. It’s definitely a basketball school and sits in hoops-crazy Indiana, but is also has a clear “little brother” complex and must constantly battle other top programs for the state’s best recruits. The main reason Purdue is sixth, though, is that its level of administrative financial support comes into question. Matt Painter had to threaten to leave for Missouri to earn a raise for he and his assistants. When it takes that kind of leverage to push up a salary, that creates a perception of tightness that won’t sound good to new coaching candidates.
  7. Wisconsin. There wasn’t much success before the mid-1990s at Wisconsin, but the fan base has steadily grown along with Bo Ryan’s success. That’s evident by the outstanding home record he has in his tenure in Madison, and there does not seem to be much pressure from fans. Wisconsin’s closest recruiting hotbed is Chicago, but it also has to compete against Marquette for its in-state talent. Bo Ryan, despite all his success, only has the fifth highest salary in the Big Ten, which isn’t terrible until you think about how many NCAA Tournaments and top four Big Ten finishes he has earned. But it may signal to coaching candidates that Wisconsin doesn’t reward success as well as some other schools.
  8. Minnesota. It has “The Barn” and the benefit of being the only major conference program in its state for recruiting purposes. Richard Pitino is in his first year so hi salary is hard to judge, but Tubby Smith’s pay was near the top of the Big Ten during his time so financial backing is available in the right situations. The fan support is strong, though not crazy compared to the schools at the top of the conference. There is some pressure evident, with Smith’s firing last season after winning an NCAA game one of the more surprising transitions of last spring’s coaching carousel.
  9. Iowa. The history of this program is surprisingly better than you would think given where it is located. Then again, geography is also a huge drawback and there is another major Big 12 program (and several decent mid-majors) to compete with for relatively few in-state recruits. Fran McCaffery sits near the bottom of the Big Ten in salary, but the school did recently renovate Carver-Hawkeye Arena to provide a better fan experience. Its fan support wavers based on how successful the team is doing, but that also means low pressure for the head coach.
  10. Nebraska. The brand new arena in Lincoln raises Nebraska from the bottom here. The school obviously wants the program to be successful, but at the end of the day, this is a football school residing in a terrible basketball recruiting state. The fan support is better this season with the new arena but there’s no idea if that will actually last beyond this season.
  11. Penn State. It gets more recruiting potential than several of the schools above it by virtue of its location near the Northeast and all the hotbeds there. Its fan support for basketball isn’t that great, but the school has at least made the NCAA Tournament in its history.
  12. Northwestern. It sits near Chicago, but it hasn’t exhibited much success in actually drawing those players to the school. It still has never made the NCAA Tournament, and there are no signs that will change anytime soon. Northwestern’s arena is the smallest in the conference, and have you seen that floor? At least you have your top-notch academics, Wildcats fans.
Jonathan Batuello (61 Posts)

Jonathan Batuello is a journalist working out of Indiana and Big Ten correspondent for Rush the Court. Follow his Twitter account (@jcbatuello) for Big Ten basketball, Indiana high school sports and how to cope with losing at fantasy football.

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3 responses to “Ranking the Big Ten Coaching Positions”

  1. Are you kidding? says:

    OSU, UM, and MSU should all be ranked ahead of Indiana in the B1G. Any objective college basketball fan would agree that Indiana has not been relevant for three decades.

  2. HoopsDave says:

    Indiana is one of top three or four coaching jobs in the nation. The combination of history, facilities, fanbase, and future potential is unmatched.

  3. badgerpaw says:

    Your Wisconsin envy is showing Batuello.

    When was the last time IU beat Wisconsin?

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