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Whose seat is hot (or not) in the Big Ten?

5/26/2010

We're entering the meat of the college football offseason, which is usually the opportune time to rekindle the debate about head coaches and their employment status.

Let's see ... where to find hot-seat talk ... aha! Got it.

CBSsports.com has put together a hot-seat ratings system, and not surprisingly, embattled Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez is at the top of the list. The ratings go from 0 (can't be touched) to 5 (need wins or else). All 120 FBS coaches received ratings.

So how does it look for the Big Ten bosses?

Rodriguez might not want to sit down any time soon. He's one of four FBS coaches with a hot-seat rating of 5 (Colorado's Dan Hawkins, North Texas' Todd Dodge and Washington State's Paul Wulff are the others).

Illinois head coach Ron Zook isn't much safer with a hot-seat rating of 4.5 (defined as "warm seat" ... riiiiight). Indiana coach Bill Lynch and Minnesota coach Tim Brewster both have ratings of 4.

Who's the safest in the Big Ten? Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald both have hot-seat ratings of 0 (untouchable). I'm a little surprised that Kirk Ferentz isn't among them (he has a rating of 1). Penn State's Joe Paterno has a rating of 0.5, but I'm guessing that's solely because of his age (83). By the way, I like parentheses.

Colleague Bruce Feldman also weighs in, ranking the 10 coaches sitting on the hottest seats entering the 2010 season. Feldman thinks Zook is in more trouble than Rodriguez and lists the Illinois coach at No. 1 on his list.

The Zooker has had one big year, when he led the Illini to the Rose Bowl and they lost to the USC Trojans. But after that it's been frustration. In five years, the Illini have been to only that one bowl game. He wouldn't be cheap to dump, but can the program afford to keep him around if he doesn't somehow respond with a strong season?

I tend to agree with Feldman. Rodriguez has had a very rocky road at Michigan, but he's only been there two seasons and he installed a dramatically different system. It's not easy to launch coaches before a full recruiting cycle. Zook, meanwhile, hasn't capitalized on very strong recruiting classes he signed early in his Illinois tenure.

Rodriguez comes in at No. 3 on Feldman's list.

The Wolverines have a good shot at opening up 5-1 (UM folks would be excited) but the slate is back-loaded and a 2-4 finish isn't a stretch given they'll face the four favorites in the Big Ten. A potential 2-4 finish would douse all of that energy, especially if it includes yet another loss to the Buckeyes. I think Rodriguez, though, will get this program cranked up this fall and the Wolverines will surprise a lot of people.

Minnesota's Brewster ranks No. 9 on Feldman's hot-seat list, while Indiana's Lynch didn't make the cut, which I'm sure he doesn't mind one bit.

Bottom line: It has been three years since a Big Ten head coach was fired, as Michigan State's John L. Smith and Minnesota's Glen Mason got pink-slipped before the 2007 season (Michigan's Lloyd Carr "retired" after the 2007 campaign). But there's a good chance we'll see some movement in November or December.