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Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Who is the Big Ten's most valuable coach?

By Adam Rittenberg

An odd factoid: Jim Tressel never won Big Ten Coach of the Year at Ohio State despite claiming seven league titles in 10 years at the school.

Jim Tressel
With Jim Tressel out at Ohio State, there are several candidates to fill his shoes as the top Big Ten coach.
Perhaps Tressel never took home the award because he coached a team many perceived as built to succeed every season. And perhaps Ohio State will continue to win at the highest levels without The Vest on the sideline.

But the numbers suggest Ohio State and the Big Ten lost one of the nation's most accomplished coaches when Tressel resigned under pressure last week. Tressel went 66-14 in Big Ten play, led Ohio State to at least a share of the past six Big Ten titles, made BCS bowls in eight of his 10 years as coach and went 9-1 against Michigan.

You can make a case that the Big Ten has lost its MVC (Most Valuable Coach).

Which Big Ten coach deserves the title heading into 2011? Here's your chance to weigh in (as a reminder, I'm limited to five options with poll questions).

In putting together the poll, I tried to identity the coaches who programs truly would struggle to live without. Four men emerged from the pack: Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Nebraska's Bo Pelini.

All have elevated their programs' profiles and fostered consistent success after taking over at difficult times.

Under Ferentz the Hawkeyes have become consistent bowl participants (bowl champions, for that matter), and a squad that can compete for Big Ten championships. Ferentz and his staff consistently churn out NFL players despite rarely signing heralded recruiting classes. After a rough stretch at the end of the Hayden Fry era, the Hawkeyes have become a upper-tier Big Ten program.

Michigan State has reached bowl games in all four of Dantonio's seasons as coach. The Spartans claimed a share of the Big Ten title in 2010, their first championship in 20 years. Dantonio and his staff upgraded Michigan State's recruiting and seem to have the program poised to finally reach its potential.

Fitzgerald is the face of Northwestern football, and he has the Wildcats enjoying the most consistent stretch of success in team history. Northwestern has made three consecutive bowl games for the first time. Recruiting is gradually improving, and Fitzgerald has been a big part of the school's first major marketing initiative for football.

Pelini took over a Nebraska program that had lost its prestige under Bill Callahan. He has led the Huskers to 29 victories in his first three seasons and back-to-back Big 12 North division championships. His defensive background has restored the Blackshirts to glory, and Nebraska once again seems to be on the cusp of competing at a national level.

I know I'll take some heat for not having Penn State's Joe Paterno as a defined option (you can vote for him as "other"). While Paterno is the face of Penn State football and always will be, his decreased involvement in areas like off-campus recruiting lessen his value to the program. Could Penn State's program reach its current level -- or perhaps a higher one -- without JoePa? If the right replacement is selected, I believe it could.

Wisconsin's Bret Bielema is another intriguing possibility. He certainly took over a program built to succeed and had a ton of success his first season. But Bielema also had to find himself as a head coach after the disappointing 2008 campaign. He has shown impressive growth the past two seasons and didn't miss the top four by much.

You can make cases for other Big Ten bosses, and I'll be happy to hear them.