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Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Take Two: Big Ten's new premiere coach?

By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett

Beginning today, Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

Our first Take Two topic is this: With Jim Tressel now out at Ohio State, taking his seven Big Ten titles and one BCS national championship with him, who should be considered the league's premier coach?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

There are several possibilities here, but I always evaluate a coach on what he does with the hand he's dealt. Some Big Ten programs are set up to succeed at the highest levels. Others have to find creative ways to get to the top. Ultimately, my choice is the guy who consistently does more with less, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. He hasn't taken Iowa to a Rose Bowl or won a national championship, but he has made the Hawkeyes an upper-tier Big Ten program despite some difficult challenges. Ferentz and his staff have created a tradition of transforming unheralded recruits and walk-ons into NFL players. Iowa's recent track record in the draft backs this up.

Under Ferentz, the Hawkeyes have reached nine bowl games in 12 years, including two BCS bowls, and won six of them, including each of the past three. He has earned Big Ten Coach of the Year three times and mentored 33 NFL draft picks in the past nine seasons. Iowa isn't a traditional powerhouse and didn't have a breakthrough like Wisconsin did in the 1990s, but the Hawkeyes are always a relevant program in the league.

Given the challenges Iowa faces with recruiting, geography and facilities, Ferentz's accomplishments are exceptional.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

Ferentz is a worthy choice, and the league is blessed with many excellent coaches who seem like perfect fits for their schools, including Bret Bielema, Pat Fitzgerald, Mark Dantonio, Bo Pelini and Brady Hoke. But I think the answer here is obvious: Joe Paterno.

We almost take Paterno's greatness for granted at this point because he's been around so long. But how can you ignore the winningest coach of all time at the FBS level, who has two national titles and probably should have at least a couple more? Sure, you can say that most of Paterno's achievements haven't come in the Big Ten, though he's won or shared three league championships. And, yes, you can make the argument that he's no longer doing all the heavy lifting in his own program (though with his recent Skype skills, watch out; can an iPad JoePa app be far behind?).

Still, Paterno has accomplished more than most of the current league coaches combined. Now more than ever, given all the scandals facing college football lately, he should be lauded as a symbol of what's right with the sport and the Big Ten.