- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Big Ten used to be the league of longevity. Good coaches almost always stuck around, often for more than a decade. No wonder the league's most famous bosses went by first names only: Woody, Bo, Joe, Hayden.
The longevity label didn't only apply in 1970 or 1980. Simply go back to December 2006.
At that point, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz was finishing up his eighth season in the job, making him the Big Ten's fifth-longest-tenured coach. Penn State's Joe Paterno, Michigan's Lloyd Carr, Purdue's Joe Tiller and Minnesota's Glen Mason all had been in their jobs longer than Ferentz.
As the 2012 season beckons, Ferentz is the longest-tenured coach in the league. By far. The second-longest tenured? Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald. Bielema, a 42-year-old newlywed, and Fitzgerald, who turned 37 in December, both landed their first head-coaching positions before the 2006 season.
Since January 2007, the Big Ten has said goodbye to 11 head coaches, including three -- Paterno, Carr and Ohio State's Jim Tressel -- who won national championships. Michigan, which has had six head coaches serve for 10 or more years, has made two changes during the span. So has Ohio State.
Several factors play into the league’s historic turnover at the top. Carr and Tiller retired, in part because of their teams' performances. Minnesota got fed up with Mason's middling results and then took a bigger step backward with Tim Brewster before firing him midway through the 2010 season. Indiana and Illinois made understandable changes after subpar results on the field.
The most shocking changes stemmed from scandal and involved two men with solid reputations: Tressel and Paterno. Tressel had led Ohio State to six consecutive Big Ten titles, seven consecutive wins against Michigan and back-to-back BCS bowl wins before being pink-slipped for knowingly playing ineligible players and not coming forward about NCAA violations. Paterno guided Penn State to a 9-1 mark before being fired by the school's trustees days after the child sex abuse scandal broke.
After relative quiet in 2008 and 2009, the Big Ten has had three head-coaching changes in each of the past two offseasons.
Will longevity ever become a Big Ten hallmark again? There won't be another like Paterno, but several coaches could stay in their positions for a while. Ferentz has turned down multiple opportunities in the NFL to remain with Iowa, which pays him handsomely. He could easily finish his career in Iowa City. The Iowa job is somewhat of a novelty in today’s college football, as only two men (Ferentz and Hayden Fry) have led the Hawkeyes since 1979.
Brady Hoke openly admits Michigan is his dream job. He'll be in Ann Arbor as long as they'll have him.
Mark Dantonio also finds himself in a stable situation at Michigan State, which has upgraded its program in recent years. It's not a stretch to see Dantonio finish his career in East Lansing.
Bielema and Fitzgerald also find themselves in good situations. Although Fitzgerald's name often surfaces for other jobs, he has deep roots at Northwestern in the Chicago area and intends to stay with the Wildcats for many years. Bielema played for Iowa but finds himself in a great situation at Wisconsin, and his recent success suggests he'll be in Madison for the long haul.
Bo Pelini several times has shot down rumors of his departure from Nebraska. Although Pelini faces pressure to take the Huskers to the next level, Nebraska had a great track record of stability with Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne -- and paid the price for diverting from it.
It’s too soon to tell if coaches like Danny Hope, Tim Beckman, Jerry Kill, Kevin Wilson and Bill O’Brien are keepers.
The Big Ten's most intriguing debate about longevity concerns its highest-paid and most successful coach -- Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. Although Meyer owns two national championships and has roots in Ohio, he also has hopped around and had a health scare in 2009. While Buckeyes fans celebrated Meyer's arrival, many also did so with the understanding he might not be in the job that long.
Perhaps in 2020 the Big Ten will be the league of Captain Kirk, BB, Fitz, Coach D, Brady, Bo and Urban.
More than likely, we'll be playing the name game all over again.