Big Ten: Bill Mallory

Last week, in response to a mailbag question from reader and Rutgers fan Ed, I came up with a hot-seat ranking for all the coaches in the Big Ten.

That list sparked a bit of discussion in some places, notably Nebraska. How accurate were my rankings, and what were some of the factors that went into them? I thought I'd bring Adam Rittenberg into the debate for a little bit of fact vs. fiction.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsKirk Ferentz, who began at Iowa in 1999, appears to be secure heading into 2014.
Brian Bennett: Adam, I listed seven coaches as being completely safe, barring some unforeseen scandal: Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Penn State's James Franklin, Minnesota's Jerry Kill, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. While Ferentz hasn't won at an elite level of late, his contract keeps him basically unfireable. Fact or fiction on my Tier 1 of coaches?

Adam Rittenberg: Fact. It would truly take something disastrous, Brian, for one of these coaches to lose his job. Ferentz helped himself last season as another losing campaign would have placed more pressure on Iowa's administration to part ways with their highly paid coach. Unless the Hawkeyes take a significant step backward in 2014, which is tough to do given an extremely favorable schedule, Ferentz is on very secure footing. Minnesota awarded Kill a contract extension and a raise in February, and with facilities upgrades on the way, no change is imminent. The rest are as safe as you can get in this line of work.

BB: My second tier included three coaches who should be fine but could be sweating things out if they have a rough season: Indiana's Kevin Wilson, Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Michigan's Brady Hoke. Some might say Hoke is actually on a hot seat, but I think his first-year success, recruiting and support from athletic director Dave Brandon means he is at least a year away from feeling any substantial pressure. Fact or fiction on these guys?

AR: I would say fact on both Wilson and Hazell and possibly fiction on Hoke. Wilson has to make a bowl game fairly soon after IU squandered a great opportunity last season (eight home games). But Indiana athletic director Fred Glass, upon hiring Wilson in 2010, stressed the need for continuity at a program that hadn't had much since Bill Mallory. A 1-win or 2-win season could change things, but I can't see IU making another change, especially with recruiting on the rise and the offense surging. Hazell is a second-year coach, so unless Purdue lays another 1-11 egg, he's fine.

As for Hoke, his first-year success seems a long time ago. Michigan's recruiting has looked better in February than October, although some players still need time to develop. It comes down to this: if Michigan wins nine or more games, he's fine. If Michigan wins eight or fewer games, it gets interesting. Are the Wolverines losing close games to good teams or getting blown out? How do they perform against their three top rivals -- Ohio State, Michigan State and Notre Dame -- on the road? Are the offensive problems being fixed? You're right that Brandon doesn't want to fire his guy. But if Michigan gets blown out in its three rivalry games and still can't run the ball consistently, Brandon might not have a choice. Remember, Hoke has set the bar -- Big Ten title or bust -- and he's not reaching it.

BB: OK, now we're down to the four guys I put on the hot seat. Let's take them individually, starting with perhaps the most controversial one. You'd have to suffer from amnesia not to remember how close Bo Pelini came to losing his job at Nebraska last season. But is it fact or fiction that he's on a hot seat?

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesBo Pelini is 58-24 as coach of Nebraska.
AR: Fact. I'm not sure where the pro-Pelini push is coming from. Does a bowl win and some Twitter fun with @FauxPelini really change anything? Nebraska has been a bigger national story during its spring game the past two seasons than when the games actually count. While it's nice to this side of Pelini, the only thing that matters is winning more games and getting Nebraska that elusive conference championship.

BB: I debated whether to include Randy Edsall from Maryland, who showed progress last season and has dealt with many tough injuries. But moving to the new league and not overwhelming fans for three seasons convinced me he needs to deliver a bowl game this year, or at least be very competitive. Fact or fiction?

AR: Fact. Athletic director Kevin Anderson has been supportive of Edsall, but Maryland needs to see continued progress this season, despite the transition. The injury situation has to turn around eventually, so we should get a better gauge of a team that, on paper, should be better. But the schedule isn't easy. It also doesn't help to have Franklin, once Maryland's coach-in-waiting, in the same division.

BB: The other Big Ten newbie also has a coach on the hot seat, according to my list. Kyle Flood is only in his third season and did win nine games his first season. But he was on shaky ground last winter and replaced both coordinators, which is a sign of a coach trying to hang on. Fact or fiction on Flood's seat being warm?

AR: Fact. A coaching shuffle like the one Rutgers had almost always precedes a make-or-break type season for the head guy. Although athletic director Julie Hermann must consider the upgrade in competition and a brutal initial Big Ten schedule (East Division plus crossovers against both Nebraska and Wisconsin), a bowl-less season could spell the end for Flood. Rutgers has reached the postseason in eight of the past nine years.

BB: And, finally, Tim Beckman. He has won just one conference game at Illinois. I'd be surprised if anyone disagreed with his placement on this list, but what say you in regard to fact or fiction?

AR: Fact. Although AD Mike Thomas hired Beckman, he'll face even more pressure to make a change if Illinois misses a bowl for a third consecutive season. The Illini showed improvement last fall, but they'll have to take another step for Beckman to secure Year 4.

Big Ten lunch links

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LOS ANGELES -- As Lorenzo White watched the confetti fall at Lucas Oil Stadium and Michigan State raise the Big Ten championship trophy Dec. 7, one thought came to mind.

"It's been a long time coming," he said.

White starred at running back for Michigan State's last Rose Bowl team, 26 long years ago. Fueled by a stifling defense and a run-heavy offense -- sound familiar? -- the Spartans blitzed through the Big Ten to earn their first trip to Pasadena since the 1965 season.

It looked like the start of a surge for a team featuring four future first-round NFL draft picks -- White, wide receiver Andre Rison, offensive tackle Tony Mandarich and linebacker Percy Snow -- and a strong coaching staff led by George Perles. But Michigan State once again went more than two decades before its next Rose Bowl berth.

"It's great to have them back," said Perles, who coached Michigan State from 1983 to '94. "It brings back some great old memories."

MSU's latest Rose Bowl run in many way mirrors the path taken in 1987. Both squads faced adversity in nonleague play, regrouped after a loss to Notre Dame, began their ascent with a win at Iowa's Kinnick Stadium in the Big Ten opener and never looked back.

[+] EnlargeLorenzo White
AP Photo/Lennox McLendonLorenzo White carried 35 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns in the 1988 Rose Bowl.
Both leaned heavily on talented defenses guided by coordinators (Pat Narduzzi now, Nick Saban then) pegged for big things. Both offenses struggled before Big Ten play but eventually settled down. Running back Jeremy Langford's workload isn't as heavy as White's in 1987 -- White logged 357 carries for 1,572 yards and 16 touchdowns, and backup Blake Ezor added 617 yards -- but he has been just as valuable in closing out Big Ten wins.

The 1987 "Gang Green" defense surrendered an average of just 37.6 rush yards in Big Ten play, the second-lowest average in league history behind the 1965 Spartans (34.6), and forced 35 turnovers. The current "Spartan Dawgs" lead the nation in rush defense (80.8 YPG) and thrive on takeaways, recording a league-leading 27, tied for 17th nationally.

"The [current] defense reminds me of our defense 26 years ago," Perles said. "That proves again you win championships with defense."

MSU defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett, a boundary cornerback on the 1987 squad, notes that the schemes were different -- the 1987 team primarily used a Cover 3 defense that Perles brought over from the Pittsburgh Steelers; the current defense mainly lines up in Cover 4, often leaving the corners isolated on opposing receivers. But both defenses keyed on stopping the run and had fiery coordinators with uncompromising standards.

Saban, who turned 37 that October, oversaw a secondary that recorded 28 interceptions. Safeties Todd Krumm and John Miller combined for 17 picks.

"Nick had a lot of, as he would say, piss and vinegar in him," Barnett said. "He was on us about every little thing and demanded excellence and perfection. So in turn, we got turnovers, we stopped the run, we tackled well and played with toughness, similar to our current defense."

[+] EnlargeDenicos Allen
Raj Mehta/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Denicos Allen had nine tackles, three for a loss, and two sacks against Michigan.
This year's defense recorded its signature performance Nov. 2 against Michigan, holding the Wolverines to minus-48 net rush yards, the lowest total in Michigan history, while racking up seven sacks. It surely reminded some of MSU's 1987 visit to Ohio Stadium, where the Spartans held Ohio State to 2 net rush yards (minus-14 in the second half) and had seven sacks in a 13-7 win.

"That's when we realized how dominant our defense was," said Dan Enos, then a freshman reserve quarterback for MSU who later became an assistant coach at his alma mater. "After that game, we thought, 'Man, we've got a really, really good shot here.'"

There wasn't as much optimism when MSU entered Big Ten play at 1-2. After beating eventual Rose Bowl opponent USC on Labor Day -- in the first night game at Spartan Stadium -- MSU fell to eventual No. 2 Florida State and to Notre Dame, scoring a combined 11 points in the losses.

"That was our nonconference: Southern Cal, Notre Dame and Florida State," Enos said. "Who does that these days? Nobody."

Things didn't get much easier against Iowa, which led 14-7 at halftime. Perles didn't hold back as he addressed his team in the infamous pink locker room at Kinnick. The Spartans rallied to win 19-14.

"He came in, gave us a few choice words," White said with a laugh. "From that point on, we never looked back. The whole season changed."

The next week, MSU beat Michigan in East Lansing for the first time since 1969, thanks to seven interceptions. Despite a tie at Illinois, the Spartans faced Indiana on Nov. 14 with a Rose Bowl berth on the line for both teams.

White carried 56 times, one shy of the Big Ten/NCAA record, for 292 yards as MSU crushed Indiana 27-3. The postgame celebration included a surprise visit from Indiana coach Bill Mallory, who briefly addressed the team.

He congratulated the Spartans and, mindful of the Big Ten's six-game Rose Bowl slide, told players to "go out to the coast and kick [USC's] ass."

"That fired us up," White said. "For another coach to show how much class he had to come over to us and tell us that we had a fine football team, and for us to go out there and kick some butt, that was great."

Mallory, who received Perles' permission before speaking, doesn't recall going into any other opposing locker room after a game in his long career.

"I just had that gut feel," Mallory said. "I didn't want to get carried away, but I wanted to make sure they got our support."

The Spartans' 20-17 Rose Bowl win in many ways typified the 1987 team. They attempted only seven passes but connected for some big gains to Rison, and White had 113 rush yards and two touchdowns.

Snow, who recorded 17 tackles and earned game MVP honors, led a defense that forced five takeaways.

"It was a team loaded with toughness," Perles said.

Barnett, just a redshirt sophomore, expected the Rose Bowl to become an annual trip.

"Little did I know it was going to take 26 years," he said. "I'm really excited for our players to get a chance to experience the granddaddy of them all."
There's hardly ever a perfect time to part ways with a coach, especially one who has had success. Some programs opt to nudge out long-tenured, mostly successful coaches only to pay the price later for their decisions. Others that part ways with a veteran coach end up seeing improvement. ESPN.com is taking a closer look at this topic today, and we're putting it under the Big Ten microscope.

Here are some notable Big Ten (and Nebraska) coaching forceouts:

LLOYD CARR, Michigan (1995-2007)

What happened: A longtime Michigan assistant for Bo Schembechler and Gary Moeller, Carr moved into the top job in 1995 and two years later guided Michigan to a national title. He led the Wolverines to at least a share of five Big Ten championships and six bowl victories, including the 1998 Rose and 2000 Orange bowls. Carr had the Wolverines positioned for another national title run in 2006 as they faced archrival Ohio State in an epic matchup of undefeated teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 nationally. But Carr's squad fell to Jim Tressel's Buckeyes, a theme during the later part of Carr's tenure. The 2007 season began with a humiliating loss to Football Championship Subdivision team Appalachian State. Although Carr officially retired in November 2007, there certainly was some pressure for the school to go in a new direction.

[+] EnlargeLloyd Carr
Chris Livingston/Icon SMILloyd Carr is carried off the field following Michigan's win over the Gators in the Capital One Bowl, which was Carr's final game.
What happened next: Michigan went away from its coaching tree and plucked Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia to succeed Carr. It was a rocky situation from the start that never truly smoothed out. Rodriguez's first Michigan team in 2008 might have been the worst ever, tumbling to 3-9 and ending the school's streak of consecutive bowl appearances at 33. The following summer, Michigan admitted to committing major violations for the first time in its history -- relating to practice time -- and self-imposed probation. The Wolverines once again missed a bowl game in 2009 and struggled to make one in Rodriguez's third season. After a blowout loss in the 2011 Gator Bowl, Michigan fired Rodriguez, who went just 15-22 at Michigan (6-18 Big Ten, 0-3 against Ohio State). Michigan might have slipped a bit from the ranks of the elite under Carr, but the program plummeted to historic depths under Rodriguez. Michigan replaced Rodriguez with former Carr assistant Brady Hoke.

JOHN COOPER, Ohio State (1988-2000)

What happened: After a rocky start (4-6-1 in 1988), Cooper went on a nice run at Ohio State in the mid- to late 1990s, averaging 10.3 victories between 1993 and 1998. He guided Ohio State to its first Rose Bowl appearance in 13 years during the 1996 season and emerged with a victory against Arizona State. He also won the Sugar Bowl after the 1998 season and coached Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George. But Cooper had two problems: an inability to beat archrival Michigan (2-10-1) and struggles in bowl games (3-8). Three times the Buckeyes entered The Game with a perfect record -- 1993, 1995 and 1996 -- and fell to the Wolverines. After a 6-6 clunker in 1999 and another loss to Michigan in 2000, Ohio State fired Cooper, who finished second on the school's all-time coaching wins list, behind Woody Hayes, with 111.

What happened next: Ohio State made an unorthodox move in bringing in Youngstown State's Tressel to succeed Cooper. It paid off as Tressel guided the Buckeyes to a national title in his second season. Ohio State remains the only Big Ten team to win a crystal football during the BCS era. Tressel ended up dominating the Big Ten (six titles) and Michigan (8-1) during his tenure, leading Ohio State to five BCS bowl wins (one vacated) and three appearances in the national title game. Although Tressel's tenure ended in scandal, he certainly boosted Ohio State's program after the Cooper era.

BILL MALLORY, Indiana (1984-1996)

What happened: After mostly successful runs at Miami (Ohio), Colorado and Northern Illinois, Mallory came to Indiana and put together an impressive run, reaching six bowl games between 1986 and 1993. He became the first man to win back-to-back Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 1986 and 1987. Indiana had three top-four finishes in the Big Ten (1987, 1991, 1993), but after Mallory went just 5-17 (1-15 Big Ten) in 1995 and 1996, Indiana fired him. Mallory remains Indiana's all-time coaching wins leader (69) and is responsible for six of the Hoosiers' nine bowl teams.

What happened next: Indiana has yet to come close to achieving the type of moderate success it enjoyed in the Mallory era. The program struggled under Cam Cameron and Gerry DiNardo before surging a bit for the late Terry Hoeppner. Still, it took 11 seasons after Mallory's dismissal for Indiana to return to the postseason under Bill Lynch in 2007. Although the Hoosiers are making strides under Kevin Wilson, the program has a ways to go to match where it was under Mallory.

GLEN MASON, Minnesota (1997-2006)

What happened: Mason never got Minnesota to the promised land -- its first Big Ten championship since 1967 -- but he made the Gophers a consistent bowl team. He won six to eight games in six of his final eight seasons, slumping to a 4-7 finish in 2001 but breaking through with 10 victories in 2003. Minnesota reached bowls seven times under Mason, but his middling Big Ten record (32-48) and inability to challenge for league titles eventually stirred the administration into action. The school fired Mason two days after Minnesota squandered a 31-point third-quarter lead against Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight Bowl.

What happened next: The program backslid with the overmatched Tim Brewster at the helm, going 1-11 in 2007. Brewster made some splashes in recruiting but couldn't get enough talent to translate to the field. After a 7-1 start in 2008, the Gophers dropped their final five games, including a 55-0 decision to archrival Iowa at the Metrodome. A 6-7 season followed in 2009, and Minnesota fired Brewster after a 1-6 start in 2010. Brewster went 15-30 at the school and 6-21 in the Big Ten, which included an 0-10 mark in trophy games. His tumultuous tenure had many questioning why Minnesota ever got rid of Mason.

FRANK SOLICH, Nebraska (1998-2003)

What happened: A former Huskers fullback, Solich had the nearly impossible task of following coaching legend Tom Osborne, who won national titles in three of his final four seasons at the school. Solich won 42 games in his first four seasons, a Big 12 championship in 1999 and Big 12 North titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001. He guided the Huskers to the 2000 Fiesta Bowl championship, and the 2001 team, led by Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, played Miami for the national title at the Rose Bowl but fell 37-14. Nebraska then went 7-7 in 2002, its first nonwinning season since 1961. Solich rebounded with a 9-3 mark in 2003 but was fired despite a 58-19 record in Lincoln.

What happened next: Much like Michigan, Nebraska went away from its coaching tree and hired Bill Callahan, who had led the Oakland Raiders for two seasons. And much like Michigan, Nebraska paid a price as the program went downhill. The Huskers went 5-6 in Callahan's first year, their first losing campaign since 1961. They won eight games the following year and the Big 12 North in 2006, but a highly anticipated 2007 season fell apart, particularly for the celebrated Blackshirts defense. Nebraska surrendered 40 points or more in six games and went 5-7, leading to Callahan's dismissal. Although Nebraska has rebounded under Bo Pelini, its last conference championship came under Solich's watch, 14 long years ago.
The name, game sites and logo for the upcoming College Football Playoff are set. Now comes the most important piece of the puzzle: the selection committee.

Everyone wants to know who will have the important and unenviable task of choosing the field of four for the Playoff each year. BCS executive director Bill Hancock has said the committee will consist of 14-20 members representing every conference in the sport. Hancock issued a statement following the recent meetings in California, saying that discussions about the selection committee's structure are ongoing, and that there's "no rush" to decide given the committee's importance to the process.

[+] EnlargeTom Osborne
Bruce Thorson/US PresswireTom Osborne believes retired coaches would be unbiased if chosen to evaluate teams for the upcoming College Football Playoff.
Who will serve on the group? Former coaches? Current administrators? Former media members? All have been mentioned as potential candidates. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com and several other outlets last week that the committee must first and foremost be "a core group who are football smart, football savvy, great integrity" and that a member "can’t be a congressman. You can't come from this part of the country to take care of that."

Tom Osborne once was a U.S. Congressman, but he also had a Hall of Fame coaching career at Nebraska and served as the school's athletic director from 2007-12. In my view, Osborne would be an excellent candidate for the Playoff selection committee. His football knowledge and experience in pressure situations -- as a coach, an athletic director and in Congress -- make him a great fit.

Osborne isn't one to promote himself for the committee, but he has thoughts on how it should be compiled, and shared them with the Lincoln Journal Star. Osborne told Hancock to consider members of college football's Legends Poll, a group of 17 former college coaches, 15 of whom are in the College Football Hall of Fame, who select a top 25 poll each week during the season. According to the Legends Poll Web site, the former coaches "review all of the relevant game film using a state of the art service called Hudl, discuss each team's performance during a weekly conference call and establish a ranking of the Top 25 teams."

Sounds a lot like what the Playoff selection committee will be doing.

Here's the current Legends Poll voting panel (along with the school with which they're most closely identified): Bobby Bowden (Florida State), Frank Broyles (Arkansas), John Cooper (Ohio State), Fisher DeBerry (Air Force), Vince Dooley (Georgia), Terry Donahue (UCLA), Pat Dye (Auburn), LaVell Edwards (BYU), Don James (Washington), Dick MacPherson (Syracuse), Bill Mallory (Indiana), Don Nehlen (West Virginia), John Robinson (USC), Bobby Ross (Georgia Tech), R.C. Slocum (Texas A&M), Gene Stallings (Alabama) and George Welsh (Virginia).

Osborne served three years on the Legends Poll panel, and former Iowa coach Hayden Fry also has been on it. Former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler was an active voter at the time of his death late in the 2006 season.

From the Journal Star:
"Each week, they would send us DVDs of the top games," he said. "So you'd get 8-10 DVDs. They sent you a video player. You could sit there and really study the games."

The coaches on Mondays would gather for a teleconference, which lasted up to two hours, Osborne said.

"Each coach would talk about the game he had gone to the previous Saturday, and also what he'd seen on video," Osborne said. "I was impressed by the fact they seemed to be objective. It wasn't like R.C. [Slocum] was pushing Texas A&M, or Gene Stallings was pushing Alabama. They were just talking about strengths and weaknesses of teams in their area, and teams they'd seen. It was a very informative discussion."

Weren't coaches biased toward former employers?

"I thought the discussions were pretty objective and pretty dispassionate," Osborne said. "I heard coaches say things about their former school that weren't highly complimentary. They might say, 'We just can't play defense this year.' Or, 'We're pretty good overall, but we don't have a quarterback.' I didn't hear anybody trying to pump up their school to the other coaches. They were pretty blank, pretty blunt."

It sounds like a good place for Hancock to start. Cooper, who coached Ohio State from 1988-2000, has said he'll serve on the committee if asked. Mallory, who coached Indiana from 1984-96, also would be a good choice.

I lean toward a mix of former coaches and current administrators, as a guy like Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez makes a lot of sense for the job. But the time commitment could be an issue for those still working in the sport -- Alvarez talks about it here -- and the retired coaches certainly have more flexibility in their schedules.

It would be a surprise if several members of the Legends Poll don't end up on the Playoff selection committee. Here's hoping they reserve a spot for Osborne, too.
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.

The Big Ten assistant coach carousel is still spinning but many key vacancies have been filled. Today's Take Two topic is: Who is the most important assistant coach hire in the Big Ten this year?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

It comes down to which Big Ten unit needs the most help entering 2013. The answer seems pretty clear to me: Illinois' offense. Almost nothing went right for this group last fall. Illinois finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring (16.7 ppg) and total offense (296.7). When you look only at Big Ten games, those numbers drop to 11.8 ppg and 272.1 ypg. Yuck. Bill Cubit has a ton of work to do as Illinois' new offensive coordinator. For that reason, he's my pick for the Big Ten's most important assistant coach hire.

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman went from two inexperienced coordinators (Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales) to a veteran in Cubit, who spent the past eight seasons as Western Michigan's head coach and also has been an offensive coordinator at Stanford, Rutgers and Missouri. Offense wasn't the problem for Cubit at Western Michigan, and he developed quarterbacks like Tim Hiller and Alex Carder in Kalamazoo. Illini players like quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase have had to adjust to new offenses throughout their careers. Cubit has to install his system without overwhelming the players. Illinois needs playmakers on the edges and chemistry with an offensive line that struggled mightily last season and loses its top two players. If Beckman gets a third season in Champaign, Cubit will be a big reason why. He's an incredibly important addition for a reeling Illini program.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

I would say Michigan State's offensive coordinator hire is the most vital, except I presume Mark Dantonio will keep that in house and we won't see a lot of changes with the Spartans' attack. He could prove me wrong. I also believe Andy Ludwig will be under a lot of pressure as the new offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, where fans have come to expect a certain style of play.

But I'm with Adam in thinking the most important hire comes down to which unit needs the most help. That's why I'm going with Indiana's replacement for co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Mike Ekeler, who announced Friday he was leaving for USC. Kevin Wilson has some a strong option on the current staff with Doug Mallory, who was co-defensive coordinator last season. But defense remains the main obstacle between the Hoosiers and respectability. Indiana has a dynamic passing attack and an offense that scored over 30 points per game last season, but its defense was once again last in points and yards allowed. Improvements on that side of the ball could get the program back to a bowl game. Ekeler also did well on the recruiting trail and helped land some exciting young talent like Darius Latham and Antonio Allen in this year's class. Now, Wilson has to find the right assistant to help mold that into a defense that can hold its own against the better teams in the Big Ten.
Last year, as Indiana was struggling to a 1-11 record, first-year coach Kevin Wilson got a pick-me-up from perhaps the foremost expert on Hoosiers football.

Former IU coach Bill Mallory, who still lives in Bloomington, Ind., and stops by practice a couple of times a week in the fall, told Wilson that better times were on the horizon.

"He told me, 'I promise you you're getting there,'" Wilson recalled this week. "He was just consistently reaffirming me. Coach Mallory was big a year ago and throughout the offseason on just sticking to your guns and what you believe in."

Indiana football has hardly arrived as a power. But because of some special circumstances in the Big Ten this year, the Hoosiers are about to play their biggest game in nearly 20 years this weekend when Wisconsin comes to Memorial Stadium. A win by Indiana (4-5, 2-3 Big Ten) would tie Wilson's team with the Badgers in the Leaders Division standings and give the Hoosiers the head-to-head tiebreaker with two games to go. Because Ohio State and Penn State are on probation, that would put Indiana in control of the Leaders berth in the Big Ten title game.

As unlikely as it seems, Indiana has a chance to get in position for its second-ever trip to the Rose Bowl and first since 1968.

"I don't remember a game where so much stuff was at stake," Hoosiers senior defensive tackle Larry Black Jr. told ESPN.com.

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireWould an extended Big Ten slate change the way coaches like Kevin Wilson of Indiana schedules his non-league games?
That's because it has been a long, long time. Indiana won an emotional game at the end of the 2007 season against Purdue to clinch a bowl berth in honor of late coach Terry Hoeppner, who passed away right before the season. But that was for a minor postseason game, not a potential Big Ten title. The last time the Hoosiers played a game this meaningful in the conference race was 1993, when they started 7-1 and were ranked No. 17 heading to Penn State in early November. They lost that game by a touchdown and finished 8-3 in the regular season.

The 1993 campaign was also the last time the program won three consecutive Big Ten games, which it will be attempting to do this week after beating Illinois and Iowa. In fact, since '93 Indiana has won only 32 conference games in 19 years, while the 2007 season was its lone bowl appearance during that time. The Hoosiers fired coaches Cam Cameron, Gerry DiNardo and Bill Lynch and became known as a graveyard for football. But one man still kept the faith.

"That negative cloud of 'Oh, you can't win here' just makes me want to vomit," said Mallory, who led IU to six bowl games in his 13 seasons as head coach. "I have to count to 10 and keep my composure when people say those things. I believe strongly in what this program can do here."

Mallory said the school just needed to make a stronger commitment to the sport, which it has done in recent years with massive facility upgrades, including improvements to the stadium and a total makeover of the coaches' offices and weight room.

"I think we've finally woken up to the fact that we've got to match up to the others in this conference," Mallory said. "It's unbelievable how far we've come. People say it's a basketball school, but they'll like football if you start winning."

Mallory also liked what he saw early on from Wilson, who shared some of his beliefs in how the program should be run. And that makes sense, since Wilson's early coaching mentor was former Northwestern head coach Randy Walker, who played under Mallory at Miami (Ohio).

"Coach Wilson preaches a lot of same things I heard when I was here as a player," said current Indiana assistant coach Mark Hagen, who played at IU from 1987 to '91. "We were a team that went out every week and expected to win, and people had to account for us on Saturday or they'd get beat. That's a team we want to become. We know we're not there yet, but we're taking strides to become that."

Taking strides is the key phrase there. While Indiana has a unique opportunity at hand, this is still a team that lost to Ball State and Navy and had a five-game losing streak before beating Illinois two weeks ago. Wilson does not want his young team getting ahead of itself, which is why he has made sure to stress all week that the Hoosiers still have a losing record and must focus only on day-to-day improvement.

"They don't replay our games on the Big Ten Network, we always play in bad TV spots and we don't get much coverage," Wilson said. "We're a long way from being a good football team."

Wilson went as far as to say this isn't a big game because of his team's record. Still, he's hoping for a big-game atmosphere at Memorial Stadium, something that hasn't happened too often. There was far less than a full house for last week's Iowa game, though inclement weather might have played a factor. Many Indiana fans are already geared up for basketball season as the No. 1-ranked Hoosiers open Friday night at home against Bryant University. Buzz for football is building slowly on campus.

"I think it's definitely growing," said Nathan Brown, sports editor for the Indiana Daily Student newspaper. "I would expect as the week goes on and the word spreads that there will be a much bigger crowd. There were probably a lot of students maybe right after last Saturday's game who still didn't exactly know what the implications of this game against Wisconsin would be."

Black said he noticed a difference on campus last Sunday, when people were congratulating him on the Iowa victory as he went to breakfast.

"Maybe that's how it is when you start winning," he said.

The Hoosiers are starting to rediscover that feeling after a long drought. They might just be doing it at the most opportune time.

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September, 24, 2012
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Joe Paterno has become a polarizing figure in recent months, but all parties would agree that he defines Penn State football.

Paterno was affiliated with the Nittany Lions program for 62 years of its 125-year existence. He served as Nittany Lions coach for nearly 46 seasons before being fired in November. And his impact is particularly significant in the program's victories total.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
Michael Hickey/US PresswireAccounting for nearly 50 percent of the program's wins, Joe Paterno was the face of Penn State.
Of Penn State's 827 all-time victories in football, Paterno coached the team for 409, the most of any coach in Division I history. Other than former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who accounts for an astounding 64 percent of the Seminoles' all-time wins (304 of 475), Paterno's percentage of Penn State's wins (49.4) places him in select company. Only Air Force's Fisher DeBerry (49.1 percent) and BYU's LaVell Edwards (49.2 percent) have accounted for a similar chunk of program wins -- among FBS programs that have been around for more than 30 years -- as Paterno has at Penn State.

ESPN.com is taking a closer look at coaches this week, and today's topic examines which programs are defined by one coach. Penn State fits the description because of Paterno's long and successful career. Penn State also is unique because its program has been around so long, and while there was success before JoePa -- eight undefeated seasons between 1894-1947, a Rose Bowl appearance in 1923 -- almost all of the program's significant achievements (two national titles, 24 bowl wins) occurred on Paterno's watch.

What about the other Big Ten teams?

In terms of winningest coaches, here's how they look:

Illinois: Robert Zuppke, 131 of program's 580 wins (22.6 percent)
Indiana: Bill Mallory, 69 of 449 (15.3 percent)
Iowa: Hayden Fry, 143 of 593 (24.1 percent)
Michigan: Bo Schembechler, 194 of 895 (21.7 percent)
Michigan State: Duffy Daugherty, 109 of 638 (17.1 percent)
Minnesota: Henry Williams, 136 of 646 (21.1 percent)
Nebraska: Tom Osborne, 255 of 846 (30.1 percent)
Northwestern: Lynn Waldorf, 49 of 488 (10.04 percent)
Ohio State: Woody Hayes, 205 of 837 (24.5 percent)
Purdue: Joe Tiller, 87 of 586 (14.8 percent)
Wisconsin: Barry Alvarez, 118 of 635 (18.6 percent)

As you can see, no coach comes close to Paterno in terms of percentage of his program's wins. But this ratio is just one gauge of a program-defining coach.

Another important factor is a team's history both before and after a coach took the job. Look at Wisconsin before Alvarez arrived in 1990. The program had endured five consecutive losing seasons and had just six winning seasons since 1963. Wisconsin's previous two coaches, Don Morton and Jim Hilles, had gone a combined 9-36 at the helm.

Alvarez transformed Wisconsin into an upper-tier Big Ten program, leading the Badgers to three Big Ten titles and three Rose Bowl championships. His hand-picked successor, Bret Bielema, has carried on Wisconsin's momentum, but Alvarez fostered the change. He is Wisconsin football, period.

Two iconic coaches regarded by many the faces of their respective programs are Ohio State's Hayes and Michigan's Schembechler. They tied for the most Big Ten championships with 13. Hayes won the most Big Ten games (152 to Schembechler's 143), while Schembechler owns the record for best winning percentage in conference games (.850).

But both men led programs that had success under other coaches. Michigan was a national superpower under the likes of Fielding Yost (.888 career win percentage), Harry Kipke, Fritz Crisler and Bennie Oosterbaan, while Schembechler never won a consensus national title. The Wolverines boast six coaches who have served 10 or more years, most recently Lloyd Carr (1995-2007).

Ohio State carved a place among the nation's elite under shorter-tenured coaches like Francis Schmidt and Paul Brown, while Jim Tressel won a national title and more than 81 percent of his games during his 10 years in Columbus.

Are Michigan and Ohio State defined by Schembechler and Hayes, respectively? Depends on your perspective. My take: both are iconic, but Hayes is more defining.

Iowa's Fry fills a similar role to Alvarez. He took over a program on the downturn for several decades and put it in the Big Ten's top half. Fry is the coach people think of when Iowa comes to mind, although his successor, Kirk Ferentz, has put his own stamp with a solid run since 1999.

Other Big Ten programs seem to fit into different categories.

Programs with two great coaches:

  • Nebraska -- Osborne (255-49-3) and Bob Devaney (101-20-2)
  • Purdue -- Tiller (87-62) and Jack Mollenkopf (84-39-9)
Programs that had its most successful coaches many years ago

  • Illinois -- Zuppke (131-81-13 from 1913-41); Arthur Hall (27-10-3 from 1907-12)
  • Minnesota -- Williams (136-33-11 from 1900-21; Bernie Bierman (93-35-6 from 1932-41 and 1945-50)
  • Michigan State -- Daugherty (109-69-5 from 1954-72); Biggie Munn (54-9-2 from 1947-53); Charles Bachman (70-34-10 from 1933-46); Chester Brewer (58-23-7 from 1903-10, 1917, 1919)
Historically weak programs with a lot of coaching turnover

  • Indiana -- No coach with career winning record since Bo McMillin (1934-47), no coach with 70 or more wins at school
  • Northwestern -- No coach with 50 or more wins at school, only one coach with tenure longer than 10 years

You could argue Zuppke remains Illinois' defining coach, even though he hasn't coached in more than 70 years. Osborne is undoubtedly the face of Nebraska's program, but is he the Huskers' defining coach? Tough to say that after looking at what Devaney did (two national titles, eight Big Eight titles).

Could any current Big Ten coach end up being a program-defining figure? None will occupy his job as long as Paterno did at Penn State. Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald is just nine wins shy of Waldorf's victories mark, and he turned 37 in December. Fitzgerald's strong ties to the program, plus Northwestern's poor history and absence of coaching greats, create an opportunity should Fitzgerald have success for a long period.

What are your thoughts? Which Big Ten programs are defined by a coach, and which are not? Share them here.
The Big Ten on Monday expressed its strong desire for a selection committee to choose teams in a potential four-team college football playoff. League commissioner Jim Delany was pointed in his criticism of the polls (biased, statistically flawed) and the computer systems (non-transparent), and Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said those at his level would be comfortable with a committee, as long as it receives certain guidelines.

Is the selection committee a perfect solution? No. Would there be challenges in assembling such a committee and concerns about biases? Without a doubt. Would the group need to earn the public's trust over time? Absolutely. But the committee seems like a better solution than the current methods, as long as it has some transparency.

My sense is the selection committee component ultimately will bring the leagues together on a model during the next few weeks. It shouldn't be that hard of a sell to most conferences.

The big question, then, is who serves on such a committee? Brian Bennett and I debated the topic this week. Brian is more open to former coaches being on the committee than I am, although neither of us have closed the door.

Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden says he'll serve. Colleague Joe Schad reports that other former coaches, including former Ohio State boss John Cooper and former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, also are up for the job.
"I would love to do this," Cooper said. "I would love to be a part of it. My life revolves around college football and coaching. I would vote for the best team, regardless of conference. And I know we all would operate that way."

My top criteria is to find individuals who have connections to multiple conferences.

A committee clearly has to represent the sport nationally as best as possible, so who would be best to rep the Big Ten in the room? There are so many possibilities, but I tried to narrow them down a bit.

My top pick is actually a former coach who is still involved in the sport as an athletic director: Tom Osborne. The Nebraska AD is well respected throughout the sport. He's smart and fair. And he has been affiliated with multiple conferences (Big Ten, Big Eight/Big 12), which I think is key for selection committee candidates. The committee won't need to be in place until 2014. Osborne, 75, might be retired by then, which could be better than having him on a school's payroll.

Here are a few other potential candidates with Big Ten ties:

Former coaches


John Cooper, 74: Coached at Ohio State from 1988-2000. Also was a Pac-10 head coach (Arizona State) and an assistant in the SEC and Big Eight.

Lloyd Carr, 66: Coached at Michigan from 1995-2007. Also a Michigan assistant from 1980-94. Retired as an associate athletic director in 2010.

Hayden Fry, 83: Coached at Iowa from 1979-1998. Texas native played at Baylor, and made several coaching stops in former Southwest Conference.

Bill Mallory, 77: Coached at Indiana from 1984-96. Also coached in Big Eight at Colorado, and has roots in the Mid-American Conference.

George Perles, 77: Coached Michigan State from 1983-94. Served as Michigan State's athletic director from 1990-92.

Joe Tiller, 69: Coached at Purdue from 1997-2008. Also coached at Wyoming, and served as a Pac-10 assistant at Washington State.

Current administrators

Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin athletic director: Wisconsin football coach from 1990-2005. Played at Nebraska, and served as an assistant at Notre Dame and Iowa.

Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner: Has served in role since 1989. Worked for NCAA from 1975-79. Served on several NCAA committees. Played basketball at North Carolina.

Mark Hollis, Michigan State athletic director: Has served in role since 2008. Also worked at Pitt and for the Western Athletic Conference. Recently named 2012 athletic director of the year by SportsBusiness Journal.

Tom Osborne, Nebraska athletic director: Has served in role since 2007. Nebraska football coach from 1973-97. Nebraska assistant from 1964-72. Former member of U.S. House of Representatives.

Jim Phillips, Northwestern athletic director: Has served in role since 2008. Former administrator at Notre Dame, Tennessee and Northern Illinois, and also spent time as a basketball coach at Arizona State.

Gene Smith, Ohio State athletic director: Has served in role since 2005. Led athletic departments in Big Ten, Big 12 (Iowa State), Pac-12 (Arizona State) and MAC (Eastern Michigan). Former Notre Dame football player. Former chair of NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee.

Looking outside the coach/administrator model, Tony Dungy might be an interesting candidate. He's a Michigan native and a former quarterback at Minnesota who is well respected throughout the sports world. Former longtime Big Ten ADs like Ron Guenther (Illinois) and Pat Richter (Wisconsin) also might be potential options.

Who would you want to see on a selection committee?

Big Ten Friday mailblog

April, 20, 2012
4/20/12
5:30
PM ET
Workin' for the weekend.

Joe from Tucson, Ariz., writes: I liked this quote from Meyer: "If you start throwing that term around [national championships] and you lose Game 2 or Game 4, then you lose your sting," he said. "Our job is to compete for a Big Ten championship every year."It seems you gave Brady Hoke a bum rap for saying that he should think about more than the B1G championship. And even more so when you ding Nebraska for talking about it without having won a conference championship in so long.

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, that's a fair criticism of my comment about Hoke. I was intrigued by Meyer's comments as he has won two national titles and comes from the nation's most dominant conference (SEC). He said the national championship "absolutely" is a goal, but not one that is discussed like the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl are. It seems like the league-focused approach isn't confined to the Big Ten or to Brady Hoke. Hey, I'm just looking for reasons why the Big Ten hasn't won a title in a decade. It doesn't seem like the approach is flawed. As for Nebraska, when did I ding them for talking about the title? If anything, I like hearing the confidence out of the Huskers players. But it's worth pointing out they would be skipping some steps, like winning a conference title or making a BCS bowl, if they were to reach Miami in early January.


Casey from Madison, Wis., writes: Last year was a good year for Wisconsin on the Offensive side of the ball, but having watched the games, it was nerve racking watching even non-conference teams gain yards against the defense (only to usually be stopped just before the end zone). What can you say about the defense this year? Will they be better on third and 4th downs?

Adam Rittenberg: Casey, the key is generating a more consistent pass rush from the front four and not having to rely on blitzing linebackers. Although both Chris Borland and Mike Taylor can get to the quarterback, Wisconsin will be better off if several down linemen make strides during the offseason. David Gilbert will be an interesting player to watch when he returns from his injury, and both Brendan Kelly and Beau Allen have shown flashes as effective pass-rushers. No one expects another J.J. Watt to walk through the door, but Wisconsin will be looking for more from the front four on third downs this season. The secondary also must show better discipline in end-of-game situations.


Brendan from Chicago writes: What does Indiana need to do to be relevant in this league? When we get the coach who actually wants to coach Hoosier football, he dies. When we get the #1 ranked pro quarterback prospect, he backs out. When we get an easy schedule, we blow it. I just want a light at the end of the tunnel. Is Kevin Wilson legit, or is he just going to bail on us for the pros or another big name school if he takes Indiana out of the basement and into the front yard of the B1G?

Adam Rittenberg: It's tough being a Hoosiers football fan, Brendan. I completely agree with you about Terry Hoeppner. He was the guy Indiana had been waiting for since the Bill Mallory era. So tragic. To be relevant, Indiana has to start winning more Big Ten games. The Hoosiers came close in 2009, but they repeatedly couldn't get over the hump. Wilson signed a long-term deal with IU, and his intent is to be there and get the program on solid footing. His offense will appeal to recruits, and you're already seeing some strides made there. But with Indiana, as I've stated 10,000 times, it's all about the defense, which has struggled mightily in recent memory.


Brian from Seattle: Adam,When Brian interviewed Dantonio, he asked about Michigan. When MSU makes the college football main page, the headline starts with Michigan's resurgance. But when Brian interviews Hoke, no mention of MSU whatsoever. I get that Michigan is seeped in tradition and we are basically nobody. Still -- is it too much to expect a little equality in the media? We're on the winning streak. Ask them about us!

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, two things. We don't write the headlines outside of the blog. The blog post headline was "Depth, stability have Spartans on the rise." Secondly, not every Michigan State story will mention Michigan, and not every Michigan story will mention Michigan State. We've had numerous posts about both schools with no mention of one another. But they are rivals, and many project them as the Big Ten's top two teams entering the 2012 season. There's context in this case. Michigan is naturally going to get more attention because of its tradition, history, etc. -- as you point out. But Michigan State's accomplishments shouldn't be overlooked at the national level, even though I think they largely are. Dantonio's comment is relevant because it reflects the feelings of many Michigan State fans I hear from. They hear the noise about Michigan's resurgence, Brady Hoke, Denard Robinson, etc., and they're a little miffed at the fact Michigan State has been a better program the past four years is overlooked. Michigan State's success stands on its own, but in a year where both Michigan schools could be in the preseason top 10, the topic Bennett wrote about is relevant.


Matt S. from Iowa writes: Even though the Big Ten has taken a backseat to the SEC, is the Big Ten the most important conference to college football? With the fan bases that surround the programs and the amount of prestige associated with Big Ten programs.

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, the Big Ten and SEC are the two most important leagues, without a doubt. The SEC's success combined with the year-round fervor in that part of the country about college football probably gives the league a bit of an edge in importance, but the Big Ten remains extremely relevant and always will be because of the reasons you point out and others. You've got huge alumni bases, a rich football tradition, enormous stadiums and schools located in a populated region. You also have a very successful TV network (BTN). That said, leagues can improve their prestige by winning at the highest levels, which the Big Ten has struggled to do in recent years.


Dean from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hi Adam,If college football is on the brink of 16-team superconferences, which is more important for the Big Ten......gaining access to the northeastern television markets or adding teams from states with growing populations in the south? No BCS league has a true hold on the northeast television markets as of now. At the same time, the Big Ten is the only major conference without any geographic representation in the fast-growing sun belt states. Will that become a major issue in the coming years?

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting question, Dean. I really feel the Big Ten would be expanding reluctantly by going beyond 12, unless Notre Dame has a change of heart. My sense is the Big Ten would look to the northeast before it looks to the south, as the league still would be seeking teams that fit its culture. There are more of these in the northeast than the south, and while they might not move the needle an incredible amount, they would sit well with the Big Ten presidents and so forth. I could also see a mix of northeast schools and one or two in the Sun Belt region. But again, in terms of what the league actually wants to do, 12 makes sense.


Ross from Granbury, Texas, writes: Adam,Can you give us three names of incoming freshman that you expect to contribute right away in the Big Ten and could possibly break into the All-Big Ten teams at the end of the year? Maybe even a few names of guys under the radar? Similar to what Ricardo Allen did for Purdue.

Adam Rittenberg: In terms of true freshmen (not redshirt), defensive linemen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington could contribute right away for Ohio State. Look out for running back Greg Garmon at Iowa. And Joe Bolden could help Michigan improve its depth at linebacker. If defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo doesn't redshirt, he could be an impact player at Northwestern.

Big Ten lunch links

October, 27, 2011
10/27/11
12:00
PM ET
Gettin' linky with it.

Big Ten lunchtime links

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
12:00
PM ET
Squirrel up!
Kevin Wilson's most important task as Indiana's new coach required him to find someone to lead the Hoosiers' chronically bad defense.

According to several media reports, Wilson has made a hire. Two of them, in fact.

Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler and New Mexico defensive coordinator Doug Mallory reportedly will be brought in as Indiana's new co-defensive coordinators. An IU spokesman told me that nothing is official and no announcement is expected Sunday, but all signs points to Ekeler and Mallory taking over the defense.
"I don't think anything's been released," Mallory told The (Bloomington) Herald-Times. "Nothing’s been finalized yet, so I can’t comment on anything."

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports that Ekeler is headed to Indiana and informed Nebraska's linebackers of his departure Saturday morning. He will remain with the Huskers for the Holiday Bowl.
"I can't comment until it all becomes official at Indiana," Ekeler told the Journal Star.

I'd be very surprised if the hires don't come through for IU.

I'll have my full reaction when Indiana makes an official announcement, but here's my quick take.

Ekeler is a very promising coach and did a great job with Nebraska's linebackers this season. Mallory's defenses at New Mexico have really struggled, ranking second to last nationally this season (469 ypg) and 100th nationally last year (418.7 ypg). He does bring a strong connection to the Indiana program as the son of former Hoosiers coach Bill Mallory, the last man to bring consistent success to the program.

Both men have their strong points, but I really don't like the co-coordinator label. It didn't work for Indiana's defense the past few years with Joe Palcic and Brian George, and it rarely works anywhere.

Stay tuned.
After finishing as a finalist for Central Michigan's head-coaching job, Illinois defensive backs coach Curt Mallory secured his next best option.

Mallory, demoted from his post as Illinois co-defensive coordinator after the 2009 season, will become Akron's new defensive coordinator, The (Champaign) News-Gazette is reporting. Mallory told the newspaper that he wanted to continue coaching in a coordinator role, and new Akron head coach Rob Ianello will give him the chance.

"I thought I really had a good chance [at the Central Michigan job], but it didn't work out," Mallory said. "That's OK. So you just move on to the next one."

Mallory, the son of former Indiana head coach Bill Mallory, has been at Illinois since 2005, first as defensive backs coach and then sharing the coordinator duties with Dan Disch. Though Mallory survived Ron Zook's staff overhaul at Illinois, he would have been serving under a new coordinator, Vic Koenning. Also, Zook tried to bring Penn State's Larry Johnson as defensive coordinator last year, so it's hard to blame Mallory for looking elsewhere.

The big question is whether Disch remains on Illinois' staff as linebackers coach. Disch is one of Zook's top recruiters, especially in the state of Florida, but it wouldn't be a stretch to see him depart as well.

Mallory will be the sixth assistant Zook must replace since the end of the 2009 season.

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