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Eight memorable B1G head coaches at alma mater

4/9/2015

You're probably well aware of the three Big Ten head coaches currently in charge of their alma maters -- Paul Chryst (Wisconsin), Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern), Jim Harbaugh (Michigan) -- but what about the coaches who came before them?

Most Big Ten schools have a long history of alumni taking over as the head coach, so we decided to crack open the history books and take a look at eight of the more memorable coaches to do so. Here they are:

8. Frank Burns (Rutgers)

Played from: 1945-48 (Quarterback)

Coached from: 1973-83

Record: 78-43-1

Burns spent 12 seasons as an assistant before he was tapped as head coach. The former QB certainly left his mark. Not only does he still boast the most wins in Rutgers history, but he also coached the Knights to an 11-0 season in 1976 and led RU to its first bowl game in 1978. That was especially impressive considering he took over a middling program that had just four winning seasons over the previous 10 years. He coached Rutgers to seven straight winning seasons but was let go after he went 5-6, 5-6 and 3-8. He was the Walter Camp Coach of the Year in 1976.

7. John Coatta (Wisconsin)

Played from: 1949-51 (Quarterback)

Coached from: 1966-69

Record: 3-26-1

Coatta makes this list for all the wrong reasons. He saw quite a bit of success as a Wisconsin quarterback -- going 7-1-1 as a senior -- but seemed to set Badgers football back quite a few years. He opened his head coaching career by setting an NCAA record ... for going 23 straight games without a win. He coached three seasons and went 0-9-1, 0-10 and 3-7. Worst of all? The Badgers reportedly passed on Bo Schembechler so it could make Coatta its head coach. Ouch.

5 and 6. Curley Byrd/Ralph Friedgen (Maryland)

Played from: Byrd -- 1905-07; Friedgen -- 1966-68 (Offensive guard)

Coached from: Byrd -- 1911-34; Friedgen -- 2001-10

Record: Byrd -- 119-82-15; Friedgen – 75-50

If Byrd built the program, then Friedgen re-built it -- that's why these two take up one spot. Byrd brought stability to the program by coaching for 24 seasons, and he became university president for nearly two decades following his coaching career. He built Maryland's first football stadium. (His legacy is under scrutiny, however.) Friedgen took over a struggling Maryland program in 2001 -- one that went to one bowl over the previous 15 seasons -- and led it to seven bowls in the next 10 years. He was twice named ACC Coach of the Year and once named Walter Camp Coach of the Year. He was unceremoniously fired after claiming his second conference COY honor.

4. Rick Venturi (Northwestern)

Played from: 1965-67 (Quarterback)

Coached from: 1978-80

Record: 1-31-1

Misery loves company, so we needed to add one more unsuccessful coach besides Coatta. Venturi didn't inherit a great team, but he was still historically awful. He won just a single game in three seasons with Northwestern -- a 27-22 victory over Wyoming -- while routinely getting blown out by the Big Ten's best. He was also the coach when the Wildcats began their infamous FBS-record 34-game losing streak. Venturi never coached college again after his Northwestern gig, but he did serve as an NFL assistant for the Colts, Browns, Saints and Rams. His NFL career spanned 26 years.

3. Gustave Ferbert (Michigan)

Played from: 1893-96 (Halfback/End)

Coached from: 1897-99

Record: 24-3-1

His .875 winning percentage, 16-game win streak and 1898 undefeated season are all cause enough to merit consideration for this list. But Ferbert is also memorable here for a couple other key reasons. For one, he took over the Wolverines in his early 20s -- just a season after he finished his Michigan playing career. And he was part of the first Ohio State-Michigan game, which U-M won 34-0. He left Michigan after only three seasons because he wanted to mine for gold in Alaska, which is undoubtedly an excuse athletic directors don't hear much anymore.

2. Earle Bruce (Ohio State)

Played from: 1950 (as freshman-team fullback; suffered career-ending injury and helped coach instead)

Coached from: 1979-1987

Record: 81-26-1

Bruce wasn't in an enviable position since he had to follow up coaching legend Woody Hayes. He experienced his fair share of success -- such as four Big Ten titles and eight straight bowl berths -- but, as one sportswriter explained, Buckeyes fans were a bit "spoiled" after the one-in-a-million Hayes. Bruce's Buckeyes didn't win any national championships (although they were a point away in Year 1), but they did spend eight years within the top 15 of both the AP and coaches' polls. In the end, it wasn't enough. In Bruce's final year, he was fired before the Michigan game when Ohio State's record stood at 5-4-1. He still upset Michigan 23-30, and players carried him off the field in his final game.

1. Bernie Bierman (Minnesota)

Played from: 1913-15 (Halfback)

Coached from: 1932-41; 1945-50

Record: 93-35-6

Bierman's numbers really speak for themselves. In his first 10 years as coach, Minnesota won seven Big Ten titles and five national championships. The Associated Press ranked the Gophers No. 1 three times to end the season and, on five occasions, the Gophers were ranked within the AP top 10. It was the "Golden Era" for Minnesota. That might've continued if Bierman didn't re-enroll in the military after the 1941 season and spend three years with the Marines. He received an offer to coach at USC afterward but turned it down to return to Minnesota. He didn't experience the same success during his return -- never finishing above third in the conference -- but Minnesota wasn't the same program after World War II.