- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Part of the surprise about Bret Bielema's sudden departure from Wisconsin to Arkansas in December stemmed from the fact that Bielema seemed like such a Big Ten guy.
Other than perhaps Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, Bielema was the most "Big Ten" of the 2012 Big Ten head coaches. Born in Illinois, played at Iowa, spent his first eight years as a coach at his alma mater, left Big Ten country for two years to coordinate Kansas State's defense, returned as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator and then was elevated to head coach after the 2005 season.
But three days after coaching Wisconsin to a Big Ten championship game victory, Bielema bolted for the spotlight and scrutiny of the SEC. And he's not alone.
From today's Grantland story on Bielema at Arkansas:
Although SEC football has long been a vessel for expressions of Southern exceptionalism, many of the conference's most successful coaches come from the Midwest. Les Miles, Nick Saban, and Urban Meyer all have roots in Ohio. Mark Richt is from Nebraska. In fact, among the league's 14 current coaches, eight were born in states with Big Ten programs, while only five hail from SEC country.
I've joked that if you don't know where a college football coach grew up, just say Ohio and you'll probably be right. But the percentage of SEC coaches with Big Ten roots is notable. The SEC coaching ranks used to be filled with homegrown coaches like Vince Dooley, Pat Dye, Johnny Majors, Paul Bryant and Phillip Fulmer. Former Florida quarterback and head coach Steve Spurrier is still in SEC territory at South Carolina, but he's no longer the norm.
Here's a quick look at SEC coaches with roots in the Big Ten footprint:
Bret Bielema, Arkansas: Born in Illinois, played and coached at Iowa, assistant coach and head coach at Wisconsin
James Franklin, Vanderbilt: Born in Pennsylvania, played college ball in Pennsylvania at East Stroudsburg
Butch Jones, Tennessee: Born in Michigan, played college ball in Michigan at Ferris State, head coach at Central Michigan and Cincinnati
Les Miles, LSU: Born in Ohio, played at Michigan and served as an assistant coach at Michigan from 1987-94
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State: Born in Pennsylvania (attended high school in New Hampshire)
Gary Pinkel, Missouri: Born in Ohio, played college ball in Ohio at Kent State, coached at two MAC schools (Kent State and Bowling Green)
Mark Richt, Georgia: Born in Nebraska (attended high school in Florida)
Nick Saban, Alabama: Played in Ohio at Kent State, assistant at Ohio State and Michigan State, head coach at Michigan State from 1995-99
Mark Stoops, Kentucky: Born and raised in Ohio, played at Iowa
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: Played high school football in Indiana, played college football at Purdue, assistant at Minnesota and Purdue
The Big Ten has more of a homegrown flavor in its current coaching ranks, as seven leading men grew up in Big Ten states: Illinois' Tim Beckman (Ohio), Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (Pennsylvania, born in Michigan), Michigan's Brady Hoke (Ohio), Michigan State's Mark Dantonio (Ohio), Nebraska's Bo Pelini (Ohio), Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald (Illinois) and Ohio State's Urban Meyer (Ohio). Purdue coach Darrell Hazell hails from a future Big Ten state (New Jersey).
Although homegrown players are the biggest reason for the SEC's run of dominance, coaches from Big Ten country also have played a role.