Expect several Big Ten coaches to get rewarded
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Coaching changes are cropping up around the country, but the Big Ten figures to be a nonfactor in what we around here like to call the silly season.
No Big Ten coach is in imminent danger of being fired. There's definitely some heat on Indiana's Bill Lynch, but with a lame-duck athletic director (Rick Greenspan), new AD Fred Glass not taking over until Jan. 2 (after hiring season) and beaucoup bucks owed to two basketball coaches (Kelvin Sampson and Tom Crean), a change isn't likely. Obviously, Purdue will have a change with Danny Hope taking over for Joe Tiller, but we've known that for months.
The big news in the Big Ten likely will involve contracts for existing coaches, some of whom have been mentioned as candidates for vacancies in other conferences. Here are some of the men who figure to get rewarded after strong seasons.
Michigan State's Mark Dantonio
Dantonio has been mentioned as a fringe candidate at places like Tennessee, but there's no panic in East Lansing that he'll jump ship like Nick Saban or George Perles did. Still, the school would be crazy not to sweeten Dantonio's deal. And athletic director Mark Hollis seems like a smart guy.
Expect a raise and a contract extension for Dantonio, whose salary ($1.1 million) ranks near the bottom of the league. This guy has Michigan State bound for its first New Year's Day bowl since 2000. The program's once-troubled culture has changed, and in-state recruiting is booming.
The Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode addressed Dantonio's situation today in his blog.
Moreover, he has a top-notch facility, unlike his predecessors. He has a flailing, transitioning Michigan down the road, unlike his predecessors. He has a second-year program with a lot of upside, in a Big Ten that offers upward mobility opportunities. His family liked it in the Lansing area before and now his daughters can go to the same high school for all four years.
His name has been mentioned loosely as one of possible interest for Tennessee. So let's see. It's a great program, no doubt. But you have the pressure (and NFL mentality) of the SEC. If you want to get to the BCS, you have to get past Florida, Alabama, LSU and Georgia. And it's an entirely different recruiting base.
I've always thought (just my own speculation) that Dantonio would only consider leaving MSU for the Ohio State job if (Jim) Tressel left. That doesn't appear to be imminent.
In the meantime, look for MSU to restructure Dantonio's $1.1 million annual deal in the offseason. I asked AD Mark Hollis about that recently.
"We won't do anything until the season's over, at least," Hollis said. "He knows I love him."
Minnesota's Tim Brewster
The second-year Gophers coach has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Tennessee vacancy after guiding Minnesota to an impressive turnaround this season. There also was the news Tuesday that Texas named defensive coordinator Will Muschamp as its coach-in-waiting behind Mack Brown. Brewster served as one of Brown's top assistants at both Texas and North Carolina, and Austin was considered a possible future destination for the energetic 48-year-old.
My sense is Brewster wants to stay put for now. Minnesota has a new on-campus stadium opening in 2009, and all my correspondences with Brewster include him gushing about the new facility (which he should, by the way). But it would be wise for athletic director Joel Maturi to restructure Brewster's contract, which has three years remaining and is worth $1 million annually.
With the new stadium costs, an expensive basketball coach (Tubby Smith) and a lousy economy, Minnesota faces some financial challenges. But don't be surprised if Brewster gets a raise and/or extension after the season.
Here's what Maturi told the Pioneer Press earlier this month regarding Brewster.
"I hope that every job that opens up in college football, Tim Brewster's name comes up, because that means he's succeeding. I don't want to lose Tim Brewster; I think he's happy here, and we're obviously happy with him. The fact of the matter is that if it's just about money, then Tennessee, or something, he may go there. I don't know what [coach Nick] Saban's making, $5 million-plus at Alabama? I don't know what Tennessee's willing to pay, but I'm sure it's a little more than we're able to pay.
If it's about money, then those things are going to happen. But there's a lot more than money, I think, with somebody like Tim Brewster, and I'm confident that he'll continue to be our football coach. But I can't knee-jerk react every time one of these things happens."
Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald took the job five years earlier than expected because of the sudden death of Randy Walker, but the 33-year-old has blossomed this year on the sideline. There are a multitude of reasons why Fitzgerald won't be going anywhere. He's an alum and one of the school's most distinguished football players, a College Football Hall of Fame inductee next year. He's from the Chicago area and likely wants to stay put. Fitzgerald has reiterated that he wants to spend the rest of his career at Northwestern, which could eclipse Joe Paterno in longevity.
All this doesn't mean athletic director Jim Phillips shouldn't reward Fitzgerald with a better contract. Northwestern is 8-3 and challenging for a solid bowl game. These Wildcats can become just the fifth team in school history to win nine or more games if they beat Illinois on Saturday.
As the nation's youngest FBS coach, Fitzgerald understandably doesn't make one of the higher salaries (Northwestern doesn't disclose contract information). Fitzgerald is in Year 3 of a long-term contract but deserves a bump of some kind.
Penn State's Joe Paterno
It's well documented that Paterno doesn't have a contract beyond this season, but he has expressed a desire to return, despite some health concerns. With Penn State a win away from a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl berth, Paterno likely will be the one determining whether or not he returns for 2009. He's expected to undergo hip-replacement surgery in the coming days, but he has every indication of coaching Penn State in its upcoming bowl game and beyond.