How did the B1G coaches compare back in their glory days? After cursory research, we attempt to rank the current B1G coaches according to their collegiate prowess. We took into consideration individual leadership, playing time, statistics (where available), awards, and honors alongside team records, rankings, and prestige.
It is intriguing to note that a substantial majority (10/12) of the current B1G coaches played defense back in the day. Is this indicative of the style of play within the B1G? Could this trend point to a personality type that prefers defense over offense? Is it a wild coincidence? It would be interesting to compare these results to the collegiate experience of coaches in other leagues.
Fitzgerald wins hands down. Fitzgerald started 23 games as a linebacker for Northwestern. He accumulated 299 tackles, 20 for a loss, forced 5 fumbles, and intercepted 3 passes. But more importantly Fitzgerald led the Wildcats to 2 B1G Championships and a Rose Bowl. The 1995 Rose Bowl was Northwestern’s first Bowl game since 1948. Fitzgerald was Sports Illistrated‘s Defensive Player of the Year in 1995, the B1G Defensive Player of the year and the Nagurski and Bednarik Awards in ’95 and ’96. He was GOOD. In 2008, Pat Fitzgerald was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. That’s why Fitzgerald is number 1.
2. Brady Hoke – Ball State 1977-80 LB
Hoke was a 4 year letter winner for the Ball State Cardinals. He helped Ball State win the 1978 MAC Championship racking up 99 tackles on the season. In 1979, the current Michigan Wolverine Head Coach had 95 tackles. Hoke had a monster performance in 1980 accumulating 150 tackles and earning 2nd-Team All MAC honors. Hoke was also the Team Captain of the Cardinals in 1980.
3. Bret Beilema – Iowa 1989-92 NG (B.A. Marketing)
Beilema was a 4 year letter winner playing Nose Guard at Iowa from 1989-92. Bret played Nose Guard for the Hawkeyes after walking on as a Tight End. The future coach of the Wisconsin Badgers was a Team Captain and helped the Hawks get to the Rose Bowl in 1990 with a 8-4 record. The following year Iowa went 10-1-1 tying #10 BYU in the Holiday Bowl.
4. Kevin Wilson – North Carolina 1980-83 C,G (Mathematics, MA Physical Education)
Wilson walked on at North Carolina and played for two years at Center and Offensive Guard before earning a scholarship as a junior. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find many stats for the current Indiana Head Coach. However the records show the 1980 Tar Heels finished the season 11-1 at #9 in the Coaches poll and beat Texas in the Blue Bonnet Bowl. The following year North Carolina went 10-2 with a win over Arkansas in Gator Bowl. In 1981 the Tar Heels went 8-4 and finished with another win over Texas in the Sun Bowl. Wilson’s Senior season North Carolina went 8-4 but lost to Florida State in the Peach Bowl.
5. Danny Hope – Eastern Kentucky 1977-80 OG (Psychology with a minor in Health Education)
The current Purdue Boilermaker’s coach was an Offensive Guard for the Eastern Kentucky. In 1979, the Colonels won the Division 1-AA National Championship. In 1980, Danny Hope was the Team Captain and led EKU to their second National Championship Game. Unfortunately the Colonels didn’t have the same magic in 1980 and finished the season as the 1-AA Runner Up.
Before Pelini was coaching the Nebraska Cornhuskers he was a two-year starting Defensive back for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Pelini’s Defensive back coach was former Illinois head coach Ron Zook. Ohio State wasn’t overly successful during Pelini’s tenure going 8-4 and losing to #9 Auburn in the Hall of Fame Bowl in 1989 and going 7-4-1 with a loss to Air Force in the Liberty Bowl in 1990.
7. Kirk Ferentz – Connecticut 1974-76 LB (English Education)
Current Iowa coach and the reigning Dean of B1G Football was an Academic All-Yankee Conference Linebacker for the Connecticut. Team Captain Ferentz led the Huskies to a meager 2-9 season in 1976.
8. Mark Dantonio – South Carolina 1976-78 CB (BA and MA in Education)
Dantonio was a three-year letter winner for South Carolina in the Cornerback spot. The Gamecocks finished 1978 with a 5-5-1 record. It is important to note the Gamecocks were not in the SEC at that time.
9. Jerry Kill – Southwestern 1979-82 LB (Education and Biology)
Minnesota Golden Gopher Head Coach Jerry Kill played his college ball in a small Kansas school called Southwestern. Kill was a Team Captain in 1981 and 1982. He also received the Most Inspirational Award in 1982.
10. Tim Beckman – University of Findlay, 1984-85 (Physical Education)
The newest Illinois coach played for a small university in Findlay, Ohio. Beckman was a two-year letter winner in the defensive backfield. The University of Findlay did participate in the NAIA Playoffs in 1985. However, I wasn’t able to find much else on Beckman’s time there.
Bill O’Brien, Penn State’s first new Head Coach since 1966 did play football at Brown from 1990 to 1992. Brown is an Ivy League University so we can assume O’Brien received a top-notch education, however his prowess on the gridiron remains a mystery. This one stumped the internet.
12. Urban Meyer – Cincinnati 1984 DB (Psychology, MA Sports Administration at The Ohio State University in 1988)
The Ohio State coach was a talented athlete in college but he appears to have excelled at a different sport. Meyer was drafted in 13th round of Major League Baseball Draft by Atlanta Braves in 1982. He played two seasons in the minor leagues before leaving behind baseball and walking on at the University of Cincinnati in 1984 as defensive back and also playing special teams. Cincinnati went 2-9 in 1984 and I was unable to decipher if Meyer received any significant playing time. If this list measured overall athleticism Meyer would have ranked higher but as this list is football-centric Meyer’s walk-on year with the Bearcats is bringing up the rear.