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Penn State Football: The Numbers on Being the Newest Head Coach in the Big Ten

by on June 29, 2012 6:05 AM

Being the new guy in the Big Ten Conference isn’t always easy.

In large part, that’s because you’re new for a reason:

The head coach before you has most likely failed, in one way or another. (Unless his name is Barry Alvarez.)

Since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, head coaches in their first year in the conference have had just nine winning seasons against 19 losing campaigns. Combined, their record is just 128-183-2 – a winning percentage of .411.

(That includes three interim coaches who were in charge for three games or more – including Penn State’s Tom Bradley, who went 1-3 in the worst-possible scenario in the history of college sports last season.)

The best a new coach has done over the past two decades? Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema, who went 12-1 in 2006. Although in context, it wasn’t all that difficult: the previous season Alvarez went 10-3 in his swan song campaign, before he named Bielema as his successor.

The worst? Ron Turner was 0-11 in 1997 at Illinois, on the heels of Lou Tepper’s 2-9 final season.

It’s an intriguing question, what to expect entering the Big Ten as the new guy. It was raised to me by Penn State broadcasting legend Fran Fisher, a challenge of sorts to see in some ways what faces Bill O’Brien at Penn State. As if O’Brien needs any more challenges.

But O’Brien isn’t the only one in that boat.

Tim Beckman of Illinois follows Ron Zook, who lost six consecutive games to close out the 2011 regular season – and his roughshod Illinois career – before he got canned before the Illini’s bowl game.

Indiana’s Kevin Wilson can relate. In 2011, the Hoosiers were 1-11, a far cry from the 5-7 that Wilson’s predecessor, Bill Lynch, registered the previous season.

The Big Ten’s third new head coach in 2012 is new in name only. And you certainly will recognize his name:

Urban Meyer. Ohio State’s head coach will be entering his 11th season as a head coach, at his fourth school. He’s had prior stops at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida (where he won two national Tebows...er, titles).

O’Brien, for all his gold-standard credentials with the New England Patriots, has never been a head coach before. He’s the only one of the dozen Big Ten head coaches who's never held that job title before – although Wilson’s first year in the job was last season.

Minnesota’s Jerry Kill has the most years as a head coach under his belt. This will be his 19th season as a head coach, with stops at such college football meccas as Saginaw Valley, Emporia State, Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois before arriving in Minneapolis in 2011, when he went 3-9. (Not sure how much all the HC experience helped.)

Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is in his 17th season as a head coach – three at Maine and the remainder at Iowa.

Ferentz and Hayden Fry (1-10 in 1998, his final season at Iowa) and Bielema and Alvarez at Wisconsin comprise the lowest turnover-combos in the Big Ten since Penn State’s entrance.

Michigan’s Brady Hoke will start his 11th season in the head position, with stops at Ball State and San Diego State before going 11-2 in his inaugural season with the Wolverines.

Mark Dantonio enters his seventh season at Michigan State, on the heels of three years at Cincinnati. Purdue’s Danny Hope begins his ninth season as a head coach overall and his fourth with the Boilermakers.

The average age of the Big Ten’s head coaches in 48. The youngest coach of the Big Ten coaching group is Pat Fitzgerald, who is 37. He begins his seventh season at Northwestern.

Next youngest is Bielema, who is 42 years old and three months younger than O’Brien. He’s followed by Nebraska’s Bo Pelini (44), Beckman (47) and then Meyer, who turns 48 on July 10.

Come September, though, only two numbers matter: The ones after W and L.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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