The only Big Ten ranking that puts Jim Harbaugh behind Mike Locksley
A shorter-than-usual Big Ten season kicks off Saturday, which means it’s time for another ranking of the coaches. And yes, we did this last week, too, but that was all about the results — or least the potential for results. These rankings, however, are based on what the coaches are getting paid (according to USA Today’s database of all FBS coaches).
After all, the coaches are the only ones getting paid in the college game — for now, at least — so it’s only fair to look at how much sense their dollars and cents make.
There’s no sentimentality in these rankings, just cold, hard cash; we divided each coach’s 2020 take-home pay (minus any givebacks related to the coronavirus pandemic) by their 2019 wins for a back-of-the-envelope measure of their value this season. (Anything to keep from putting Ohio State at the top of another conference rankings, eh?)
Quarterbacks:Where Michigan's Joe Milton, MSU's Rocky Lombardi rank
Don’t worry, though, you Buckeyes: OSU’s Ryan Day is near the top. But the Big Ten’s most cost-effective coach still might surprise you.
The new guys
Two coaches are new to the Big Ten this season. We’ll look at them in their own section:
Mel Tucker, Michigan State
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $5,057,250.
Cost per 2019 win: $1,011,450.
The buzz: Tucker won five games in his first season as a head coach, in the Pac-12 with Colorado. And for that, he was rewarded with a 70% raise (give or take a few bucks), making him the 14th highest paid coach in the FBS. Hired to duplicate the glory days of Mark Dantonio’s run, Tucker will need to duplicate one of Dantonio’s six 10-win seasons (next season) to move into the top six in dollars-per-win. And if he doesn’t, well, he may be around for a while, with a $23 million buyout that’s 11th in the nation.
Greg Schiano, Rutgers
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $3,763,336.
2019 2011 win: $418,148.
The buzz: Speaking of reliving the past, we used Schiano’s last season at Rutgers, in which he went 9-4 (with a bowl win over Vanderbilt) and 4-3 in the Big East (whose members have since scattered to the AAC, ACC, Big 12 and independent play). So yeah, a lot has changed. What hasn’t? If Schiano can get the Scarlet Knights to four conference wins any time soon, he’ll be hailed as a genius again in New Jersey (and we might stop taking shots at Rutgers).
Breaking down the 12 coaches with at least one year at their current schools:
12. Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $5,218,658.
Cost per 2019 win: $1,739,553.
The buzz: Admittedly, the football coach at the Big Ten’s only private school is judged a little differently. And that big paycheck reflects a mostly unprecedented level of success — his three 10-win seasons and nine bowl appearances are more than every other Wildcats coach combined — over his 14 years in Evanston, Illinois. But another three-win season (or worse in this shortened season) or two might draw a bit more scrutiny for one of the top-20 highest-paid coaches in the country.
More rankings:Big Ten offensive lines: Why Michigan football, MSU both fall short
11. Jeff Brohm, Purdue
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $4,800,000.
Cost per 2019 win: $1,200,000.
The buzz: Brohm has seen his win total shrink from 7 to 6 to 4 in three seasons at Purdue, though serious injuries to quarterback Elijah Sindelar and star wideout Rondale Moore made last season something of a lost cause. Still, another dismal year, especially with the return of Moore, could have Brohm — and Boilermakers fans — wondering why he passed on the Louisville job back in 2018.
10. Scott Frost, Nebraska
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $4,833,333.
Cost per 2019 win: $966,667.
The buzz: They say you can’t go home again and, well, the former Huskers quarterback has nine wins combined in two seasons in Lincoln after winning 13 at UCF in 2017. And five of those wins have come against Group of Five foes or their Big Ten equivalents in Maryland and Illinois. Then again, Frost hasn’t gotten to beat up on Rutgers — and won’t this year, either, barring a matchup in the season-ending crossover game — unlike some other Big Ten coaches we could name.
Ranking the QBs:Here's where Michigan's Joe Milton, MSU's Rocky Lombardi rank
9. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $8,036,179.
Cost per 2019 win: $892,909.
The buzz: Speaking of going home again … Harbaugh has won at least eight games in each of his first five seasons in Ann Arbor, including three 10-win seasons; the Wolverines could do worse (and have repeatedly in recent history). But he also has four bowl losses in five tries, and more importantly, five losses to Ohio State in five tries. Put simply, an average 19-point margin of defeat against a hated rival and no Big Ten championship game appearances, much less a College Football Playoff berth, isn’t what you want to see on the resume of the fourth-highest paid coach in the country.
8. Mike Locksley, Maryland
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $2,474,750.
Cost per 2019 win: $824,917.
The buzz: Including his six-game stint as interim Terrapins coach in 2015, Locksley has just two Big Ten wins in 15 tries. And both of those are against Rutgers. Well, the Scarlet Knights are on the schedule again this year, but so are four top-25 teams, plus road games at Northwestern and Indiana, meaning it’s gonna be a long rebuild. Even as the lowest-paid coach in the Big Ten — by nearly $1.5 million — Locksley has struggled to provide any bang for the buck.
7. Lovie Smith, Illinois
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $3,800,000.
Cost per 2019 win: $633,333.
The buzz: Smith’s tenure in Champaign appeared to be drawing to a close at this time last season after three straight losses to open Big Ten competition and just four Big Ten wins (with, yes, two against Rutgers) in the three seasons before that. But on Oct. 19, 2019, the Illini upset a ranked Wisconsin team to start a four-game win streak and claim the school’s first bowl berth since 2014. And yet, Smith's buyout is just $2.6 million this season and drops to $1 million next year — for comparison, Jim McElwain has a $2 million buyout at CMU — which means Smith’s contract could soon end up where his glorious beard, shaved in May 2020, did: Down the drain.
6. James Franklin, Penn State
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $6,700,000.
Cost per 2019 win: $609,091.
The buzz: We’re getting to the ranks of the underpaid (relatively speaking) now, as Franklin has three 11-win seasons — including 2019 — in six seasons in Happy Valley. Add in three New Year’s Six bowl berths and Penn State seems to be getting a good value from him, even if it might like more than one win over Ohio State during his tenure.
5. Tom Allen, Indiana
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $3,770,000.
Cost per 2019 win: $471,250.
The buzz: We’re not saying Hoosier football has set the bar low, but Allen’s eight wins in 2019 were tied for the most by the school since 1967, when a nine-win Indiana team lost to USC in the Rose Bowl. (That Rose Bowl’s MVP: O.J. Simpson.) Still, he’d be higher on this list if his Hoosiers hadn’t allowed at least 34 points in their final three regular-season games last season, then blown a 13-point lead in the final five minutes of the Gator Bowl against Tennessee.
4. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $4,670,750.
Cost per 2019 win: $467,075.
The buzz: The Big Ten’s longest-tenured coach — 2020 will be his 22nd season — drew headlines earlier this year for complaints about the culture of his program. But Ferentz survived; that’s what 17 bowl berths over the past 19 seasons will do. (Well, that and a buyout that’s still north of $20 million.) Iowa hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 2004, but as long as Ferentz keeps providing eight-win seasons — with the occasional 10-win outlier, such as last season — he’ll get to choose his time to leave, just as his mentor, Hayden Fry, did after 20 seasons in Iowa City.
3. Ryan Day, Ohio State
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $5,651,694.
Cost per 2019 win: $434,746.
The buzz: Michigan fans might tell you it takes time to build a championship program. Just don’t tell Day, who has just one loss — in the CFP semifinals, no less — in his first 17 games in Columbus (including three interim games in 2018). His 13 wins in 2019 were nice, but Buckeyes fans may not be satisfied until Day matches his mentor, Urban Meyer (who, remember, won his first 24 games at OSU), and brings home a national title. Ideally, in his third year, just like Meyer.
2. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $3,983,750.
Cost per 2019 win: $398,375.
The buzz: Chryst has fit in so well at his alma mater — remember, he had just one winning season in three tries at Pitt — that you’d swear he’s got some Old Milwaukee flowing through his veins. (Then again, there’s this shot from his days as the Badgers’ offensive coordinator.) And yeah, maybe he’s coaching on the “weak side” of the Big Ten, but Chryst still has four 10-win seasons (including last year) in five tries in Madison. That includes three appearances in the Big Ten title game — more than any active Big Ten coach. Still, the Badgers have the most B1G title game berths, with six; they’d probably like to win one someday soon.
1. P.J. Fleck, Minnesota
2020 pay (minus pandemic pay cut): $4,287,680.
Cost per 2019 win: $389,789.
The buzz: Yeah, we were surprised, too, to see the Gophers’ production keeping pace with the Big Ten West’s mightiest mouth. (Harbaugh still holds the title in the Big Ten East.) Fleck's “Row The Boat” mantra resulted in 11 wins last season — the most for Minnesota since Henry Williams was beating Twin Cities Central High School, 107-0, back in 1904. (Williams also beat Northwestern, 17-0, that year. Some things never change.) Anyway, at 39 and entering his fourth season in Minneapolis, Fleck is still the Big Ten’s youngest coach, which means, with his $18.7 million buyout, he should have plenty of time to get Minnesota its first Big Ten football title since 1967 and first Rose Bowl berth since 1961.
Contact Ryan Ford at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.