Ranking Big Ten coaches with the hottest seats

Which Big Ten coaches feel secure in their positions, and which ones could we see replaced soonest?
Ohio State v Purdue
Ohio State v Purdue / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

The Big Ten has as strong an argument as ever for the best conference in college football after expanding to 18 teams. Of course, how the 2024 season goes will determine the validity of that argument.

It will also determine how the conference looks going forward. Each Big Ten program has to adjust its expectations for the upcoming season and beyond. A new power structure in the conference will be formed, and some teams will settle much further down than they would like.

With that in mind, the coaching ranks in the conference are as diverse as ever. Some have safer jobs than others while there are a few with long odds to see the second season of the Big Ten with their current job.

So, let's rank all 18 head coaches in the Big Ten from the safest jobs to the hottest seat in the conference.

18. Dan Lanning, Oregon

Dan Lanning has done an incredible job with the Oregon Ducks program in his two years. Even though Oregon has struggled in its biggest games under Lanning, the program heads into 2024 as strong as ever.

Oregon is a strong contender to win the Big Ten in their first season. Even if they fall short, they're almost certain to reach the College Football Playoff. So long as they do that, Lanning's job is among the safest in the country.

17. Sherrone Moore, Michigan

It helps to already have a win over Ohio State, even if it was as an interim coach. Moore has tenure with the Wolverines, so even though he's a first-year head coach, he has Michigan's trust.

Plus, he inherits a strong team, even if much of the national championship starting lineup needs to be replaced. Moore will have a grace period for the 2024 season should Michigan miss out on the playoffs. After that, Wolverine fans will be looking to get back to the national championship game.

16. David Braun, Northwestern

An 8-5 record was quite unexpected for Northwestern in 2023 after a 1-11 record the year prior and a ton of controversy in the news.

Props to David Braun for keeping Northwestern competitive. While the Wildcats won't be a contender in the Big Ten any time soon, staying competitive is the job description in Evanston.

Another tough season lies ahead with a temporary (and small) home field. However, Braun will be given every opportunity to keep Northwestern bowl eligible throughout his contract.

15. Curt Cignetti, Indiana

Curt Cignetti comes to Indiana after years of success at James Madison where he built a 119-35 record. The Big Ten is quite the jump, but he'll get plenty of time to do his best to get Indiana to consistent bowl eligibility.

14. DeShaun Foster, UCLA

DeShaun Foster is the only true rookie head coach in the Big Ten for the 2024 season, and boy did he pick a fine time to take his first job. UCLA saw a bit more success under Chip Kelley, but nine wins was the max in 2022.

Foster was there for the entire run and then some. Plus, the former Carolina Panther is also a former Bruin running back.

Foster will have some grace for the difficulty of the job coupled with being a legacy hire. It's a tough road ahead for him, though.

13. Jonathan Smith, Michigan State

Jonathan Smith will shoulder the task of turning Michigan State back around after the colossal failure of the Mel Tucker tenure. Luckily for those in East Lansing, Smith has experience turning around fledgling Power Conference programs.

It won't be an easy task, of course, but Smith is as good a hire as any in the 2024 coaching carousel. It'll take some time to turn things around, but Smith has the goods to bring the Spartans back to bowl eligibility and even national relevancy once again.

12. Jedd Fisch, Washington

Jedd Fisch gets to take over for the national championship runners-up with just two returning starters in a brand-new conference. That's a tough draw, which is why he has the hottest seat of the new coaches in the conference.

Fisch has some experience, but the work that needs to be done in Washington to preserve its national contendership is no small task. Picking up where Kalen DeBoer left off won't be easy, and truthfully, it's hard to see Fisch meeting those expectations.

If Washington isn't back in the college football playoffs within two or three seasons, his tenure could be short-lived. Still, it's only fair to consider his job one of the safest in the meantime as he starts his first season with the Huskies.

11. Luke Fickell, Wisconsin

Luke Fickell had an okay first season with the Wisconsin Badgers, going 7-6. The defense looked strong, but the offense lagged behind leading to losses to Washington State, Indiana and Northwestern.

Fickell built Cincinnati into a special program over a long period of time, so Wisconsin's leaders will be patient enough. Still, Wisconsin fans would like to see the program establish itself as a top-shelf Big Ten contender rather than getting caught in the middle of a heavy conference.

10. Ryan Walters, Purdue

Purdue's expectations won't be very high in the new-look Big Ten. That said, Ryan Walters will need to keep the Boilermakers in a competitive position for bowl eligibility to keep the train rolling.

After a 4-8 season in 2024, Purdue is hoping for the program to take the next step with Walters in his second season.

9. Matt Rhule, Nebraska

Nebraska went 5-7 in year one with Matt Rhule, the best record for the Cornhuskers since 2019. After landing the number one quarterback recruit in the 2024 class, the future looks bright for Nebraska for once.

However, the results have to come on the field, and for Husker fans to ever be happy, they need to get back into the postseason in a meaningful way. Rhule has to act quickly with the growth of the Big Ten acting as his biggest hurdle to job security.

8. Greg Schiano, Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights were a bit of a surprise in 2023, finishing with a 7-6 record and a Pinstripe Bowl win in Greg Schiano's fourth season.

Rutgers has been bullied since joining the Big Ten, so its hard to say if Schiano has things figured out just yet. But, if he can continue to get Rutgers to bowl games, his job will be safe.

It might be worth noting that in Schiano's first run with the team, he picked up 11 wins the season following his first seven-win season.

7. Bret Bielema, Illinois

Illinois is a tough job for any coach, but Bret Bielema has some pedigree behind his name. Still, the Illini took a step back in 2023 after reaching a bowl game in 2022.

Just missing bowl eligibility won't light Bielema's seat on fire, but it can't become a habit; otherwise, Illinois will be looking for a new head coach once again.

6. Lincoln Riley, USC

For what it's worth, USC is as relevant as they've been since the Pete Carroll days. That said, even with a Heisman Trophy winner in 2022, Lincoln Riley's tenure with the Trojans leaves a bit to be desired.

USC's defense has been awful during his run, a carryover from his days at Oklahoma. If that remains an issue, the Trojans are going to have a tough time in the Big Ten.

Still, USC would be hard-pressed to do better than Riley at the moment, but there's little doubt that LA isn't getting a bit impatient for meaningful results.

5. PJ Fleck, Minnesota

The PJ Fleck era has been largely successful in Minnesota. The Gophers have won three straight bowl games too.

However, even with a win in the Quick Lane Bowl, Minnesota finished with a losing record for the first time since Fleck's first season.

Minnesota is one of the teams in the Big Ten that could get swallowed up by the competition if Fleck can't get the Gophers back on track. If that happens, his job will be in jeopardy sooner rather than later.

4. Mike Locksley, Maryland

Maryland has also won three straight bowl games. However, Mike Locksley has to prove Maryland is capable of taking the next step to compete for the conference or the folks in charge may look for an upgrade at head coach.

As long as he preserves the status quo, Locksley has a job until they can find someone better. That might hurt him as much as it helps him. Because anything less, which is likely with the expansion, and he won't last with the Terps.

3. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Iowa has been close yet so far away for some time. For 25 years, though, Kirk Ferentz has held the fort down in Iowa City with consistency. However, top 10 ranking appearances are becoming rarer, and the expansion figures to foil the program's chances at winning another Big Ten Championship.

If it becomes clear in the coming seasons that Ferentz cannot get Iowa to the national stage, i.e. reach the College Football Playoffs, enough just may be enough for the Hawkeyes.

Look at programs like Georgia who won 8-10 games for years with Mark Richt before making the move for something better to become a legitimate national contender. The next few seasons will be telling of what Iowa is willing to settle for or reach for.

2. James Franklin, Penn State

Just like Iowa, so close, yet so far away. Credit where it's due, James Franklin has brought Penn State back to national relevancey, however, it's become more and more clear that the program has likely hit its ceiling with him as head coach.

Despite being in a position to take the next step towards winning a conference championship or vying for a playoff spot, it seems the Nittany Lions continue to fall short in their most important games. All time, Franklin is 4-16 against Michigan and Ohio State, and that's just not going to cut it for much longer.

Franklin has a strong team in 2024. However, missing the playoffs in a 12-field team could be all it takes for Penn State to look in another direction.

1. Ryan Day, Ohio State

Ryan Day has the hottest seat in the Big Ten and one of the hottest seats in all of college football for one reason: losing three straight to the Michigan Wolverines. That makes him 3-3 against his most important opponent.

One benefit for Day is the expansion of the playoffs. A loss to Michigan no longer outright thwarts the Buckeyes' abilities to reach the College Football Playoffs. After all, winning a championship in Columbus absolves all sins.

However, the expansion of the Big Ten plays against him. It's now possible to lose to Michigan twice in one season. Do that even once, and Day may as well get a head start on packing his office.

It sounds simple, but Day has to beat Michigan, especially in their first year without Moore. Then he has to build a winning streak or start filling the trophy case. Anything less, and the Buckeyes won't hesitate to move on.

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