Which Big Ten Coach Will Get Fired First: Smith, Ash, or Other?
The Big Ten is one of the most popular and highly touted conferences in all of college football. However, with the conference’s popularity and annual success comes high expectations for each school. Unfortunately, those expectations aren’t always met, which leads to universities having to make coaching changes. Heading into the 2019 NCAAF season, there are a few Big Ten coaches firmly on the hot seat and a few others that could join the unemployment line if they fail to meet expectations.
College football betting sites have released odds on various Big Ten coaches getting fired before the end of the year. Let’s take a look at these odds and examine the chances of each Big Ten football coach being fired.
— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) July 19, 2019
Dead Man Walking
The following Big Ten coaches will be lucky to even survive the season. All odds are courtesy of BetOnline:
Lovie Smith (Illinois)
- Yes (-170)
- No (+120)
Lovie Smith is a known commodity after his time as an assistant coach and head coach in the NFL. From 1996 to 2003, Smith was a linebacker’s coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers then a defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams.
In 2004, the Chicago Bears hired Smith as their head coach and he restored the franchise to their winning ways. Smith went to the playoffs in three of his nine seasons and even made a trip to the Super Bowl when the Bears lost to the Colts in 2006. In his final year with the Bears, the team finished 10-6, but missed the playoffs. Smith was fired, but bounced back quickly as he became the Buccaneers head coach for 2014 and 2015. Unfortunately, after going 8-24 in two seasons, the Bucs fired Smith. Lovie finished with a record of 89-87 as an NFL head coach.
In 2016, the Illinois Fighting Illini hired Smith to be their head coach. The school and their fans hoped that Smith could turn the program around. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. If it weren’t for Rutgers, then Illinois would be the worst team in the Big Ten. In his three years as the coach, the Fighting Illini have gone 9-27 overall and 4-23 in the Big Ten. In fact, two of the team’s four conference wins have been against Rutgers.
Instead of firing this Big Ten coach last year, the school gave him a two-year extension, which was baffling at first. However, it appears that this vote of confidence is more for show than real support. If Smith finishes near the basement once again, then he will be gone. Sadly, that’s what will happen.
Illinois does not have the talent to compete with the top schools in the conference. They also aren’t a recruiting powerhouse like other schools in the Big Ten. They’re not even on the same level as in-state rival Northwestern who has a better team and is a better recruiter.
For this bet, take the “yes” option, as Smith will be fired by the end of 2019. He might not even make it through the season. Illinois will be lucky to go 4-8 again. Smith better dust off his resume because he will need to find a new job in 2020.
Chris Ash (Rutgers)
- Yes (-200)
- No (+170)
From 1997 to 2014, Ash served in such capacities as a grad assistant, secondary coach, and defensive coordinator. He coached in eight bowl games and was in the Big Ten for four seasons before being hired as the head coach of Rutgers in 2015. The school signed Ash to a five-year deal.
I firmly believe that if it weren’t for Rutgers and Ash, Lovie Smith would’ve been fired at the end of last season. Hopefully, Smith sent Ash a Christmas card last year for helping Lovie keep his job. Unfortunately for both coaches, they won’t be festive during the holidays this year.
Not only will Smith get the axe, but Ash will be fired as well. Rutgers has gone 7-29 in the three seasons with Ash at the helm. They’ve also gone 3-24 in conference play during that span. To make matters worse, the team has been winless in the Big Ten during two of those three years.
Ash started off 2-10 and doubled his wins in 2017 as they went 4-8. Unfortunately, Rutgers returned to their abysmal ways by going 1-11 last year. There’s no way Ash’s team will have a winning record and make a bowl game, which is the only way he keeps his job. This team just doesn’t have enough talent and is poor at recruiting.
For this prop bet, take the “yes” option at -200 odds, because Ash is the perfect example of “dead man walking.”
Don’t Get Too Comfortable
These Big Ten coaches might just make it through the entire season. But they shouldn’t get comfortable, because a poor 2019 campaign could lead to a firing at the end of the year.
Tom Allen (Indiana)
Allen joined Indiana as their defensive coordinator for the 2016 season. He came from a successful stint as the DC for South Florida where his unit ranked first in the AAC in points allowed at 19.6 points per game. To the surprise of the Hoosiers’ program, head coach Wilson left at the end of the 2016 season and Allen took over. Tom coached a bowl game in 2016, but came out on the losing end to Utah.
In his next two years, Allen went 10-14 overall, but just 4-14 in the Big Ten. Two of those four conference wins came against the lowly Rutgers. Allen is a great example of how a Big Ten coach shouldn’t get too comfortable. The football program hasn’t had a winning record since 2007 and has regressed since their 6-6 record in 2016.
Although Allen’s rise from high school coaching to leading a Big Ten football program is admirable, his rise from the bottom isn’t going to save his job if the Hoosiers finish with another losing record.
— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) July 18, 2019
Mark Dantonio (Michigan State)
It’s surreal placing Dantonio in this section, but with all of the off-field issues at Michigan State and barely cracking .500 last year, the head coach’s seat is warm. In fact, with each loss this year, you can expect that seat to get even warmer.
Dantonio has been the head coach of Michigan State for the last 12 years. Prior to that, he spent three years with the Cincinnati Bearcats. Dantonio is a two-time Big Ten coach of the year and has an overall record of 125-68. His Spartans have won the conference title on three occasions.
Despite all of this success, the off-field scandals have rocked this school to the point where there have been sweeping changes throughout the university. Only Dantonio and basketball coach Izzo have appeared safe. With that said, Dantonio can’t get too comfortable as a Big Ten coach because the climate has changed at Michigan State, and a losing season could cost him his job.
Safe and Secure
These Big Ten coaches are safe for at least the next season or two.
Mike Locksley (Maryland)
Locksley returns to Maryland to coach the Terrapins this year. He’s the 21st full-time head coach in the school’s history and is safe this year because the expectations are very low after last year’s issues.
Ryan Day (Ohio State)
Day is replacing Urban Meyer as the head coach of Ohio State and should have no problem leading the Buckeyes back to the top of the conference. Day filled in for Urban last year and went 3-0 as the interim head coach. Ohio State will be loaded and Day could have a solid season.
P.J. Fleck (Minnesota)
Fleck had a nice run as the Western Michigan head coach as he went 30-22 overall. His final season there saw the team go 13-1 and play in the Cotton Bowl. He parlayed that success into a head coaching job with Minnesota in 2017 and has gone 12-13 in the last two years. His conference record is 5-13, but the program is improving. Fleck is safe for at least one more year as long as the team continues to trend upwards.
Jeff Brohm (Purdue)
Brohm was a former college QB for Louisville in the early 1990s before going to the NFL. After his pro career fizzled out, Brohm went back to college football to become an assistant coach. He eventually worked his way up to head coach of Western Kentucky for three seasons where he went 30-10 overall. Purdue hired Brohm in 2017 and the coach has gone 13-13 overall since then. He’s also gone 9-9 in conference play. There’s a lot of excitement buzzing around the Boilermakers this year, and it’s largely due to Brohm.
— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) July 19, 2019
James Franklin (Penn State)
Franklin helped lead this program from the dark ages when he became head coach in 2014. Since then, Franklin has gone 45-21 overall and 27-16 in conference play. PSU has been one of the best football programs in the Big Ten, but might take a step back this season with a young QB starting. With that said, the expectations are slightly lower this year, and Franklin’s job is safe unless he decides to leave.
Scott Frost (Nebraska)
The former Nebraska QB returned last year to lead the Cornhuskers football program. After starting 0-6, the team went 4-2 and showed a lot of heart. This year, some pundits believe Frost can turn the team into a contender for the Big Ten West title. Either way, Frost is safe for at least another year.
Jim Harbaugh (Michigan)
We all know the story of Harbaugh as a player and coach prior to landing with Michigan in 2015. So, when just focusing on his time as the Michigan head coach, Harbaugh hasn’t quite delivered on his promises. He’s also been unable to meet the high expectations that fans and the school set each year. Michigan appears to be ascending though, as they went 8-1 in conference play last year, but lost to Ohio State. With Penn State not being as much of a threat, and Ohio State having a new full time head coach, many pundits believe that Michigan could be the best team in the Big Ten this season. Harbaugh should be safe for another year, but a losing record could change everything.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) July 19, 2019
No Chance at All
Even with a poor season, I don’t see any of these coaches being in danger of losing their jobs for at least a few years.
Paul Chryst (Wisconsin)
Chryst has turned the Badgers into the top team of the Big Ten West, and they’re poised to make another run at the title this year as they feature the nation’s top running back and a solid defense. The Badgers have won the West in 2016 and 2017 under Chryst. He was also named Big Ten coach of the year for both seasons. There’s no way Wisconsin fires Chryst even if they have a losing record.
Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)
You can’t say Iowa football without saying Kirk Ferentz. He’s been the Hawkeyes’ head coach for the past 20 years and has become immortalized within the state of Iowa. Ferentz has won the Big Ten on two occasions, had been a coach of the year, has an overall record of 152-101 with Iowa, and has gone 91-72 in Big Ten action. He’s going to be the coach of the Hawkeyes until he retires.
— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) July 19, 2019
Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern)
Fitzgerald has anchored himself to the Wildcats of Northwestern as he’s coached the school for the past 13 seasons. Last year, NW won the Big Ten West for the first time and finished 8-1 in Big Ten action. They also won the Holiday Bowl, which marked the team’s third straight bowl game victory. This program appears to be on the cusp of becoming a conference title contender. With a new QB and plenty of talent, NW is going to be a player in the conference this year. Fitzgerald will be with Northwestern for the rest of his life or until the Chicago Bears offer him the head coaching job.
Final Thoughts on Big Ten Coaches
The Big Ten will be an exciting conference once again. Teams like Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Penn State will all rise to the top of the conference. It remains to be seen how Nebraska, Michigan State, and Purdue respond from last season. One thing is for sure, both Rutgers and Illinois will finish at the bottom of the conference. You can place your wagers on both Lovie Smith and Chris Ash getting fired by the end of 2019. In fact, try to parlay those wagers and make even more money.