After news that Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith would be taking the head coaching job at Memphis, a few folks on Twitter openly wondering how a Big 12, (and thus, a Power 5) program could let their coach leave for a team in the AAC. Seriously. Like this writer, and this one.
Now, anybody who follows college basketball even semi-closely doesn't need too much time to figure out why. Memphis, a school that has heavily invested in college basketball, has a large fanbase with strong facilities, a major corporate donor (FedEx) and a history of success, is a better job than Texas Tech, a program that has basically none of those things. But then a Twitter follower posed a particularly interesting question. He asked, would Memphis be the 6th best job in the Big Ten?
@MattSBN It would be the, what, 6th or 7th best job in the Big Ten? It's a great gig.— Andrew Emmer (@AndrewEmmer) April 14, 2016
That's a tough question, and one I'm not sure I know the answer to. But to even begin to answer it, we need to figure out what the best college basketball coaching jobs are in the Big Ten. So we ranked them.
This is a bit of a subjective response, of course. We considered history, fan support, budget, recruiting ability, and other factors. It isn't necessarily tied to the current coach or current roster. With those in mind, here's what we think the best gigs are:
This isn't too much of a surprise. Rutgers was a struggling program even before moving to the Big Ten, and now that the team has jumped into a higher weight class, it's looked hopelessly outgunned. Rutgers don't have Big Ten quality facilities or an arena. It hasn't made an NCAA Tournament since 1991, well before current recruits were born. It doesn't have a strong and deep fanbase either. The Scarlet Knights will have access to Big Ten TV revenues and quality schedules, but it will likely be several years before this is considered an especially attractive college coaching job. It might be the single worst position among power conferences.
It isn't all bad for Northwestern, as the Wildcats sit just north of some of the most fertile college basketball recruiting grounds in the country. But they play in one of the worst arenas in a power conference, will have academic benchmarks that will complicate recruiting, and their fanbase could be charitably described as "disengaged". That's justifiable, seeing as Northwestern has never qualified for an NCAA Tournament. If that doesn't change, expect any new coach to be asked about that for forever.
12) Penn State
Things might be starting to turn around a little bit for the Nittany Lions, who are bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory. But despite having an enormous fanbase, this hasn't ever really been a basketball school. Penn State has finished in the AP Top 25 just twice in school history, most recently in 1995-1996. They've made two NCAA Tournaments in the lifetime of most recruits, and other in-state programs have had much more basketball success. The right coach might be able to build Penn State basketball into a consistent winner, but that would be a very tall order.
This is unquestionably a better job than it was a few years ago. The Cornhuskers now play in a beautiful new arena, and have seen their fanbase become more engaged as of late. Recent history is not kind to Nebraska basketball though (two NCAA bids since 1995, only one, brief appearance in the Top 25), and given their geography, their ceiling for recruiting may be lower than other conference programs. This is a tough basketball league, and with a bad hire, Cornhusker basketball could easily slip to the bottom of the Big Ten table.
Minnesota hasn't been great for a while, and recently, they've been quite bad. Their arena is historic, but also very old. Nobody has really won big at Minnesota (without cheating) in years. But multiple coaches have taken the Gophers to the NCAAs, and given their location (in a beautiful, although super cold city), their money (Minnesota's athletic department took in more money than Iowa or Michigan State last year) and their history, you can certainly win a little bit.
I don't think Iowa is a bad job at all. Lots of people have won at Iowa, from Fran McCaffery, to Steve Alford, to Tom Davis. The program isn't as good as it was in say, the 1980s, but they have an active fanbase, and the structural tools to make NCAA appearances, and the occasional run at a Big Ten title. But Iowa also shares a state with multiple other solid basketball programs, and given their location, will probably struggle to recruit the same caliber of players as the top teams in this conference, which limits their ceiling a bit.
Illinois has been beset by bad luck and administrative disfunction as of late, and whatever advantages they get by sharing a state with Chicagoland are probably significantly overrated. But this is unquestionably a basketball school, with a great, hungry fanbase, and one that could probably do much better with better luck and perhaps better stewardship. The ceiling might not be the highest in the Big Ten, but with the right coach, you can win certainly win games at Illinois.
This isn't the wealthiest athletic department in the Big Ten, and Purdue doesn't have the shiniest toys or the most picturesque college town. It does have a basketball-mad fanbase, it shares a state that produces very solid prep talent, and is close enough to potentially make noise in Chicagoland as well. It also has a solid history of being competitive, and a wonderful gameday experience in their arena. Purdue might not have the highest celling, but it does seem to have a higher floor. The Boilermakers should never be bad.
This is where things get a little bit tricky. Wisconsin doesn't produce a ton of great prep talent, and it's unclear if the program could ever really recruit at a very high level. But it's done nothing but win for years and years, and it's shown that you don't always need a ton of McDonalds All-Americans to make runs in March. Because of that, they've cultivated a passionate fanbase that gives it a great homecourt advantage in Madison, and some cachet with recruits. A potential new coach knows you can win at Wisconsin.
4) Michigan and Ohio State (tie)
We went back and forth on this and couldn't come up with a great argument to break the tie. Both of these programs have competed not just for Big Ten championships, but for national titles in recent memory. They're at some of the richest athletic departments in the country, with massive fanbases and nearly every facility improvement they could want. They both can recruit elite talent (Ohio State probably a little easier), and both have strong basketball histories (Michigan probably a little better). But both are also unquestionably football schools, whose home-court advantages pale to other programs. They're both great jobs. If you want to figure about which one is better, feel free in the comments or on social media.
The Terps have been a little sleepy on the court over the last few years, but the potential is clearly there. This is unquestionably a basketball school, one that sits near powerhouse high school programs and very strong talent, and is taking steps to ensure excellent facilities everywhere. They've sent players to the NBA, they've won a national title, and over the years, thanks to the Big Ten, the financial situation at the school should stabilize. Their right leadership might not be at the school yet, but under the right hands, Maryland could be a real powerhouse again.
2) Michigan State
We don't feel especially strongly about either of these next two, and if you wanted to argue they should be flipped, we won't complain too hard. Taking over Michigan State after a guy like Izzo would be no easy task, but it's impossible to argue that his stewardship hasn't elevated the Spartans to an elite program and job. No team in the Big Ten has competed at a national title contending level as consistently over the last several years as Michigan State. They have the home-court advantage, they have a large and active fanbase, and they've shown you can recruit top talent to the program. Some regression is probably likely in a post-Izzo world, but you could say that for anybody who is replacing a true legend.
The results on the court haven't equaled what some of these other schools have accomplished, but it's hard to overlook everything else. Basketball-first program with a strong institutional commitment of support? Check. Homecourt advantage and active fan support? Check. Ability to recruit elite high school talent? Check. History? In spades. The Hoosiers have made some questionable coaching and/or administrative moves, and have suffered bad luck, and maybe some of these institutional advantages aren't as strong as they once were, but it's hard to argue that a completely weaponized Indiana basketball program wouldn't be a true, formidable force in the Big Ten.