The coaching carousel isn’t done spinning, and in some ways it might start picking up steam again once the NFL potentially gives it a boost with its version of the silly season.
But by now it seems safe to survey the changed landscape on Big Ten sidelines and see where the most influential hirings and firings have been made as the calendar turns to 2016. At this point, here’s where the league stands with these coaches in position to perhaps reshape the conference the most ahead of what promises to be a truly fascinating year.
1. Urban’s latest splash: The power of Ohio State’s brand and maybe Urban Meyer’s recruiting ability combined again for what could be the move that keeps his program humming along despite the loss of both a co-defensive coordinator and a pile of elite players to the NFL. Facing the prospect of replacing Chris Ash after two wildly successful years after he arrived to fix a leaky pass defense and shore up problems missing tackles, Meyer wasted no time in snatching up Greg Schiano with a transaction that turned heads across both college football and the NFL. Ohio State is going to be younger and less experienced next season thanks to the early departures to the draft and the loss of some key veterans, but it isn’t short on talent -- and it’s Schiano’s turn to help maximize it as the program reloads for another run at a championship.
2. Big shoes with Badgers: Arguably one of the most impactful hires of the offseason in the Big Ten hasn’t yet been made, but even just the loss of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda at Wisconsin qualifies as a potentially major shakeup given his impact over the last three seasons with the program. Once again there will be questions about Wisconsin’s willingness to pony up high salaries for assistants now that another respected one is heading out the door, but whether it was for LSU or a head-coaching job elsewhere, Aranda was always going to need to be replaced sooner rather than later. What the Badgers have traditionally done is sniff out more talent to restock their sidelines, and whether they are able to lure Todd Orlando away from Houston or identify somebody else under the radar, the choice to take over the defense might just swing the West Division next season.
3. Franklin’s offensive fix: Talent really wasn’t a problem with a quarterback who will be drafted relatively early in the NFL draft, a game-breaking running back and enough skill at wide receiver to create problems for opposing defenses as well. The offensive line at Penn State struggled again, and while that was obviously a major issue, the bulk of the blame for James Franklin’s disappointing season has to fall on the coaching staff. Franklin addressed it head on by firing John Donovan, and the success or failure of his outside-the-box hiring of Joe Moorhead away from Fordham could be the one that also determines his fate with the Nittany Lions. For a program with championship aspirations, the pressure is on to get the offense rolling again -- quickly.
4. Experienced coaches wanted: Maryland may have hit the reset button by picking a guy without head-coaching experience to lead its rebuild, but D.J. Durkin clearly made it a priority to surround himself with guys who have done his job before to help with the transition. Durkin has learned from some of the most successful figures in the business after stints serving under both Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, and one lesson he clearly absorbed was the importance of putting together an elite staff where every voice is credible and provides value. With former Virginia coach Mike London coaching the defensive line, former Syracuse coach Scott Shafer taking over as the defensive coordinator and former Ball State coach Pete Lembo handling special teams, Durkin and the Terrapins are loaded up with veteran coaches as they try to make some noise in the East Division.
5. Remaking Rutgers: A complete overhaul is coming to the Scarlet Knights after they landed Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash to replace Kyle Flood and tasked him with building a consistently competitive program in one of the most rugged divisions in the country. Any move at the top of the pyramid is going to generate attention, and Ash’s aggressive defense, the organizational skills learned under Urban Meyer and his love of teaching fundamentals should all provide a boost for the Scarlet Knights. But just how far up in the standings they might climb could come down to Ash’s first critical hire, which makes young offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer a key figure to watch this offseason and heading into the year. Can Mehringer install the principles learned under Houston coach Tom Herman and get results with Rutgers? That answer might be just as important for the future of the program as how much improvement Ash can generate defensively.