First-year Big Ten head coaches and what to expect from Gary Andersen

USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten has seen A LOT of coaching changes since the turn of the century. Here's a look back at what the conference's first-year coaches have done, and what to expect from Gary Andersen entering the 2013 season.

I have read a lot of Wisconsin football previews at this point, and nearly all mention the potential transition costs of Year 1 of the Gary Andersen era. A new coaching staff with new philosophies and new lingo could add up to another loss or two as players get used to a different way of doing things. If the Badgers fall short in any capacity this season, well, some leeway should probably be afforded. It takes time sculpt a program in one's image.

Maybe there's a point there, but I never bought into the idea that teams naturally have to struggle during the first year of a new head coach. In fact, I like the buzz generated by a new coach, who breaks through complacency just by changing the routine. That first year is a grace period at a time when players and the fanbase have spent the last several months convincing themselves that New Ball Coach will usher in an unprecedented era of success. The team feeds off that confidence, and goes on to perform better than expected.

That's what I thought, anyway. To be sure (or at least, sure-er) I took a look at the coaching records first-year Big Ten head coaches vs. last-year Big Ten head coaches since the turn of the century. Here's the low-down:

Illinois

Last year Ron Turner (2004): 3-8
First year Ron Zook (2005): 2-9

Last year Ron Zook (2011): 7-6
First year Tim Beckman (2012): 2-10

Indiana

Last year Cam Cameron (2001): 5-6
First year Gerry Dinardo (2002): 3-9

Last year Gerry Dinardo (2004): 3-8
First year Terry Hoeppner (2005): 4-7

Last year Terry Hoeppner (2006) 5-7
First year Bill Lynch (2007): 7-6

Last year Bill Lynch (2010): 5-7
First year Kevin Wilson (2011): 1-11

Michigan

Last year Lloyd Carr (2007): 9-4
First year Rich Rodriguez (2008) 3-9

Last year Rich Rodriguez (2010): 7-6
First year Brady Hoke (2011): 11-2

Michigan State

Last year Bobby Williams (2002): 4-8
First year John L. Smith (2003): 8-5

Last year John L. Smith (2006): 4-8
First year Mark Dantonio (2007): 7-6

Minnesota

Last year Glen Mason (2006): 6-7
First year Tim Brewster (2007): 1-11

Last year Tim Brewster (2010): 3-9
First year Jerry Kill (2011): 3-9

Nebraska

Last year Frank Solich (2003): 10-3
First year Bill Callahan (2004): 5-6

Last year Bill Callahan (2007): 5-7
First year Bo Pelini (2008): 9-4

Northwestern

Last year Randy Walker (2005): 7-5
First year Pat Fitzgerald (2006): 4-8

Ohio State

Last year Jim Tressel (2010): 12-1
First/last year Luke Fickell (2011): 6-7
First year Urban Meyer (2012): 12-0

Penn State

Last year Joe Paterno (2011): 9-4
First year Bill O'Brien (2012): 8-4

Purdue

Last year Joe Tiller (2008): 4-8
First year Danny Hope (2009): 5-7

Wisconsin

Last year Barry Alvarez (2005): 10-3
First year Bret Bielema (2006): 12-1

Combined record of last-year head coaches: 118-115 (.506)

Combined record of first-year head coaches: 107-124 (.463)

So my pet theory was wrong. Granted, this isn't the most scientific survey ever concocted, so the record difference may still be within the margin of error. Several caveats should also be mentioned. First, a lot of wonkiness can occur between seasons for which no coach should be held solely accountable. The conference has had three too many coaches pass away after finishing their last season, for example.

There is also the caveat that most programs that go through coaching changes aren't coming off of successful seasons. Unfortunately, cherry-picking doesn't help Andersen's case, either. If we sift out the coaches who lost five games or fewer in their final seasons, we get Lloyd Carr in 2007, Frank Solich in 2003, Randy Walker in 2005, Jimmy Tressel in 2010, Joe Paterno in 2011 and Barry Alvarez in 2005. The combined record of these coaches was 57-21. The combined first-year record of the coaches who replaced them is 42-28, and that's disregarding Luke Fickell's interim season and giving credit to Urban Meyer for going 12-0.

It should be noted that Rich Rodriguez and Bill Callahan skew the numbers significantly. Those two failed while trying to radically change their teams' offensive identities, which is something that Andersen will not be doing. It is also worth noting that Nebraska and Michigan have two of the conference's best first-year success stories in Bo Pelini and Brady Hoke, two coaches who swore solemn oaths to uphold the dinosaur tendencies that made their schools great.

Hastily drawn conclusion? Finding success in your first season as head coach of a major college football program is difficult, but if you adhere to what the program historically does well and do your best to endear yourself to the fanbase, your chances of winning games go up. Andersen has seemingly done everything right thus far, and so we have little reason to be especially worried about Year 1 struggles. Just don't expect miracles, either.

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