The Big 10 has a history of outstanding coaches walking the sidelines. From Woody Hayes to Bo Schembechler and Joe Paterno to Amos Alonzo Stagg, it’s clear the conference has sported some of the games greats.
This weekend’s conference championship game will have two of the best currently coaching, but both will likely etch their names in the conversation of some of the greats. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer have complete control of their programs and both have positioned them to be among the best for years to come.
Needless to say, both of them will play a big role in the outcome of the Big 10 Championship, which kicks off at 8:17 p.m., Saturday from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Head Coach Michigan State: Mark Dantonio. Mark Dantonio is one of the nation’s most underrated coaches. He takes an old-school approach in that he doesn’t say much, but when he does you listen. He doesn’t look for the headlines and he has elevated the Spartans to a place where they are the better team in the state of Michigan.
He started coaching in 1980 as a graduate assistant at Ohio University and also had one-year stints with Purdue and Butler Community College before taking on another GA role with Ohio State from 1983-84. Dantonio finally started collecting a real paycheck in 1985 when he coached defensive backs at Akron and then joined Jim Tressel at Youngstown State as the defensive coordinator from 1986-90. Other stops included Kansas (1991-94), Michigan State (1995-00) and Ohio State (2001-03).
Dantonio finally landed a head coaching job with Cincinnati in 2004 and he went 18-
17 over three seasons. Despite the average record, Dantonio was considered a good hire for MSU, and the school liked his ties to coaching with Nick Saban at MSU. The decision has paid off well in East Lansing. He has gone 62-29 in seven seasons and has guided Sparty to its second Big 10 title game. Dantonio also has Michigan State riding a two-game bowl-winning streak.
Dantonio has shared one Big 10 title, but earning one outright by beating No. 2 Ohio State is what he needs to add another level to his legacy at MSU.
Head Coach Ohio State: Urban Meyer. After taking off one season to recharge the batteries, Urban Meyer has reeled off 24 consecutive wins since taking over in Columbus. The Buckeyes weren’t eligible to play in the conference title game last year, so Meyer will clearly want to add this piece of hardware to the OSU trophy case.
Meyer began his college coaching career at Ohio State as a graduate assistant under Earle Bruce. He also had coaching stints with Illinois State, Colorado State and Notre Dame before becoming the head coach at Bowling Green in 2001. He went 17-6 in two seasons before bolting to Utah, where he went 22-2 in two seasons.
Meyer was arguably the hottest coaching candidate in the country and he actually chose Florida over Notre Dame, which surprised many. He proceeded to go 65-15 and win two BCS National Championships with the Gators.
At Ohio State, Meyer has proven his coaching acumen even more by taking over a program that went 6-7 the year before and he has yet to lose a game. Nick Saban gets a lot of credit for being today’s best coach, but Meyer has a pretty good argument to make.
Key Assistant, Michigan State: Pat Narduzzi. Michigan State’s defense is ranked No. 1 in the nation and much of the credit has to go to coordinator Pat Narduzzi. He was recently named a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant.
Here’s an interesting fact: Half of MSU’s opponents have failed to score a touchdown. The Spartans wouldn’t be in the Big 10 title conversation without this stout defense, as MSU’s offense has been mediocre again in 2013.
Narduzzi is going to have to come up with a masterful plan to stop the Ohio State offense, which is led by quarterback Braxton Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and one of the nation’s best offensive lines.
Key Assistant, Ohio State: Luke Fickell. The Buckeyes defensive coordinator has had to answer a lot of questions following the Buckeyes 42-41 victory over rival Michigan. The Wolverines offense had been anemic in recent weeks, but watching Devin Gardner throw screen after screen for large gains had to rip the heart out of many a Buckeye fan.
Urban Meyer kept Fickell on the staff to lead the defense after his one season as the interim coach. That can’t be an easy transition to make, but it seems to have gone smoothly. But Fickell will be on the hot seat if the defense doesn’t look better against Michigan State.
If it’s another rough outing, Fickell may look to jump to FAU — where he has been rumored to be looking since Carl Pelini got fired.