New coaches give Big Ten a different look for 2012

By Gus Bode

Unemployment is on the rise for Big Ten football coaches.

Only two days after the end of the regular season, it was announced at least three new head coaches will be implemented before the start of the 2012 season. Exiting stage left is Illinois coach Ron Zook, Ohio State’s Luke Fickell and the well-known Joe Paterno from Penn State.

To add to the conference’s turmoil, all three of these schools are part of the Leaders division within the Big Ten. The conference was separated into two six-team divisions, the Leaders and the Legends, when it expanded to 12 teams.

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After seven seasons with Illinois, Zook was fired Sunday. He started the season with a 6-0 record but finished with a 0-6 nosedive. All six losses were against conference teams.

He finished with a 34-51 career record at Illinois, and he had only two seasons with a winning record.

In Sunday’s press conference, U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas said it was time for the school to make a change to ensure competitive future conference games.

Zook had two years remaining on his contract and is expected to receive about a $2.6 million buyout.

While the University of Illinois is opening its checkbook to put an end to an era, Ohio State is digging deep in its pockets to start one.

The Buckeyes announced Monday they hired Urban Meyer to take over the football program, and his reputation doesn’t come cheap. Meyer has agreed to a multi-year deal that has been rumored to amount to nearly $6 million per year.

Meyer is taking over for Fickell, the team’s interim head coach for the 2011 season.

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Though Fickell wasn’t former coach Jim Tressel’s permanent replacement, the team’s field performance exploited its need for another change. They had the worst passing offense in the conference with 124.1 average yards per game. With Braxton Miller taking the majority of the snaps for the Buckeyes, the team was the only one to field a true freshman as a starting quarterback.

Nevertheless, Fickell was only a temporary fix with an interim title when he took over for Tressel.

Tressel was fired for withholding information about some of his players who broke NCAA rules and regulations by accepting gifts in the form of automobiles and free or discounted tattoos. And while Penn State’s interim head coach Tom Bradley may still be leading the Nittany Lions into another season, it will be the first for a program that has been familiarized with Paterno since 1966.

Though there have been many changes in a short time frame, with some having a significant impact, the hiring and firing of head coaches only allows for a new era to begin.

 

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