When Gary Andersen left Wisconsin for Oregon State yesterday, one conventional narrative was that “Wisconsin had a coaching problem.” After all, Andersen had only been there two full years, and he was headed back to the more western part of our country (he was previously the coach at Utah State). I disagree with that — I think Bret Bielama leaving was for a bigger challenge (he had been to three consecutive Rose Bowls at the point he left, although yes, Wisconsin had lost all of them) and more money. I think Andersen left for family reasons. I think both are totally logical things that happen in any career, much less coaching.
The more interesting thing is that Wisconsin and Michigan are both open jobs right now, and Wisconsin is probably the better job. Would long-time followers of the Big 10 ever think that?
Let’s say you’re an 18 year-old stud high school football player. Let’s take it back 10 years, so 2004. You were 8 or so at the time. In those intervening 10 years, Wisconsin has won 9 or more games nine times. (Under three different coaches, no less — Barry Alvarez, Bret Bielama, and then Gary Andersen.) Since 2004, all their bowl appearances have been January 1 or better. They’ve been in those three Rose Bowls mentioned above.
In the same span — since 2004 — Michigan has won 9+ four times, so half as much as Wisconsin. They played in the 2004 and 2006 Rose Bowl, but they also entirely missed bowl games three times. (This is also under three coaches — Lloyd Carr, Rich Rodriguez, and Brady Hoke.)
You can argue that Wisconsin maybe has some turnover issues in terms of coaches, sure, especially in light of recent developments — but it’s very hard to argue Michigan is the better job. Look at the AD level, if you want. Barry Alvarez is the AD of Wisconsin (he’ll be coaching the bowl game, too) and is essentially a living legend in Madison. Jim Hackett is an interim guy at Michigan and yet, might be making that hire for them.
All-time, Michigan has 11 claimed national titles and 5 unclaimed ones (16 total, for those of you good with math). Wisconsin has 1 unclaimed one. That’s a 16-to-1 ratio, again for the math-favoriting among you. All-time, thus, you can’t even come close to saying Wisconsin would ever be a better job, or a more relevant job, than Michigan.
But in the last 10 years…
… you could argue that Wisconsin probably has a chance to get a better name in the door than Michigan does, although obviously if Jim Harbaugh goes to Michigan, that becomes a moot point.
The broader issue is probably this: since Urban Meyer came to the Big Ten, and since Mark D’Antonio started to really emerge as a head coach, the Big Ten has more been about OSU and MSU — that makes it especially hard for a Michigan coach, as the two best teams in conference happen to be the new coach’s two biggest rivals.
I’ve followed Big Ten football since probably 1988 (although admittedly, I was 8 then, so I probably didn’t know much) and I never thought I’d see a day where the Wisconsin program/job seemed like a much better situation than the Michigan one. Times change, I suppose.