My how times have changed in the Leaders Division. Amazingly Bret Bielema is now the most tenured coach in the Leaders Division and is the 3rd longest serving coach in the Big Ten. Things have changed a ton in the division over the past few weeks. Gone are Joe Paterno at Penn State, Ron Zook at Illinois, and Luke Fickell wasn't retained on a permanent basis at Ohio State.
Two of those three positions have already been filled and rumors abound about who will be taking over at Penn State, but that's for a whole different story in itself. Ohio State went out and got it's long rumored permanent replacement for Jim Tressel in Urban Meyer in a deal that was finalized on Nov. 28th. Yesterday Illinois announced Toledo Head Coach Tim Beckman as the man to replace Ron Zook in Champaign - Urbana.
These hires couldn't be more different and more right for their respective schools at this point in time. Ohio State is one of "the" programs in college football and let's face it, a competitive Buckeyes team is good for Wisconsin and good for the Big Ten. Meyer also has proven to run a pretty darn clean program in his days from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida as well as being very, VERY good on the field. Beckman may not have the national name recognition that Meyer has, but he's an equally good coach that will be able to recruit and coach at Illinois, something the last two head coaches didn't have. Either they could coach but not recruit or recruit and not coach (Zook).
Interestingly both of these hires have a huge tie in, as Beckman served as the Defensive Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach under Urban Meyer at Bowling Green. Not only that but both were on the staff, albeit at different times, at Ohio State.
Tim Beckman comes to the Illini program after rebuilding the Rockets into one of the best non BCS schools out there. Heck, they nearly took out Ohio State this season. He took a Toledo team that went 3-9 the year before he took over to a team that went 7-1 in MAC play each of the past two seasons with 8-5 and 8-4 overall records as well. The Rockets are going to back to back bowls for the first time since the 2004 and 2005 seasons (Motor City Bowl & GMAC Bowl respectively).
Urban Meyer's record speaks for itself, he's a winner at every stop along his coaching career on and off the field. He's also one heck of a recruiter and that will affect Wisconsin in many ways.
These hires make the already crazy tough recruiting in the state of Ohio just that much more difficult for Wisconsin. Over the tenure of Bielema Wisconsin has made huge inroads in recruiting that state (Chris Borland for example) and are beginning to really see a pipeline affect happen. However, these two coaches can really recruit and having roots as head coaches in that state it's really going to get interesting on the recruiting trail. Luckily so far the Badgers haven't lost any of the guys for the 2012 class to Meyer and Ohio State as of yet, but stay tuned, things get wild and crazy leading up to signing day that's for sure.
In the end I think this division just got a whole lot stronger with these two hires. Illinois was competitive under Zook, but competitive and winning consistently are two different things. Both coaches will have a great cast to build their programs around and depending on what all goes down at Penn State we could be looking at a division that's going to be ultra competitive for years to come, even more so than the Legends Division and that's something I didn't see happening anytime soon to start this year.