As we continue our coaching rankings for each conference, the Pac 12 was the toughest to do so far. It’s not that there aren’t a lot of good coaches. Quite the contrary, there are some great coaches. What makes this difficult is they’re all great coaches who haven’t been with their teams that long. Only two schools on this list have had their coaches for more than three years, so we’re ranking coaches without many legacies here or any national championships to set one apart, but they have all made great first impressions with their school. It took some nitpicking to do this ranking. Still, we did the best we could, so here it is.
12. Sonny Dykes-California
Sonny Dykes has only had one year with the Golden Bears so far, but it wasn’t a good one. He had a tough job, replacing a coach before him that had raised expectations in Berkeley only to watch the program fall apart when he left, but a 1-11 season is still worse than any year Jeff Tedford had there. Not much help appears to be on the way either. Riley’s 2014 recruiting class on Rivals ranked 8th in the conference, and his current class ranks 7th. Perhaps his air raid offense is getting just the personnel it needs, and he gets a mulligan because Cal was going to have to adjust to a new system, but some improvement will have to be shown this year. Remember, Louisiana Tech got better each year under Dykes, and there’s reason to believe that will happen at Cal. He’ll at least get three years, but with an inaugural 1-11 season, he’s done nothing to avoid being last on this list.
11. Kyle Whittingham-Utah
This was a hard one to do because Whittingham has done such a good job with the Utes over his career, but after things were looking up with a pretty good inaugural season in the Pac 12, his program has regressed to two straight 5-7 seasons. Now, this has us all raising questions about the level of play in the Mountain West Conference. It’s probably very unfair to put him here because he has been so successful in Utah, but I have a feeling two straight losing seasons isn’t what fans had in mind. With the next to last recruiting class in the conference on Rivals this year and only the ninth best recruiting class for next year, talent could be an issue as well. However, it’s not like he was recruiting with the big boys when Utah was in the Mountain West, but his team still scored a victory over Alabama. Whittingham should be able to coach his team into a consistent Pac 12 winning team, and perhaps they will get better, but the only thing worse than a rough start in a new era is regression. That’s why he’s fallen on this list.
10. Mike MacIntyre-Colorado
Mike MacIntyre has a great chance to move up this list, but all we have to go on is one 4-8 season at Colorado right now. However, he inherited a 1-11 team and a program in disarray since Gary Barnett was forced to resign in 2005 and the program was later put on probation. The terrible state in which the Buffaloes have been in the past decade is enough to celebrate a 4-8 inaugural season. MacIntyre’s so far down on this list because of what he hasn’t yet accomplished in the Pac 12, though. Two recruiting classes at the bottom of the conference hasn’t helped matters either, and that puts him in the same situation as Whittingham and Dykes. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the future of the Buffaloes with such classes and a rough opening season, but there are also plenty of reasons to be excited. A 4-8 record is still the best record the school has had since 2010, and MacIntyre showed at San Jose State that his teams can improve significantly each year.
9. Mike Riley-Oregon State
You never want to put the dean of coaches in a conference in the bottom half of a list of coach rankings in that conference, but there’s not much more we can do for Mike Riley. What he did to lay the foundation to turn around the program was remarkable in the late 1990s, but Dennis Erickson took it to the next level. Since Riley’s been back, things haven’t been the same. He had a very nice run in the mid-2000s, with four straight bowl appearances and three straight top 25 appearances, but the inconsistency is too much now. The program is becoming incredibly stale, and recruiting is near the bottom of the conference. Each of the coaches ahead of Riley, and some behind him, appear to have their program headed in a much better direction than he does, and that sole fact speaks volumes so loud that it’s too hard to put him much higher on this list.
8. Mike Leach-Washington State
Mike Leach took a significant step in his second year at Washington State, and now he’ll be expected to take another step his third year. It was his third year at Texas Tech that was his breakout year, when the Red Raiders went 9-5, and if that can happen in the northwest, he’ll move up this list. The only reason he’s down on this list right now is because he’s had two losing seasons. When he took over in 2012, expectations jumped a little bit too high, and fans were shocked to see him stumble to a 3-9 season. But excitement is back after going 6-7 last year and improvement being shown. Leach’s system is so successful that it doesn’t matter how his recruiting is, we all know he’s finding the players that he wants. Regardless of how quirky or weird he may be, he’s perfect for a school like Washington State, generating excitement and hopefully on his way to generating wins. If he can continue the improvement, he won’t be so far down next year. But for now, he simply hasn’t done enough in the Pac 12.
7. Rich Rodriguez-Arizona
Two 8-5 seasons at Arizona may leave Wildcat fans clamoring for more, but remember that Rich Rodriguez inherited a program that had gone 4-8 the year before he arrived. All we have to go on with him is that, his time at Michigan, and his time at West Virginia. Although he had a very rough time in Ann Arbor, each team improved there, and we saw how successful he was at West Virginia. That can be used as a benchmark for what Arizona could be. He’s not up on this list yet simply because he hasn’t done enough, but like Leach, things could change in a year or two. What’s particularly helpful is his 2014 recruiting class was in the top half of the conference, according to Rivals, and the 2015 class so far is fourth in the conference. So with recruiting getting better, perhaps he can build on his program’s success his first two years there.
6. Chris Petersen-Washington
Obviously, with this being Petersen’s first year in Washington, in the Pac 12, and in big time college football, there’s not much to go on. Because of that, we couldn’t put him in the top 5 of this list. But we did have enough to go on to rank him somewhere, and for now, his track record at Boise State is enough to keep him here. You can’t argue with a 92-12 record and two undefeated seasons in eight years as head coach in Boise. The biggest red flag for him is he has no experience rebuilding a program, but like Boise State, Washington isn’t a program that needs to be rebuilt. It’s a program in good shape that needs to be taken to the next level, which is exactly what Petersen did with the Broncos. Coming in 7th in the conference in recruiting for the 2014 class is not great, and gives us even less to go on with him. But we know what he’s done so far, and if that continues at Washington, boy will Petersen shoot up this list in the future!
5. Todd Graham-Arizona State
Todd Graham didn’t inherit a program in complete disarray, but he has dramatically raised the bar for that program in too short years as head coach. Last year, he had the Sun Devils finish in the Top 25 for the first time since 2007, and with a lot of returning talent and recruiting in the top half of the conference the past couple of years, the future could look even brighter. Graham has already proven himself a winner after turning Tulsa into a successful program. The only reason he’s not higher on this list is because you can’t be sure how much this guy can be trusted. Ask the Pittsburgh Panthers players from 2011 about him. Not that integrity is all that common among college football head coaches, but usually a coach as reckless as Graham brings some baggage, and he has the type of personality to bring down a program. See Bobby Petrino. But if he’s truly more honest and trustworthy than that and I’m short selling his integrity, then he’ll eventually move up even higher on this list, as long as his team keeps improving.
4. Mark Helfrich-Oregon
Mark Helfrich might be the most underrated coach in this conference. With a young and unproven team last year, and as he was replacing a fan favorite at coach with the Ducks, all he did was continue the success Chip Kelly had before that. There were very vocal expectations about how Oregon would fall off and how Helfrich would fail, as everybody ignored the fact that Helfrich was the offensive coordinator behind this brilliant innovative offense Kelly seems to get all the credit for. With so much talent back and recruiting doing very well, Helfrich’s job so far has put the Ducks in very good position to be great for a long time. There’s been no fall off, and no fall off is expected this year. So why do so many Pac 12 hot seat and coaching rankings put Helfrich near the bottom of the conference? Yes, it’s only one year, and yes, he inherited a good team, but Helfrich has maintained the success, and he was part of the success before he inherited it. So there’s no reason to bet against him.
3. Steve Sarkisian-USC
Steve Sarkisian hasn’t even coached a game at USC and is already on the hot seat, for reasons I can’t explain. He’s got the top recruiting
class in the conference coming in, and he’s probably going to get the top class for next year. So he didn’t get a USC-caliber top 5 class this year. Well, he hasn’t even coached a game yet. Perhaps recruiting will do better as he begins to win. Sarkisian showed that he can improve programs over the long haul, not with quick fixes, based on what he did at Washington. That was the worst program in the conference when he took over, and he had it at 9-4 by the time he left. Similar to Petersen, we have nothing to go on with Sarkisian at USC, but we have a lot more to go on with Sarkisian in the Pac 12, and this is a very proven coach who does not look like he will disappoint. The Trojans made a great hire here, and Sarkisian walks into a much better situation than he did at Washington. Heck the USC situation itself is much better than it was four years ago. So success from him is something we should be able to expect straightaway.
2. Jim Mora-UCLA
So far Jim Mora is responsible for building the program with the one of the brightest futures in the Pac 12. Recruiting is doing very well, his coaching philosophy fits the West Coast, and he has a program that now rivals the dominant football team in the Los Angeles area, which is hard to do. He’s got
UCLA investing in its football program, Bruins alumni taking a major interest and talking about it for the first time in a while, and his team is on the national stage with possible national championship expectations in the near future if things keep going the way they do. Mora’s NFL experience and laid back personality makes him the perfect guy to coach west coast pro-style players, and that’s a great fit for UCLA. He should not leave the school because he’s in the best situation he could be in based on his style of coaching. Mora appears to be aware of this after turning down offers to coach at his alma mater, the University of Washington, and the best job in the world, the University of Texas, this past offseason. It looks like Mora’s happy where he’s at, UCLA is happy with him, and he should be able to keep winning and finally establish a legitimate cross-town rivalry in Southern California.
1. David Shaw-Stanford
David Shaw had one of the hardest jobs in the country when he took the reigns from Jim Harbaugh as head coach of the Stanford Cardinal in 2011. For starters, he was following a very popular coach who rebuilt the program into a national
powerhouse. That raised expectations massively, and Stanford’s a school where it is very tough to win consistently. So what has he done? Go to three straight BCS bowls and win two straight Pac 12 championships. Perhaps his most impressive job was replacing Andrew Luck at quarterback after the 2011 season. It’s like he’s never missed a beat, and Stanford may only be getting better. Shaw’s 2015 recruiting class was second in the conference, and there are plenty of returning starters this year for the Cardinal. With all of that in mind, he’s running a very successful program and still managing to not get near the respect Harbaugh got while in Palo Alto. We seem to forget that Shaw was Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator and a very crucial part to the rebuilding of Stanford when Harbaugh took over, and he even had a major hand in Harbaugh’s success his last year at San Diego. The track record of Shaw and the direction of the Cardinal program are both enough to keep him at the top of this list.
Tags: Arizona State Sun Devils Arizona Wildcats California Golden Bears Chris Petersen College Football Colorado Buffaloes David Shaw FBS Feature Jim Mora Kyle Whittingham Mark Hudspeth Mike Leach Mike MacIntyre Mike Riley Oregon Ducks Oregon State Beavers PAC 12 Football PAC-12 Rich Rodriguez Sonny Dyke Stanford Cardinal Steve Sarkisian Todd Graham UCLA Bruins USC Trojans Utah Utes Washington Huskies Washington State Cougars