Pac-12 Programs Desperate for Wins, Heat on Coaches Intesifies

facebooktwitterreddit


On Oct. 14, 1908, the Chicago Cubs won their last World Series. The frustration a century-plus of losing builds inevitably leads to panic, and panic to desperation. Speculation (fueled by Boston-based radio) is that the Cubs organization is desperate to hire GM Wunderkind Theo Epstein to the unofficial title of Salvation And Savior. A bar has been set in the Windy City that Epstein (or any other GM, manager or player to come through the North Side) needs a space shuttle to clear. Similar desperation is turning up the heat on football coaches in the Pacific 12 Conference.

This same week that baseball’s most well-documented losing franchise commemorates its last title win, the Pac-12’s kindred spirit released its coach. Arizona football is notorious as the only Pac-12 member inaugurated before 2011 to never play in the Rose Bowl. There will likely never be a documentary on it a la ESPN Films’ Catching Film (though if there was, assuredly something Red Sox would be shoehorned in), but a Stoops-coached Arizona team had its Steve Bartman moment. Oregon came to Tucson in November 2009, and with the Ducks came College GameDay. Arizona Stadium was electric, and so was UA for most of four quarters. A win over UO put the Wildcats in the driver’s seat for the conference’s Rose Bowl bid that season.

Leading late and adhering to a recent, eyeroll-worthy tradition, UA’s “Zona Zoo” student section began to prematurely rush the field. Literally hundreds of fans watched from the sideline as Jeremiah Masoli forced overtime, and ultimately bested the ‘Cats. That was less than two years; today, Stoops is unemployed.


His ouster started what could go down as Pac-12 coaches’ Worst Week Ever. Just days after the Stoops’ dismissal, and less than a week after his team pulled to 3-3 and 2-1 in conference, Rick Neuheisel was given a very public vote of no-confidence by his athletic director, Dan Guerrero. Now, anyone with a pulse and any interest in college football whatsoever has known Neuheisel was in a make-or-break campaign. Type his name into Google, and the first suggestion that renders is “Rick Neuheisel hot seat.” Despite NCAA sanctions to crosstown rival USC, Neuheisel has been unable to “close the gap” as was famously promised in 2008.

Now, it hasn’t been pretty, but so far Neuheisel is on pace for a bowl game. His team’s next game is at hapless Arizona six days from now and seemingly his Bruins will be favored. But Guerrero’s ambiguity speaks volumes. UCLA has been a non-factor since the 1990s, and even then failed to reach or maintain its full potential. That’s a thorn that remains embedded deep in the Bruins’ paw. Quarterback has been UCLA’s version of the Chicago bullpen, a consistent mess with no solution in sight beyond bringing in someone new. Between Kevin Prince, Richard Brehaut, Patrick Cowan, and so on the quarterback Neuheisel’s most developed is Johnny Utah. And even he choked in the Rose Bowl.

Up north, Jeff Tedford’s had similar problems with his recent string of quarterbacks. His tenure began well enough between Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers, but since it’s been one failed experiment after another. Most recently, Zach Maynard has struggled to produce in a pair of wildly lopsided conference defeats. Worse for Maynard and Tedford, those routs came on national television. Stoops can attest to how much worse a one-sided loss is when the whole nation sees it.

Tedford is far-and-away Cal’s most consistent coach. Last year’s 5-7 finish was his first sub-.500 conclusion since taking the reins of an absolute dumpster fire in 2002. But expectations peaked around 2006, and in the five years since the Golden Bears have been on a steady decline. That comes at a bad time for Tedford. While Berkeley is not a school that fancies itself an athletic juggernaut as UCLA and Arizona aspire to, the university is committing hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrading athletic facilities.

Those upgrades can be attributed directly to Tedford and his success, but continuing on his current trajectory means he would not get to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Money is behind all these expectations, and their ensuing desperation. The Pac-12 is bringing in record-setting revenue as part of its new television deal. Programs have seen Oregon’s ascent coincide with astronomical spending. It’s not at all unlike the Cubs watching as New York, Philadelphia and Boston build top payroll lineups and win World Series. Those franchises are the Oregon’s of the MLB world, and the eager to copy their blueprint of success, Chicago is everyone else.

Stacked up against the Haves, expectations for the Have Nots change dramatically. No longer is historic success from the program’s standpoint good enough for a Tedford or Stoops. I laid out expectations on Arizona’s next coach at AZDesertSwarm.com. These expectations are somewhat unrealistic in their magnitude, but frankly represent the line being drawn in the sand for Pac coaches. Expectations are breeding desperation, and next year the Pac-12 could counter the Big East, which has less than 20 years of combined tenures among its eight coaches.