Thursday, August 13, 2015
By Lorenzo Reyna
August 11, 2015
One of the most pressurized jobs in America is head football coach of an NCAA Division I university.
In the PAC-12, every head coach deals with more than drawing plays. He has to recruit, hire a top notch staff, draw community interest to fill the home stadium, keep the players who don’t play right away happy, maintain or rebuild a winning tradition, challenge for a national title and finally, convince the community that they’re there to stay even if a luscious offer from another university gets placed on their table.
Coaching is one of the reasons why the PAC-12 has been on the rise. Eight PAC-12 leaders led their teams to a bowl game last season. The other four who were left out still tasted success at previous stops.
But who are the top coaches to play for in the conference? This was a hard list to compile considering that most of these guys have done more than maintain a winning culture or resuscitate a struggling program. Nevertheless, here’s the top PAC-12 head coaches heading into the 2015-16 season.
1. Todd Graham, Arizona State
Record at ASU: 28-12 in three years
Career record: 77-41 in nine years
Before he arrived at Tempe, ASU was an underachieving team. Since taking over, the Sun Devils have averaged nine wins per season while contending for the PAC-12 South crown with Arizona, UCLA and USC.
He’s not only won with top 25 recruiting classes, but has reeled in immediate impact freshmen like defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood, outside linebacker D.J. Calhoun and inside ‘backer Christian Sam. He also has a future head coach in the making in offensive wiz Mike Norvell.
Lastly, Graham snatched three prominent Class of 2015 California recruits in quarterback Brady White, defensive end Joseph Wicker and defensive back Stanley Norman. All three turned down offers from the Big 10, Southeastern Conference and pledges from ASU’s coastal conference rivals to join the Sun Devils.
2. Jim Mora, UCLA
Record at UCLA: 29-11 (three years)
Career record: 29-11 (three years)
Like Graham, Mora took control of a Bruins program in need of a winning attitude.
He now has UCLA contending for PAC-12 titles, beating chief rival USC and averaging six conference victories per year. The former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks head coach has been a hard-nosed recruiter too. He’s locked in the top quarterback in the state in Josh Rosen, 5-star outside linebacker Kesian Lucier-South and 4-star wideout Cordell Broadus, who turned down his father Snoop Dogg’s favorite college team USC to join Mora.
3. David Shaw, Stanford
Record at Stanford: 42-12 (four years)
Career record: 42-12 (four years)
Shaw and Stanford had a down year at 8-5 last season, but his past success places him in the top three.
Shaw has taken the Cardinal to Rose and Fiesta Bowls since succeeding Jim Harbaugh in 2011. Against the PAC-12 slate, Shaw has helped the Cardinal take down conference heavyweights Oregon, USC and UCLA. On the recruiting trail, Stanford has ranked in the top 25 annually under Shaw’s direction.
4. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Record at Arizona: 26-14 (three years)
Career record: 146-98-2 (21 years)
He was once ran out of Ann Arbor after a tumultuous three years at Michigan. But Rich Rod has revitalized his career nicely in Tuscon, as he’s turned the Wildcats into a rising PAC-12 power.
Rodriguez’s Arizona resume includes a PAC-12 title game appearance last season and upsets over USC and Oregon when both were ranked in the top 10.
5. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Record at Utah: 85-43 (10 years)
Career record: 85-43 (10 years)
Before transitioning to the PAC-12, Whittingham and Utah enjoyed years of dominance in the Mountain West that included bowl streaks and upending Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
Since then, Whittingham has created Utah into a conference powerhouse after four years in the PAC-12. Stunning wins last season against UCLA, USC and Stanford substantiates that the Utes are on the rise. Whittingham, who was once an assistant under former Utah head coach Urban Meyer, has taken his team to eight bowl games in his 10-year run at Salt Lake City.
6. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Record at Oregon: 24-4
Career record: 24-4
Helfrich took the electrifying Ducks back to the national title game, but their championship hopes got trucked by a physical Ohio State team.
The big question is can Helfrich elevate Oregon to places that Chip Kelly couldn’t do in Eugene, such as winning a national title? Oregon continues to produce highly ranked recruiting classes and boast top notch facilities, but Helfrich must prove that he can replace Marcus Mariota at quarterback and continue Oregon’s streak of success. The talent remaining in Eugene should keep Helfrich and Oregon in the top 10 polls.
7. Chris Petersen, Washington
Record at Washington: 8-6
Career record: 100-18 (nine years)
Petersen – with limited resources and overlooked recruits – turned Boise State into a household name in college football by winning Western Athletic Conference titles and two Fiesta Bowls.
At UW, Petersen has more talent to work with based on the pieces that predecessor Steve Sarkisian left behind. But this season could be more challenging with replacing Shaq Thompson and perhaps starting a true freshman at quarterback in Jake Browning. Still, Petersen is considered one of the brightest and most work-friendly head coaches to be around.
8. Steve Sarkisian, USC
Record at USC: 9-4 (one year)
Career record: 43-33 (six years)
Coach Sark’s main task at Washington was turn the Huskies into a bowl contender again, especially in the aftermath of the disastrous Tyrone Willingham era and following the controversial Rich Neuheisel tenure.
Sarkisian did just that by getting UW back into December bowl games. Now, he’s being counted on to take a USC program that was once rocked by NCAA sanctions to national title victories again. If USC emerges as a challenger for both the PAC-12 championship and college football playoff, look for Coach Sark to move up on this list.
9. Gary Andersen
Record at Oregon State: first season
Career record: 49-38 (seven years)
Andersen is the rookie coach in the PAC-12 this fall, but considering his past success, he could turn the underachieving Beavers into a competitive bunch right away.
Andersen took a laughingstock Utah State team and turned the Aggies into a perennial bowl unit by going 26-24 there. He then continued his success at Wisconsin before having differences in opinion with university administration; particularly with athletic director Barry Alvarez.
In Corvallis, Andersen will have a young team. An untested quarterback will likely line up behind center and only two starters return on defense. But if Andersen can win at Logan, UT., then he should have little problems turning around Oregon State.
10. Sonny Dykes, Cal
Record at Cal: 6-18 (two years)
Career record: 28-33 (five years)
Dykes – who’s first season in Berkeley was a 1-11 disaster – has Cal on the move, as the Golden Bears became one of the conference’s most improved teams by going 5-7 plus losing four games by eight points or less.
His offenses have been surgical against PAC-12 defenses, as the Bear Raid averaged 495.2 yards per game last season and scored 38.3 points per game. Dykes returns a possible Heisman Trophy finalist and first round pick in quarterback Jared Goff this fall.
11. Mike Leach, Washington State
Record at WSU: 12-25 (three years)
Career record: 96-68 (13 years)
After leading Texas Tech to an 84-43 mark in his 10 years at Lubbock, TX., Leach has had a rough transition in Pullam.
His best season was a 6-7 mark in 2013 that concluded with a trip to the New Mexico Bowl. But the Cougars fell to 3-9 last season. There’s also this significant recruiting loss: 3-star quarterback Ian Book of Oak Ridge in El Dorado Hills, who verbally pledged to Leach and WSU in April 2015, has since de-committed and joined Notre Dame’s 2016 class on Aug. 4.
12. Mike McIntyre, Colorado
Record at CU: 6-18 (two years)
Career record: 22-39 (five years)
McIntyre does provide this glimmer of hope for the Buffaloes’ fan base: four losses last season were decided by a margin of five points or less. But that means CU would’ve finished 6-6.
Granted, McIntyre has inherited a Buffs team with little talent left behind by former coach Jon Embree, plus a program that hasn’t recovered from the controversial Gary Barnett regime. If McIntyre gets his guys to finish football games this fall, CU could see a 13th game come December, which hasn’t happened since 2005.
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