2012 Pac-12 South Coaches
The Hot Seat Factor
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North Coaching Analysis & Hot Seat Status
Picture this. You’re a beleaguered athletic director with an opening at the top of the football organizational chart. Your checkbook is open, and your fan base is glaring at you with unwavering anticipation. Which of the
Pac-12's current head coaches would you put in charge of the program for the next five or so years? Knowing that your own job hangs in the balance, to which man would you entrust your future?
This is NOT necessarily a ranking of how good the head coaches are. This is a ranking based on who would be best to take over a program and build it up, so age is a major factor. A coach might be legendary, but he might not have another five years of greatness left. So with that in mind, who are the top candidates to run your program?
6. Jon Embree, Colorado
The book on Embree is extremely thin since he’s only been a head coach for one year. And in that season, his 3-10 Buffaloes were predictably overmatched in their first season in Pac-12 country. Speculating on the coach’s potential in the future is a complete roll of the dice; not only is he green at this head coaching thing, but in the years leading up to his return to Boulder, he was merely a tight ends coach for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins. The hope around the Colorado campus is that Embree’s energy and enthusiasm for his alma mater will resonate to the region’s coveted recruits. Reversing a decade-long trend of futility requires an upgrade in the team’s overall talent level.
Hot Seat Status: No one inside the school anticipated an overnight turnaround for the Buffs. Embree will be afforded the time he needs to lay a foundation. If after three years, though, Colorado is still struggling to escape the cellar, a new course of action could begin being formulated by the administration.
5. Todd Graham, Arizona State
Four jobs in seven years could mean two very different things to two different people. Graham is either talented enough to be coveted by numerous schools, or is a perpetual job-hopper, a real no-no for future employers. While the coach peaked at Tulsa with three 10-win seasons in four years, he hurt his brand during last year’s cup-o-coffee at Pitt. Far worse than his 6-6 record was the way he left the school, abruptly notifying his players of the move by text. Now that he’s landed at his “dream job” in Tempe, Graham has some work to do in order to restore his reputation. Not only must he prove he can win at a major conference program, but he also needs to show that he isn’t chronically in the market for the next opportunity.
Hot Seat Status: Graham has already lost one crucial ally now that the person who hired him, AD Lisa Love, has been sacked. Her successor, Steve Patterson, expects to compete for Pac-12 titles, so he’ll hold a short leash. The length of Graham’s honeymoon in the desert will depend on how quickly he gets out of the blocks in 2012 and 2013.
4. Jim Mora, UCLA
Mora is going to be a real wild card in the Pac-12 this season and beyond. Is he Pete Carroll coming off a long stint in the NFL, or is he Mike Sherman? Take your pick. Although the real test will come when games start being played in September, the former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks head coach is off to a very nice start in Westwood. He’s brought a no-nonsense approach to the Bruins, emphasizing accountability, discipline and hard work. He also filled the cupboard in February with one of the school’s best recruiting classes in recent memory. If he’s able to make a smooth transition from the NFL game, Mora has interesting long-term potential in the NCAA. And an opportunity to make a big splash at a school that has the resources to turn the corner quickly.
Hot Seat Status: AD Dan Guerrero has put his full faith in Mora, and doesn’t figure to waffle anytime soon. He’ll be given the necessary space to clean up the mess created by Rick Neuheisel, while getting the Bruins back into Pac-12 contention.
3. Lane Kiffin, USC
For the first time in his star-crossed career, Kiffin is showing signs of blossoming into a quality head coach. It hasn’t been an overnight process. Prior to guiding the Trojans to a 10-2 record, and back to the precipice of national championship contention, he’d been an assistant with a loaded USC program, spent 20 forgettable games with the Oakland Raiders and left Tennessee after just one season. However, at 36, the loose cannon appears to be showing signs of maturity as he successfully guides Troy off NCAA probation. He possesses an insatiable appetite to dominate his opponents, hitting the film room, practice field and recruiting trail with equal intensity. These next few seasons in Los Angeles will be critical ones for Kiffin, who has a shot to really put his career into overdrive.
Hot Seat Status: Kiffin has so far successfully won over AD Pat Haden, who had some initial skepticism of his coach. That was a huge achievement. Kiffin can further solidify his station with a Pac-12 title in 2012. In terms of longevity and results, he’s capable of becoming another Pete Carroll at USC.
2. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Getting the right head coach is all about finding the best fit. That has never been truer than with Rodriguez, who rocked at West Virginia, yet reeked in Ann Arbor. His spread option, the bedrock of his success, was the catalyst for six consecutive winning seasons with the Mountaineers and three straight top 10 finishes. By the end of 2007, he was one of the most coveted young coaches in America. Three dismal years with the Wolverines may have derailed his career trajectory, but the Arizona gig provides a great chance to get back on track. Odds are that his style of play, both offensively and defensively, has a better chance to flourish in the Pac-12 than it did in the Big Ten. Rodriguez is still only 48 years old, and will be operating with a little extra determination to restore his sagging post-Michigan reputation.
Hot Seat Status: Rodriguez has a clean slate in Tucson, and a chance to carve out a new legacy on the West Coast. Arizona was hardly trigger-happy with former coach Mike Stoops, so Rod ought to feel comfortable about his timetable for turning the ‘Cats into contenders.
1. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
If Whittingham isn’t the most underrated head coach in college football, he’s absolutely in the discussion. Despite the fact that his Q rating is rather low, he’s been magnificent in the seven years since replacing Urban Meyer in Salt Lake City. His 66-25 career mark includes a Sugar Bowl upset of Alabama that catapulted the Utes to No. 2 in the final AP ranking of 2008. He’s yet to be at the helm of a losing team, even guiding Utah to a respectable 8-5 finish in last year’s Pac-12 debut. He’s a rock for the program, yet harbors the intensity and passion to win that rubs off on his athletes. More than anything else, Whittingham has thrived because of his ability to transform middling high school recruits into pro-caliber players. It’s no surprise that his agent gets flooded with calls at the end of each fall, when larger schools are looking to fill openings.
Hot Seat Status: Whittingham will be a Ute until he decides otherwise. He’s a part of the fabric of a program that has an even brighter future now that it resides in a more prominent conference.
North Coaching Analysis & Hot Seat Status