2012 Pac-12 North Coaches
The Hot Seat Factor
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South 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. Mike Riley, Oregon State
Two years ago, Riley would have been much higher on this ranking, but back-to-back losing seasons is cause for concern. Nearing 60, has he started to lose some of the magic that helped make him become such a popular figure around Corvallis. He’s still popular, thanks to a penchant for exceeding expectations and coaching up marginal high school recruits to unexpected levels. Riley is also very well-liked by his players and their parents, one of the truly decent individuals in the profession. When you hire him, you know exactly what you’re getting, a seasoned pro who’s going to represent the university with maximum class. You’ve got to at least begin to wonder, though, if his best seasons are now in the rear view mirror.
Hot Seat Status: Everyone would be happy if the Beavers just get back to winning seven or eight games, ending any speculation about Riley’s future. No one in Corvallis wants to be the guy to can him, but a third consecutive losing season would complicate matters.
5. Steve Sarkisian, Washington
Hiccups with his defense aside, Sarkisian has gotten off to a very nice start as a head coach, taking the Huskies to back-to-back bowl games. While 7-6 campaigns wouldn’t cut it for most in the profession, it’s important to remember the depths U-Dub had reached before the coaching change was made. Sark is exactly what many programs are looking for these days. He’s young, innovative on the offensive side of the ball and able to connect with some of the game’s elite high school recruits. He has a very high ceiling on the sidelines, generating excitement over where he might be two or three years from now. Sarkisian has done a lot more than master the X’s and O’s in Seattle; he’s spurred a culture shift, which is the true measure of an effective head coach.
Hot Seat Status: At this point, Sarkisian is justifiably untouchable. Still, fans and administrators will be looking for the Huskies to reach a new level of success, starting with winning the North Division in the near term. Don’t be shocked if the NFL is knocking on his door real soon.
4. David Shaw, Stanford
There are reasons to be cautious about Shaw at this early stage of his head coaching career, but there is also lots of justification to want to jump on board while his stock is still somewhat low. Yeah, he’s only been on the job for one season, and a lot of last fall’s success can be attributed to Andrew Luck and the foundation building completed by predecessor Jim Harbaugh. However, it would be woefully shortsighted to dismiss Shaw’s role in the resurgence of Cardinal football since he came aboard in 2007. One of the game’s budding offensive tacticians, he’s done an underrated job of devising a balanced offense that had enough variations to compensate for fluctuations in skill position talent. Best of all, he’s only 39, and bound to get much better at his craft with each passing year of experience.
Hot Seat Status: One year into his tenure, Shaw looks to be the perfect guy to carry the torch from the Jim Harbaugh era. He has the right demeanor, offensive acumen and salesmanship on the recruiting trail to keep the Cardinal humming. If he’s not lured to the NFL, he’s the kind of coach who might still be winning games on the Farm a decade from now.
3. Jeff Tedford, Cal
There are two very distinct sides to Tedford, depending upon where you stand with his evaluation. He’s the guy who helped lead the Bears from a ditch 10 years ago to a place where the postseason became the norm. There’s no doubt that he rescued this program when it was at its lowest point. However, he’s also a coach who has reached a frustrating plateau, a glass ceiling in the Pac-12. For all of the progress, Cal is just 12-13 over the last two seasons, and hasn’t been ranked in the final AP poll since 2006. Over those last five years, Tedford’s team has wallowed in the middle of the conference pack, drifted behind rival Stanford and failed to produce a playmaking quarterback. Any future suitor would need to decide whether the coach has maxed out the Bears’ potential, or was slightly overrated during the first half of his career.
Hot Seat Status: Tedford is clearly in trouble, and could be the most vulnerable Pac-12 head coach entering the 2012 season. His team—and his results—have become stagnant, making a turnaround an absolute necessity. Eight wins might be necessary to avoid getting the pink slip.
2. Mike Leach, Washington State
He sure is quirky, and he’s an acquired taste, but Leach appeals to an AD’s senses on myriad different levels. Not only does he have a proven track record on a big stage, but his wide-open offensive playbook and magnetic personality bring instant publicity to his school. Leach equals increased ticket sales and higher TV ratings, all of which sells well to future recruits. Although his demeanor can be erratic, his teams at Texas Tech rarely were, delivering a winning season and a bowl game in each of his 10 years on the sidelines. He has perfected the Air Raid system, which, as the name suggests, attacks opposing defenses vertically—and relentlessly. Unless you’re an opposing defensive coordinator, Leach is simply a fun character to have back in the game.
Hot Seat Status: Given a little bit of time and a few more resources, Leach has the secret sauce to become an institution on the Palouse, much the way Mike Price was almost a decade ago. This is as good as it gets for the Cougs, who’ll need to upgrade the bones of the program to keep Leach from straying in a few years.
1. Chip Kelly, Oregon
Kelly’s first three seasons in Eugene have been nothing short of a revelation. Faced with a difficult challenge of succeeding long-time head coach Mike Bellotti, he’s responded with a 34-6 record and three conference championships in a row. He’s only lost two league games, and his run-based spread has become the envy of offensive coordinators from coast to coast. Under Kelly, the Ducks have ascended to a level of national prominence that Bellotti was never able to reach during his 14 years on the sidelines. He’s an offensive wunderkind who hasn’t even entered his coaching prime. The lone caveats to hiring Kelly at this point is that he has had some recent run-ins with the NCAA regarding recruiting practices, and is so hot that he could be difficult to keep in one town for very long. He got to the altar with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January before deciding to stay put.
Hot Seat Status: Even the NCAA investigation can’t chip away at Kelly’s steely job security. He’s been the seminal figure in Oregon’s transformation from a nice program to a dominant one. Fingers will remain crossed, though, that he’s done scratching the NFL itch for a while.
South Coaching Analysis & Hot Seat Status