Who Is The Best Coach In The Pac-12?


College football fans, including Washington State Cougar fans, are in the midst of the confluence between unbridled enthusiasm and panic. What? Glad you asked.

Spring practice has been underway for a couple of weeks now. It’s a great time of year. Pundits, reporters, writers and bloggers enjoy a freedom to tap away at their respective keyboards failing compunction while throwing caution to the wind. In other words, anything goes.

For those not enamored with discussions focused on quarterback controversy, the new offense being installed by a new head coach, redshirt freshmen destined to be all-conference players, etc., there are infinitesimal projections for the coming football season.

We’re still a couple of weeks away from a decent taste of things to come with the annual Crimson and Gray game to be played in Spokane once again. Trust me, avid Cougar football fans will get a serious dose of adrenalin from seeing Coach Mike Leach’s squad scrimmage in a game-day-like atmosphere.

While the future for Cougar Nation appears bright, the fans of other Pac-12 schools may appear confident their respective teams are destined for great things in 2013. Truth be known, many are very concerned about the status of their beloved gridiron combatants.

The folks at Athlon Sports set aside their typically outstanding journalistic endeavors to rank the impossible. Ok, perhaps not impossible but at the very least, immeasurable by scientific standard.

Athlon has taken the time to publish their ranking of Pac-12 coaches based on…well…er…um… The most significant criteria considered appears to be the coach has to be under contract to a Pac-12 university.

Taking a close look at conference head coaches is a good yardstick of what to expect this fall when the ball for opening kickoff is teed up awaiting a whistle to signal the start of another season of NCAA football.

Let the water cooler debate begin!

Here is the Athlon Sports ranking, from the best to worst (or to be politically correct, “less best”) of Pac-12 head football coaches:

1. David Shaw, Stanford
2. Mike Riley, Oregon State
3. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
4. Todd Graham, Arizona State
5. Mike Leach, Washington State
6. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
7. Steve Sarkisian, Washington
8. Jim Mora, UCLA
9. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
10. Sonny Dykes, Cal
11. Lane Kiffin, USC
12. Mark Helfrich, Oregon

Based on performance over the past two years, hard to argue with David Shaw as the guy running the best football program in the conference. His record speaks for itself.

The same could be said for Coach Riley at Oregon State. Lacking the cache of major market enjoyed by USC or UCLA in terms of ability to sign the best athletes coming out of high school, Riley has humbly led a successful program located in the metropolis of Corvallis, OR.

Let’s talk about Athlon’s evaluation of the rest of the pack.

Coach Rodriguez knows how to run a successful program. No doubt about that. But is the guy a great college coach? Nope. Here’s why. If college football rosters are filled with student-athletes who are supposedly getting an education first and foremost, here’s the lesson Rodriguez teaches. His team is his family. It’s a fraternity of outstanding athletes who individually will develop into the leaders of tomorrow under his mentoring…or until someone comes along and offers him more money. When that happens, and it will again, he will swiftly run from one multi-million dollar contract to another effectively divorcing his family in the harshest sense. Rodriguez has moved so many times in the past decade, he knows the drivers at Allied movers so well they are on his Christmas card list. There’s an ever-growing list of his former family members left in the dust as he races to a “better” job.

Todd Graham? Re-read the previous paragraph substituting Coach Graham’s name for Coach Rodriguez.

And Mike MacIntyre ranked as the sixth best coach in the conference? Oh come on Athlon. The guy hasn’t even coached in a Pac-12 game. Coach MacIntyre definitely knows how to hold a press conference, but is Colorado really going to become a conference powerhouse based on his record as a head coach at San Jose State?

When it comes to Coach Jim Mora being ranked in the bottom half of the Pac-12, I get that. Mora isn’t a good interview. But under his leadership, UCLA dramatically improved on the gridiron. Sorry, but Mora isn’t a lower echelon college football coach simply because of his lack of college coaching history. Mora is a solid leader who definitely knows X’s and O’s.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to understand why Athlon ranks Coach Whittingham as a second-tier guy. Utah is a small market school exaggerated by Whittingham’s classy approach to public relations for the Utes. Unfortunately when the offensive roster of a ball club is crippled by injuries, the head coach is criticized and/or blamed. That was the case in Salt Lake last season. My guess is that if you ask him, Coach Whittingham would prefer his team be overlooked and allowed to fly under media radar.

Coach Sonny Dykes will likely take the tradition of offensive excellence at Cal up a notch or two. But is he the guy to lead the Bears to the Rose Bowl or BCS Championship game? The brain trust at Berkeley is confident and betting he’s a better choice than Jeff Tedford.

Then there’s the former offensive coordinator at Oregon who directed the video game style of play which has had the Ducks knocking at the door to a national championship. Coach Mark Helfrich follows a tradition in Eugene of promotion from within to replace the head coach position. Time will tell if he can harness the wild stable of players he inherited from Coach Chip Kelly.

One final comment regarding the coaching talent as ranked by Athlon.

If ever there was a guy who is the poster boy for underachieving it’s Coach Lane Kiffin. Never has a college football coach done less with more than Kiffin’s coaching record in 2012. Athlon referred to the Trojans record last season as “disappointing”. Are you kidding me? The athletic talent of second string guys at USC would likely have them starting at every other Pac-12 school. Disappointing? Try embarrassing.

Here’s my ranking of the coaching talent in the Pac-12 going into the coming season:

1. Mike Leach, Washington State
2. David Shaw, Stanford
3. Mike Riley, Oregon State
4. Jim Mora, UCLA
5. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
6. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona State
7. Todd Graham, Arizona
8. Sonny Dykes, Cal
9. Steve Sarkisian, Washington
10. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
11. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
12. Lane Kiffin, USC

Does anyone seriously believe I wouldn’t rate Coach Mike Leach as the best in the conference? Kidding aside, name me any other coach in the conference who did a better job at very quietly going about the mentoring of his student-athletes with tremendous dedication? Sure the team was a disappointment on the field in 2012 but they dominated academically. Let the debate over such criteria rage on…

Also, you could say I was tossing a bone to the Dawgs Coach Sarkisian ranking him ahead of three other coaches. But two of those coaches have yet to lead their team into a Pac-12 game.

So how do rank Pac-12 coaches? Or are you actually following MLB?

See you in the Lilac City on April 20th for a heavy dose of spring-style Cougar football.