Pac-12 Football: Evaluating the New Head Coaches
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The Pac-12 Conference will usher in four new coaches in 2012, the most of any major conference.
The changes were made as a result of disappointing seasons for many teams and a 2-5 record in bowl games.
The following is my analysis of the incoming coaches.
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
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The former West Virginia and Michigan head coach will take over for Mike Stoops in 2012 after the Arizona Wildcats started the 2011 season 1-5.
Rodriguez had a successful run at West Virginia, leading the Mountaineers to six straight bowl games and a Sugar Bowl victory (he did not coach in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl win), and that success was expected to continue at the University of Michigan.
But that never happened in Ann Arbor.
In his three seasons with the Wolverines, Rodriguez went 15-22 and managed just one bowl appearance, which was a 52-14 blowout loss to the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the 2011 Gator Bowl.
Despite his failings at Michigan, big improvements will be anticipated with the arrival of Rodriguez in Tucson, Arizona.
He is a proven winner and he will immediately be one of the five best coaches in the Pac-12. The Arizona Wildcats suffered a huge setback last season and will enter the 2012 season without star quarterback Nick Foles.
Rodriguez has a challenge in front of him and a wide audience will keep an eye on his potential success.
Todd Graham, Arizona State
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Todd Graham's situation is similar to Rodriguez's:
He left a smaller program where he saw a lot of success for a high-profile job that ended disappointingly.
Graham led the University of Tulsa to three bowl games in four years (all wins) before being named head coach at the University of Pittsburgh in 2011. In his one season with the Panthers, Graham led the team to a 6-6 record and a berth in the BBVA Compass Bowl, a game in which he did not coach (28-6 loss to SMU).
In my opinion, Graham falls into the second tier of coaches in the Pac-12. Although he enjoyed a little success in his one year coaching at an automatic-qualifying school, he is in a much better conference now and it remains to be seen what he can accomplish at Arizona State.
Jim Mora, Jr. UCLA
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The Jim Mora Jr. hiring by UCLA comes as a bit of a shock to many, seeing as the former Washington Huskies football player has only coached one season at the collegiate level (1984 University of Washington graduate assistant).
Mora coached the Atlanta Falcons for three seasons, and in his first season with the Falcons back in 2004, Mora won 11 regular season games and took the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game.
The two seasons that followed were not as successful as the "Dirty Birds" went 8-8 and 7-9 respectively, and during his one season as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in 2009, Mora went 5-11 before getting fired in favor of Peter Carroll.
Since no one really knows what to expect out of Mora in his freshman year, I can't help but place him near the bottom of the list of Pac-12 coaches.
Although his time in the NFL was short, a lack of success doesn't bode well for him at UCLA. Then again, some coaches fare much differently in the two leagues, so perhaps Mora will experience some good fortune with the Bruins?
We shall see, I suppose.
Mike Leach, Washington State
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Mike Leach was a huge key to Texas Tech's success in the 2000s and was an impressive hire by Washington State.
Alleged concussion-related incidents aside, Leach is one of the best offensive minds in college football and is the winningest coach in Texas Tech history.
The Red Raiders were 84-43 in the ten seasons under Leach, including a 5-4 bowl record (Leach did not coach the team in the 2009 Alamo Bowl).
Washington State, on the other hand, has not recorded a winning season since 2003.
Mike Leach gives them as good a chance as anyone to return back to the top of the Pac-12. He has to be considered as one of the top five coaches in the conference given his résumé, and while it may take a year or two up in Pullman, look for the Cougars to greatly improve under their new play-caller.