Is this too harsh? Or spot on? Athlon ranks the coaches in this order:
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
The top two coaches of David Shaw and Mike Riley look about right, so there are no problems with those rankings. The rest of the rankings are up for debate.
Mike Leach is ranked No. 5 coming off of a 3-9 season?
The Cougars barely beat Eastern Washington 24-20 and UNLV 35-27, but did upset Washington 31-28 in overtime. More from Athlon:
More than three wins is needed to keep Leach in the good graces of the Cougars brass this fall.
If his record is poor enough that his job might be in jeopardy next year, how did he get ranked so highly this year? I personally like Leach—I've talked to him in both social and professional settings—and think he's a great coach, but as far as how well he is doing in the Pac-12, No. 5 doesn't seem deserving.
Kyle Whittingham at No. 9 is also an interesting ranking. Athlon explains why here:
As expected, the move from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 has made life a little more difficult for Utah. Whittingham has been a solid coach in his tenure, but can he elevate the program into Pac-12 title contention? It’s clear it’s going to take some time for the Utes to be an annual factor in the South Division, especially with UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State all showing progress last year. Whittingham led Utah to a 58-20 mark in six years (plus one Fiesta Bowl win in 2004) in the Mountain West. But the Utes are just 13-12 in two seasons in the Pac-12 and missed out on a bowl appearance in 2012 for the first time since 2002. There’s no question Whittingham was a key reason why Utah was successful in the Mountain West and is guiding the program through a tough conference transition. However, Utah took a step back in 2012, and Whittingham is just 7-11 in two years in Pac-12 games.
So the transition from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 has led to Whittingham's downgrade. That seems reasonable, but then Athlon contradicts itself by ranking Colorado's Mike MacIntyre No. 6 and Cal's Sonny Dykes No. 10—MacIntyre and Dykes both come from the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), a non-BCS conference.
How do two former WAC coaches get graded above other Pac-12 coaches—without ever having coached a game as a Pac-12 coach—yet a Pac-12 coach who came from the MWC gets downgraded because of the tough transition from a non-BCS conference to a BCS conference?
Shouldn't Dykes and MacIntyre be ranked toward the bottom as wait-and-see Pac-12 coaches? This isn't a ding on Dykes and MacIntyre's coaching abilities—both are excellent coaches. But after Athlon noted how Kyle Whittingham has struggled in the transition to the Pac-12, maybe that transitional period should serve as a warning sign on ranking new Pac-12 coaches too highly.
Steve Sarkisian ranked at No. 7 also seems a tad high. Sarkisian's best regular season record is 7-5, he's 2-2 against USC, has never beaten Oregon, beat the eventual 2012 Pac-12 champion Stanford 17-13 last season, but lost to Washington State 31-28. Considering the expectations in Seattle, this is a very underachieving team so far.
The two most puzzling rankings are Mora at No. 8 and Kiffin at No. 11.
Mora reeled in a consensus Top 10 2012 recruiting class, beat Nebraska and USC and won the Pac-12 South outright in his first year. If that doesn't deserve a ranking near the top, what does?
For some reason, Athlon ranked Arizona's Rodriguez and Arizona State's Graham higher than Mora yet neither coach beat Mora's Bruins last season; UCLA beat Arizona State (at Tempe) 45-43 and routed Arizona 66-10.
Finally, we have Lane Kiffin checking in at No. 11. Yes, he's sitting on the nation's hottest of hot seats. Yes, his Trojans went from a preseason ranking of No. 1 to a 7-6 record including a loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Yes, there have been distractions such as Jersey Gate, Deflate Gate, Reporter Gate, Poll Gate and El Paso Gate. And, if things don't change, Kiffin will be shown the gate.
But No. 11? This is a head coach who is 1-0 at Eugene, Ore.
Should Jim Mora and Lane Kiffin be ranked higher by Athlon?
Kiffin and Shaw are the only currently active Pac-12 head coaches who are undefeated in one of the most inhospitable stadiums in the country—Autzen. (Mora, Whittingham, Graham, Dykes and MacIntyre have yet to play a game at Oregon as Pac-12 head coaches).
Kiffin has also operated with 20 less scholarship players than the rest of the Pac-12 head coaches—for the last two years he has been allowed no more than 15 signed student-athletes per class versus the standard 25 afforded to his brethren. The NCAA sanctions weren't a result of any violations occurring under his watch—they happened under his predecessor Pete Carroll—so it's not as if Kiffin's serving out a punishment he had coming to him, albeit Tennessee fans will probably disagree.
Mark Helfrich will undoubtedly continue the Duck's success, but until he actually coaches one season, he and his 0-0 record probably shouldn't be ranked near a head coach with a 32-19 record.