Pac-12 Football Coaches: Midseason Job Rating from Best to Worst
Now that Lane Kiffin is gone at USC, which of the Pac-12 football coaches are feeling the heat the most to win now or else face angered boosters?
None of the existing 11 Pac-12 football coaches (excluding USC interim coach Ed Orgeron from the discussion) are in jeopardy of immediately losing their positions. Some, however, are flirting with the possibility of making athletic directors and administrators think long and hard about their returns for the 2014 season.
The Pac-12 coaches who are struggling to stay in the good graces of their supporters include Washington's Steve Sarkisian and Utah's Kyle Whittingham.
Washington has made a 180-degree turn after its 4-0 start, losing three straight (albeit against strong competition such as Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State). Whittingham's Utes are off to a 1-3 start in the Pac-12, which is slightly better than his disappointing 0-4 starts in the Utes' first two seasons in the league.
Cal's first-year coach Sonny Dykes deserves at least a couple of years to rectify the once-proud Golden Bears program. Injuries have plagued his defense. Cal stands at 1-6 overall.
In this era of instant gratification, Dykes will hear criticism similar to what Kansas coach Charlie Weis heard last season with a 1-11 record in his first season with the moribund Jayhawks program.
The following is a hot-seat job rating of each permanent Pac-12 football coach with six weeks remaining in the regular season. The coach topping the list (or at the bottom, if you prefer) is the one occupying the hottest seat and is in need of a turnaround before it gets too late.
Please check out Javier Morales' blogs at TucsonCitizen.com.
No. 11: Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Opposing Pac-12 football coaches hoped for a decline in Oregon's program after Chip Kelly handed the keys to offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.
Instead of faltering, Helfrich has the second-ranked Ducks hitting on all cylinders, with quarterback Marcus Mariota serving as the well-oiled engine making it all work to perfection.
Helfrich is not only the top Pac-12 football coach in terms of job security. He is also rated the one of the top coaches in the nation by some in the media, via CBSSports.com.
Helfrich's coaching and Mariota's playmaking are responsible for Oregon's high-octane offense averaging nearly a point per minute (57.6 points a game). The defense is also solid, limiting opponents to 17.6 points a game, ranking 12th nationally in that category.
Helfrich, 39, knows the importance of keeping his young players focused in a high-profile program in which they can easily become distracted. In order to keep the Ducks on top of their game, he uses an innovative approach of trying different routines in practice.
Oregon used a drill last week at the start of its practices in which the last play of the game was simulated, providing a jolt to the players, per Andrew Greif of The Oregonian.
No. 10: David Shaw, Stanford
The Pac-12 football coach with the highest likelihood of making the jump to the NFL is Stanford's David Shaw.
While Shaw can sleep easy at night with job security, Stanford fans will become restless at season's end when NFL teams come calling.
Shaw coached under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, and Harbaugh is a proven success in the NFL, coaching the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl last season.
Shaw, who has coached the Cardinal to consecutive BCS bowls in his first two seasons, also has nine years of experience as an NFL assistant coach.
The NFL's recently formed advisory panel, which helps to identify potential minority coaching candidates, is advocating the candidacy of Shaw and Louisville's Charlie Strong, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
No. 9: Mike Riley, Oregon State
The Pac-12 football coach with the most staying power is Oregon State's Mike Riley, the league's dean of coaches, now in his 13th season in Corvallis. He calls the shots, including when it will be his time to go, and that won't be anytime soon (sorry, USC).
His hometown of Corvallis is to his liking, much more his speed than Los Angeles, where he coached under John Robinson at USC.
Riley is 60, with 38 years of coaching experience, but he coaches with the ambition and flair of somebody half his age.
Players are comfortable with his fatherly style, an approach he learned playing for Bear Bryant at Alabama. He takes care of them. After the Beavers won a game last season, he treated them to an In-and-Out burger trip.
Riley, whose team is on a six-game winning streak (four of those games on the road), is also mastering social media.
He used his Twitter account last week to announce "Tweet Film Tuesday" in which prospective recruits can tweet their films to Oregon State coaches, according to Kyle Ringo of Yahoo! Sports.
No. 8: Jim Mora, UCLA
In two quick years, UCLA coach Jim Mora has become one of the more distinguished Pac-12 football coaches because he changed the landscape of college football in Los Angeles
Much like Stanford's David Shaw, Mora is one of the coaches in the Pac-12 who will attract interest from NFL general managers given his coaching background at that level.
His mark on the league includes making Los Angeles a two-program town instead of USC monopolizing recruits in that area. He coached the Bruins to a nine-win campaign in his first season last year. UCLA won that many games only once over the previous 13 years.
Mora, whose team is 5-1 after Saturday's loss at Stanford, has changed the culture at UCLA from the moment he had his first team meeting with the Bruins last season.
UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr told the Los Angeles Times that Mora's "face was stone cold" in that meeting.
"He said, 'The way NFL people perceive UCLA is it is soft. I'm not a soft guy and that is no longer going to be the mark of this program. You're going to work harder than you ever have in your life. If you're not willing to do that, there's the door.'"
No. 7: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Much like Jim Mora at UCLA, Rich Rodriguez is succeeding in changing the culture at Arizona in only his second season. His objective is to bring a "hard edge" to the program, his motto that was exemplified with an old West video before this season started.
He began his career in Tucson last year saying "Why not Arizona?" when it came to being relevant on a national scope for the first time since the Wildcats finished 12-1 and ranked No. 4 in 1998. The Wildcats responded with a nine-win season and bowl victory in his first season.
Rodriguez is 13-7 as Arizona's coach. He won only two games more at Michigan (15-22) in three seasons before his firing in 2010.
Rodriguez knows how to handle his personnel, and his players respect him. He can be heavy-handed at times, yet caring in the next moment. In Arizona's 35-24 win over Utah on Saturday night, Rodriguez scowled at quarterback B.J. Denker often but was the first to shake Denker's hand afterward.
Rodriguez suspended Ka' Deem Carey, the nation's leading rusher with 161 yards per game, in Arizona's season opener because of Carey's transgressions during the offseason that included a domestic violence charge and an incident with campus police in which he was escorted out of an Arizona basketball game.
Carey, who handled the punishment without disdain, has supported Rodriguez along with his teammates.
Rodriguez admits he is impatient in his pursuit to make Arizona a relevant program. That drive is positively impacting his team, which is 4-2 overall.
“I wish were 5-0 and could show that because as good as I feel about the infrastructure, most people only just look at the results of the game," Rodriguez said in last Monday's press conference. "That’s just the world we live in and I’m the worst one at that.
"I should feel good with all of the things we have in place, but I’m mad because we lost the two games. It’s just the way we’re wired, I guess.”
No. 6: Mike Leach, Washington State
Washington State coach Mike Leach is making believers out of fans in Pullman, Wash., while making enemies with Pac-12 defensive coordinators with his pass-happy spread offense.
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti was incensed by Leach passing the ball to the very end of Washington State's 62-38 loss to the Ducks at Autzen Stadium, per OregonLive.com.
Opposing Pac-12 coaches better get used to Leach now because the dry-witted, resolute coach will not change his style.
Leach knows how to succeed at outposts such as Lubbock, Texas with Texas Tech, and now Washington State in the Palouse. Just as long as he does not get into the hot water that led to his dismissal at Texas Tech, he should be in for the long haul at Washington State.
Leach allegedly placed injured Texas Tech player Adam James, son of former ESPN broadcaster Craig James, in a dark, secluded room during practice.
Contrary to how he is often perceived as a bully because of what allegedly happened at Texas Tech, his former players admire him and rallied to his defense when he was suspended and then later fired by the school.
Former Washington State receiver Marquess Wilson was critical of Leach after quitting the team last season after he was suspended for missing practice. He claimed mental and physical abuse by Leach but later recanted those remarks, per the Chicago Sun-Times.
Perhaps people take Leach too literally. He drew criticism last year for calling his players "empty corpses" and "zombies."
"It's funny, this day and age people ask questions but they don't always want honest answers," Leach said during Pac-12 Media Day before the season. "In the midst of that, I mean, if somebody (on the team) is a zombie or corpse, I'm the head zombie or corpse."
No. 5: Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre is the only Pac-12 football coach who knows what it takes to build a lower-tier program from the ground up.
His project this year is to build a foundation for a Colorado program that was challenging for a national title less than 25 years ago.
MacIntyre, in his first season with the Buffaloes, made San Jose State a winning program after starting 1-12 in 2010. Two years later, the Spartans finished 10-2 and MacIntyre was lured to Boulder, Colo., to face another daunting rebuilding task.
Colorado finished 1-11 last year, leading to the firing of former Buffalo player Jon Embree after only two seasons.
The Buffaloes are 0-3 in the Pac-12, with three lopsided losses to Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State. They lost by a combined score of 155-46 against those programs, which are a combined 18-3 this season.
MacIntyre is not afraid of change in the middle of adversity. He pulled freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau out of a potential redshirt season after starter Connor Wood struggled early against Arizona State two weeks ago.
"I'm a firm believer that, especially when you're dealing with young people, if you're always a roller coaster then your team's always going to be a roller coaster," MacIntyre was quoted as saying by Kyle Ringo of the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera.
"You need to be as consistent as you can. Now, I'm not perfect at all times. I do get upset sometimes. I do get mad there's no doubt about that but I think you're never going to achieve any goal if you just choose negativity, mood swings and that type of thing. You need to be positive and firm and be who you are."
No. 4: Todd Graham, Arizona State
For someone who has his team atop the Pac-12 South, Arizona State coach Todd Graham is relatively high on this list of coaches who may experience difficulty.
That has everything to do with Graham's background of coaching four different programs in a span of only eight years.
Graham, who coached at Rice and Pitt for only one season sandwiched around four at Tulsa, has ASU off to a 5-2 start and 3-1 record in the Pac-12.
His most impressive victory to date was Saturday's 53-24 rout of a stumbling Washington program that has lost three straight games.
The Sun Devils play three of their next four games on the road, with the home game against one of the Pac-12's best in Oregon State. Time will tell if Graham can put enough victories together to overcome his negative image because of his lack of loyalty at other institutions.
In an ESPN The Magazine poll of college football players, Graham received the most votes for the "Last Coach You'd Ever Want to Play For" category. He had 14 percent of the vote. Lane Kiffin, fired at USC, was second at 11 percent.
No. 3: Sonny Dykes, California
Cal coach Sonny Dykes is like many Pac-12 coaches who did not have much major-college head coaching experience when they started at their programs.
After 13 years as an assistant coach at four different schools, Dykes coached only three years at Louisiana Tech before making the jump to Cal to replace Jeff Tedford.
Mike MacIntyre, also in his first season in the Pac-12, moved from San Jose State to Colorado. Oregon's Mark Helfrich and Stanford's David Shaw were lead assistants of coaches who left for the NFL (Chip Kelly and Jim Harbaugh, respectively).
UCLA's Jim Mora never coached at the collegiate level before moving to Westwood, Calif., last season after 25 years of coaching in the NFL.
Dykes was hired at Cal mostly because of his ability to coach a productive offense—not because of his prior success. He was only 22-15 at Louisiana Tech, but his teams averaged 35.9 points and 452.5 yards per game in his tenure there.
His lack of coaching at the major-college level and his background as an offensive mind could lead to questions about whether he is ready for the challenge at Cal. The Golden Bears defense, beset by injuries, ranks 121st out of 123 FBS teams.
Dykes deserves some time to implement his system, but all eyes will be on whether he will make a marked improvement next season.
No. 2: Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is finding the Pac-12 to be much more difficult than the road he traveled in the Mountain West.
Whittingham had a 22-3 record in the Utes' last three seasons in the Mountain West. In the first three years in the Pac-12, the Utes are 8-14.
Utah is 1-3 in the Pac-12 after Saturday's 35-24 loss at Arizona. The Utes started their first two seasons in the Pac-12 with 0-4 records. Utah did not recover from the poor start last season, finishing 5-7 overall, its first losing season under Whittingham, who is in his 10th season.
Whittingham coached the Utes to an upset victory over fifth-ranked Stanford last week in Salt Lake City. The momentum quickly shifted for the worse against Arizona when promising sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson injured his hand in the first half and never returned.
Whittingham is far enough into his tenure at Utah that injuries should not be an excuse to fall back on.
He is also the highest-paid university employee in Utah, per the Salt Lake Tribune, which must make some in that state wonder if the Utes are getting a positive return on their investment when it comes to being competitive in the Pac-12.
No. 1: Steve Sarkisian, Washington
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian is one of the most experienced Pac-12 football coaches, now in his 12th season overall in the conference. He is no more successful now than when he started at Washington in 2009 after six successful seasons as an assistant coach under Pete Carroll at USC.
Any rumors of USC interest in Sarkisian are greatly exaggerated, especially with former Carroll assistant Lane Kiffin not able to last with the Trojans.
Sarkisian has yet to win more than seven games at Washington. After three consecutive 7-6 seasons, the Huskies are 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the Pac-12.
They have lost three straight games against quality competition (Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State), but their lack of competitiveness against the Sun Devils in a 53-24 loss Saturday was alarming. Sarkisian knows Arizona State is a team his Huskies compared favorably to talent-wise.
"That was embarrassing," Sarkisian said in the postgame press conference. "That was embarrassing. We weren’t good enough. We weren’t good enough. We weren’t well-enough coached. We didn’t perform well enough and we didn't play physical enough."
Washington has two winnable games against Cal and Colorado in the next two weeks before two road games against UCLA and Oregon State.
The Huskies finish with the Apple Cup matchup against rival Washington State, which upset Washington last season. The pressure is on Sarkisian to win that game and upset either UCLA or Oregon State to win at least eight games this season.
If that does not happen, Sarkisian's job security will come more into question.
Please check out Javier Morales' blogs at TucsonCitizen.com.
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