Steve Sarkisian captured headlines, but where does USC's coaching staff rank in the Pac-12?
Amid the departing draft entries and incoming recruiting classes, the Pac-12's coaches are the constants that keep this conference afloat. With pressure from the SEC and West Coast spotlight to thrive, some staffs hold their own better than others.
It's why USC rushed to hire Steve Sarkisian away from Washington, who laterally snagged Boise State's longtime commodity Chris Petersen. It's why the process of replacing defensive coordinators Derek Mason (Stanford) and Nick Aliotti (Oregon) ceased the breath of the North. It's why the developments of UCLA's Jim Mora and Arizona's Rich Rodriguez staying put are well appreciated by their respective schools.
Coaching matters most in the high-maintenance Pac-12.
What sets the elite staffs apart from the pedestrians? For the sake of this list and ultimate success, cohesion is key.
Which well-fused units master the balance between Hollywood star power and tenured stability? Whose philosophies regularly warrant results in the box scores and standings? What programs are still struggling to fill vacancies?
Let's take a look at our power rankings, ironically minus input from the notorious Coaches Poll.
All statistics are via ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.
The bittersweet return of Jahvid Best is the last thing on last-place California's mind.
The sample size for Sonny Dykes in Berkeley is small, yet already shaky. The return of record-setting Cal alum Jahvid Best (courtesy of Rivals) additionally spells disappointment for either side.
Best's plethora of concussions halted his NFL career prematurely, and now he's back to complete his degree and contribute as a student assistant. B/R's Scott Polacek believes, "Best can certainly only help the situation," and it's hard to be too much worse than 1-11 and 122.2 rushing yards per game (No. 107 in the nation). For now, though, it's only a victory in the homebound publicity department.
Meanwhile, the Bear Raid offense of Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin failed to produce the charge they declared upon the jump from Louisiana Tech. In 2013, passing yards (10th-best 331.4 YPG) did not translate into points (98th-best 23.0 PPG) or cover for college football's second-worst total and scoring defense.
Enter Cincinnati's Art Kaufman (per SFGate) following the demotion of now linebackers coach Andy Buh. Kaufman boasts renown as a 2012 Broyles Award finalist, but instability infiltrates California after only Year One regardless.
Injuries and lack of talent still possess a nasty habit of scapegoating the coaching staff, no matter how little time it spends in place. The Daily Californian's Michael Rosen commends Dykes' transparency and demeanor, but the nice guy is finishing last thus far.
Mike Leach's pedigree means close to nothing after Wazzu's Coug job in New Mexico.
Dykes is a disciple of Wazzu head coach Mike Leach's system during their days at Texas Tech. One would hope that the teacher surpasses the student on this list, albeit barely.
Unfortunately, the accomplishments wilt in the wake of Coug-ing away a 15-point fourth-quarter lead in the New Mexico Bowl. Accountability is claimed by the kids who turned the ball over twice under two minutes, via ESPN recap, but should be shared by Leach and his inability to manage clock or infuse balance in his attack.
If Leach cannot catch up the dead-last rushing offense (53.4 YPG) with his No. 4 aerial attack (368.0 YPG), then he should enlist an offensive coordinator that will in lieu of calling his own plays, a la Lane Kiffin.
Also, defensive coaches Mike Breske and Joe Salave'a must continue to enhance recruiting for their 3-4 (according to Fansided's Joshua Davis) in order to avoid relinquishing 30-plus points in seven outings.
Washington State knows fresher triumph than Cal, but the top dog's leash isn't obnoxiously long.
Thank Mike MacIntyre for the serious revitalization of Colorado football culture.
Rather than regressing before progressing like California, Colorado endured its best campaign since aligning with the former Pac-10. A 4-8 mark is hardly worthy of a Bud Light endorsement, but Mike MacIntyre doubled Jon Embree's output in the Buffaloes' previous two seasons.
MacIntyre elevated San Jose State into the Military Bowl in 2012 and tugged the majority of his Spartans staff to Boulder along with him. The overhaul is rare, according to Buffzone's Kyle Ringo and Colorado tradition, but the three-year camaraderie with OC Brian Lindgren and DC Kent Baer is already paying dividends.
The accumulated turnarounds earned MacIntyre brief consideration for the Vanderbilt vacancy, per the Tennessean. Despite SEC roots, MacIntyre reassured the fanbase that he is "excited about the future of Colorado football" (Ringo).
The Pac-12 remains a steep climb into postseason affirmation, but the coaching staff is making sure that Colorado is no longer a punchline.
Rich Rodriguez made himself a superstar at West Virginia, but Year Three in Arizona is crucial.
Rich Rodriguez is approaching his third year in Tucson, so the excuses for treading water (two consecutive 8-5 campaigns) are about to expire.
Luckily for Arizona, prospects of R-Rod returning to the Big East/AAC/YMCA to coach Louisville never crystalized, but this case of stability comes with a ticking clock.
That schools might go after Rodriguez is no surprise given his success the past two seasons at Arizona in what by all accounts should have been rebuilding years, not to mention his previous successes at other programs as one of the architects of the now-ubiquitous spread-option offense.
Nevertheless, Rodriguez hasn't yet met the potential his West Virginia stardom suggests. 'Zona countered its upset of Oregon with three ranked losses and a clunker hosting Washington State, so consistency is a priority moving forward.
Calvin Magee and Rod Smith admirably share offensive coordinator duties and pride themselves on a run-pass balance integral in achieving said consistency. However, though the running game realized an improvement from 2012 (227.8 YPG to 264.9 YPG), numbers dipped in passing (298.4 YPG to 193.5 YPG) and total offense (526.2 YPG to 458.5 YPG).
Magee and Smith have proficiently retooled in the past, according to ESPN's Ted Miller, but replacing B.J. Denker and Ka'Deem Carey is a taller task than what's being led on.
The same can be said for Jeff Casteel and his loss of five defensive starters. B/R's Kyle Kensing has faith in Casteel's recruiting skills, while Arizona Daily Star reminds us of the decrease in yards and points allowed in his 3-3-5 stack formation.
Kudos to Rodriguez and his assistants for keeping Arizona out of the basement, but now R-Rod in particular needs to take the next step.
No current Pac-12 head coach survived his gig longer than well-liked Mike Riley.
What Mike Riley dangles above everyone's heads before and after him in these rankings is longevity. He's the longest tenured head coach in the Pac-12 with 13 seasons in Corvallis under his belt.
His commitment to the pro-style offense is impressive in this high-flying Pac-12, and overall his influence has yet to grow stale.
A presumably mediocre 7-6 record still includes a Hawaii Bowl victory over Boise State. Riley convinced senior Sean Mannion to stay on campus and wrestled away Alabama benchwarmer Luke Del Rio (son of USC alum Jack Del Rio) from Kiffin as a Plan B. Oregon State appears as devoted to Riley as the players were quick to defend defensive coordinator Mark Banker's shortcomings early last season.
All that's left to cope with are the departures of wide receiver Brandin Cooks (Biletnikoff winner and early NFL draft entry) and Danny Langsdorf—offensive coordinator-turned-New York Giants quarterback coach, reported Friday by Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke.
Time will tell if Riley appoints his heir from within, skims the stricken depths of the free-agent assistant pool or resumes play calling responsibilities himself. It's an unexpected void to fill in late January, but The Oregonian's Connor Letourneau reassures the Beavers that "Langsdorf's replacement figures to take over a capable attack. The Beavers will return seven regular starters next season, including several players with significant starting experience."
Riley's up-and-down resume isn't jeopardizing his job security anytime soon, though he has yet to clinch a Pac-12 Championship berth or threaten the then-BCS.
Kyle Whittingham showcases spryness and willingness to adapt entering his tenth season at Utah.
Coming in second with nine consecutive employed seasons is Utah's Kyle Whittingham. He swanks more hardware and a higher ceiling than Riley.
Whittingham's stint in the Utes' Mountain West origins include a 6-1 bowl record and an undefeated 2008 capitalized by a Sugar Bowl triumph and AFCA Coach of the Year honors. Since joining the enhanced competition of the Pac-12, however, Utah suffered two straight 5-7 campaigns following an inaugural 8-5 mark.
With familiarity running out of chances, Whittingham eagerly and humbly makes necessary adjustments.
The Salt Lake Tribune's Lya Wodraska announced the hiring of offensive line coach Jim Harding after Utah relinquished 23 sacks in 2013. Harding is reunited with tempo-driven Dave Christensen, the next Defense Against the Dark Arts offensive coordinator hired this past December. Utah ranked No. 66 in points per game, No. 54 in time of possession and No. 91 in first downs in 2013 (all via NCAA Statistics).
As FootballScoop Staff tweeted following the news, "Utah now has at least 5 guys who have served as an OC somewhere before on their offensive staff," including last year's co-playcallers Dennis Erickson and Brian Johnson. Some would find Whittingham's constant inability to land the right guy unsettling, but when a you have a former head coach in Erickson manning a positional role, that ultimately screams wealth of depth.
Should the changes pan out, Utah is prime to be a 2014 sleeper. Of course, Whittingham's wherewithal is diminutive compared to flashier programs in transition ahead of him on this list.
Steve Sarkisian assembled his staff. Now he and USC must follow through on the field come August.
No Pac-12 school wrote more headlines in regards to its coaching staff than USC. A tumultuous roller coaster from sanctions to Las Vegas glory recaptured a share of Los Angeles for Trojan Pride, but this new crew needs to gel in order to sustain it.
This offseason, Steve Sarkisian assembled an army mixed with fellow Huskies casualties (Justin Wilcox, Marques Tuisasosopo and so forth), Southern Californian incumbents (Clay Helton and Tee Martin) and outside splashes (Georgia's Chris Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers' Tim Drevno). With so many ripe minds on the sideline, cohesion is priority numero uno.
Generally speaking, though, Sark's actions must meet his words. Despite its best season since 1999-2000 (per ESPN), Washington's four losses came against the top teams of the conference, so the hurdle is clear.
Athletic director Pat Haden spews optimism in his latest State of Troy:
It is a young group, and quite frankly, this has become a young man's game. The amount of hours these guys put into the job requires a ton of energy and enthusiasm. They relate to young people well, and I have heard that directly from our players. They have also assimilated into the Trojan Family instantly...they believe in the power of this university, and are already great ambassadors for the department.
USC's richness of talent superseded the adversity of injuries and reduced scholarships in an uplifting 10-victory campaign. Patience is simply required in this new era as fluidity gains ground on the star-studded roster.
Washington procured everyone's man in Chris Petersen, so how long will it take the coaching staff to make its impact?
Washington saw USC's Sark and raised it Chris Petersen—the Boise State hermit everyone coveted for the better part of a decade.
SI's Stewart Mandel awarded the moves of Washington and USC with A and C-plus grades, respectively. There's greater potential in the recruitment hotbed of Los Angeles, but Petersen's relocation within the Northwest exudes more ease, albeit long overdue.
The prospects of Petersen's assistants reads off more naturally than Sark's, for eight former Broncos staff members align with him. The list is highlighted by linebackers coach Bob Gregory (Boise's interim during the bowl defeat to Oregon State), promoted play caller Jonathan Smith, defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski and recruiter Keith Bhonapha.
What follows is acclimating themselves to Washington—and rescuing a bottom-feeding recruiting class, according to The Seattle Times' Adam Jude. Fortunately, the resolved personalities are better suited for Seattle, as Petersen faces the big leagues as stoic as the Statue of Liberty and the rest of his BCS-busting resume.
If Petersen didn't indeed expire waiting in Idaho (and if Tosh Lupoi investigations don't eventually derail efforts), then the Huskies' recent successes shall be built upon long-term. That being said, a slight learning curve should be anticipated going up against four elite Pac-12 staffs with a head start.
UCLA secured its superstar in Jim Mora up until 2019. Can he and the Bruins hurdle the hump?
Aside from being a collective 1-5 versus Arizona State, Stanford and Oregon, what definitively singles out Jim Mora this far in the rankings is UCLA's vacancy at defensive coordinator.
With Lou Spanos transferring to the Tennessee Titans last weekend, per its official website, it would benefit the Bruins to stay in house with someone such as Jeff Ulbrich, similar to the stable strategies of Oregon and Stanford (which we'll get to shortly). SBNation's Patroclus expresses uncertainty regarding "if Coach Mora thinks he is ready for that responsibility yet or if he will look outside the current staff to fill that position."
Should Mora opt for the latter, UCLA finally proposes the chops to do so. After all, Mora's potential services floated around job openings at Washington and Texas, while offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's suitors included Michigan and Connecticut. Such interest suggests that the Bruins can inversely reel other coaches in, once those names surface.
UCLA's formula for eventual Rose Bowl prominence solidified itself when Mora extended his contract into 2019 in December. He subsequently persuaded Brett Hundley into passing on the NFL draft and depreciatively enlisted USC assistant Kennedy Polamalu. The "Trojans ace" (according to SBNation's Menelaus) should fortify recruiting in Los Angeles and sustain the Bruins' ascending rushing attack (196.6 YPG and seven touchdowns from freshman linebacker Myles Jack).
Heading in the right direction, Mora and his staff now must maintain poise amid the national pressure, defuse any big head resulting from the Victory Bell winning streak and improve upon that 1-5 mark.
Todd Graham is the Pac-12's best coach that less people know about.
Arizona State lacks the widespread recognition and household names, but Todd Graham undoubtedly demonstrated his coaching capacity the last two seasons in the desert.
Depicted by B/R's Robby Baker, Graham energized a wallowing football culture with refocused recruiting and a well-manufactured staff. He's far from doing it alone, utilizing the input of a deputy head coach (OC Mike Norvell), senior associate head coach (DC Paul Randolph) and another assistant head coach (OL specialist Chris Thomsen).
Norvell's spread reciprocated with "at least 50 points on six different occasions" (per SBNation's Kerry Crowley), Randolph produced 93 sacks in two years and recruiting coordinator Chip Long aspires to replace nine defensive starters and secure the Pac-12's top incoming class. Consequently, the four-pronged head coach clinched a conference championship berth (though resulting in a loss) and restored contender status as a mainstay of the future.
As Graham reiterated in an interview with AZCentral's Doug Heller: "I want to build a top-five program in America. That’s why I’m here." With budding assistant and son Bo Graham by his side, he and ASU are almost there. Now comes a Rose Bowl or significant bowl victory and proof that Graham can conserve the Sun Devils' progress parallel to Oregon and Stanford.
With Mark Helfrich in charge, it's as if Chip Kelly never left Oregon.
In-house promotions as opposed to extravagant hires showcase confidence in the program's identity and integrity through ups and downs. With Oregon establishing itself as a perennial challenger in college football, Mark Helfrich rightfully and brilliantly expedited continuity this offseason, according to ESPN's Ted Miller.
Helfrich himself rose from Oregon's ranks to maintain the Ducks' hurry-up look when Chip Kelly soared to the Philadelphia Eagles. Total (565.0 YPG), rushing (273.5 YPG) and scoring offense (45.5 PPG) remained in the top 10, respectively, while time of possession (or lack thereof) stood at 25 minutes per game (via NCAA).
Depending on your perception of Oregon's standards, Helfrich's first year garnered mixed reviews. DailyEmerald's Victor Flores disapproves of the manner in which the Ducks' two losses occurred, but The Register-Guard's Ryan Thorburn upholds how a commonplace 11-2 mark is still remarkable.
Regardless, Helfrich doesn't wish to fix what isn't broken. After 17-year defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti retired, 21-year assistant Don Pellum seamlessly stepped in. Meanwhile, redshirt junior and healthy Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota returns to school.
The excitement of change can be unnecessarily blinding for a fan base, as there's nothing Helfrich and Oregon need to do differently en route to the College Football Playoff...other than beating Stanford.
David Shaw provides the total package for Stanford and the Pac-12.
Stanford's coaching staff encapsulates a superior blend of stability, cohesiveness, acclaim and results in the Pac-12.
Simply speaking, David Shaw separates himself from Oregon due to head-to-head prosperity. According to ESPN's Ivan Maisel, it's Stanford's grinding physicality that stifled Oregon's finesse two seasons in a row, outdoing it on first down by a tally of 26-17 and providing the ultimate blueprint for stuffed duck.
After that, Shaw and Stanford both mirror and exceed the successes and practices of Helfrich and Oregon. Despite new faces in the North division, The Oregonian's Andre Greif admits that "the Cardinal are liable to rebound."
Upon defensive coordinator Derek Mason's departure to Vanderbilt, linebackers coach Lance Anderson earned a promotion after grooming stars such as Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. Shaw previously took over for Jim Harbaugh and has since outnumbered him in Rose Bowl appearances (2-0) and Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards (2-0).
Stanford feeds on sophisticated excellence, with Shaw, Anderson and Mike Bloomgren being the Bradford M. Freeman, Willie Shaw and Andrew Luck Directors of Football, Defense and Offense, respectively). Their presence and pedigree preserve Stanford's relevancy and its place in future polls, as well as these coaching staff power rankings.