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Pac-12 Football: Ranking the Current Pac-12 Coaches

Christopher NicholasContributor IIIFebruary 24, 2011

Pac-12 Football: Ranking the Current Pac-12 Coaches

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    This is a ranking of the current Pac-12 football coaches and their careers in the Pac-12.

    A couple of these coaches are new to the “head” job or have not yet coached in the Pac-12. For them, I will judge them on their other accomplishments.

    Get ready for some mind-boggling, outrageous rankings!

    Fine print: These rankings are based on what the coaches have done recently, Pac-10 records and what their projected short-term futures will be. Also, since this is literally eight months in advance, some of these predictions are subject to change due to returning players, injuries and acts of God.

Paul Wulff

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    First off, is it me or does he never have a headset on?

    Secondly, he will have his hands full taking on both new members of the Pac-12. His true junior quarterback, Jeff Tuel, will be the only bright spot on this team.

    There's not a whole lot to say about this man or his team.

    My prediction: Three wins

Jon Embree

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    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Colorado fans, welcome to the face of your first Pac-12 coach. I ranked him higher than Wulff for two reasons:

    1) Although he has not won a game, he also has not lost one.

    2) He's not Dan Hawkins.

    If I were a Colorado fan, I would have had high hopes for Hawkins because he was the man that originally had Boise State finishing in the Top 25 for the five years he was there. Then Hawkins figured out what BIG BOY football was all about. I expect Embree to use the "Big 12 recruits" that are still on the team to do well against the lower teams of the Pac-12, like WSU and UCLA.

    Not knowing what type of offense or defense (4-3 probably) they will run and not knowing how the talent will translate to more spread-pass-heavy teams, I expect a mixed bag. The one advantage they might have is the late-season snow, which should slow some of the spread teams down.

    My prediction: Four or five wins this season

Rick Neuheisel

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    I'm not going to lie—I'm surprised I ranked him this high. However, there was a time and a place where he did win a Rose Bowl.

    Not many people (other than Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State fans) remember his little four-year stint in the Northwest. His University of Washington career was actually mildly impressive until till NCAA sanctions found him and he was fired.

    It is his current struggling UCLA team, though, that has him behind guys like (spoiler alert) Dennis Erickson. His 15 wins in three seasons are not as good as he would have liked, and I'm sure changing philosophies was an even bigger blow since the Pistol offense backfired on him.

    His two "big" wins last year over Texas and Houston were marred by both teams finishing unranked with no bowl appearances between them. Neuheisel has not come close to beating the USC Trojans, his crosstown rival that he said he would steal L.A. from, or at least some recruits. 

    UCLA needs to find some stability, whether it be in the Pistol or any other offense, to get at least another bowl appearance and gain some confidence.

    My prediction: Five wins—any less and Slick Rick is out of a job.

Jeff Tedford

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The reason why Tedford is so low on this list is because of his disappointing endings. Too many times the Golden Bears would be on the cusp of winning and fall short.

    Prior to this season an ESPN magazine used pollspeak.com to produce the five most overrated and underrated teams based on preseason rankings against the postseason rankings. Cal was the second most overrated team, falling 7.8 spots per season.

    There should be hope for Bear fans. Unfortunately, it is only because of Stanford. Jim Harbaugh showed us how to win—not only win, but dominate with future lawyers, astrophysicists, biochemists, Senators, professors and so forth.

    Tedford needs to set his pride aside and run, run, run and run some more. His last good quarterback was Aaron Rodgers, and he was decent in college. For all you Cal fans who disagree with that last statement, Akili Smith threw for more touchdowns and yards than either one of Rodgers' years at Cal. But Tedford may have finally found a selling point for young high school quarterbacks or even junior college kids.

    Once again, there might be a caveat to this. More and more teams have started going to spread-option attacks because it is easier to train a kid who's already been through that type of system, and more and more athletes are coming out at the quarterback spot trained in the spread than natural drop-back passers.

    The only upside to this season will be the Golden Bears playing in AT&T Park this season as Mehorrible Stadium gets renovated. Rumors have also circulated that the team had too much money invested in Tedford to fire him this offseason, and a subpar season may see that football is another one of the sports Cal has to cut.

    Aside from the offense, I have high hopes for their defense, which was more aggressive and Jets-esque with exotic blitzes to put more pressure on offenses.

    My prediction: Five wins

David Shaw

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    I could not find a picture of David Shaw, so I thought it would be fitting to put up Andrew Luck's picture instead. Heck, that's what the offense will consist of next year.

    Luck lost both starting receivers and three offensive linemen due to graduation. However, the offense should make do with two well experienced running backs in Stepfan Taylor and Anthony Wilkerson. They combined for over 1,800 total yards and 19 touchdowns.

    There may even be a bit of a competition between these two, as Harbaugh had said he expected Wilkerson to be starting by the end of the year. That did not come to fruition, but I expect a bigger push from Wilkerson this year.

    Even if the offense struggles, the defense should be the focal point of that team. With returning stars like Shane Skov, the infamous Chase Thomas and Michael Thomas, that defense should be as effective as it was in 2010, recording seven games where they held opponents to 14 points or fewer. However, no one quite knows how that defense will handle itself without Vic Fangio, who installed that aggressive 3-4 defense they played with last year.

    One thing I would like to point out is that smart players in a "smart" defense is one deadly force, and it showed. Unfortunately Fangio went with Harbaugh to rejuvenate the 49ers D.

    If Shaw keeps the same mentality to the offense and that defense stays aggressive, I can see the Cardinal going to another BCS bowl game.

    My prediction: Eight to 11 wins and possibly Pac-12 North representative

Mike Stoops

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    I could not find one of him not yellingSteve Dykes/Getty Images

    I had a hard time finding a picture of Stoops not yelling, so I went with one of him snarling at an official. Mike Stoops had a tough start to his Pac-10 career, going four years without a winning season. Since then he has gone 23-16 with three bowl appearances. 

    Stoops has had some marquee wins while at Arizona but has never been able to put a complete season together.

    Most notable was last season, when the Wildcats beat No. 10 Iowa at home but then lost to Oregon State two weeks later at home, when Arizona was the No. 11 team in the country. Heck, he even had Oregon on the fritz till an 84-yard touchdown run by true freshman Josh Huff.

    The Wildcat offense should be good once again this season with plenty of starting talent coming back. Quarterback Nick Foles and All-Pac-10 wide receiver Juron Criner should be deadlier than ever in an Air Raid offense that mixes in a versatile power running game. 

    I don't expect a whole lot from his defense, though, since the Wildcats lost both defensive ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, including two more in the front seven. With that knowledge, I expect more exotic looks and more blitzes, possibly from some members of the secondary.

    The schedule has somewhat of a murderers' row in four consecutive weeks: Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC. The worst part of all: They start this four-game stretch in Week 2. Hopefully his team can make it out of there with at least two wins and without injury.

    This year may make or break Stoops as a coach, possibly ending in him having a heart attack mid-game. 

    My prediction: Six to eight wins

Dennis Erickson

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    I really want to rate this team higher, but they failed to make a bowl game last season, thus continuing streak since Erickson's first year at ASU.

    Like Neuheisel, this wasn't his first stop in the Pac-10. He did coach for three years at Oregon State and won a BCS bowl game in the Fiesta Bowl in 2000. Unfortunately, that was his only bowl win in the Pac-10.

    This team has HUGE immediate upside, returning 19 starters, including middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. If he quits committing stupid penalties and understands the intricacies of the game, Burfict has the potential to be an All-American. In fact, had he not committed a late penalty against the Cardinal, ASU would have been bowl eligible.

    Expect ASU to compete with Utah and Arizona to win the Pac-12 South.

    ASU lost four games by four points or less. One more play here or there and they are bowl eligible. If they can keep that continuity going into the 2011 season, Erickson may get himself a new contract...or someone will be inheriting a very good team.

    My prediction: Seven or eight wins

    Shoutout: Uncle Mark and Chuck, you might want to get some season tickets before this team gets hot!

Lane Kiffin

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Lane Kiffin is an interesting head coach. Heck of a coordinator, though. My jury is still out on him after two seasons as a college head coach.

    I feel bad not taking a bet with my father, saying that the Trojans would not win nine games this season. I should have taken that bet after seeing their mundane performance against WAC co-champion Hawaii and their last-second field goal win against Virginia. 

    Kiffin, to me, did little to impress his USC boosters by losing to Washington, Stanford and Oregon in consecutive years, not to mention the fact that he lost to Notre Dame, although to be fair it's not his fault that several wide-open receivers dropped the go-ahead touchdown.

    For all you USC diehards, please don't say, "Well, Matt Barkley was injured." Fool, please. You've got the nation's best running backs, wide receivers and O-linemen. Just because you cannot throw does not mean you cannot win. The Phantom Hit on Dennis Dixon cost the Ducks a Pac-10 title in 2007.

    Another thing I want to point out is that his father, Monte Kiffin, was his defensive coordinator last season. Hate to say it, but Monte should have stayed in the NFL. Hopefully he will make some corrections, like keeping a spy in on quarterbacks that can run. To put more pressure on his father, USC did not get a lot of defensive recruits this year, and that side of the ball is already pretty thin.

    Besides that, their immediate future will only have one bright spot: recruits. Still pending an appeal, they are not allowed to go to the postseason or even be part of the Pac-12 Championship Game.

    My prediction: Eight or nine wins

Steve Sarkisian

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Steve Sarkisian has done a tremendous job with the Huskies. Other than Erickson and Chip Kelly, I think Sarkisian has the biggest upside of any one of these coaches.

    Jake Locker was an overrated mess who never deserved the praise he got. Fortunately he had Chris Polk at running back, who again eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark. He will be the focal point for the Huskies this season as they break in either Keith Price or first-time quarterback Nick Montana.

    The offense should be decent, but where the Huskies should be potent is defense. Nick Holt will be in his third year as defensive coordinator and will have enough returning starters to master the 4-3 defense he picked up from USC.

    Last year he didn't necessarily stop teams from scoring, but he did limit them at times and looked great at others. Holt needs to improve the 29.3 point average he gave up last season, and with eight returning starters he may give up only 20 points a game.

    The biggest vote of confidence the Huskies gave me from last season was when they came back and beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl after being blown out 56-21 at home earlier in the season. That single win has convinced me that Sarkisian will have a secure job for some time.

    My prediction: Seven wins

Kyle Whittingham

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    This will be the first year the Utah Utes will be playing in the Pac-12, and they should be Pac-12 South contenders almost immediately, especially since USC will be on a pending one-year hiatus due to NCAA sanctions.

    Jordan Wynn is their returning starting quarterback and now has Norm Chow to guide the spread passing attack of the Utes.

    The Utes should be able to get some easy wins against UCLA, Colorado and Washington State and be able to hold themselves with the middle-tier teams like Cal, Arizona and Washington.

    That's half their schedule right there, and I think they can shock USC from what I've seen out of USC's defense. Unfortunately, they play at LA Memorial Coliseum, which may be the home field advantage the Trojans need to beat the Utes in the first Pac-12 game ever.

    The defense should not need much tweaking, as it allowed only 20.3 points a game. Don't worry about their players being undersized either—the Utes demolished Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl and were the only undefeated team that year. Whittingham knows how to use slants and stunts to attack opposing offenses that may have bigger linemen.

    Obviously I think very highly of the Utes, but I think they truly can come on the scene and shake things up. Not to mention their talent pool may have just increased. By going to an AQ conference, they have an advantage that BYU does not. BYU just became independent, so it will have to finish within the top four in the BCS poll to go to a BCS bowl. Mormons now have a choice of which major football factory they can go to, and going to a BCS bowl game may be the deal-breaker between the two.

    My prediction: Seven wins and possibly the Pac-12 South representative

Mike Riley

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    I ranked Mike Riley this high for a couple reasons:

    1) Last year he had to deal with one of the most challenging schedules in the nation and the hardest non-conference schedule.

    2) Suffered injuries (James Rodgers) and departures in the offseason, including two returning linebackers, prior to the 2010 season.

    3) He does better with his talent than any other coach I know. If his Oregon State teams were in the WAC or MWC, it would be them going undefeated to BCS bowl games year in and year out. Heck, they basically have the same talent pool except he plays Washington, Oregon and USC every year.

    4) The past three times the USC Trojans have gone to Corvallis, the Beavers have knocked off the highly-ranked Trojans in destructive fashion. Two of those times USC was ranked in the top three.

    Riley should have his hands full this season with another challenging non-conference schedule by playing FCS Sacramento State, reigning Big Ten (12?) co-champ Wisconsin and newly independent BYU, who should rebound this season. As far as conference schedules go, the Beavers have a manageable schedule while not playing USC but have to play at Oregon.

    Unfortunately, without much more to go on, and with the loss of Jacquizz Rodgers, the Beavers might not produce what Riley's hoping for.

    My prediction: Six wins

Chip Kelly

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    If a 17-1 conference record in two years does not get some type of recognition, then you might be a knucklehead.

    With his breakneck style of offense, Kelly has dominated the Pac-10 and has changed the college football world. In each of his four seasons at Oregon (two as offensive coordinator, two as head coach), he led the Pac-10 in scoring and yards. With Heisman runner-up LaMichael James returning, expect another explosive year from the Ducks.

    What makes the Ducks so explosive is their ability to utilize players like Josh Huff and Kenjon Barner, who both return. Another thing the Ducks do that separates them from the rest of the pack is Kelly's ingenuity to option any player on the field, like defensive tackles or linebackers. However, expect the Ducks to pass a little more this season with the loss of three offensive linemen.

    As for the defense, Nick Aliotti will keep using his blitz-heavy 4-3, which will often look like a 3-4. Since Oregon uses several undersized defensive linemen, Aliotti uses zone blitzes, slants and stunts to effectively pressure opposing offenses. With Cliff Harris and John Boyette to man the secondary, quarterbacks will have a hard time throwing on the Ducks.

    Unfortunately, the Ducks lost a lot of key members in the front seven to the draft and now have to reload. But with veterans like Josh Kaddu, Michael Clay, Terrell Turner and Boseko Lokombo, breaking in new players shouldn't be that difficult.

    The only downside to Kelly would be his system. It forces teams to be as well-conditioned as his teams are, and from the past two years, it has shown that very few teams have been able to do that. But at the speed they run, they somewhat lack the initial size to simply pound the ball early on in the game. I believe that in the two bowl games he has coached, he literally conceded a between-the-tackles running game.

    Another flaw is that, once again, they run at a fast pace, so that if they run a play for negative-three yards, line up, do another running play, get a holding call and throw an incomplete pass, all of a sudden it's 3rd-and-23. High risk, high reward.

    I would give it another year or two to say "he can't win the big one." But look at some of the coaches that held that moniker: Jimmy Johnson, Tom Landry, John Madden, Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy. Trust me, Chip is too good not to win one.

    Overall, I believe that the Ducks are one of the most well-coached teams in the nation and that Chip Kelly has a great future ahead of him.

    My prediction: Nine or 10 wins and possibly the Pac-12 North representative

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