Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The 2013 Pac-12 Football Hot Seat Ranking

With the 2013 college football season starting up in a little more than 50 days, now is a good time to check in with all 12 coaches in the conference and take a look at their job security. Here is a breakdown of each coach and what pressures and expectations they are facing ranked from who has the hottest seat (likely to be fired) to coolest seat (likely won’t ever be fired).

1. Lane Kiffin, USC: The hottest seat in the Pac-12 is pretty obvious. The Trojans were ranked number one in the preseason polls last year and the expectation both inside and outside the athletic department was that the Trojans were going to break free from the sanctions that held it down and contend for the national championship. Instead the Trojans completely flopped, as it finished 7-6 and put up historically bad defensive numbers that would have made Nick Holt proud.

Kiffin had to remove his father Monte as defensive coordinator which is a really bad sign for him considering that a big reason he was hired in the first place was so USC could get the NFL legend to coordinate its defense. With his father gone, Lane Kiffin will likely get one last chance to prove to administration that he’s the guy. The 10 wins saves him, nine will probably keep him around for 2014 although Kiffin will have to sweat out his exit interview, but eight or fewer wins definitely gets him fired. Remember that AD Pat Haden did not hire Kiffin and after he fired Men's Basketball head coach mid-season last year, Haden might not hesitate to can Kiffin before the year is up if USC starts slow.

2. Steve Sarkisian, Washington: I’ll have a full post about Sarkisian and the obstacles he is facing this year up later but trust me when I tell you that the bloom is starting to fall off the rose with Sark in Seattle. Sarkisian rescued the Huskies from the Ty Willingham era and made the team competitive overnight. However, Sarkisian’s progress has flat lined as the Huskies have repeated the same 7-6 mark for three consecutive years. Now Coach Sark brings back a loaded roster of returning talent including the first healthy and experienced offensive line that he’s had since he got there.

The biggest issue for Sarkisian is that he was hailed as a great offensive coach who did wonders tutoring young QBs at USC including Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez. It looked like Sark had brought that talent to Seattle when Jake Locker was picked in the top 10 and Keith Price set several school records in 2011. However, after Keith Price’s drastic regression last season following the departure of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to Alabama, many people (myself included) began to wonder if Sark had been dining out on the success of others at USC and namely on Nussmeier at Washington. Washington faces the most difficult schedule in the conference next season but they have the pieces to win at least eight games. If the Huskies hit that eight win mark and Price gets pack to his 2011 self than Sarkisian stays. However, another year at 7-5 or god forbid a regression coupled with continued poor QB play could see Sarkisian out the door and Nussmeier coming back from Tuscaloosa to replace him.

3. Mark Helfrich, Oregon: Helfrich’s predecessor Chip Kelly had the safest job in the conference thanks to a 46-7 record. Unfortunately for Helfrich, he is walking into a situation where both fans and administration are expecting similar results from him compared to what they got from the last guy. The main reason Helfrich got the job was because AD Rob Mullens wanted to encourage continuity and continue building the culture that Chip Kelly created. In light of that, with 15 starters and a lot of depth returning from last year’s 12-1 outfit, expectations are to win the National Championship. Duck fans have watched their team win two consecutive non-championship BCS bowls and judging by how few tickets the University sold for the Fiesta Bowl, fans aren’t getting pumped about anything less than a championship.

Oregon has way too much talent to win fewer than 10 games, however a 10-3 mark with all that talent will make people question his ability. The Ducks should have enough pieces to out-talent opponents to at least another 10 wins in 2014 but if the Ducks aren’t in the National Title picture in Helfrich’s first two seasons, he could be looking at a make or break year in 2015.

4. Kyle Whittingham, Utah: Whittingham was a consistent winner with the Utes in the Mountain West conference and lead the school to its two greatest achievements as he led the Utes to victory in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl after Urban Meyer bolted for Florida and toppled Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl to finish a perfect season. Utah frequently played Pac-10 opponents in non-conference and performed at a high level in those match ups leading many to think Utah would step right into the Pac-12 and be at least a fringe contender. That hasn’t materialized as Utah lost five games in year one and then slogged through a forgettable 5-7 season last year, missing out on a bowl for the first time since 2002.

I always thought the idea that Utah would compete in the Pac-12 from day one was over zealous and unrealistic and I think Utah’s administration is smart enough to understand that. I also think Whittingham built up enough good will in his first six years there before joining the Pac-12 to earn a few transition years. However, if the Utes struggle again and miss out on a bowl for the second straight year, Whittingham will be feeling very uncomfortable heading into 2014.

5. Mike Leach, Washington State: Leach came in with bluster and had fans waving pirate flags with pride and thinking the glory days would return in short order. Year one turned into a bit of a flop though as WSU struggled in all phases on defense, was incompetent running the ball, flip flopped between two quarterbacks and committed turnovers in droves. Those problems don’t even include the whole MarquessWilson fiasco.

However, it is important to remember that Leach was WSU’s first choice in the hiring process last year and Leach was AD Bill Moos’ dream hire. In light of that it’s going to take a lot for Moos to make a move on Leach. Another losing season won’t impact Leach much so long as the team shows tangible progress which it did as last season went along. I think the power brokers at WSU know Leach is a great coach and if they look south to Corvallis and see how many times Oregon State has been rewarded for sticking with Mike Riley and giving him time to get things right, I think WSU will give Leach at least two more years before they start to have conversations about his job security.

6. Sonny Dykes, Cal
7. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado: the two new head coaches in the Pac-12 are facing similar expectations and will have relatively comparable timetables for winning. I think Dykes is facing slightly heavier expectations only because there’s more top end talent in Berkeley to work with and the University just finished a massive renovation on Memorial Stadium and built a lot of other facilities so Dykes will face some pressure to win quickly.

MacIntyre faces hardly any immediate pressure at all as he inherits a roster mostly devoid of top talent and will have no expectations to win right away. Colorado recently ousted AD Mike Bohn and I think the new administration will be willing to let things play out with MacIntyre for at least a few years while the University tries to upgrade facilities and resources to make Coach Mac’s job a little easier.

8. Todd Graham, Arizona State
9. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
10. Jim Mora Jr., UCLA: I’m grouping the other three second year guys into one consortium because they are all basically in the same boat. All three coaches delivered immediate results and big time improvements over their predecessors in year one and all three schools have every reason to believe they’ll be getting more of the same in year two. UCLA and ASU are loaded with talent and expect to contend for the Pac-12 South. Even if UCLA and/or ASU regress slightly and fail to reach their goals I think both coaches will remain where they are for several more years as long as Todd Graham doesn’t have any family in Los Angeles or Seattle.

Arizona is in a slightly different situation given the defense and uncertainty at quarterback but I think last year’s defensive struggles were mostly due to players trying to grasp the 3-3-5 on the fly after being recruiting to play a 4-3 for Mike Stoops. Jeff Casteel has a proven track record as a defensive coordinator and I think he’ll start to deliver results on defense next year. Also, given Rich Rod’s track record with breaking in young QB’s and getting immediate production from them (see White, Patrick and Robinson, Denard) I think Arizona’s offense will be just fine no matter who ends up taking snaps.

11. Mike Riley, Oregon State: It amazes me that still to this day some Oregon State fans want to oust Riley. All he ever does is win despite having the fewest resources, worst facilities, and least attractive town to advertise in the conference outside of Wazzou. OSU simply won’t find another coach better than him and they certainly won’t find one as committed to the University. Riley turned down an opportunity to coach USC, arguably the best job in college football and his alma mater not once, but twice. Things looked a little sketchy after an injury plagued 3-9 campaign but OSU stuck with Riley as he has stuck with them. OSU was rewarded for their faith with a 9-4 season and will likely be rewarded again with another 8-10 win season in 2013.

12. David Shaw, Stanford: Free from the shadow of Jim Harbaugh, Shaw heads into the 2013 season as the Pac-12 safest and perhaps most revered coach. Most fans dismissed his first year because he won with Harbaugh’s players and specifically with Andrew Luck. However, after continuing the success without Luck (and with a Freshman QB whom Shaw recruited himself) and winning the Rose Bowl, something Harbaugh and Luck couldn’t do, Shaw is completely safe and worry free heading into 2013. Now in his third season, Shaw has a roster built mostly on players who never saw the field under Harbaugh’s leadership. If Stanford contends for the national championship as I expect them to, I think David Shaw could be fielding calls from the NFL just like his predecessor.

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