Rich Rodriguez and Sean Miller give Arizona the top spot in the Pac-12
With college football’s spring practice and basketball’s postseason around the corner, Athlon Sports decided this would be a good time to evaluate each school’s coaching tandem.
In this ranking, we aimed to reward balance. In short, which school’s fanbase is most likely to be satisfied from September to March? A handful of schools may have an accomplished football coach while the basketball coach is looking to keep his job, or vice versa. We did not grade on a curve in those cases.
In evaluating coaches, we examined past performance, with more focus on current and recent results and future expectations. We also considered how good a fit a particular coach is for a particular school.
Our first in the series presented a challenge. The Pac-12 is the only one of the major conferences that has neither a football nor a basketball coach who has won a national title. Converseley, even the bottom of the Pac-12 rankings features tandems many schools would be happy to have.
Our top pick in the Pac-12, though, includes new faces with Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez in his first season and basketball coach Sean Miller in his fourth in Tucson.
Other coach tandem rankings:
ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | SEC
Football: Rich Rodriguez | Basketball: Sean Miller
In his first season at Arizona, Rodriguez won winning five of his last seven games as the Wildcats ranked in the top 25 nationally in rushing, passing, total offense and scoring offense. The 8-5 season was a good indication Rodriguez may put up results more similar to his tenure at West Virginia (60-26) than his tenure at Michigan (15-22). In basketball, Sean Miller has restored stability to a program that had two one-season coaches after Lute Olson’s legendary run. Arizona’s not back to level of prominence it enjoyed through the '90s and into the early 2000s, but Miller has already taken Arizona to an Elite Eight and has the Wildcats in contention for its second conference title in his tenure.
Football: Jim L. Mora | Basketball: Ben Howland
UCLA may have the toughest tandem to judge in the Pac-12. Howland has three consecutive Final Fours on his resume, but the program now looks little like the one Howland coached from 2006-08. The Bruins are having their best season of the last four thanks to a signing class that has finally delivered on its promise. But UCLA isn’t immune to puzzling losses (Cal Poly, USC) or criticism from one of its greatest players. On the football side, Mora resuscitated the program with a 9-5 season and a Pac-12 South title, but a three-game losing streak (including two to Stanford) indicates the Bruins still have a way to go to return to national prominence. Still, Howland’s track record and Mora’s quick rebuild is enough to make UCLA’s tandem No. 2 in the league.
Football: Sonny Dykes | Basketball: Mike Montgomery
Prior to the season, we rated Montgomery as the Pac-12’s top basketball coach. At Stanford, Montgomery never finished lower than second in the conference from 1996-2004. Then, he raised the profile at Cal, reaching the NCAA Tournament three times in his first four seasons at Berkeley. In football, Cal will hope Dykes can restore some excitement to a program that had grown stale under predecessor Jeff Tedford. Dykes is a spread offense guru who coached under Mike Leach at Texas Tech and has experience in the Pac-12 at Arizona. He improved his win total each season at Louisiana Tech.
Football: Mike MacIntyre | Basketball: Tad Boyle
Has any major program improved its football/basketball coaching situation more in the last few years than Colorado? The Buffaloes have hired two overachievers from lower-tier conferences to take over struggling programs. Boyle led the Buffs to a Pac-12 Tournament title in his second season and has them in contention for a third consecutive postseason bid, something Colorado has never done. MacIntyre went 1-12 in his first season at San Jose State and led the Spartans to an 11-2 season three years later. Both coaches have proven track records at tough jobs. That’s good news, since Colorado is one of the toughest in the league on both fronts.
5. Oregon State
Football: Mike Riley | Basketball: Craig Robinson
After Oregon State missed the postseason in 2010-11, Riley proved again why it’s never a great idea to underestimate the Beavers. Oregon State won nine games and finished the season ranked for the fourth time in seven seasons. (Athlon picked Oregon State last in the Pac-12 North heading into the season.) In basketball, Robinson has improved one of the worst programs in the league, but he’s topped out at the College Basketball Invitational so far.
Football: David Shaw | Basketball: Johnny Dawkins
Shaw may be the best football coach in the Pac-12 after picking up where Jim Harbaugh left off. Shaw’s 2012 effort was the best coaching job in the league last season as the Cardinal, minus Andrew Luck, still won the conference, defeated Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and finished the season in the top 10 for the second consecutive year. On the basketball side, this appeared to be a make-or-break season for Johnny Dawkins, whose tenure halted more than a decade’s worth of success under Montgomery and Trent Johnson. Dawkins is on his way to second consecutive winning season, but the Cardinal may need to win the Pac-12 Tournament to avoid the NIT.
7. Arizona State
Football: Todd Graham | Basketball: Herb Sendek
Jokes aside about Graham’s wandering eye for open coaching jobs, he’s proven himself as a winning coach. He ended a bowl drought at Rice, won at least 10 games three times in four seasons at Tulsa and exceeded expectations with an 8-5 season and 5-4 record in the Pac-12 for the Sun Devils’ best season since 2007. After two losing seasons, Sendek has Arizona State back in NCAA Tournament contention this season. He entered the season on the hot seat, but at least for a season, he’s showing he can win in Tempe without James Harden.
Football: Steve Sarkisian | Basketball: Lorenzo Romar
Another tough tandem to evaluate in the Pac-12: On the one hand, Sarkisian has done an admirable job in reviving a program that went 0-12 the year before he arrived. After three consecutive 7-6 seasons and a major boost in recruiting, Sarkisian will be under the microscope to take the next step in 2013. On the court, Romar is the longest-tenured coach in the league. The Huskies recruit as well as any team in the league outside of UCLA or Arizona, but they’ve been up-and-down. Romar’s teams have reached the Sweet 16 three times, won the conference regular season title twice and the tournament three times. This season, however, may be the third time in the last seven seasons Washington fails to win 20 games.
Football: Mark Helfrich | Basketball: Dana Altman
Altman has not missed the postseason since 1997-98, though his last NCAA Tournament appearance was in 2007 at Creighton. That could end this season as Oregon is one of the country’s surprise teams at 19-5 overall and 8-3 in the Pac-12. After going 7-11 in the league his first season, Oregon is 21-8 in conference in the last two. In football, Helfrich is a major unknown for a program that has been a regular on the national title scene for the last three seasons. The career assistant may not have been a strong candidate for other programs, but Oregon has a nice track record of promoting its offensive coordinators (Chip Kelly, Mike Bellotti).
10. Washington State
Football: Mike Leach | Basketball: Ken Bone
A 31-28 win over Washington in the Apple Cup salvaged an otherwise dismal first season for Leach at Washington State. The offense never materialized, star wide receiver Marquess Wilson left the team midseason, and the Cougars lost eight in a row before the win in the season finale. Leach eventually turned Texas Tech into a consistent bowl team, and there’s little reason to doubt he won’t do the same eventually in Pullman. In basketball, Bone built programs at Seattle Pacific and Portland State, but he’s struggled in four seasons in the Pac-12. The Cougars are 24-41 in the conference under Bone, including a 2-9 effort so far this season.
Football: Kyle Whittingham | Basketball: Larry Krystkowiak
File Utah under the tandems we might regret ranking this low in a few years. Whittingham’s 33 wins from 2008-10, including an undefeated season in 2008, can’t be ignored. But at the same time, Whittingham and Utah are unproven on the Pac-12 level. The Utes are 7-11 in two seasons in the league, and they’re coming off a losing season. A former NBA assistant, Krystkowiak inherited a mess of player departures at Utah. He’s 5-24 in the league, but those wins have included eventual NIT champion Stanford last season and Washington on the road and NCAA contender Colorado this year.
Football: Lane Kiffin | Basketball: Bob Cantu
Kiffin led the nation’s most disappointing team last season as the Trojans started as a preseason No. 1 and finished 7-6. With Matt Barkley gone, a coaching staff shakeup and a recruiting class that fell apart in the weeks before national signing day (but still finished in the top 15 nationally), Kiffin will be watched closely in 2013. In basketball, Cantu is an interim coach who replaced Kevin O’Neill midseason.