Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
Stanford's David Shaw ranks as the Pac-12's No. 1 coach for 2013.
Coaching is one of the driving forces in building a national championship team or program. No matter how much talent a program has, it can’t win a national title if the coaching is questionable.
Considering how important coaches are to teams or even making preseason predictions, Athlon is taking a look at how each conference stacks up with its head coach rankings for 2013.
Ranking the coaches in any college football conference is a difficult task. Many factors play into just how successful a coach is at any school. How well are the assistants paid? Are the facilities up to par with the rest of the conference? Can the coach recruit or is he more of an X's and O's manager? Are there off-the-field or age issues to take into consideration? Has a coach built a program or continued the success from a previous coach? How is the resume outside of their current position? These questions and more were posed to the editors at Athlon Sports, as they were asked to rank the coaches of each of the six BCS conferences. One thing to keep in mind - the record is not always indicative of where a coach should rank in a conference.
Ranking the Pac-12 Head Coaches for 2013
1. David Shaw, Stanford
Overall Record at Stanford: 23-4 (2011-present)
Even after two years of winning at an 85-percent clip, there is still somewhat of an unknown factor with Shaw. He has finished tied for first in the Pac-12 North Division both seasons on the Farm, claimed a conference championship and won the school’s first Rose Bowl since 1972. Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck built the Cardinal program back to respectability, and, now that expectations have been elevated significantly, it will be no small feat to maintain this level of success. Shaw is steeped in Stanford tradition as a player and is one of the most well-liked men in the business. If he keeps recruiting at a high level, the Cardinal will remain a factor in the Pac-12 North for years to come. However, the bar has been set high after the last few years, and it’s easy to see just how valuable of a coach Harbaugh was after taking the 49ers to the Super Bowl in his second year in the NFL.
2. Mike Riley, Oregon State
Overall Record at Oregon State: 81-67 (1997-98, 2003-present)
Riley has one of the most unique career paths in all of football. He won big in the CFL before his first stint in Corvallis (8-14) led to an NFL job in San Diego. He returned to Oregon State in 2003 and posted six winning campaigns in his next seven seasons, including the school’s first 10-win season (2006) and a Pac-10 Coach of the Year award (2008). Yet, after two losing seasons in 2010-11, Riley started to feel some pressure to win entering 2012, and he delivered in a big way. Riley turned the league’s worst rushing defense into one of the Pac-12’s best in one offseason and returned the Beavers to a bowl game. There are few people more liked in the industry than Riley and he consistently gets more out of less than most of his coaching peers. There is a reason he is the winningest coach in Oregon State history. It can be tough to sustain success at a program like Oregon State, but Riley is the right man to keep the Beavers in contention for a winning record every year.
3. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Record at Arizona: 8-5 (2012-present)
Record at Michigan: 15-22 (2008-10)
Record at West Virginia: 60-26 (2001-07)
Record at Glenville State: 43-28-2 (1990-96)
Record at Salem: 2-8 (1988)
Overall Record: 134-93-2 (19 years)
Although his lack of success at Michigan is an eyesore on an otherwise stellar resume, Rodriguez is still one of the Pac-12’s top coaches. And if there was any doubt about his coaching prowess, he answered those questions with an 8-5 debut at Arizona in 2012. The Wildcats’ eight victories were a four-game improvement from 2011 and three of their losses were by seven points or less, including an overtime defeat to Stanford. Rodriguez should win big at Arizona, as he is a much better fit in the desert than in the Big Ten with Michigan. In seven years with West Virginia from 2001-07, Rodriguez led the Mountaineers to 60 wins, including a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia in 2005. West Virginia also claimed at least a share of the conference title in four years under Rodriguez’s watch. Arizona must replace quarterback Matt Scott in 2013, but the Wildcats could be pushing for a spot every year in the top 25 as long as Rodriguez is on the sideline.
4. Todd Graham, Arizona State
Record at Arizona State: 8-5 (2012-present)
Record at Pittsburgh: 6-6 (2011)
Record at Tulsa: 36-17 (2007-10)
Record at Rice: 7-6 (2006)
Overall Record: 57-34 (7 years)
With four head coaching jobs in seven years, it’s fair to poke fun at Graham’s job-hopping skills. However, what’s lost in his movement is the Texas native is a very good coach. In his only season at Rice, Graham improved the Owls’ win total by six games from the previous year. At Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane won at least 10 games in three of his four seasons. And at Pittsburgh, Graham led the Panthers to a 6-6 regular-season record and an invite to the BBVA Compass Bowl. Arizona State finished with an 8-5 record last season, the program's first winning mark since 2007. The Sun Devils were close to winning the Pac-12 South Division, as they lost to UCLA by just two points in late October. Under Graham, Arizona State also cut out the boneheaded mistakes and penalties that seemed to plague this program in recent years. The Sun Devils have the personnel to win the division in 2013, and Graham could have this team in the mix for a spot in most preseason top-25 polls.
5. Mike Leach, Washington State
Record at Washington State: 3-9 (2012-present)
Record at Texas Tech: 84-43 (2000-09)
Overall Record: 87-52 (11 years)
Leach is an evaluation anomaly. He has more than a decade of elite-level coaching prowess loaded with some of the most prolific passing statistics in the history of college football. His quarterbacks litter the NCAA passing record books, but his off-the-field headlines have dominated his resume in recent years. A strange and bizarre ousting from Texas Tech led to a brief hiatus from coaching and a short radio career with SiriusXM. Leach took the Washington State job and immediately dealt with locker room upheaval as well as on-the-field deficiencies. His team lost its best player (Marquess Wilson) late in the season, and the rushing offense was the worst in FBS football. Yet somehow, he was still able to finish his first year with a monumental comeback against arch-rival Washington in the Apple Cup. However, more than three wins is needed to keep Leach in the good graces of the Cougars brass this fall.
6. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
Record at Colorado: 0-0 (First Season)
Record at San Jose State: 16-21 (2010-12)
Overall Record: 16-21 (3 years)
MacIntyre has a tough job ahead of him at Colorado, but his previous stint at San Jose State shows he is up for the task. In three years with the Spartans, MacIntyre recorded a 16-21 overall mark and led the program to a top-25 finish in the Associated Press poll at the conclusion of 2012. San Jose State was not in great shape when MacIntyre arrived in 2010, as the program went 8-16 in Dick Tomey’s last two years and had just one winning season from 2001-09. After a 1-12 record in 2010, MacIntyre’s team showed steady improvement by winning five games in '11 and 11 last fall. The Spartans' only losses in 2012 came to Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champion Stanford and a very good Utah State team in mid-October. The Buffaloes are in need of major repair after seven consecutive losing seasons. It may take some time for MacIntyre to get Colorado in contention for a bowl game, but expect the Buffaloes to show marked improvement in 2013.
7. Steve Sarkisian, Washington
Overall Record: 26-25 (2009-present, 4 years)
Coach Sark has proven that he is adaptable during his four years in Seattle. Prior to his arrival in 2009, Washington hadn’t had a winning record since 2002. Sarkisian changed that with a 7-6 campaign in 2010, which included an unexpected win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. However, three straight 7-6/5-4 records have a stagnant feel to them. That said, he has shown the ability to make adjustments when one of the worst defenses in the nation became one of the best overnight when he hired Justin Wilcox, Peter Sirmon and Tosh Lupoi last season. Washington is moving back into a brand new Husky Stadium and the U of W brand is hotter than ever on the recruiting trail, so Sarkisian gets credit for rebuilding the program. However, he needs to take the next step and show that his team can compete for Pac-12 North Division titles.
8. Jim Mora, UCLA
Overall Record at UCLA: 9-5 (2012-present)
Mora wasn’t the most popular hire when he was picked to replace Rick Neuheisel at UCLA. After all, a 31-33 career record in the NFL isn’t anything special. However, the Bruins improved their win total by three games in Mora’s first season and lost to Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship game by just three points. Mora still has much to prove in the next few seasons, as he inherited a lot of talent from the previous coaching staff, and despite winning the division, UCLA lost its final three games of 2012. Mora has surrounded himself with a good staff, and the Bruins have recruited well in each of the last two years. If UCLA wins the South Division once again in 2013, Mora will more than likely rise in these coach rankings next season.
9. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Overall Record at Utah: 71-32 (8 years)
As expected, the move from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 has made life a little more difficult for Utah. Whittingham has been a solid coach in his tenure, but can he elevate the program into Pac-12 title contention? It’s clear it’s going to take some time for the Utes to be an annual factor in the South Division, especially with UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State all showing progress last year. Whittingham led Utah to a 58-20 mark in six years (plus one Fiesta Bowl win in 2004) in the Mountain West. But the Utes are just 13-12 in two seasons in the Pac-12 and missed out on a bowl appearance in 2012 for the first time since 2002. There’s no question Whittingham was a key reason why Utah was successful in the Mountain West and is guiding the program through a tough conference transition. However, Utah took a step back in 2012, and Whittingham is just 7-11 in two years in Pac-12 games.
10. Sonny Dykes, California
Record at California: 0-0 (First Season)
Record at Louisiana Tech: 22-15 (2010-2012)
Overall Record: 22-15 (3 years)
Dykes has a legacy synonymous with coaching as the son of Texas Tech’s legendary head coach Spike Dykes. He worked his way from up the high school and small college ranks before jobs at Kentucky, Texas Tech and Arizona, which led to his first head coaching gig at Louisiana Tech. Learning from his father and fellow Pac-12 North offensive guru Mike Leach, Dykes’ powerful offenses have been his signature. He won the WAC Championship and conference Coach of the Year honors in 2011 and then finished with the nation’s No. 1-rated total and scoring offense in ’12. He walks into a much better situation at Cal than when predecessor Jeff Tedford arrived, as facilities and stadium upgrades make the Bears job much more competitive.
11. Lane Kiffin, USC
Record at USC: 25-13 (2010-present)
Record at Tennessee: 7-6 (2009)
Overall Record: 32-19 (4 years)
There’s no question Kiffin is the toughest coach in the Pac-12 to rank. Kiffin has shown flashes of promise at each of his collegiate coaching stops, starting with a 7-6 record at Tennessee in 2009. The Volunteers were one of the SEC’s worst offensive teams in 2008, yet Kiffin turned Jonathan Crompton into a solid quarterback, and the offense averaged 29.3 points a game. Despite NCAA sanctions hanging over the program, Kiffin guided USC to an 18-7 record during his first two years, including a 2011 Pac-12 South Division title. However, the Trojans were banned from postseason play, so USC could not participate in the conference championship game. While those are the positives, the negatives for Kiffin largely center on the 2012 season. The Trojans were widely picked as a national title favorite but finished with a disappointing 7-6 record and were defeated by a 6-7 Georgia Tech team in the Sun Bowl. Kiffin has had his share of drama at each stop, including recruiting violations at Tennessee, and the deflated football scandal and jersey switch controversy in 2012. Can Kiffin succeed at USC? Absolutely. However, the Minnesota native should worry less about the media, injuries and off-the-field nonsense and concentrate more on the X’s and O’s. The Trojans have the talent to win the Pac-12 South Division. But if this team stumbles once again, Kiffin will likely be out of a job at the end of the year.
12. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Overall Record at Oregon: 0-0 (First Season)
After playing and coaching at small Southern Oregon, Helfrich landed with the Ducks in 1997 under Dirk Koetter. He then followed Koetter to both Boise State and Arizona State, returning to Eugene in 2009 as offensive coordinator under Chip Kelly. After two National Quarterbacks Coach of the Year Awards (2010, '12), Helfrich got his chance when Kelly departed for the NFL. He is the third consecutive offensive coordinator to be elevated to head coach at Oregon as the previous two — Mike Bellotti and Kelly — have proven the method for hiring is extremely effective. With a stacked roster returning on offense, all signs point to immediate success for the new headman in Oregon. However, Helfrich is largely an unknown and has never been a head coach prior to 2013. Even if Helfrich can keep Oregon performing at a high level this year, is he capable of keeping the Ducks in national championship contention in 2014 and '15? Oregon's method of promoting from within has worked well with its last two hires. However, Helfrich still has a lot to prove entering his first season as the head Duck.
Related College Football Content
Ranking the ACC Head Coaches for 2013
Ranking the Big 12 Head Coaches for 2013
Ranking the Big Ten Head Coaches for 2013
College Football's Top 50 Quarterbacks of the BCS Era
Pac-12 2013 Schedule Analysis
College Football's Top 25 Pre-Spring Heisman Contenders for 2013
Ranking the Pac-12 Coaching Jobs for 2013
College Football's Top Assistant Coach Hires for 2013