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Arizona Wildcats Coaching Search



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With Mike Stoops out at Arizona, we turn to who we, by the numbers, believe can be successful head coaches for the Wildcats. Arizona is a bit deceiving in that it's not as good of a job as you would think.

According to our proprietary CBTN Best Head Coaching Job Ranking, Arizona is the 51st best job in the nation and the 10th best job in the Pac-12 conference. The question we have to ask is if Arizona has had unsuccessful coaches because it's a bad job or it's a bad job because it's had unsuccessful coaches?

From out standpoint, Arizona has simply not found the right captain for its ship. The school is a large, state school with lots of available resources and is located in a region of the country that produces plenty of quality talent (Mike Stoops did have two top 20 recruiting classes in his time Arizona). So, who is the right coach for the Wildcats? Here is our list:

Chris Petersen

The question with Petersen is not where to look for good numbers, but where to look for bad numbers. As hard as we have tried, we have not yet found a statistical flaw for Petersen. The real question is whether or not he would consider this job enough of an upgrade to leave what appears to be a really good situation for Petersen in Boise.

Mike Leach

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know he has some baggage. Read his book and you will understand that Leach's "baggage" is not baggage at all. This guy is a great coach and a good man and should be on the list of any program looking to get better on the field. From 1970-1999, the 30-year period before Leach took the reigns at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders won eight or more games only six times. During Leach's ten years at the helm of Texas Tech, he accomplished this feat eight different times. From 2001-2009, among active and inactive head coaches with two years minimum experience, Mike Leach was our 23rd rated head coach. Keep in mind that during this same period, Leach had an average recruiting ranking of 31. From 2004-2010, among active and inactive coaches with two years minimum experience, Mike Stoops was our 61st rated head coach. During this time, Stoops has an average recruiting ranking of 38.86.

Rich Rodriquez

The Rich Rod Michigan experiment failed, but we don't believe it failed because Rich Rodriguez is a bad coach. The Rich Rod experiment in Michigan failed because Rich Rod wasn't able to find a competent defensive coordinator (for more details, click here). If I was an AD interviewing Rich Rod, my first question would be regarding who he would hire as his defensive coordinator (we hear Mike Stoops is looking for a job). If I liked the answer (of course checking the numbers on the DC's he mentions), Rich Rod would be very high on my list. Even with three very subpar years at Michigan, Rich Rod still won over 60% of his games from 2001-2010.

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Ken Niumatalolo

A quick note for Arizona fans: If you think you're too good to run the option, please review your history and realize that you're not. Ken N is one of the biggest overachievers in our system and the guy flat knows how to coach. He is from Hawaii and played at Hawaii, and we think a move West may just be appealing to Coach Ken. He has a great mentor in Paul Johnson and has all those other soft factors that ADs love so much, like the ability to win the press conference. Any coach that can win over 64% of his games at the Naval Academy, deserves a hard look.

Gus Malzahn

From the information we have, the likelihood of Gus Malzahn heading West is extremely low, but we simply like this guy's numbers too much (see here for The Malzahn Effect) not to put him on the list.

Paul Petrino

If you are wondering why Illinois is 6-0 for the first time since Eisenhower was President, look no further than the guy calling the plays. From 2005-2009, the Illinois offense averaged 23.45 points per game. From 2010-Present, the Paul Petrino-led Illini offense is averaging 33.60 points per game, a 43.28% increase in scoring offense. Additionally, offensive coordinator Mike Locksley (2005-2008) averaged 0.33 points per play and 5.61 yards per play and Mike Shultz (2009) averaged 0.35 points per play and 5.70 yards per play. In his year and half directing Illinois' offense, Paul Petrino is averaging 0.48 points per play and 6.00 yards per play. Arizona fans may cringe at the thought of hiring the wrong brother again, but sometimes you just have to jump back on the saddle.

Paul Chryst

Chryst is the current offensive coordinator at Wisconsin and is currently our 12th best rated offensive coordinator among active OC's with a minimum of two years experience. Chryst has done two stints as OC at Oregon State and since taking the reigns of the Badger's offense in 2006, Wisconsin has averaged almost 35 points per game and has won 10 or more games three different times and appears to be heading for a fourth 10-win season this year. You have to be careful to not make the assumption that just because someone works for a great head coach that they in turn will be a great head coach. That being said, we believe Bret Bielema is one of the best coaches in college football (see statistical love fest article here) and it's always better to have good mentors than bad ones.

Manny Diaz

We recently did a write-up on Manny Diaz and those with short-sighted vision are probably going to think we are crazy to recommend a coach whose defense was just embarrassed by Oklahoma this past weekend. However, we like to throw away the emotion of a single game or even a single season in many cases and look at the overall picture. The simple fact of the matter is that when Manny Diaz shows up on campus, his team gets statistically better. Diaz would be seen by many as a huge risk given his age (37), but don't forget that Bob Stoops was only 39 years old when Oklahoma named him their head coach. Additionally, we frequently see hires by ADs who have previously worked with a coach. Diaz and AD Greg Byrne were both at Mississippi St. together in 2010. So, there you have our names. There are no guarantees in life and there are certainly no guarantees in the world of college football coaches. However, there is good thinking and bad thinking. When all is said and done, the thought process behind hiring Mike Stoops was solid. He was one of the top defensive minds in the country and came from a great coaching pedigree. He ultimately failed to do the job he was hired to do, but that doesn't mean the thought process failed. When it comes to hiring the next head coach, we would urge AD Greg Byrne to focus on the process. Study the numbers, study the man, and find the right coach that can make Arizona football relevant again.

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Other names to consider and why there aren't on our A List:

• Kevin Sumlin: Since taking the reigns at Houston in 2008, Kevin Sumlin has won 64.44% of his games and has had a top 15 nationally ranked scoring offense in each of his seasons coaching the Cougars. Houston's overall winning percentage in the five years prior to Sumlin's arrival was 53.97%. However, Sumlin did take over a program that Art Briles had resurrected from the depths of Conference USA. In the two years before Sumlin took over, Briles' Cougars won 66.67% of their games. Additionally, in Sumlin's first two years as Houston's head coach, Dana Holgorsen was running the offense and calling the plays. In 50% of the games Holgorsen has either been the offensive coordinator or head coach, his team has scored 40 or more points. In Sumlin's one year without either Case Keenum at QB or Dana Holgorsen as OC, the Cougars went 5-7. With Keenum back at the helm of the offense, Houston is off to a 6-0 start, bu there is still half the season left to play. Additionally, Sumlin has coached 65.85% of his games at Houston with superior talent. Coach Sumlin has won 70.37% of games when he has superior talent. However, with equivalent or inferior talent, he has won 42.86% (6-8) of the time. For some perspective, of the 84 games Mike Stoops has coached at Arizona, he has had superior talent 20.24% of the time, inferior talent 39.29% of the time, and equivalent talent 39.29% of the time. So, there are some things we like about Sumlin, but overall, there are too many question marks to warrant putting him on our A list.

Skip Holtz: Skip Holtz is currently a three star coach in our system and three stars is probably the best way to describe coach Holtz. He is good but not great. He is solid and will probably never have a 3 or 4 win season, but he will also probably never have a really great season. Consider that since 2001 as an offensive coordinator (2001-2004) and a head coach (2005-2010), Skip Holtz has lost five or more games in every season but one (South Carolina went 9-3 in 2001 when Holtz was the offensive coordinator). He is off to a solid 4-1 start this year at USF but has the majority of his tough games left to play. If we were betting on it, we would go ahead and chalk up five losses for Coach Holtz.

Jim McElwain: In his four full seasons as an offensive coordinator (2007-2010), Jim McElwain has never lost more than four games. In fact, as an offensive coordinator he has been on the winning side of the scoreboard 85.00% of the time. Coach McElwain has West Coast ties (OC at Fresno St. in 2007 and OC at Montana St. from 1995-1999) and is currently part of our number one rated staff in college football. The thing you have to worry the most about with Coach McElwain is what we call the "Belichick Effect". For a while there, if you wanted to become an NFL head coach all you needed to do was work for Bill Belichick. First it was Romeo Crennel, then it was Charlie Weis and Eric Mangini, and finally Josh McDaniels. The last time we checked, not one of these coaches was still a head coach as of the writing of this article. Nick Saban is one of the best minds in college football, and you have to be careful not to assume that because someone works for a great coach they are in turn a great coach. Also, don't forget that since Saban took over at Alabama, the Tide have entered 100% of its games with equal or superior talent. Arizona is not Alabama, and under Stoops the Wildcats entered less than 60% of its game with equal or superior talent. Every job is unique and you have to make sure that you match up the right coach given the job at hand.