If you were a free agent coach, which job would you want most in the PAC-12?
We have ranked every college football program in the country, based on the attractiveness of the position from a coaching perspective. We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach?
(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)
Pros: The USC coaching staff has the ability to stock its roster with elite talent without ever having to jump on a plane. The program has a rich tradition, but it doesn’t live in the past; the Trojans were dominant in the 2000s, winning seven straight Pac-10 titles (2002-08) and two national championships.
Cons: The Trojans have a great following, but the fan base doesn’t have the same degree of passion that you will find at a top-tier SEC school. Of the top 25 schools in average attendance last season, USC ranked last in percent filled to capacity (85.36).
Final Verdict: USC could very easily be No. 1 on this list. If you’re a West Coast guy, coaching the Trojans is as good as it gets. It’s the best job in the Pac-12 and you are in the most fertile recruiting area in the country.
Pros: As long as Phil Knight and the University of Oregon remain in good graces, this program will be blessed with tremendous financial resources. The Nike founder and former Oregon track athlete has donated over $100 million to the school’s athletic department. In addition, the Ducks have a tremendous home field advantage at 54,00-seat Autzen Stadium, regarded as the most raucous atmosphere in the Pac-12.
Cons: Right now, it’s difficult to find many good reasons why the head coaching position at Oregon would not be attractive. The school does lack tradition, but the Ducks have averaged 8.7 wins per season since 1994.
Final Verdict: Ten or 15 years ago, Oregon wouldn’t be nearly as high on this list, but Knight’s money and Mike Bellotti’s recruiting transformed this program in the 2000s. It is now clearly one of the top 20 most-desirable positions in the country.
Pros: UCLA shares the same built-in recruiting advantages as its cross-town rival USC, and the Bruins have the upper hand as far as on-campus facilities (newer, bigger weight room). The 2000s were relatively lean, but UCLA won or shared three Pac-10 titles in the 1990s and four in the ‘80s.
Cons: Life can be tough when you are forced to share a city with one of the elite programs in the nation. And while the Rose Bowl is a beautiful place to play, the facility is 30 miles from campus.
Final Verdict: The Pac-12 is a very good league, but USC is the only program that has proven it can sustain success (though Oregon is getting close). The right coach can have this program in contention for conference titles on a consistent basis.
Pros: This is a proud program with great tradition. The Huskies won a national title in 1991 and claimed at least a share of five Pac-10 titles from 1990-2000. UW is in a great city (Seattle) and has an SEC-like following when things are going well.
Cons: The school has addressed the program’s only significant weakness — facilities — with the impending $250 renovation to Husky Stadium. Washington’s in-state recruiting base is solid but lags significnalty behind the four California teams in the Pac-12.
Final Verdict: The past decade has proven that it can be difficult to win at Washington. But this is still a very good job. Is it a great job? Not anymore. But it is still a prestigious program that can attract elite talent. You can win at UW.
Pros: Cal is one of the premier public institutions in the nation located in a great area, giving the Bears a recruiting edge against most of the other schools in the Pac-12. The school is also located in the fertile recruiting area of Northern California. And the facilities, long time an issue at the school, are about to receive a major upgrade.
Cons: The school is following through on the new facilities — it has already broken ground on a new athletic center — and Memorial Stadium is being upgraded, which has turned a negative into a positive. One word of caution, however: The Bears have had trouble winning consistently; they have two Pac-12 titles (none outright) since 1958.
Final Verdict: Cal is an intriguing job. There is a lot to like, but there are certain drawbacks. You can win in Berkeley, but the culture of the university will likely prevent the football program from ever reaching elite status.
Pros: Colorado lacks the tradition of some of the Pac-12 powers, but this program has enjoyed strong pockets of success over the past 25 years. The Buffs won three Big Eight championships in a row from 1989-91 (along with a national title in ’90), and they won four Big 12 North titles in the 2000s. With the right coach in place, this is a school that will attract quality players.
Cons: The facilities at Colorado lag behind most BCS conference schools, and the school’s commitment to athletics has been questioned in recent years. Also, the CU fans can be fickle; Folsom Field (53,750) has rarely been filled to capacity over the past few seasons.
Final Analysis: Three different coaches have won 10 games in a season since 1990, so it’s possible to win big at Colorado. But until the school makes a significant commitment to the program, CU cannot be considered an elite job.
Pros: Prior to its move to the Pac-12, Utah had emerged as one of the few non-BCS conference teams that was able to compete on the national scene. The Utes have averaged 9.9 wins over the past eight years, highlighted by two perfect seasons punctuated by BCS bowl wins. Utah should get a big boost in recruiting now that it’s a member of the Pac-12, and the fact that the Utes are in the same division as USC and UCLA should help attract players from Southern California.
Cons: The move from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 — and inclusion into the BCS — eliminated the No. 1 negative for this program. But while the access to a BCS bowl is now easier (through conference affiliation), the path is more difficult because of the strength of the Pac-12.
Final Verdict: You can make a strong argument that no school benefitted more from the recent conference realignment. The Utes have elevated the profile of their program and have put themselves in position to be a significant factor on the national scene in the next decade.
8. Arizona State
Pros: The Sun Devils have made a significant investment in their facilities in recent years, with an indoor practice bubble and new weight and locker rooms. Arizona State has won three Pac-12 titles in its 30-plus years in the league (1986, ’96 and ’07). Oh, we can’t forget about the weather.
Cons: The facilities are outstanding, but Sun Devil Stadium needs an upgrade. And while the school has experienced pockets of success (three league titles), the Devils have strung together back-to-back winning Pac-10 seasons only once since John Cooper bolted in 1987.
Final Verdict: Arizona State offers a pretty good situation for a school without a strong local recruiting base. The weather is great and the tradition is good enough. USC will always be the No. 1 job in the league, but with the right coach in place, ASU can be a consistent force in the Pac-12.
Pros: Arizona has never been a Pac-10 power, but the school has more than held its own for much of its 32 years in the league. The Wildcats had 11 winning Pac-10 seasons in a 13-year stretch from 1982-94. Good coaches have shown the ability to attract talent to Tucson.
Cons: The facilities at Arizona lag behind most of the other schools in the league. There are plans to upgrade, but until those plans become a reality, this will be an issue in recruiting.
Final Verdict: Being a good recruiter is obviously important at every school, but it is of paramount importance at Arizona. The school is without many of the built-in advantages (tradition, top facilities, etc.) that exist at some of the Pac-12 programs, so you have to convince players to come to Arizona for reasons other than the weather.
Pros: Stanford offers the best combination of elite academics (top 5 in U.S. News & World Report) and big-time college football. The school’s outstanding reputation allows the staff to recruit nationally.
Cons: Sustained success has been tough to achieve on The Farm; Stanford hasn’t had three straight winning seasons since the late-1970s. The school’s strict academic standards — even for athletes — shrinks the recruiting pool considerably.
Final Verdict: Stanford is not for everybody, but it is a great job for a coach who embraces the school’s mission. The Cardinal struggled for much of the 2000s, but this is a program that can be a factor in the Pac-12 on a regular basis.
11. Oregon State
More desirable now than at any other time.
12. Washington State
It’s an uphill battle, but far from impossible.