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Ranking the Pac-12's College Football Coaches


by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on twitter) and Braden Gall (@BradenGall)

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 Coaches:ACC
Ranking the Coaches:Big East
Ranking the Coaches:Pac-12
Ranking the Coaches:Big 12
Ranking the Coaches: Big Ten (Wed.)
Ranking the Coaches: SEC (Thur.)
Ranking the Coaches: 2012 Top 25 Coaches (Fri.)

Here is how Athlon Sports ranks the coaches of the Pac-12:

1. Chip Kelly, Oregon (3 years)
Alma Mater:
New Hampshire
Record: 34-6 (2009-present)

No coach in NCAA history has seen a rise from FCS coordinator to competing for National Championships in quicker fashion than Kelly. His meteoric rise from New Hampshire offensive coordinator to winning three straight Pac-12 titles is virtually unheard of in big time college football. In fact, Oregon had two outright conference championships between 1958 and 2008, giving Kelly more outright titles in three years as the program posted in the previous 50. He has two Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards on his mantle, the Ducks’ first Rose Bowl win in school history last year over Wisconsin and a trip to the 2010 BCS National Championship game. Kelly has created an offense that is the fastest in the nation and possibly the most difficult to stop. He’s had one tailback win the Doak Walker Award, finish as a two-time Heisman finalist and nation’s leading per game rusher in LaMichael James. He just had another claim Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year and reset the Oregon freshman scoring record with 18 touchdowns in De’Anthony Thomas. With the help of flashy uniforms and Nike dollars, Kelly has raised the brand image of his program more in the last three years than any coach in the nation. Two issues could remove Kelly from the Pac-12 coaching pedestal: Looming NCAA questions about potential recruiting violations involving Texas “handler” Willie Lyles and the lure of the NFL. Otherwise, there is one man who stands above all other Pac-12 coaches. 

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What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       As a head coach and offensive coordinator, Chip Kelly's offenses have scored 40+ points 69 of 106 (65%) games

·       As a head coach, Chip Kelly's offenses have scored TD's on 46% of offensive possessions

·       As a head coach, Chip Kelly's teams have scored 12 Special Teams TD's and given up 0

·       As a head coach, Chip Kelly's defenses are allowing points on just 32% of defensive possessions. This ranks him in the top 15 among active head coaches with a minimum of three years experience

2. Lane Kiffin, USC (2 years)
Alma Mater:
Fresno State (1994-96)
Record: 18-7 (USC, 2010-present)
Record: 7-6 (Tennessee, 2009)
Overall: 25-13 (3 years)

Considering he is just 36 years old, Kiffin has already had quite a career as a head coach. After spending two years with the Oakland Raiders (5-15), Kiffin landed on his feet as Tennessee’s head coach in 2009. The Volunteers went 5-7 in the season prior to his arrival, but posted a 7-6 record in Kiffin’s first year in Knoxville. However, Kiffin bolted Tennessee for a better job, choosing to succeed Pete Carroll at USC. The Trojans posted an 8-5 record in Kiffin’s first year (2010), but finished with a 10-2 mark last year. With the postseason ban lifted, USC is expected to be one of the frontrunners to win the national title in 2012. Kiffin drew headlines at Tennessee for his recruiting practices and comments about other SEC coaches, but has toned down his act since coming to Los Angeles. The Trojans are still dealing with scholarship reductions for the next three years, so Kiffin won’t have a full cupboard to work with during that span. However, Kiffin appears to have positioned the Trojans for a run at the national championship in 2012, while leaving the team in good shape to compete for the Pac-12 South crown in 2013 and 2014.

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What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       As a collegiate head coach, Lane Kiffin is just 11-11 against teams finishing the season over .500

·       As a collegiate head coach, Lane Kiffin's offenses have ended possessions with a 3 and out just 15% of the time. This ranks him 6th among active head coaches with more than one year of experience

3. Mike Leach, Washington State (First Season)
Alma Mater:
Record: 84-43 (Texas Tech, 2000-09)

From 2000 to 2009, there were few things as guaranteed as Texas Tech’s quarterback throwing for 3,000 yards. Leach was the architect behind Tim Couch’s huge numbers at Kentucky and carried his lightning-quick spread passing attack to Lubbock. Leach-led quarterbacks B.J. Symons and Graham Harrell own the top two single-season passing marks in NCAA history with 5,833 and 5,705 yards respectively. Graham Harrell (3rd: 15,793 yards) and Kliff Kingsbury (15th: 11,931) are both in the top 15 in NCAA history in passing yards. Until 2011, Harrell was the NCAA record-holder for career touchdown passes with 134. Needless to say, Leach’s passing attack had reached unprecedented levels of success before his questionable firing. There were six total 10-win seasons in Texas Tech history and Leach posted a school-record 11 wins in 2008. His winning percentage of 66.1% trails only Pete Cawthon (69.3%) in Tech history — who won all of his games between 1930 and 1940. The highly-publicized divorce with Texas Tech (and mentally unstable Craig James) likely cost Leach a couple of years on the sideline, but is not enough to keep any athletic director from hiring him. His teams produce big numbers, his athletic departments make bigger money, his stadiums grow and subsequently sell out and, most importantly, he wins games. Look for a similar program-wide impact from Leach in Pullman. 

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What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Mike Leach has won 8+ games in eight of the 10 seasons he has been a head coach

·       Mike Leach's offenses have scored 40+ points in 48% of the games he has been a head coach

·       Among active head coaches with more than one year of experience, Coach Leach has the lowest percentage of offensive possessions ending in a 3 and out (11.44%)

·       Mike Leach's offenses passed for an average of 394 yards in conference games during his tenure at Texas Tech

4. Kyle Whittingham, Utah (7 years)
Alma Mater:
BYU (1978-81)
Record: 66-25 (7 years)

Even after leading the Utes to six consecutive seasons with at least eight wins, Whittingham probably hasn’t received the national respect he deserves. Utah went 33-6 from 2008-10, which included a win over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Whittingham has done a good job of guiding the Utes through their transition into the Pac-12 and nearly won the South Division with a backup quarterback last season. Whittingham is a solid coach who should continue to win consistently at Utah. The Utes have stepped up their recruiting since coming to the Pac-12, which is another testament to Whittingham and his staff continuing to build the program. The biggest hurdle Whittingham could face over the next few seasons is keeping his staff intact. Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake is a highly-respected assistant and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson is a rising star in the coaching ranks. With Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State all making coaching changes this offseason, keeping Whittingham happy and his assistant coaches in Salt Lake City will be crucial to Utah's success.

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What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Whittingham has won 72% of his games as a head coach and has won 10+ games (including a perfect 13-0 season in 2008) in three of his seven years as head coach

·       Coach Whittingham is 6-1 in Bowl Games

·       When he has superior talent, Coach Whittingham has a 35-8 record.

·       Coach Whittingham's defenses force a 3 and out or punt on 66% of defensive possessions

5. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (First Season)
Alma Mater:
West Virginia (1981-84)
Record: 15-22 (Michigan, 2008-10)
Record: 60-26 (West Virginia, 2001-07)
Record: 43-28-2 (Glenville State (1990-96)
Record: 2-8 (Salem, 1988)
Overall: 120-84-2 (18 years)

After an unsuccessful stint with Michigan, Rodriguez is hungry to prove he is still among the top coaches in college football. Rodriguez posted a 60-26 record with West Virginia, but recorded a disappointing 15-22 mark in three seasons with the Wolverines. Although he deserves some of the blame for the failed tenure in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez was simply a bad fit and Michigan never embraced him as its coach. Don’t expect any of those issues to arise at Arizona, as Rodriguez seems to be a good fit and should have the Wildcats in contention for a bowl game in 2012. Arizona had three winning seasons under former coach Mike Stoops, but Rodriguez is capable of taking this program even higher. 

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What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       As a head coach, his offenses have averaged 28 or more points per game in eight of the 10 seasons he has been a head coach.

·       Rich Rod’s offenses have scored 30+ points in 50% of the games he has coached over the last decade

6. Steve Sarkisian, Washington
Alma Mater:
Record: 19-19 (2009-present)

The time is now for the former Pete Carroll disciple. If nothing else, Sarkisian has proven he knows how to run a big-time college football program. Through excellent recruiting, he has elevated the level of talent across the board on the Huskies roster. He has taken the Huskies to back-to-back bowl games and produced a winning record for the first time since 2002 — yes, Washington’s 2010 7-6 season was the first winning season for the Huskies in eight years. And he clearly knows how to build a coaching staff in the face of adversity. With the hiring of Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon from Tennessee and Tosh Lupoi and Eric Kiesau from Cal, Sarkisian, along with more money from his supporters, has put his team in a position for long-term success in Seattle.

What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

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·       In the five years before he arrived, Washington won 20% of their games. Coach Sarkisian has won 50% of his games as the head coach at Washington

·       In 2011, Washington's offenses was the 25th ranked scoring offense in the nation. This was the highest rating in more than a decade for the Huskies.

7. Mike Riley, Oregon State
Alma Mater:
Record: 72-63 (1997-98, 2003-present)

The circuitous flow of Riley’s coaching career can be difficult to track. He first landed in Corvallis in 1997 after winning two Grey Cups as the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and leading the now-defunct San Antonio Riders in the WLAF. After two years with the Beavers (8-14), he left for the NFL. After a failed stint as the head man of the Chargers and one year as an assistant with the Saints, Riley returned to Oregon State. This time, Riley entered a program with a solid foundation left behind from Dennis Erickson and continued that success for the next decade. He posted at winning record in six of his first eight years (of his second shift) and produced only the second 10-win season in school history in 2006 and was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2008. One of the nicer guys in the business will be facing a key season this fall as his win total has dropped four years in a row. That said, with three wins in 2012, Riley will pass Lon Stiner as the winningest coach in Oregon State history.

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What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Coach Riley's teams have won 8+ games in five of the last nine years

·       Coach Riley is just 26-38 against teams finishing the season over .500 and 4-11 against over .500 teams over the last two seasons

·       Coach Riley is just 9-27 against Top 25 teams (Time of Game ranking)

·       Coach Riley is 5-1 in Bowl Games

8. Jeff Tedford, Cal (10 years)
Alma Mater:
Fresno State
Record: 79-48 (2002-present)

The luster has worn off Coach Tedford in recent years, but Cal fans need to be careful what they wish for. Over the last five seasons, Cal certainly has been stagnant – losing 28 games over that span — and the offensive guru needs to win to stay employed. However, the track record of Golden Bear football proves that Tedford is easily the most successful coach in school history. Cal was 4-29 in the three seasons prior to Tedford taking over in Berkeley and he proceeded to start his head coaching career with eight straight winning seasons. Since 1950, this program has three 10-win seasons on its resume. Tedford has two of them. The Bears claim 21 postseason appearances and Tedford is responsible for nearly half (8) of them. Finally, no head coach has won as many games at Cal as Tedford has (79). He is undoubtedly on the hot seat in 2012, but the Cal administration needs to think long and hard about what Tedford has meant to the program before acting too quickly.

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What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       In the five years before he arrived, the Cal Bears had won just 25% of their games. In his 10 years as head coach, Cal has won 62% of their games.

·       Coach Tedford has won 8+ games seven of his 10 years as head coach at Cal

·       From 1970-2001, Cal had just 10 seasons when they won more games than they lost. In Coach Tedford's 10 years, he has nine winning seasons

·       From 2009-2011, Coach Tedford won just 52% of his overall games and just 44% of conference games

·       From 2009-2011, Coach Tedford is just 5-15 against teams with winning records

9. David Shaw, Stanford (1 year)
Alma Mater:
Record: 11-2 (2011-present)

There is much to like about Shaw and there is much that is still unknown. This fall will feature the first in Palo Alto without a Harbaugh or a Luck on the roster and it falls to Shaw to maintain an unprecedented level of success. Jim Harbaugh deserves all of the credit for re-establishing the Cardinal brand nationwide and developing Andrew Luck into the best player in the nation the last two years. Replacing two first-round offensive linemen will also be an issue for Stanford in 2012. Shaw is steeped in Stanford tradition as a player and son of a coach for the Cardinal, but legacy alone won’t keep Shaw in Bob Bowlsby’s good graces. This is one name that could be ranked much higher (or lower) on this list come next offseason. 

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What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       In his first year as a head coach, Coach Shaw's offense scored TD's on 51% of offensive possessions and went 3 and out less than 10% of offensive possessions

·       Coach Shaw's defense allowed just 88 rushing yards per game in 2011

10. Todd Graham, Arizona State (First Season)
Alma Mater:
East Central (1983-86)
Record: 6-6 (Pittsburgh, 2011)
Record: 36-17 (Tulsa, 2007-10)
Record: 7-6 (Rice, 2006)

Graham has been heavily criticized (and rightfully so) for the job -hopping in his short career as a head coach. He spent only one season at Rice (2006) and agreed to an extension following the season, only to leave a few days later for Tulsa. After spending four seasons with the Golden Hurricane, Graham left for Pittsburgh and recorded a 6-6 mark this season. Although the Panthers were a disappointment, Graham’s track recorded suggested they would be back in the Big East title mix in the next couple of seasons. However, Graham bolted for Arizona State and the 2012 season will be his first in Tempe. Although Graham’s job-hopping should be criticized, his record as a head coach is a solid 49-29 and he has won at two difficult places to win – Rice and Tulsa. While you can criticize Graham for what happened at Rice and Pittsburgh, he is actually a pretty good coach and should win at Arizona State.

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What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       In the five years before he arrived at Tulsa, the Golden Hurricanes had won 48% of their games. Coach Graham won nearly 70% of his games at Tulsa

·       Coach Graham is 14-24 against teams finishing the season over .500

·       Todd Graham is just 28-23 without Gus Malzahn as his offensive coordinator

11. Jim Mora, UCLA (First Season)
Alma Mater:
Washington (1980-83)
Record: 26-22 (Atlanta Falcons, 2004-06)
Record: 5-11 (Seattle Seahawks, 2009)

There were several eyebrows raised when Mora was hired as UCLA’s head coach in December. After making a run and striking out with some bigger names – including Boise State’s Chris Petersen – the Bruins didn’t have many appealing options on the table. Mora has only one season of collegiate experience (1984, Washington), but has two stops as a NFL head coach on his resume. He posted a 26-22 record with the Atlanta Falcons and a 5-11 mark with the Seattle Seahawks, with one trip to the playoffs on his resume. Considering Mora’s lack of collegiate experience, hiring a staff was going to be one of the most critical elements to his success at UCLA. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has a wealth of college experience, while offensive line coach Adrian Klemm is one of the top recruiters in the nation. It will take some time for Mora to win over his detractors and adjust to the college game, but this hire may work out better than most expect.

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What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

12. Jon Embree, Colorado (1 year)
Alma Mater:
Colorado (1983-86)
Record: 3-10 (2011-present)

Considering he played under Bill McCartney at Colorado from 1983-86 and coached in Boulder from 1993-2002, Embree is a good fit for rebuilding the Buffaloes. However, this is his first head-coaching position, so there will be several bumps in the road. Embree inherited a relatively bare roster and led Colorado to a 3-10 record in 2011. The Buffaloes finished with two wins in their final three games, but were largely uncompetitive in most Pac-12 contests last season. Embree will get a couple of years to turn things around in Boulder, but until this team shows more progress, he will be ranked near the bottom of coaches in the Pac-12.

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What Coaches By the Numbers Has to Say:

·       Coach Embree's defense allowed TD's on 44% of defensive possessions

·       Embree's offense scored 20 points or less in eight games in his first season as head coach

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