Success with any college football team starts with coaching. Even if a program doesn’t have the resources of the nation’s elite jobs, a good coach can elevate a program into national title contention. However, similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.
This is not simply a list of coaches ranked by accomplishment or wins. While those aspects are important, it doesn’t provide a complete picture of how successful coaches are. Winning 10 games at Alabama is different than winning 10 games at Kentucky. Also, every program has a different amount of resources available. Hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. It's always easier for programs with more built-in advantages to contend for a national title on a more consistent basis.
A couple of other factors to consider when ranking coaches: How well are the assistants paid? A staff with two of the nation’s top coordinators could be a sign the head coach is better as a CEO and may not be as strong in terms of developing gameplans. How is the coach in the X’s and O’s? Can the coach recruit? Are the program’s facilities on par with the rest of the conference? Much like assistants, a program needs good facilities to win big. If a team is winning at a high level with poor facilities and a small budget, it reflects positively on the head coach. Is the coach successful at only one stop? Or has that coach built a solid resume from different jobs?
Again, wins are important. But our rankings also take into account a blank slate. If you start a program from scratch, which coach would you hire knowing what they accomplished so far and their career trajectory? Remember, you don't get the assistants - only the head coach. And head-to-head wins do not matter for this ranking.
Ranking the Pac-12's Football Coaches for 2015
1. Todd Graham, Arizona State
Record at Arizona State: 28-12 (3 years)
Career Record: 77-41 (9 years)
It’s a close call between Graham and Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez for the No. 1 spot among current Pac-12 coaches. The Sun Devils enter 2015 as one of the favorites for the conference title, and Graham has guided the program to 28 wins over the last three seasons. The Sun Devils won the South Division in 2013 and tied for second in '12 and '14. Under Graham’s watch, Arizona State has clearly removed the label of a program that struggles to reach expectations. And the Sun Devils are in the midst of a stadium renovation that will only help Graham and this staff sell a program that has inked back-to-back top-25 signing classes. Graham’s success isn’t just limited to Arizona State, as he helped Rice make a six-game improvement in the win column in 2006, won 36 games in four years at Tulsa and went 6-6 in his only season at Pittsburgh.
2. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Record at Arizona: 26-14 (3 years)
Career Record: 146-98-2 (21 years)
Rodriguez is in the process of elevating Arizona into a yearly contender for the Pac-12 title. The Wildcats claimed the South Division championship last season with a 7-2 conference record and won double-digit games (10) for the first time since 1998. Additionally, the 10 wins last year was only the third time in program history that Arizona has won more than nine in a season. Rodriguez only went 15-22 in three years at Michigan, but he won 60 games in seven seasons at West Virginia and guided the program to three finishes in the final Associated Press poll from 2005-07. The bad news for the rest of the Pac-12: Rodriguez is really just getting started and this program is only going to get better in the coming years.
3. David Shaw, Stanford
Record at Stanford: 42-12 (4 years)
Career Record: 42-12 (4 years)
For the first time in Shaw’s tenure at Stanford, the Cardinal are coming off a season with fewer than 11 wins. After winning 34 games through Shaw’s first three years, Stanford regressed to 8-5 but still finished second in the North with a 5-4 conference record. Under Shaw’s direction, the Cardinal has finished inside of the top 11 of the final Associated Press poll three times and played for the conference title in back-to-back years (2012-13). Additionally, Shaw and his staff continue to do an excellent job on the recruiting trail, signing top-25 classes in four out of the last five years. The biggest challenge for Shaw in 2015 will be improving an offense that averaged only 23.8 points per game in conference play last year (11th in the Pac-12). Even with significant departures on defense, Stanford can push Oregon in the North if Shaw is able to find the right answers on offense.
4. Chris Petersen, Washington
Record at Washington: 8-6 (1 year)
Career Record: 100-18 (9 years)
After one of the most successful stints by a coach during the BCS era, Petersen decided to make the jump to a Power 5 job and replaced Steve Sarkisian at Washington. Petersen went 92-12 at Boise State and led the Broncos to double-digit win seasons in seven out of his eight years. But Petersen didn’t quite find the same success in his first year with the Huskies. Washington’s defense had three first-team All-Pac-12 selections on defense, but a struggling secondary and offense dropped Petersen’s first team to just 8-6 overall and 4-5 in Pac-12 play. Petersen and his staff will be tested even more in 2015, as Washington returns only nine starters, loses standout defenders Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton and Hau’oli Kikaha, and could have a true freshman start at quarterback.
5. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Record at Utah: 85-43 (10 years)
Career Record: 85-43 (10 years)
Whittingham has successfully transitioned Utah from a Mountain West team to a solid Pac-12 program in just four years. The Utes don’t have the resources or recruiting base of a UCLA or USC, but Whittingham’s team knocked off both programs last year as well as Stanford and Michigan en route to a 9-4 record. Utah also finished No. 21 in the final Associated Press poll – it’s first top-25 finish since 2009 – and claimed its first winning mark in Pac-12 play (5-4). In his 10-year tenure in Salt Lake City, Whittingham is 85-43 overall and has led his team to eight bowl games.
6. Gary Andersen, Oregon State
Record at Oregon State: First Year
Career Record: 49-38 (7 years)
Andersen’s move from Wisconsin to Oregon State came as a surprise, but the Utah native is a great hire for this program. In two seasons at Wisconsin, Andersen went 19-7 and guided the Badgers to a Big Ten West Division title in 2014. Prior to Wisconsin, Andersen guided Utah State to a 26-24 record in four years. To show how big of an impact Andersen had on the Aggies – in the four years prior to his arrival in Logan, Utah State won only nine games. Utah State won 26 during Andersen’s four years, including 18 over the last two. Andersen is a proven winner at two different jobs and was a successful assistant at Utah prior to becoming a head coach. Oregon State is rebuilding in 2015, but Andersen’s hire will pay big dividends for the Beavers.
7. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
Record at Oregon: 24-4 (2 years)
Career Record: 24-4 (2 years)
Helfrich is the only current Pac-12 coach to play for the national championship and has picked up where Chip Kelly left off by guiding Oregon to a 24-4 record over the last two years. The Ducks finished No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll after a loss to Ohio State in college football’s national championship in January. Helfrich and his staff navigated several injuries and overcame an early loss against Arizona to win the Pac-12 title and finish 13-2 overall. Prior to his promotion from offensive coordinator to head coach with the Ducks, Helfrich was an assistant at Arizona State, Colorado and Boise State. Helfrich won’t have Marcus Mariota in 2015, but the third-year coach has this program in great shape and poised to continue finishing near the top of the Pac-12.
8. Jim Mora, UCLA
Record at UCLA: 29-11 (3 years)
Career Record: 29-11 (3 years)
A case could be made Mora should be higher among his conference peers. In three seasons at UCLA, the Bruins are 29-11 under his watch and have won six Pac-12 games each year. Mora guided UCLA to the Pac-12 South title in 2012 and finished (or tied) for second in the other two seasons. High expectations surrounded this program last year, but the Bruins were easily handled by Oregon in mid-October and on Nov. 28 lost to Stanford 31-10 with a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game up for grabs. Mora has recruited four consecutive top-20 classes, so talent isn’t an issue for this program. Contending for the South Division in 2015 should be a reasonable expectation, but the Bruins have to replace quarterback Brett Hundley.
9. Steve Sarkisian, USC
Record at USC: 9-4 (1 year)
Career Record: 43-33 (6 years)
By this time next year, Sarkisian could rank higher on this list – if USC ends up winning the Pac-12 as the early odds for 2015 suggest. Sarkisian’s first year with the Trojans had its share of ups and downs. USC beat Stanford 13-10 in Week 2 but lost 37-31 at Boston College the following Saturday. The Trojans lost on the last play of the game to Arizona State and in the final seconds to Utah. With better depth due to the end of NCAA scholarship sanctions, USC should have the manpower needed to close the door in tight games. Prior to taking over at USC, Sarkisian went 35-29 at Washington and guided the Huskies to four consecutive bowl games from 2010-13. The challenge for Sarkisian is simple: Get USC back among the nation’s elite and contend for national championships. Is he the right coach to do so?
10. Mike Leach, Washington State
Record at Washington State: 12-25 (3 years)
Career Record: 96-68 (13 years)
Entering his fourth year in Pullman, Leach is still looking to elevate Washington State into a consistent winner and a bowl team every season. At Texas Tech, Leach guided the Red Raiders to an 84-43 record in 10 years and never finished a season with fewer than seven victories. But winning at a high level has been much tougher at Washington State. The Cougars are 12-25 over the last three years, and a 6-7 team from 2013 is bookended by 3-9 records in '12 and '14. Offense is Leach’s specialty, and Washington State has ranked in the top 10 nationally of passing offense from 2012-14. But fixing the defense has to be a priority after allowing at least 36 points in Pac-12 games in each of the last three years.
11. Sonny Dykes, California
Record at California: 6-18 (2 years)
Career Record: 28-33 (5 years)
The depth of the Pac-12’s coaching prowess is on full display when Sonny Dykes ranks as the No. 11 coach on this list. After a successful 22-15 stint at Louisiana Tech from 2010-12, Dykes is 6-18 in two seasons at California. The Golden Bears went 1-11 in 2013, but showed marked improvement last fall. California finished 5-7 overall and lost four games by eight points or less. Dykes has this program trending in the right direction, and the offense should be among the nation’s best in 2015. If Dykes can solve the defensive woes, California will make a bowl game this year.
12. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
Record at Colorado: 6-18 (2 years)
Career Record: 22-39 (5 years)
MacIntyre didn’t inherit much to work with when he replaced Jon Embree after the 2012 season. The Buffaloes are 6-18 over the last two years and have won only one contest in conference play. While the overall record isn’t pretty, MacIntyre has this program on the right track. Colorado lost four Pac-12 games by five points or less last season, and with an experienced roster returning in 2015, the Buffaloes should show progress in the win column. Prior to Colorado, MacIntyre went 16-21 at San Jose State, including a 15-9 mark over the final two years. MacIntyre should move up this list in the coming seasons.