Which coach takes the top spot in Athlon's Pac-12 coach rankings for 2018?
The Pac-12 has experienced its share of turnover in the coaching ranks in recent years, but the two names at the top -- Washington's Chris Petersen and Stanford's David Shaw -- have't changed and remain among the best in the nation. UCLA's Chip Kelly was one of the top offseason hires, and the former Oregon coach ranks just behind Petersen and Shaw. In addition to Kelly, the Pac-12 has four other new coaches in the league, headlined by Arizona State's hire of Herm Edwards. Of note: Seven of the Pac-12's current coaches have been at their current job (and a full-time coach) for less than three seasons.
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.
How did we compile the rankings for the Pac-12 coaches? For starters, it's an impossible task. However, we tried to weigh every possible factor into this ranking. 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 Oregon is different than winning 10 games at Oregon State.
Every team has different built-in resources available, and hierarchy in college football also plays a vital role in how successful programs are. Those factors, along with career biography/resume, success in developing talent and landing prospects on the recruiting trail factored into the ranking. Additionally, how well programs value staff (is the head coach better as a CEO or hands-on approach) and the facilities or program resources matter into forming an outlook of how coaches have performed at different stops throughout their career.
Again, wins and the overall body of work to this point 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 have 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. Athlon's editorial staff has voted on a ranking of coaches for all 10 conferences. Here are the results for Pac-12:
Ranking the Pac-12's College Football Coaches for 2018
12. Jonathan Smith, Oregon State
There's not a coach that's better suited to lead the way at Oregon State. Smith had a successful playing career with the Beavers from 1998-2001, throwing for 9,680 yards and 55 touchdowns in his career. The California native stayed in Corvallis as a graduate assistant from 2002-03 before landing on Idaho's staff as a quarterbacks coach from 2004-09. Following that stint, Smith worked two years at Montana as the program's offensive coordinator (2010-11) and joined Chris Petersen's staff at Boise State from 2012-13. Smith followed Petersen to Washington and spent the last four seasons as the program's offensive coordinator. Smith has a tough assignment ahead in 2018, as he's inherited a major rebuilding project and a team that won just one contest last fall.
11. Herm Edwards, Arizona State
Arizona State certainly won't lack for intrigue in 2018. Edwards hasn't coached at the collegiate level since 1989 and has been out of coaching since 2008. However, in an attempt to close the gap between the Sun Devils and the top tier of Pac-12 South teams (and try something different), athletic director Ray Anderson hired Edwards following the 2017 season. Edwards' personality will certainly add some spice to the Pac-12 this year, but there are plenty of question marks about how this hire will work out. Edwards earned three playoff trips and went 39-41 with the New York Jets from 2001-05. He was traded to Kansas City following the 2005 season and took the Chiefs to the playoffs in his first year (2006). However, the Chiefs finished 6-26 over the next two seasons. Edwards has worked at ESPN since 2009 but has worked in the Under Armour All-America Game.
10. Mario Cristobal, Oregon
Following Willie Taggart's departure to Florida State, Oregon didn't have to look far for its next coach. The Ducks promoted from within, elevating Cristobal to the top spot after he worked as the team's co-offensive coordinator and line coach in 2017. The Florida native was due for another opportunity to run a FBS program after a stint from 2007-12 at FIU. Cristobal inherited a program in need of major repair and had just joined the FBS level. However, he guided the Panthers to back-to-back bowl games from 2010-11, finishing his tenure with a 27-47 mark. Cristobal joined Alabama's staff in 2013 and remained in Tuscaloosa coaching the offensive line until '16. He also has stints as an assistant at Rutgers and Miami in his career. Cristobal is 0-1 in his Oregon career after leading the program in the Las Vegas Bowl. He's known as a good recruiter, which should only help the Ducks remain in contention for the Pac-12 North title on a consistent basis.
9. Justin Wilcox, California
Wilcox's tenure in Berkeley is off to a good start. While last year's 5-7 mark wasn't an improvement from California's 2016 version under Sonny Dykes, the Golden Bears were a better team and showed significant improvement on defense. Wilcox is known for his background on that side of the ball, as he worked as the defensive coordinator at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, USC and Wisconsin. The Oregon native assembled a top-notch staff, including offensive play-caller Beau Baldwin. With most of last year's team returning, along with a second year under Wilcox's staff, the Golden Bears should return to the postseason in 2018.
8. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
A year after winning the Pac-12 South, Colorado (as expected) took a step back in the win column. The Buffaloes finished 5-7 overall, just missing out on a bowl game due to two losses by four points or less. The five-win season dropped MacIntyre's overall record to 25-38 overall in Boulder. While MacIntyre has just one bowl trip in five years, the program has made progress under his watch and should improve off last season's record. Prior to Colorado, MacIntyre spent three years as San Jose State's head coach. The Spartans went 6-19 in his first two seasons before showing marked progress in Year 3, finishing 10-2 in the regular season. He also has stops on his resume as an assistant from Duke, Ole Miss, Temple and in the NFL with the Cowboys and Jets.
7. Kevin Sumlin, Arizona
Sumlin wasn't out of work for long when his tenure ended at Texas A&M following the 2017 regular season. The Alabama native was scooped up by Arizona to replace Rich Rodriguez and inherits a team capable of winning the Pac-12 South in 2018. Sumlin played his college ball at Purdue and was an assistant at a couple of programs -- Wyoming, Minnesota, Purdue, Texas A&M and Oklahoma -- before landing his first head coaching job at Houston in 2008. Under Sumlin's watch, the Cougars went 35-17 over four years. Houston's offense ranked among the nation's best during that span, which included a 12-1 season in 2011. Sumlin was hired at Texas A&M prior to 2012 and oversaw the transition to the SEC. The Aggies started fast under Sumlin, finishing 11-2 in 2012 and 9-4 in '13. However, the program went 8-5 in three consecutive years, followed by a 7-5 mark in the regular season in 2017. Sumlin is a good recruiter and has a style of play that should work well in the Pac-12.
6. Clay Helton, USC
Helton is off to a solid start at USC, going 21-6, claiming the 2017 Pac-12 title, and two New Year's Six bowl appearances in his first two full years on the job. Helton was promoted to interim coach during the 2015 season and finished 5-4 in his stint. However, Helton showed enough in that run to be promoted to head coach, and he's 27-10 overall in his tenure in Los Angeles. Helton worked from 2010-15 as an assistant at USC, holding the offensive coordinator title since '13. He has other stops on his resume from stints at Memphis, Houston and Duke. Helton has to replace standout quarterback Sam Darnold, but back-to-back top-five signing classes will make the transition to the 2018 team a little easier.
5. Mike Leach, Washington State
Leach is known for producing some of college football's top offenses via the Air Raid attack and has delivered 14 winning records in his 16 years as a head coach. He went 84-43 at Texas Tech from 2000-09, which included an 11-win campaign in 2008. Leach took over at Washington State prior to 2012 and posted losing records in his first three years in Pullman. However, the Cougars have won at least eight games in each of the last three seasons, compiling a 26-13 record with two trips to the Holiday Bowl in that span.
4. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
Whittingham enters 2018 as the Pac-12's longest-tenured coach. His 13 years at the helm in Salt Lake City also places him among the top five in in the nation in that respect. Whittingham's longevity isn't the most notable thing about his tenure, however. He's produced consistent winners since working as a co-head coach with Urban Meyer in the 2004 Fiesta Bowl. Whittingham is 111-56 over the last 13 years and has just two losing records in that span. Utah has five finishes in the top 25 since 2008, including a No. 2 rank in the Associated Press poll in '08. After finishing with back-to-back 5-7 seasons from 2012-13, Utah posted three consecutive years of at least nine victories. The Utes finished 7-6 last fall but are poised to challenge for the Pac-12 South title in 2018.
3. Chip Kelly, UCLA
Kelly has returned to the collegiate ranks following a stint in the NFL and a stop as a college football analyst for ESPN. How long will it take Kelly to elevate UCLA into Pac-12 title contention? If the past is any indicator, it won't be long. Kelly went 46-7 at Oregon from 2009-12 and won at least 12 games in each of his last three seasons. The New Hampshire native is widely regarded as one of college football's top offensive-minded coaches. Kelly went 26-21 with the Eagles from 2013-15 and finished 2-14 with the 49ers in '16. UCLA's hire of Kelly was one of the top coaching moves for the 2017-18 carousel. This should work out well for the Bruins.
2. David Shaw, Stanford
Shaw continues to raise the bar for success at Stanford. After taking over following Jim Harbaugh's departure to the NFL, Shaw is 73-22 over the last seven years and guided the program to three Pac-12 titles. Additionally, the Cardinal have not won fewer than eight games under Shaw's watch and also have three trips to the Rose Bowl. Stanford is also 49-14 in Pac-12 action since the start of Shaw's tenure in 2011.
Related: Pac-12 Predictions for 2018
1. Chris Petersen, Washington
Washington is a program on the rise with Petersen at the helm. The Huskies are 22-5 over the last two years, including a 12-win season and a trip to the CFB Playoff in 2016. Washington finished 10-3 last year, which gave the program its first back-to-back seasons of double-digit victories since 1990-91. Petersen is 37-17 since taking over in Seattle and has lost only three Pac-12 games over the last two years. Prior to taking over at Washington, Petersen went 92-12 at Boise State from 2006-13. During that span, the Broncos played in two BCS bowls and finished No. 4 nationally in 2009.