Since 2007, I've been ranking the coaches of Utah's current conference. Up until this year, that included all of the Mountain West.
Of course, the Utes no longer belong to the Mountain West and ranking those coaches would be a bit ridiculous. We've got a new batch of coaches to rank and the list a great deal more impressive than what we've seen recently. Their resumes are deeper and their career success far stretching. Summing it up: the Pac-12 is filled with a great deal of coaching talent - even if a few are past their prime.
This year's list will be different because Kyle Whittingham doesn't have much history with these other coaches. In the Mountain West, prior to 2010, he had an overall winning record against every coach except Bronco Mendenhall and Bobby Hauck - who had yet to coach his first season at UNLV.
However, in this year's ranking, Whittingham has only met four Pac-12 coaches: Mike Stoops (1-0), Mike Riley (1-1), Chip Kelly (0-1) and Jeff Tedford (1-0), so certainly not near the sample size.
We're also basing Whittingham's success on what happened in a different conference as opposed to the Pac-12. Should he be docked a spot or two because of that?
The rankings after the jump...
1. Chip Kelly (2 seasons, 22-4)
Forget what might happen to Kelly in the future, the guy took a very good football program and in two-short years turned them into a legitimate national championship contender. No disrespect to Mike Bellotti, who laid a fantastic foundation for Kelly, but Kelly has elevated the Ducks football program to pretty impressive heights. Even in defeat, they clearly proved to be the class of the Pac-12 with their national championship appearance.
This is a guy who, in two seasons, has won two Pac-12 titles outright, played for a Rose Bowl and a national championship. And to think, his career started with a lopsided road loss to Boise State, and two near-defeats at home against Purdue and Utah.
2. Kyle Whittingham (6 seasons, 58-20)
Homer pick? Maybe. But Kyle Whittingham is the only current Pac-12 coach to win a BCS game with his current team. If you want to get technical, he's also credited, along with Urban Meyer, for the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. So, that's two BCS bowl wins.
But it goes beyond just BCS bowl wins for Coach Whittingham. He's sustained success, has had a winning record in all six seasons, won nearly 75% of his games and became the first coach in Utah football history to produce three consecutive ten-win seasons. It remains to be seen how that will transition into the Pac-12 - but for now, the only coaches who have seen the same success as Whittingham haven't done so with their current teams (I'm looking at you Rick Neuheisel and Dennis Erickson).
3. Mike Riley (10 seasons, 69-54)
The guy can coach. He might not have a gaudy overall record or conference titles to show for his ability - but make no mistake about it, he can coach.
It's not easy winning at Oregon State. Go check their history and you'll see why. Prior to his arrival in 1997 (however brief his first stint there was), the Beavers were pretty much the dogs of the conference. Now, though, they are consistently one of the most difficult teams to beat. Utah fans saw first hand their grit in 2008 when they gave the Utes everything they could handle in a last second, heartbreaking (for them, at least) loss.
That's just how it is, though. They're never a gimmie - even in down years. This is a team that finished 5-7 last season and still went down to Tucson and upset Arizona. They took SC behind the woodshed and played Oregon tough late.
You know this is a program that won't stay on the losing end of .500 for long. They'll be back.
4. Jeff Tedford (9 seasons, 72-42)
Tedford certainly has dropped a peg or two the past couple of seasons with Cal's struggles - but you can't deny what he's done in Berkeley. This is a guy who inherited an awful program that was run into the ground by current BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and yet, in his first season, he finished 7-5. A year later, they had their coming out party with an unexpected upset of SC.
Though he's yet to reach a Rose Bowl or win an outright Pac-12 title, Tedford has changed the culture in Berkeley. Now their fans expect to win. It's not just a hope anymore. And while his last few seasons have been underwhelming, he's secured by what he's been able to accomplish at a once anemic program.
5. Steve Sarkisian (2 seasons, 12-13)
I hesitate to rank Sarkisian here because he hasn't been coaching for all that long. However, it's hard to ignore how quickly he's made Washington relevant again. He did, after all, inherit a losing team and, in one season, had them contending for a bowl game.
Last season marked their first return to a bowl game in eight years. That's a pretty big drought for a program that had been so good for so long. Sarkisian deserves a lot of the credit for that. Of course, so does Jake Locker - regardless of how erratic he was throughout his career in Seattle.
Now comes the tough part: not only sustaining that success, but building on it.
6. Mike Stoops (7 seasons, 40-45)
There is no denying Stoops has made Arizona a far better program than what he inherited back in 2003. Yet, they're nowhere near the highest of the highs seen under former coach Dick Tomey.
Last season really summed up the Stoops era at Arizona: there was a lot of hype, some decent success early, but in the end, like always, it fell a bit flat. Stoops is a good coach, no doubt, but his team is no better than just good and sometimes, they're just average.
Though he's entering his eighth year, the fact he's not been able to really have that breakout season kinda leads you to believe it's just not going to happen. He'll be good for 6-7 wins most years, but as it was the year before and the year before that, they'll come up just short.
7. Lane Kiffin (2 seasons, 15-11)
Maybe Kiffin doesn't deserve to be this high. He certainly hasn't done anything spectacular at either SC or Tennessee. However, he also hasn't face-planted and I guess, if you're going to be considerate, that's a win. This is a guy who has been set up to fail by many in the media since day one and that hasn't happened. SC was respectable last year and the Vols, who had pretty low expectations heading into 2009, were competitive under his watch.
Does that make him a good coach? No. It just doesn't make him a bad one and we need a bit more time before really figuring out the Kiffin enigma. And make no mistake, this guy is an enigma. He's not done a whole helluva lot on the football field, yet he's been a head coach in the NFL and led two of the most prestigious programs in college football.
Hell, it took Urban Meyer a few stops before finally taking over at Florida. Not Kiffin, though. He surged up the career ladder and now has a great gig - even if it's bogged down by sanctions at the moment.
8. Rick Neuheisel (11 seasons, 81-52)
If you ignore his three seasons at UCLA, Neuheisel certainly has a resume better than 8th on this list. But it's hard to overlook his stint with the Bruins. It hasn't been successful and though there have, at times, been promise, overall, UCLA looks less competitive on the field today than they did when he took over from the embattled Karl Dorrell.
That's damning for any coach.
Which means this season is about as close to a must-succeed as you can get. I don't know if Neuheisel will get the ax if he fails to get the Bruins to a bowl game, but it's hard to imagine he comes back from three losing seasons in four years.
9. Dennis Erickson (22 seasons, 173-89-1)
Erickson, like Neuheisel, had a pretty substantial resume when he made his return to the Pac-12. But resume alone doesn't equal results and he pretty much needs to win substantially to have any hope of returning for a 24th season.
Who knows why it's gone south the way it has at Arizona State. He came in with a bang, going 10-3 and winning a share of the Pac-10 title. However, since that great first year, Erickson's Sun Devils have hardly lived up to their hype. In 2008, after being picked to finish 2nd in the Pac-10, they limped to a 5-7 record and fell even further back in 2009. Last season, though much more competitive, they still failed to finish with a winning record and two of their six wins came against FCS teams - leaving them ineligible for a bowl game.
Similar to Neuheisel, Erickson has yet to really outproduce the guy he replaced. Dirk Koetter was fired after a 7-6 season. Erickson might see a similar fate if his team can't at least win 8 games.
10. Paul Wulff (11 seasons, 58-72)
By all accounts, Wulff is a pretty upstanding guy. You hate to see good guys fail and, unfortunately, that's exactly what's happened in Pullman. Though he inherited a mess of a program and there have been some signs they're moving in the right direction, five wins in three years is just not going to cut it.
Wulff needs to show the Wazzu faithful he's the guy to take the program to the next level and another two-win season won't do that.
I don't think Wulff needs to get to a bowl game to save his job, but he certainly needs to contend for one. Anything less than 4 wins and I think he has a losing argument on why he should remain the Cougars' head coach.
Jon Embree (Colorado) & David Shaw (Stanford) are not listed because both coaches are in their first years.