How The New Coaches May Change the Pac-12 – Part I


This is Part I or a two-part series on how the coaching changes in the Pac-12 will affect the future of the conference.

Following the firing of Mike Stoops and Paul Wulff, Arizona and Washington State made some bold moves by bringing in two veteran coaches into the league with a history of success at remote, out-of-the-way, and less-than-glamorous football schools. These were exactly the kinds of coaches that these two programs needed.

Rich Rodriguez found success at West Virginia (not exactly the largest of media markets or most coveted locations) before being lured by the big money and bright lights of Michigan. But, he found that the pressure and expectations of a school with a 100,000+ stadium in the suburbs of one of the largest cities in the country was a whole different beast (especially against the level of competition that the Big Ten provides).

But, Arizona’s situation has a lot of similarities to West Virginia and may be the place where Rodriguez refinds his mojo. Arizona is not a football school and has a tradition of finishing in the middle-to-lower half of the league. The expectations of the fans is not at the same level as Michigan. Any above average success will be viewed favorably. In addition, his no-huddle spread offense works perfectly in the QB dominated and high scoring style of the Pac-12.

In many ways, Rodriguez has some advantages in Tucson that he did not have at West Virginia. First of all, the sunshine and warm winter temperatures of the Sonoran Desert can be sold to recruits, like it is with the basketball team. Tucson also has almost the perfect amenities for a college recruit. It is large enough (nearly 1 million people) to provide everything a college kid is looking for, but not so large as to feel like you are in a major urban center. Without any other sports in town other than the University of Arizona, the city really still feels like a college town.

While Arizona traditionally recruits in

California and Texas, Rodriguez’s recruiting contacts in the Great Lakes/Appalachian/Northeast regions may play a major role. If a recruit has a choice between playing in a major BCS conference in sunny Tucson or in a cloudy/snowy location up north, what might they choose?

Mike Leach is another coach who has found a great deal of success in an out-of-the-way school playing in a major conference. He turned Texas Tech into a major player in college football, despite being located in one of the most remote Division I schools in the country, way out in Lubbock.  His unusual style and attitude may grind people the wrong way, but it also probably plays a role in his ability to get recruits to go to school in a small city in a remote, desolate area of the country. And that is exactly what he will need to be able to do to get urban kids from Southern California or Texas to come out to Pullman.

His coaching style also works very well in the Pac-12, where he has a history of opening up the playbook, racking up lots of passing yards, and preferring the 56-53 shootout to a defensive struggle. I literally can not think of a better fit for what Washington State needs right now than Mike Leach. With the improved talent and young squad in Pullman right now, I would not be shocked to see the Cougs go right to a bowl in his first year. Jeff Tuel may blossom into national leading statistics next year…

With these two new coaches coming into the league, I do see another round of coaching changes coming. I think Arizona and Washington State will rise up within 1-3 years into respectability. But, because college football is a zero-sum game, it will have to result in the decline of other programs. Oregon State and California seem to be the most likely at this way-too early stage to lose out in this war. They will have the two longest tenured coaches in the league and without serious success soon, pressure will grow for them to keep up with the arms race.

Barring a Top 3 finish in the next 2-3 years, I see both Jeff Tedford and Mike Riley on their way out. Kyle Wittingham will also need to have Utah improve on its performance this season if he is to stay in that position. This isn’t the Mountain West anymore where you only had to worry about 1-3 tough games a year. John Embree will be given some leeway given what he inherited in Boulder last year. He’s had two nice recruiting classes, so perhaps he will be given some time. But, it won’t be a lot of time… History is now showing you get 3-4 years maximum to make it to the top or you can start feeling your seat getting warmer.