No Shortage of Talent Among Pac-10 Football Coaches
One primary reason the Pac-10 football title and Rose Bowl race is wide open this season is coaching. Simply put, the Pac-10 coaching talent pool stacks up with any conference in the country, and you don't have to dig too deep to see the impact it is having in the Conference.
In 2009 alone, seven Pac-10 teams posted winning records and went to bowl games. First-time head coaches Chip Kelly and Steve Sarkisian made immediate impacts at Oregon and Washington, respectively. Cal posted its eighth-consecutive winning season under Jeff Tedford. Across the Bay, Jim Harbaugh has turned Stanford into one of the most dynamic offensive teams in the country.
And that's just the beginning. Mike Stoops has instilled a winning energy in Arizona that has the Wildcats poised for a run for the Roses. Mike Riley has four-straight winning seasons in Corvallis, the longest streak in 40 years. Rick Neuheisel ended UCLA's two-year bowl-less streak in 2009 and expects to take more strides this season. Paul Wulff won in seven of his eight seasons as head coach at Eastern Washington before taking over the rebuilding project at his alma mater, Washington State. After posting a winning season at Tennessee, Lane Kiffin takes control of a talented roster at USC. And you certainly can't sleep on Dennis Erickson, who has two National Championship rings and a winning record at every stop, including Arizona State, during his 21-year college coaching career to prove it.
The Pac-10 coaching pool is deep and talented and has delivered some of the most exciting programs in the country. Oregon and Stanford averaged better than 35 points per game a year ago and seven Pac-10 schools averaged more than 26 points per game in 2009.
With talented quarterbacks like Jake Locker, Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and Nick Foles and breathtaking running backs Jacquizz Rodgers and LaMichael James returning, you can expect more fireworks in 2009.
"I think the Western coaches are more sophisticated," long-time NFL scout Dave Razzano said. "That's the one part that stands out to me and maybe that's why they throw the ball more. They sort of understand you have to throw the ball to win. They tend to be a little more well rounded."
Sarkisian's energy in Seattle helped lift Washington from an 0-12 season in 2008 to a 5-7 mark in his first season. He has also developed Locker into perhaps the most talented quarterback in college football. Harbaugh, meanwhile, has designed one of the most potent attacks in the college game and has his own star signal caller in Luck.
"I have always been a big Jim Harbaugh fan," Razzano said. "I think he's outstanding and may be the best play caller in the country. He's dynamic. Steve Sarkisian is the perfect guy to turn Washington around and bring them back to prominence. He's a great people person, great with the alumni, can recruit and he's outstanding with quarterbacks."
Coaching in the Pac-10 takes much more than being good with the Xs and Os and being able to interact with the alumni. The level of excellence at each university extends into the classroom. The student quality was certainly evident when U.S. News & World Report named four Pac-10 schools to its list of the top 25 colleges in America, the most of any BCS conference in the country. Stanford, Cal, USC and UCLA were all included on the list. The academic and athletic balance in the Pac-10 is unmatched.
"The head coach better know when he signs on the dotted line that academics is very, very important for his program in terms of recruiting kids, in terms of maintaining their eligibility," former Cal and NFL head coach Steve Mariucci said. "I think that's good for the Pac-10. It gives you a really quality student-athlete, an overachiever, a very motivated player whether it's women's or men's sports. The quality of the kid is just fantastic. It's top shelf and as good or better than any conference in the country."
While admission standards are high, it has not hindered the performance on the field thanks to the leadership and direction of the head coaches.
When Tedford arrived in Berkeley in 2002, the Cal Bears had not posted a winning season in 10 years and were 1-10 in 2001. Everyone has heard of the five-year plan, but Tedford implemented the one-year turnaround. He has posted a winning record in each of his eight seasons and has led the Golden Bears to seven-consecutive bowl games, a school record. The last time Cal had eight winning seasons in a row was 72 years ago (1931-38). Tedford has a chance to become the first coach in school history to post nine-straight winning seasons in 2010.
The last time Oregon State had five winning seasons in a row was in 1970 when Richard Nixon was the President of the United States. With Riley at the helm, the Beavers have posted four-consecutive winning seasons and feature one of the most dynamic offensive tandems in college football in brothers James and Jacquizz Rodgers, who averaged a combined 357.6 yards per game last season.
Meanwhile at Oregon, Kelly earned Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors for doing a remarkable job in his first year handling adversity and guiding the Ducks to the Conference title and Rose Bowl berth. He has been described as one of the most innovative minds in college football, but the way he managed his team following a week one loss at Boise State and the suspension of running back LeGarrett Blount was every bit as impressive as his creative schemes.
"Chip Kelly is really good handling players and he knows offense," Razzano said. "That was his reputation at New Hampshire and he had a history of throwing the heck out of the ball. Mike Bellotti wanted to open up the offense and that's why he got him. Kelly's just really good handling offensive guys and dictating the defense."
Eight of the 10 head coaches had ties to the Pac-10 when they took over their current programs. Kelly and Stoops are the only exceptions.
"Stoops is a guy from back East who was attracted to West Coast football due to the climate, due to the great town of Tucson and the history of the Pac-10," Razzano said. "He had a lot of opportunities out of Oklahoma, but didn't move until Arizona came along. Same with Chip Kelly. He wasn't a guy to jump around looking for the next job. He was at New Hampshire for a long time and had a history of being one of the few guys from the East who really understood the passing game and had a lot of new ideas. Stoops and Kelly are two examples of guys from back East who were attracted to the Pac-10 and West Coast football."
What's not to like about innovative offenses, aggressive defenses, world class universities, top notch student-athletes and warm weather?
"Often times you'll see college coaches on the West Coast spend most of their careers out here because they enjoy it," Mariucci said. "They prefer to be out here versus back East or in the Midwest. And there are a lot of good schools and conferences back there too, but the quality of the universities, the weather, the circle of coaches you get involved with here lends itself to a heck of a career."