Alright, folks. Here we go with what I expect to be an annual or semi-annual event, my Pac-10 conference job security rankings. I wanted to start with football, since Spring Ball has just passed and I am trying to even out the basketball to football post ratio a little bit. But never fear, hoops fans, because I plan on making a basketball list as well.
Here’s how it works: All the coaches in the conference are ranked from 1 to 10 in terms of job security. What do I mean by “security”? It means that #10 is the most likely to be fired this upcoming season and #1 is the least likely to get the axe. We’re not taking into account coaching quality or success/failure beyond this season. It is simply a way of measuring who is most likely to get the boot from their institution this year.
That is an important caveat. For example, who would be more likely to lose their job this year – a first year coach who goes 1-11, or a coach at a big program who has his third straight mediocre season? Odds are the first year coach gets another chance.
Program expectations are also important. USC expects to contend for a national championship every year. Here at WSU we’re just hoping for a bowl game in Paul Wulff’s first year. These things make a difference in whether or not a coach is fired. So do off the field events – if a coach runs a tight, NCAA-clean program consistently they likely won’t lose their job. If a coach is Kelvin Sampson, however…. well, you know how that turned out.
So here now, organized into made-up divisions, are the first Pac-10 football job security rankings for 2008.
The “Please don’t go to the NFL” Division
1. Pete Carroll, USC
Pete Carroll has given USC fans a program that can contend for a title every year. How many coaches can say that? It almost makes you forget just how awful the Trojans were before his arrival at the Coliseum. The only way Pete loses his job is if there is some huge off the field scandal with a key player receiving recruiting violations like a free house or something. Wait a second…
The “Quality Progress” Division
2. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State
Erickson will have a job as long as employers are short-sighted enough to keep hiring him. But hey, he wins ball games. Your school might have some off-the-field issues, and he will probably leave to coach the Houston Texans in three years, but you’ll win in between! Hooray! For fun, ask an Idaho Vandals fan how they feel about Dennis Erickson.
3. Jeff Tedford, California
Tedford has put Cal on the map and made use of the absolutely endless pool of talent in the state of California. The former Oregon offensive coordinator has led the Golden Bears to five straight Bowl Games, and would probably be higher on the NFL’s radar if not for a 6-of-7-loss collapse after a 5-0 start (complete with #2 ranking) to last season. (bonus points: guess who the one win was!) Injuries really hurt Cal in 2007-08, and it’s likely the rest of the conference won’t get that luxury the next time around. Tedford is ceding play calling duties to Frank Cignetti this fall, which could have a substantial impact on Cal’s future.
4. Mike Riley, Oregon State
The great thing about Riley is how he gets the Beavers to consistently overachieve. He’s never finished higher than 3rd in the conference, but he has taken OSU to Bowl games in four of the last five years. His record in those games? 4-0. His propensity for winning big games in the regular season and beyond outshadow most of the bad losses the Beavs have suffered (hello 13-6 loss to the 2006 Cougs).
The Newcomers Division
5. Paul Wulff, Washington State
Regardless of how you feel about the “mutual” dismissal of Bill Doba, it seems all of the Cougar nation is rooting for Wulff to have success. He is a WSU alum, and who better to understand the experience in Pullman than a former Coug. He’s one of us, and it will be hard to turn up the heat on Wulff even if the upcoming season goes sour. There’s also the interesting twist that he played for Dennis Erickson, whom he’ll now have to coach against.
Still, with 13 games on the schedule, including seven home games, it would be reasonable for some Cougar fans to expect a bowl game in 2008. If Wulff gets it, he’ll be very secure. If he doesn’t, he’ll start 2009 with a little less loyalty.
6. Jim Harbaugh, Stanford
James Joseph Harbaugh starts 2008 riding the wave of goodwill from a shocking upset of USC in Los Angeles. Of course the rest of the season wasn’t as strong, but 4-8 following a terrible 2007 season is a welcome improvement for Cardinal fans. He’s a relative newcomer (2nd year), which helps put him a notch below Wulff. Of course expectations are still fairly strong in the Bay Area, and a season of regression could put Harbaugh on the hot seat.
The “Don’t put Money on it” Division
7. Rick Neuheisal, UCLA
Slick Rick will probably not be fired by UCLA this season. If he runs a tight ship. If he wins in L.A., a couple little NCAA infringements might be glossed over. Losing alone will likely not be a problem, considering Bruin fans were fairly generous with Karl Dorrell. But if he loses and colors a little outside the lines, it could be a Kelvin Sampson situation waiting to explode. Certainly he’ll stay away from the tournament office pool (although UCLA losing in the final four is always a good bet).
8. Mike Bellotti, Oregon
Bellotti sits here despite his fairly strong history with the Ducks. Obviously Nike looms large in Eugene, and if the powers that be among the Ducks decide that Bellotti isn’t doing the job, he’s out. Of course we should give Oregon a little credit; they’ve been very patient with Ernie Kent in basketball and they are giving Bellotti his own font (the font on the jerseys is “Bellotti Bold”; you can’t make this stuff up) and plenty of time to build a national powerhouse. But with all the money, facilities and money, you’d have to believe that Mike’s employer might be fed up sometime. And that sometime could be the end of 2008.
The Flaming Red Hot Seat of Hotness presented by Coors Light
9. Mike Stoops
I’d have to say reviewing this list that 1 through 8 are fairly safe and may be able stick around through 2009 without a Bowl game appearance. 9 and 10 are in trouble. A lot of it. Stoops is 17-29 and has been just good enough to avoid a firing the last two seasons. Arizona has also defeated a ranked team in each of Stoops four seasons, which helps. Still, the fact remains that Arizona would like to establish itself as contender in the football world, and Mike isn’t getting the Wildcats there. It’s also tough to keep a coach around who goes absolutely bezerk on the sidelines on borderline calls. And yet the refs have been fairly nice to Mike – like turning the other way when Alex Brink got clocked five seconds after a play had ended (still bitter about that one, especially in a world where a pinkie finger on some QBs is worth fifteen yards).
But I digress. The Stoops regime has struggled in Tempe, especially on offense. If the Cats can’t make it to a bowl this year, he’s probably out of work.
10. Tyrone Willingham, Washington
I had a startling realization when I watched The Daily’s (UW’s student newspaper) YouTube preview of the 2007 Apple Cup. Husky fans actually expect to compete for a Rose Bowl every season. Delusions of grandeur? Possibly. But if Tyrone Willingham is the man the Dawgs want to bring them back to dominance, he has to get to a bowl game this season. Ty has finished 10th, 9th, and 10th over the past three seasons in the Pac-10 conference.
The losing has fractured the Husky fanbase into so-called posidawgs and negadawgs, and led to a prominent booster offering a considerable “donation” if Willingham were to be fired. The meltdowns regarding Willingham over on the dawgman.com message board have been delightful to watch. If you’re a husky fan, you simply cringe and hope Jake Locker returns the purple and gold to dominance. It’s safe to say that another season outside the postseason will result in a new Husky coach for 2009.
So there you have it. 1 through 8 are looking fairly good going into 2008, and 9 and 10 have to coach for their lives. Which begs the following question: as a Cougar fan, do you root for the Huskies to keep Tyrone Willingham? Certainly the last three season have been bad, but the cupboard was bare in Montlake and Willingham did experience limited success with both Notre Dame and Stanford. Personally, I like the Ty era in Seattle because I have my doubts that he is anything above a .500 coach.
In basketball news, the Cougs have offered PG Xavier Thames, a 6’1″ Class of ’09 member from Elk Grove, CA. Now that Casto has signed with WSU point guard becomes the most glaring need for the Cougs, especially with the upcoming graduation of Taylor Rochestie. Thames has been on the radar of the Cougar coaches for a little while now, and with the scholarship offer you better believe he’s a solid prospect.