A ranking of hot seats.
A college football coach in the South is a quasi-political figure. Across the country, he’s likely the highest paid public employee. As a result, the job turnover is tremendous. One day you’re excited for the Vegas Bowl, the next you’re at your dream job. Here’s a look at Pac-12 hot seats. I considered expectations and program history as factors.
Jonathan Smith, Oregon State – 1 – After Gary Andersen left, the Beavers dropped the final six games. But remember that near upset of Stanford on a Thursday night? It’s going to be tough. As an alum, Smith knows what success looks like in Corvallis. It can be done. He led OSU to a magical 11-1 run to the 2001 Fiesta Bowl. This year, success is three wins. On the bright side, baseball season is coming up!
Chip Kelly, UCLA – 1 – Ahhh yes, the quaint college town of Westwood. A place where boosters pull their bucks if the ol’ ball coach doesn’t win on Saturday. If Chip Kelly wins five games, he’s already a genius. If he beats USC with any consistency – something UCLA has done four times since its last conference title in 1998 – he’s a legend.
Mike Leach, Washington State – 1 – Pullman’s own. He’s not leaving because boosters at bigger schools won’t back him – a little to eccentric. On the Palouse, he can say and tweet what he wants with zero repercussions. He can stroll through the quad catching up with friends while on the phone with Bill. It also helps he’s a damn good coach. It’ll be interesting to see how the defense responds to losing Alex Grinch.
David Shaw, Stanford – 1 – The conference’s secretary of state and lone representative at the ESPN car wash. If you can go 52-15 in conference in seven years, there’s absolutely no pressure going into your eighth year. September 8 against USC is an early look at what this team will be.
Justin Wilcox, California – 2 – Can he keep it moving in the right direction? He wasn’t far off from making a bowl game in year one. That’s what Berkeley is looking for in year two. The Bears lost to Arizona, #20 Stanford, and UCLA by a combined seven points.
Kyle Whittingham – 3 – Ordinarily this is a 1, but 2018 is the year of lofty expectations. He dealt with the transition to the Power 5, now it’s time to win the division. The roster is perfectly set for a nice run, but the schedule is not. If he wins the South, build a statue.
Mike MacIntyre, Colorado – 3 – How did Colorado win the South in the year of Sam Darnold? Seriously, that happened. Since, the Buffs are 2-7 in the conference. But 2016 is a high that will keep Mac around. Before ’16, CU’s last bowl game was in 2007 with Dan Hawkins (Colorado lost to Nick Saban in his first year at Alabama).
Kevin Sumlin, Arizona – 3 – Rich Rodriguez won a Pac-12 title with less talent in 2014. Kevin Sumlin inherits a Heisman Trophy candidate and Herm Edwards at ASU. He misses UW and Stanford on the schedule. Winning Territorial Cups will help him keep it going in Tucson (ASU holds a 5-3 advantage since 2010?!?!).
Herm Edwards, Arizona State – 4 – Not understanding recruiting is a full-time job is uh…well…football. This reminds me of all the times I was under qualified filling out job applications: I never actually thought I’d become the executive producer of Sunday Night Football. I just enjoyed the process of filling out apps! Well Herm, this isn’t the Under Armour game. OC Rob Likens was on staff last year, but DC Danny Gonzales is a first timer in Power 5 football. The AD, Ray Anderson, is his former coaching agent, so it’s unlikely that ASU pulls the plug after one year. Still, Todd Graham’s recruiting wasn’t up to snuff for Anderson, and Herm doesn’t inspire confidence.
Chris Petersen, Washington – 4 – Ah my nemesis. The high ranking isn’t due to his job being at risk, but rather holding the conference’s playoff hopes on his shoulders in the first week. UW-Auburn is boom or bust. Can he get Jake Browning to deliver in a big game?
Mario Cristobal, Oregon – 4 – Mark Helfrich took over before he was ready. Willie Taggart was too eager to head out the door. Mario Cristobal…? It’s a cupcake schedule in year one, and we’ll find out just how good Oregon is on September 22 against Stanford. The Ducks keep on landing commits, but can Cristobal turn that into wins? Oregon was near the bottom in second half scoring last year. Check in after the halftime whistle to see if Cristobal can coach. If he can’t, Jim Leavitt is right there.
Clay Helton, USC – 5 – 0 losses at the Coliseum since he took over as head coach. 1 exciting Rose Bowl victory. And 1 Pac-12 title. He doesn’t have the charisma of Pete Carroll, but Clay Helton is undeniably a coach capable of sustaining success at a blue blood. He knows the gravity of SC’s expectations. It’s national championships. If JT Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown fulfill potential, watch out.