March 10, 2009

Whispers: Ranking the Pac-10 coaches

Any ranking of Pac-10 coaches has to begin with USC's Pete Carroll, who arguably is the standard by which all college coaches are measured. But the Pac-10 boasts an impressive collection of coaches beyond Carroll.

Oregon's Mike Bellotti, Oregon State's Mike Riley, Arizona State's Dennis Erickson and Cal's Jeff Tedford can match wits with any coaches in America.

That Bellotti, Riley and Erickson are looking to cement their legacies in what looks like the last stops of their careers further augments this collection of coaches.

Is there a more promising young coach than Stanford's Jim Harbaugh? Also, keep an eye on Washington newbie Steve Sarkisian.

Here is my ranking of the Pac-10's coaches:

1. Pete Carroll, USC
He has an 88-15 record, two national championships and a $4 million salary. Pac-10 titles? Carroll has so many seven in a row, to be exact that they don't even matter anymore. To top it all off, the guy has his own Web site ( where you can purchase a voice tone reminding you that "USC rips it" for $2.

2. Mike Riley, Oregon State
He is a melting pot of experiences, possessing an eclectic background that includes playing for Bear Bryant at Alabama and being a head coach in the Canadian Football League, the World League of American Football and the NFL. Riley has used all of those experiences to make him one of the nation's best coaches. Plus, you won't find a nicer guy.

3. Mike Bellotti, Oregon
He's the godfather of Pac-10 coaches, having built a 116-55 record with two Pac-10 championships (2000-01) and 12 bowls in 14 seasons. But is the end near? Bellotti already has acquiesced to a succession plan, planning to give way to offensive coordinator Chip Kelly at some point (this fall?) and move full time into athletic director duties. Enjoy Bellotti while you can.

4. Jeff Tedford, California
Can you even remember who coached Cal before Tedford? Tedford single-handedly has made Golden Bears football matter, forging a 59-30 record in seven seasons. Even more important to Cal fans, Tedford is 6-1 vs. Stanford. Before he arrived, the Bears had lost seven "Big Games" in a row to the Cardinal. To cement his status, though, Tedford must deliver a Pac-10 crown. (Oh, the coach before Tedford: Tom Holmoe, who's now the athletic director at BYU.)

5. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State
No matter which way you slice it, Erickson is a Hall of Fame coach. He won two national championships (1989 and 1991) with Miami, enjoyed two head-coaching stints in the NFL (Seahawks and 49ers), engineered a quick turnaround at Washington State, laid the foundation for greatness at Oregon State and already has led the Sun Devils to a share of a Pac-10 title (2007).

6. Jim Harbaugh, Stanford
Harbaugh is a terrific coach. Sure, his two-year record on The Farm is just 9-15 with a couple of seventh-place finishes, but Walt Harris left little to work with following his disastrous 6-17 run from 2005-06. Harbaugh has made this a tough, competitive program that is inching closer to making its first bowl appearance since 2001. Let's hope Harbaugh doesn't bolt to the NFL before it happens.

7. Rick Neuheisel, UCLA
"Slick Rick" will have to do his best selling job ever to lift the Bruins to the same level as crosstown rival USC. Don't discount a motivated Neuheisel, who loves his alma mater and has to know this likely is his last chance to be a big-time coach after runs at Colorado and Washington. Neuheisel's 4-8 debut in Westwood offered signs of hope if you look hard enough.

8. Mike Stoops, Arizona
Stoops is continuing to mature as a head coach as he enters his sixth season in Tucson. Last season was a breakthrough, as Stoops took himself off the hot seat by delivering Arizona's first bowl since 1998. Now comes the hard part: following success with success. Stoops is helped by a strong staff led by offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, two future head coaches.

9. Paul Wulff, Washington State
Let's call 2008 a learning experience, as Wulff went 2-11 in his debut season with the Cougars. It wasn't an accurate reflection of the skills he forged during a seven-year run as coach of Eastern Washington, where he went 53-40 with three playoff appearances. Wulff, a Cougars alum, knows what it takes to win on the Palouse. Give him time to build the talent base.

10. Steve Sarkisian, Washington
This ranking is a reflection of his inexperience and no indictment on his potential. Give him time. He's only 34 as he tries to put his stamp on a once-proud program that has suffered through a lost decade. Sarkisian, who turned down the Oakland Raiders' coaching job in 2007, learned at the feet of a master as offensive coordinator for Pete Carroll at USC. Now comes the true test: Can Sark build and lead a program? He has built a good staff, led by defensive coordinator Nick Holt.

Word is coaches on Oklahoma's staff met with members of Rich Rodriguez's Michigan staff recently to discuss offensive strategies. Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller is easing into retirement, prepping his West Lafayette, Ind., house for the market and planning to move to Buffalo, Wyo. Tiller's only plans for next fall are to travel the country in an RV with his wife, Arnette, to tailgate at college football games. If Florida State is forced to forfeit as many as 14 games because of a recent academic scandal, Bobby Bowden would fall farther behind Joe Paterno in their chase to be college football's winningest major-college coach. You wonder if that may be enough to push Bowden into retirement as soon as after this season. As it stands, Paterno has 383 wins, Bowden 382. There are no significant coaching openings, but there could be some minor movement once spring drills are over. There are several quality coaches still available, including former Eastern Michigan coach Jeff Genyk, former Minnesota offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar, former Washington linebacker coach Chris Tormey and former Texas A&M assistant Bob DeBeese. Turns out that former Minnesota coach Glen Mason was involved to some degree as a candidate for the Boston College job. No doubt, Mason will land somewhere some day. He's too good to remain on the sideline.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for He can be reached at is your source for: College Football | Football Recruiting | College Basketball | Basketball Recruiting | College Baseball | High School | College Merchandise
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