Grading Pac-12 Coaching Moves (Or Lack Thereof) – South Division

It’s been a busy year for the Pac-12 coaching community – and it isn’t over yet.

Both of the Washington schools have new coaches, as do Pac-12 power brokers USC and Oregon. There are hints that the dean of the Pac-12 coaching fraternity, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, may retire.

Oh, and there’s no guarantee that Arizona State, which wants to keep its head coach, will be allowed to do so.

Below is a look at the current status of the Pac-12. The first grade is the based upon the satisfaction of the fan base of the school; the second grade is based upon how I, as a Buff fan, view the move.

(Just so you know, my view of CU’s rivals is based upon what I perceive as being good for the Buffs, not the conference. In my world, I want CU to win. If that means the other team is down, or if the other team has a star player injured the weekend they play the Buffs, so much the better.)

Pac-12 South … 

Arizona (1-11, 1-8) … Head coach: Jedd Fisch … 1st year

From Arizona’s perspective … B-

Fisch came into a program which was a mess, and it didn’t get much better in 2021. The Wildcats did break its 20-game losing streak on November 6th with an ugly 10-3 win over Cal. The Bears were depleted by COVID, and the Wildcats did their best to lose the game, but did post the win. Arizona went on to finish the season with a new three game losing streak, giving up an average of 40 points per game in losses to Utah, Washington State, and Arizona State.

The only saving grace for Arizona fans right now is that Fisch is putting together a surprisingly good Recruiting Class, currently ranked 33rd in the nation (3rd in the Pac-12).

From CU’s perspective … B+

Little was expected of Fisch in his first season, and he delivered. If Cal had been able to bring a full roster to Tucson in November, Arizona would likely be carrying a 24-game losing streak into 2022. Hard to ask for much more as a Buff fan.

Arizona State (8-4, 6-3) … Head coach: Herm Edwards … fourth year (25-17, 17-14)

From Arizona State’s perspective … C+

The Sun Devils did win eight games in 2021, and did finish in a tie for second in the Pac-12 South, but so much more was expected. With USC floundering, it seemed like this would be the year that Arizona State would break through. The Sun Devils opened with a 5-1, 3-0 record before back-to-back losses to Utah and Washington State ended any dreams of a Rose Bowl bid.

“I’m going to be the coach,” Edwards said after Arizona State defeated Arizona in the regular season finale. “There’s an elevator near the stairs I take, and I told myself the day I don’t have the energy to take those stairs, I won’t coach anymore. I’ll be taking the stairs tonight.”

From CU’s perspective … B-

Where is the NCAA when you need them? Sources told ESPN that part of the NCAA’s investigation involves Arizona State hosting prospects during the recruiting dead period, which lasted from March 2020 to June 1, 2021. FBS programs were prohibited from having recruits on campus during that period. Several sources in the Pac-12 told ESPN that Arizona State also faces allegations about recruiting practices that occurred when the dead period ended, including possible improper contact with prospects at an off-campus recruiting camp in June.

If Arizona State gets what it deserves in terms of penalties, Edwards will be gone, along with much of what’s left of the coaching staff. The program will be left, much like CU was two off-seasons ago, scrambling to find coaches when every other program in the country has their coaching staff set. In the meantime, the uncertainty has left Arizona State with the 90th-ranked recruiting Class, 11th in the Pac-12 … which is nice.

Colorado (4-8, 3-6) … Head coach: Karl Dorrell … second year (8-10, 6-7)

From Colorado’s perspective … C-

In one-and-a-half seasons, Karl Dorrell already has more wins than Bill McCartney had in his first three (7-25-1). Dorrell’s position as head coach was never in jeopardy, as CU was not about to go looking for a fourth head coach in five seasons.

Yet there is a frustration within the Buff Nation. When your offense is 129th out of 130 teams nationally, there are going to be – justifiably – upset fans. CU was hard to watch on offense, and the defense wasn’t up to the challenge of single-handedly keeping CU in games.

None of the recruits on offense from CU Recruiting Class of 2022 have expressed concern over the Buffs not having an offensive coordinator in place on Signing Day, December 15th. Yet when there is an announcement of the new offensive coordinator, there will be much hand-wringing, as the Buff Nation is beyond impatient.

CU doesn’t have Northern Colorado on the schedule for 2022. The non-conference schedule consists of TCU at home, before the Buffs take to the road for tough games against Air Force and Minnesota.

Bill McCartney got a contract extension while going through a 1-10 season in 1984. If Karl Dorrell’s team is anywhere close to that in 2022, Dorrell won’t be around in 2023.

UCLA (8-4,6-3) … Head coach Chip Kelly … fourth year (18-25, 16-18)

From UCLA’s perspective … B

Chip Kelly came into the season with a 10-21 overall record at UCLA, and on the hot seat. After losses to Fresno State and Arizona State left the Bruins with a 3-2 record earlier this fall, the hot seat got that much hotter.

Two months later, Chip Kelly was once again hot … as in a hot commodity. Reports had been posted that Oregon requested permission to talk with Kelly about returning to Eugene. For Kelly to remain at UCLA, he would presumably need to agree to an extension of the contract that is set to expire after the 2022 season. Kelly’s reciprocal $9-million buyout ends on Jan. 15, 2022, meaning he could leave after that date without compensating UCLA as long as a new agreement elsewhere was not put into place.

From CU’s perspective … B

The luster has worn off of Chip Kelly, so I’m good with him remaining at Westwood. The Bruins went 8-4 this year, but how many of those wins were over teams with a winning record? Umm … zero. While UCLA’s offense got in gear this year, but the defense remained poor.  UCLA gave up 26.8 points per game this fall, ranking No. 75 nationally … and that was the first time the Bruins gave up less than 30 points/game in Kelly’s four years.

There are also plenty of complaints that Kelly isn’t as interested in recruiting as he once was, which will only bring on more complaints as Lincoln Riley brings his recruiting acumen to Southern California.

Oh, and CU is 2-2 against UCLA under Chip Kelly, with the home team winning each of the four games.

For a Buff fan, a 2-2 record against a “blue blood” division rival is not bad. Chip Kelly hasn’t dominated the Buffs … so it may not be a bad thing that he is staying at UCLA.

USC (4-8, 3-6) … Head coach: Clay Helton … fired, replaced by Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley

From USC’s perspective … A+

Clay Helton was a disaster at USC, and there were few, if any, Trojan fans sorry to see him go. This despite a 46-24 record most fan bases would be more than happy to accept.

There were many potential candidates discussed as Helton’s replacement, but former CU athletic director Mike Bohn surprised the nation when he was able to get Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley to abandon Norman. In five seasons at Oklahoma, Riley compiled a 55-10 record (I’ll do the math for you, that’s an average record of 11-2 each season). Riley took teams to the College Football Playoffs; he produced Heisman trophy winners.

Riley was born in Texas, played at Texas Tech, and has coached in the midwest his entire career … but few Trojan fans seemed to be concerned.

From CU’s perspective … D+

It really doesn’t matter who is the head coach for USC. The Trojans are 15-0 against the Buffs, and it hasn’t mattered who the head coach has been – USC owns CU, and that will remain the case until or unless the Buffs change the narrative. CU doesn’t recruit the same players as USC, and cannot pay its coaches anywhere near what USC can pay.

It would have been easier for CU to beat a USC not coached by Lincoln Riley … but the Buffs couldn’t beat Clay Helton’s teams, either.

Utah (10-3, 8-1) … Head coach: Kyle Whittingham … 17th year (144-69, 88-55)

From Utah’s perspective … A+*

Early losses to BYU and San Diego State left Utah with a 1-2 record and no hope of making the College Football Playoffs. Since mid-September, though, the Utes have gone 9-1, won their first Pac-12 championship – with two routs of Oregon in three weeks – and are heading for the Rose Bowl for the first time in school history.

It doesn’t get much better than that … unless …

From CU’s perspective … F*

CU and Utah joined the Pac-12 at the same time. The thing was, the timing in 2011 couldn’t have been any better for the Utes; and couldn’t have been any worse for the Buffs. Colorado limped into the Pac-12 with five straight losing seasons, and were trying a soon-to-be-exposed as a bad idea head coach with Jon Embree. Utah, meanwhile, came to the Pac-12 without having a losing season since 2004, and had gone 33-6 the three seasons preceding its first campaign as a newly minted member of the Pac-12.

Now, Utah is on top of the world, and will invade Pasadena January 1st, while CU sits home for the ninth time in 11 seasons in its new conference.

It doesn’t get much worse than that … unless …

* There have been stories that Kyle Whittingham may retire after the Rose Bowl. Whittingham has been the head coach for 17 years, and is 62 years old. Not old compared to say, Nick Saban (who is 70), but there have been rumors that Whittingham wants to ride off into the sunset with a Rose Bowl appearance. If that happens, and Utah has to start over with a new coach … it could only be a negative for Utah, and a positive for Colorado.

… Coming later Sunday … A look at the Pac-12 North … 


8 Replies to “Grading Pac-12 Coaching Moves – South Division”

  1. Good write up Stuart. USC got a coach, who if successful, may not just move on right away… Unless two things happen, 1st: if after major success at USC he get’s hired by a school in a “SUPER CONFERENCE” and if that super conference and the pay that comes with it, come to light.

    If things remain the same or similar, and there are 4 or so dominate conferences than staying at USC may be the best thing for Riley. He’d be in the playoffs regularly and have plenty of finical and recruiting support. USC already gets top classes and a proven recruiter with a winning record at USC would crush it at recruiting.

    USC would be the top of the conference and the weather and opportunities is LA make it a great place for a multi-millionaire. But, seriously, the SEC has too many big fish and with OU joining them Riley’s making a very good move. Yes, there will be pressure to win, but USC has an easier pathway, a lot of money and resources, connections and etc.

    The school is an expensive to attend (free ride), a prestige private university that will always attract top talent and have the monies and Hollywood connections to compete in the new NIL world; with little competition from their own conference. Phill can write checks to OU and UCLA can do well with some “Hollywood” connections (and monies) too, but neither will keep up with USC if they have everything clicking right and Riley may be able to do that.

    1. I think Riley’s next move, if he achieves the success at usc I think he will, is to the nfl. Or to just be content winning championships at usc. Which would be rare. A winning coach being content, that is. Especially a young one.

      Go Buffs

  2. “None of the recruits on offense from CU Recruiting Class of 2022 have expressed concern over the Buffs not having an offensive coordinator in place on Signing Day, December 15th. Yet when there is an announcement of the new offensive coordinator, there will be much hand-wringing, as the Buff Nation is beyond impatient.”

    As far as the absence of an OC goes, in the minds of the recruits, you can use that old phrase addition by subtraction. Most of em, just like the fans, are probably glad he is gone making their decision to stick with the Buffs a little easier. I mean c’mon…what are the odds it can get any worse?
    As far as the anticipation of the new OC goes, in the event it is as the pundits predict that the guy will be a KD buddy run heavy position coach in the NFL with no actual OC experience and unfamiliar with the college game……maybe tooth gnashing might be a better fit than hand wringing.
    As far as the glass being half empty “beyond impatient” maybe being beyond means a state of depressing resignation.
    The glass being half full means their is still a flicker of hope that the new OC might have a “chess playing jones” and that the curse cant last forever…right? (sigh)

    1. Interesting story on the lions’ te coach. Although he is probably on the list of coaches moving up in Campbell’s program. Not sure if he intersected with Karl in Miami or anywhere.

      Go Buffs

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