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Oregon Football

Ranking the Pac-12 Coaches

March 25, 2021

It was a wild year in college football. And it’s going to be hard to simply put too much stock into this Pac-12 season most of all. Pause, cancel, restart, short notice, limited games. The lack of direction from the conference headed into what ended up being a 2020 season is astounding.

But we had football and certainly look to be on track for a season this year. Which is all good. 

The Pac-12 saw a new head coach enter the conference this off-season with Jedd Fisch taking over for Kevin Sumlin. Nick Rolovich was last year’s first year head coach taking over during a Pandemic which couldn’t have been easy.

***THE JUICE: Spring Ball, 5-Star Recruiting News, More***

However Mario Cristobal remains the coach to beat. And I don't say that because I write about Oregon. The three major components to building a team includes Operations, Recruiting and Coaching/Winning. You have to be really good at all 3 and likely the best in your conference in at least 2 of them. 

Right now it’s pretty hard to argue Cristobal isn’t the best at all 3, if not all 3, he definitely leads 2 by a pretty significant margin. 

So a couple of parameters here before my list. I’m projecting a bit on Rolo and Fisch simply because of sample size. And also don’t forget, I’m going to weight it a little more favorably for the coaches who have already done it. I think Jonathan Smith might be a top 5 guy in the next two years. But for now, he’s behind coaches who have done it, who have been there. 

There are a total of 30 points to be earned, 10 per category.

The list. 

1. Mario Cristobal (29)

He gets 10’s in recruiting and operation because quite frankly, he’s kicking everyone’s ass in both categories. While USC is making adjustments, it’s been Mario Cristobal forcing the changes and laying down the blueprint. 

At the moment he’s still relatively young as a head coach and I only gave him a 9 there. I think he’s still learning, and most of all, he does show the wisdom to adapt, but he’s improving year after year there as well. 

If Cristobal ends up at that magic 30 number the rest of the conference might be in big trouble.

2. David Shaw (27)

I’m not sure anyone in the league is a better pure coach than Shaw. He gets it on both sides of the ball. And as far as operations go, I believe the academic requirements at Stanford are truly something you have to be excellent at managing when putting together a team. Not to mention he’s had some tremendous coaches come through his program. 

Now I hit him with a 7 in recruiting simply because they have fallen off a bit here lately. Although not all of that is completely within his control. I do think if Shaw was at a program that didn't have such strict academic requirements, he’d likely excel.

3. Kyle Whittingham (24)

From a football perspective, he is a pretty solid coach. And giving him a 9 felt more than fair. From an operations standpoint I’m not sure what to think. He hires some good coaches, keeps them around, let’s them do their jobs. I don’t really know much about the strength coaches, but the Utes are always big and strong. So an 8 feels fair there. 

Recruiting to Salt Lake City is surely unique and I understand those challenges. But I did have to go with a 7 in recruiting. He lands a couple strong players every cycle and then seems to go for size and length after that. 

4. Chip Kelly (23)

If it was offense only, there isn’t a smarter coach in the conference. However Chip has struggled to consistently get the level of defense needed to win the big games. That’s still a coaching requirement. As far as ops go I gave him a 7, I think he’s good, not great.

Recruiting is what hurts Chip. He’s just not that into the grind. I gave him a 6 and I think that’s what ultimately hurt his score. At UCLA he should really have no issues being at least a top 3 recruiting team in the conference. He’s off to a better start for ‘22 but nobody is signed just yet.

5. Clay Helton (22)

The scores here went, 7 for coaching, 7 for operations and 8 for recruiting. Here’s my logic. 

Helton probably isn’t a 7 as a coach but he is 45-23 at USC. Probably something most of us could have done with all of that talent, but here he is. I gave him a 7 for operations but I will note he has taken a step forward this off-season. I’m not sold he’s mastered all areas of the program but he certainly put an emphasis into his recruiting department and media personnel. 

He gets an 8 for recruiting because let’s face it, USC sells USC. You literally just need to have offered about half your class and they’re coming. Now give him credit for getting better in this area, because last year, he would have been about a 4. 

6. Jonathan Smith (21)

Probably my favorites of the ‘hasn’t won anything yet’ group. I think he’s a 9 as a football coach, not a 10 because his defense needs work like Chip. I have him as a 7 for operations because I think he makes good hires. And he’s a 5 in recruiting for now but that’s not entirely his fault. 

I mean budget will always be a limitation at OSU. And in terms of recruiting he inherited a really bad roster. I think he’ll improve in both areas at least statistically, and I’m guessing SMith is in my top 3 within 2-3 years. 

7. Herm Edwards (20)

Everyone loves Herm. Heck, I do too. I like some of his hires he’s made like Antonio Pierce and having Marvin Lewis on staff as well. He’s made some others the jury is still out on and I’m just not how good of an actual football coach he is. So the scores I gave old Herm were 7 for football, 7 for operations and 6 for recruiting. 

Quite honestly I'm not sure he’s much more than an average coach and thus he’s in the middle of the pack.

8. Justin Wilcox (19)

Toughest of any coach for me to grade. He’s made some good coaching hires but overall I’m not sure he has built up an operation like Cristobal. He does a good job with the defense but man that offense is an enigma. I went 7 for coaching, 6 for operations and 6 for recruiting. I think they’ve done a good job landing some gems here and there and recruiting well, but not great. 

Not to mention Mario Cristobal has likely plucked two of his better coaches on staff this offseason.

9. Jimmy Lake (17)

There is no doubt there’s a solid defensive mind in there. But that doesn’t make a good head coach. I gave Lake a 7 which I feel was generous with regards to football/coaching. But some of his personnel moves have raised a ton of eyebrows, including mine. Additionally there seem to be some justifiable concerns about recruiting under Lake. I gave him a 5 in both of the latter categories to get to 17.

10. Karl Dorrell (16)

Probably more than anything is coming to a Pandemic season like Jimmy Lake did. That isn’t easy. And we saw some good stuff from the Buffs that likely surprised us all. I feel as though he’s showed some promise and might move up this list in the next two years. But for now I felt  a 6 (football/coaching), 6 (operations) and 5 (recruiting) were fair. 

11. Nick Rolovich (12)

Like Dorrell he walked into one really tough first year. Simply put, I gave him a 7 for coaching/football, no grade for operations and a 5 for recruiting. I’m not married to these numbers and I think Rolo surprised a few of us with a strong debut season.

12. Jedd Fisch (0)

I mean I can’t score him for a year he wasn’t here for. Right now I’ll say this, he was in it until the end for Oregon’s vacant OC position when Moorhead was hired. So far he’s showing improvements in recruiting. He also assembled a solid staff. Good start, but you still gotta play the games. 


Tags: Football, Oregon
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