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Mike Leach’s standing among his coaching peers

Arizona v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

Nearly everybody loves rankings, lists, bowl projections and even mock drafts. We can say we don’t like them and that they’re either largely meaningless (lists), completely unpredictable (bowl projections) or never close to what actually unfolds (mock drafts). But by-and-large, most of us click. I’m guilty, too.

About the only sports projections that are somewhat predictable are NCAA Tournament forecasts. The best part is when the “Bracketologists” all pat themselves on the back when they nail 67 of 68 teams, while clearly ignoring the fact that anyone with a pulse and a keyboard could get at least 62 after 4-5 minutes of research.

So that brings us to 2017’s annual ranking of Pac-12 coaches, both within the conference and among the rest of the Power Five schools. We’ll start with the CBS Sports ranking of the Top 25 Power Five coaches.

In 2016, Leach came in at Number 30. This year, Tom Fornelli moves him up five spots to 25. That’s not too bad! Here’s what Fornelli has to say:

I'll admit I was a bit skeptical about Leach at Washington State after his first three seasons, but he's gone 17-9 the last two years, including a 13-5 record in conference.

It’s clear that, after what we would call a tumultuous start, Leach has established WSU as a perennial bowl contender at the very least. Bowl contender, you say? Why not perennial Pac-12 title contender? Well, have a look toward the Top 10, in which two other Pac-12 North coaches reside. That’s the issue. While Leach has undoubtedly turned WSU around, he has to get through Chris Petersen and David Shaw (or, at least one of them) just to get to a conference title game.

I would argue that Fornelli should have ranked both Shaw and Petersen above Bob Stoops, but that’s neither here nor there. The only Pac-12 South coach anywhere near the Top 25 is Kyle Whittingham, and he can’t figure out how to win in November. He’s like the Utah version of Mike Price in that way.

If you want to see the 26-65 list, you can look here. Even though Leach has never led a team to a BCS/New Year’s Six game, he ranks above nine coaches who have: Bret Bielema, Tom Herman, Paul Chryst, Hugh Freeze, P.J. Fleck, Dana Holgorsen, Will Muschamp, Rich Rodruguez and Clay Helton.

Now for Athlon’s annual Pac-12 coaching rankings, which will illuminate the seeming absurdity of this whole exercise. In order to do that, let’s take a look back just two seasons, to 2015. Here are the rankings, in case you didn’t want to click:

  1. Todd Graham (!!!)
  2. Rich Rodriguez
  3. David Shaw
  4. Chris Petersen
  5. Kyle Whittingham
  6. Gary Andersen
  7. Mark Helfrich
  8. Jim Mora
  9. Steve Sarkisian (who?)
  10. Mike Leach
  11. Sonny Dykes
  12. Mike MacIntyre

Ok, once the laughter subsides, let’s take a look just one year later.

  1. David Shaw
  2. Chris Petersen
  3. Kyle Whittingham
  4. Mike Leach
  5. Todd Graham
  6. Rich Rodriguez
  7. Mark Helfrich
  8. Jim Mora
  9. Gary Andersen
  10. Sonny Dykes
  11. Mike MacIntyre
  12. Clay Helton

You mean to tell me that 365 days proved that Todd Graham and RichRod were no longer great coaches, but simply middle-of-the-road? (I never ever would have put Todd Graham anywhere near the top to begin with, but this is still funny to me) Oh, and Mike Leach was an idiot last year, but now he’s pretty smart!

Now for the 2017 version, where there was a good bit of stability at the top of the list, but shuffling elsewhere.

  1. Chris Petersen
  2. David Shaw
  3. Kyle Whittingham
  4. Mike Leach
  5. Mike MacIntyre
  6. Gary Andersen
  7. Willie Taggart
  8. Todd Graham
  9. Rich Rodriguez
  10. Clay Helton
  11. Jim Mora
  12. Justin Wilcox

So in two seasons, Rich Rodriguez apparently lost every bit of knowledge in his head. I don’t know whether he was ever the second-best coach in the Pac-12, but he’s sure as hell better than Willie Taggart at this point. Speaking of Taggart, at least Oregon coaches are consistent. Additionally, RichRod will always and forever be a better coach than Todd Graham. Always.

Other quick thoughts:

  • The Pac-12 South suddenly looks like a graveyard.
  • Mike MacIntyre was a terrible coach but now he’s pretty good! In one year!
  • I will give Athlon some credit for recognizing the perennial fraud that is Jim Mora.
  • What exactly does Clay Helton have to do to get a little respect? The guy turns USC around from opening night laughing stock to Rose Bowl champ and only moves up two spots. Yeesh.

From a WSU perspective things seem about right, but I think it’s pretty clear that the bottom is much closer than the top, especially given Chris Petersen’s penchant for breaking out the Cat o’ nine tails every year in the Apple Cup.

Leach has already shown that he can compete with and beat Shaw. Hell, Leach’s worst team almost won at Stanford. But for Leach to ever reach the Top Two, he has to beat Petersen. Given what we’ve seen over the last three seasons, and given the monster Petersen is building, that seems a ways off in the distance at this point.


Where does Mike Leach rank among Pac-12 North coaches?

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