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Ranking Pac-12 coaching hires, Part One: From “We’ll see” to Chernobyl

Which hires are the worst since 2000?

Washington Huskies v USC Trojans Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Hello there. In the everlasting search for offseason #content, we stumbled upon an idea that we thought could be, ahem, sampled. It started with some writers from The Athletic ranking coaching hires over a certain period of time in conferences such as the SEC and Big Ten. Naturally, nobody cared enough to do one for the Pac-10/12, so yours truly decided to step into the obvious void and compile the definitive list. You’re welcome (?)

Why since 2000? A few reasons. Nearly two decades provides for enough hires to rate across the spectrum. Also, there were no coaching changes after 1999, which gave a convenient break in the near-constant turnover. There were 39 coaches hired between 2000 and 2018 (by my count, including the double-ups of Chip Kelly and Steve Sarkisian), and I did not count any interim guys. 2015 USC is the lone exception, record-wise, since the interim coach got the more permanent gig. Otherwise, if you began the season, your record reflects the team’s performance for the duration.

I did not consider the following coaches due to nascency of the hires: Nick Rolovich, Jimmy Lake, Mel Tucker (we hardly new ye), Karl Dorrell and Jedd Fisch. I also didn’t rank Kyle Whittingham’s hiring since it took place in the Mountain West days, and because he wouldn’t be near the top anyway.

It’s important to keep in mind a bit of nuance, as I didn’t necessarily rank the coaches purely on results, though they obviously carry more weight than other factors. However, there are a handful of instances where the hire was viewed as tremendous, only to have very a poor outcome. Others were roundly criticized, yet worked out quite well. I took that entirely subjective sentiment into consideration, along with giving credit (or downgrades) for degree of difficulty. Some coaches had better records than their ranking may indicate, and vice versa.

Since there were so many job changes, and because I don’t feel like writing a 10,000-word tome, I’m breaking them up into three divisions, starting with the hires that range from “TBD” to “dumpster fire.” Why am I starting here? It was much easier to rank the worst hires than the best, by-and-large. With that, let’s go.

Category Breakdown: Overall Record / Conference Record / Best Season / Worst Season

27. Jonathan Smith, Oregon State Beavers (2018-present)

Vitals: 9-22 / 7-18 / 2019 (5-7) / 2018 (2-10)

Comment: Smith seems to maybe kinda sorta have things possibly headed in a decent direction after having inherited a pretty bad situation in Corvallis (more on that later), and he’s really had only two full seasons to turn OSU around. Still, is there a lot of reason for optimism in Corvallis, outside the fact that they beat their rival? Also, what’s that like?

If this hire were a song:

28. Kevin Sumlin, Arizona Wildcats (2018-2020)

Vitals: 9-20 / 6-17 / 2018 (5-7) / 2019 (4-8)

Comment: Sumlin’s hiring seemed like a coup for the Wildcats after Texas A&M fired him for going 51-26. Not so much. He somehow managed to ruin Khalil Tate, along with the rest of the program in a very short time. It was pretty clear that his players quit on him last season.

If this hire were a song:

29. Gary Andersen, Oregon State Beavers (2015-2017)

Vitals: 7-29 / 3-24 / 2016 (4-8) / 2017 (1-11)

Comment: This may be the most glaring instance where the record is much worse than the perception of the hire, and I still have no earthly idea how things spiraled out of control that quickly. Andersen went 11-2 at Utah State in 2012, then went 9-4/10-3 in two years with the Wisconsin Badgers. So after that, the Beavers are able to swipe him out of Madison? What??!! Seemed like a grand slam, but ended up as a foul tip bouncing up and hitting you in the fellas. Gary also proceeded to throw much of his staff under the bus on the way out of town.

If this hire were a song:

30. Sonny Dykes, California Golden Bears (2013-2016)

Vitals: 19-30 / 10-26 (I had to look at that again) / 2015 (8-5) / 2013 (1-11)

Comment: Dykes gets some credit for turning a team that had had eroded under Jeff Tedford into an eight-win group in just three seasons. However, Dykes never finished better than 4th in his division, and the lifelong Texan never seemed like a good fit for Cal, personality-wise. By 2015, he was trying to interview for every Power Five AD who would return his call, even Baylor! And still, Cal was dumb enough to extend him, only to fire him a year later.

If this hire were a song:

31. Rick Neuheisel, UCLA Bruins (2008-2011)

Vitals: 21-29 / 13-23 / 2009 (7-6) / 2010 (4-8)

Comment: I mean, sure, Rick was an alumnus. And yeah, he’d been a major college coach who led teams to successful seasons, particularly in 2000. But still, Neuheisel hadn’t been a head coach since 2002, and he’d left his previous two programs in pretty bad shape. His last head gig had ended amid a gambling scandal and a proclivity for lying to his boss. But none of that mattered to Dan Guerrero, and the results were predictably poor.

If this hire were a song:

32. Steve Sarkisian, USC Trojans (2014-2015)

Vitals: 12-6 / 7-5 / 2014 (9-4) / 2015 (3-2)

Comment: This hire was probably the pinnacle of Pat Haden’s run of incompetence as USC AD. Instead of hiring Chris Petersen, Haden opted to try for a re-creation of the Carroll days and hired Sarkisian, who flamed out under an avalanche of personal issues after fewer than two seasons. I don’t need to mention where Washington went to replace Sarkisian.

If this hire were a song:

33: Walt Harris, Stanford Cardinal (2005-2006)

Vitals: 6-17 / 5-12 / 2005 (5-6) / 2006 (1-11)

Comment: Oddly, this wasn’t even Stanford’s worst hire of the decade! I don’t recall what the punditry’s reaction to Harris’ move from Pitt to Stanford was, but in retrospect it feels like school leadership didn’t even really have its heart in the marriage with the native Californian. I mean, two seasons? What are you, Tennessee? Even so, the move worked out quite well, as we’ll see in a future edition.

If this hire were a song:

34. Keith Gilbertson, Washington Huskies (2003-2004)

Vitals: 7-16 / 4-12 / 6-6 (2003) / 1-10 (2004)

Comment: In fairness to Gilbertson, he wasn’t exactly handed the keys to a humming machine after a gambling misadventure gave Barbara Hedges no choice but to fire Slick Rick. Still, it was clearly a panic move intended to keep the early 90s alive. It did not go well, and Keith was mercifully put out to pasture rather quickly.

If this hire were a song:

35. Buddy Teevens, Stanford Cardinal, 2002-2004

Vitals: 10-23 / 5-19 / 2003 (4-7) / 2002 (2-9)

Comment: Seriously, did anyone at Stanford even pay attention to football in the early 2000s? As you’ll see, the folks on The Farm are by far the most bipolar talent spotters in the conference, if not all of college football. Teevens was just a bizarre choice. His only other major college head coaching stint was at Tulane, where he went 11-45. Truly baffling hire.

If this hire were a song:

36. John Mackovic, Arizona Wildcats (2001-2003)

Vitals: 11-24 / 4-20 / 2001 (5-6) / 2003 (2-10)

Comment: Mackovic’s Arizona tenure was so utterly forgettable that I neglected to include him until I re-read this draft and realized that I only had 12 entries. Mackovic took over a relatively stable program from Dick Tomey and promptly ran it into the ground amid several allegations of player mistreatment. Under Tomey, Arizona had just two losing seasons between 1992 and 2000. Once he turned it over to Mackovic, it wouldn’t be until 2008 that the Wildcats won more than they lost.

If this hire were a song:

37. Paul Wulff, Washington State Cougars (2008-2011)

Vitals: Pretty sure that if you’re reading this you already know.

Comment: That Wulff isn’t last, or even second-to-last, says a lot about this segment of the list.

If this hire were a song:

38: Tyrone Willingham, Washington Huskies (2005-2008)

Vitals: 11-37 / 6-29 / 2006 (5-7) / 2008


Comment: Only managing to win six games in four seasons at a program with as good a history and infrastructure as Washington has is like going -11 and 500 at a place like WSU. I mean, you really have to try to suck that bad. The only reason he isn’t last is because at least he had a semi-competent track record as a head coach.

If this hire were a song:

That brings us to...

39. Jon Embree, Colorado Buffaloes (2011-2012)

Vitals: 4-21 / 3-15 / 2011 (3-10) / 2012 (1-11)

Comment: How bad a hire was Embree? Cash-strapped Colorado knew it was such a disaster that they fired him after year two of a five-year contract. Unlike Willingham, Embree had never even been a coordinator at any stop along his coaching career. His 2012 team is arguably the worst in Pac-12 history. I pity the poor bastards they managed to beat that year!

If this hire were a song:

So that does it for Part One. Over to you!