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Pac-10 football: The best coaches of the past 20 years
If anything, it’s even slower on the college football/basketball front this week than it was last week.
Football coaches are headed on vacation. Hoops coaches are readying for the big July summer recruiting circuit. News-wise, there isn’t much.
This is the fourth in a series that will last as long as I can come up with ideas. We’ve looked at the best teams in the Pac-10 over the past 20 years, the best players, the best quarterbacks, and now we have the best coaches.
Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two more categories: best games and best performances. If you have any ideas, please let me know.
In evaluating coaches, I considered a number of factors above and beyond wins/rankings/bowl victories. But I didn’t have a formula; this was a very subjective weighing of the factors listed below:
* Oversight: Did the coach get nailed for NCAA violations? Does he run a tight ship or a loose one? Do his players get in trouble? Do they graduate?
* Location: It’s much harder to recruit to Pullman or Corvallis (or Tucson) than it is to Berkeley or Los Angeles. (Admissions standards are included in this category.)
* Consistency: To make my list, a coach had to have more than one season of excellence. That could take the form of extended success at the same school or big years at more than one place.
Who didn’t make the list? The biggest name was Terry Donahue, whose last nine years at UCLA fell into the timeframe I looked at.
In my mind, Donahue underachieved in Westwood from 1987-95. He had all those players within two hours of campus, a terrific academic institution to recruit to and a mediocre crosstown rival.
And yet, during that span, Donahue finished first or second only three times — and two of those came when he had Troy Aikman.
To the top-10:
10. Larry Smith, USC: Yes, Smith struggled in his final seasons — struggled far more than the USC coach should struggle. But his first four years coincide with the first four years of my timeframe, and during that span the Trojans were 26-3-2 in Pac-10 play and went to three straight Rose Bowls.
9. Dick Tomey, Arizona: The knock on Tomey’s tenure in Tucson is that he never reached the Rose Bowl while Washington State, Oregon, ASU and Stanford all did — and that cannot be discounted. But Tomey won eight games (or more) four times at a school that had very little football tradition and very little local talent.
8. Dennis Erickson, Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona State: One of a handful of men to be named conference coach of the year at multiple schools (WSU and OSU), Erickson is now trying to elevate Arizona State. His on-field success in two difficult locations warrants a higher placement, but I can’t help but ding Erickson for running a loose ship and, at least during his time in Corvallis, seemingly paying little attention to academics.
7. Bruce Snyder, Cal and Arizona State: One of the true “program builders” the league has seen in the past quarter century. Snyder took a last-place Cal team and turned it into a 10-game winner, and then he revived ASU, taking the Sun Devils to the brink of the national title. Sure, he got some help from the Berkeley admissions department (Russell White), but give him credit for signing a quarterback from Idaho who was passed over by the big schools (Jake Plummer).
6. Tyrone Willingham, Stanford and Washington: Obviously, Willingham isn’t on the list because of his first two years in Seattle. But there is no way to argue with what he did at Stanford. Despite facing the highest admission standards in Division I-A, Willingham took the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl. And in his final three years on The Farm — once the roster was filled with his recruits — he was 17-7 in Pac-10 play. Stanford has been to just seven bowl games in the past 28 years, and Willingham is responsible for four of them.
5. Mike Price, Washington State: During his long tenure in the Palouse (1989-02), Price, a first-rate offensive coach, took WSU to the Rose Bowl twice — or as many times as USC and UCLA. His position on this list needs no further explanation.
4. Jeff Tedford, Cal: Tedford’s performance in Berkeley has been terrific; his timing has been awful — coinciding with USC’s return to dominance. No question, Tedford has made ample use of JC transfers at the flagship school of the UC system. But evidence suggests he has kept the JuCos in the classroom and out of trouble (for the most part). And his performance on the field and on the recruiting trail has been tremendous. Three years after Cal was 1-10 under Tom Holmoe, Tedford went 10-2.
3. Don James, Washington: And yes, I dinged James — dinged him good — for the NCAA violations during his tenure. The program was simply out of control for a few years. But even the lawlessness could not offset what James did during the early 1990s, when he remade the Huskies into the best team the conference has seen in two decades. And along the way he changed how the game was played defensively on the west coast. If not for the NCAA stuff, he would have been No. 2.
2. Mike Bellotti, Oregon (with an assist from Rich Brooks): Since taking over for Brooks following the 1994 season, Bellotti has won eight games or more seven times. His program, with its sustained success, awesome facilties, and community support, is the model for the schools not located in recruiting hotbeds of Los Angeles and Seattle. Yes, the Ducks have gotten a ton of help from Nike in the latter part of the 1990s and early 00s, but guess what: Much of that help came as a result of Bellotti’s success. Think Phil Knight would have plowed all that money into a team that won five games each year?
1. Pete Carroll, USC: Sure, he’s got all that tradition to recruit to. Sure, he’s got all those players within 100 miles of campus. Yes, the admissions door is wide open. And yes, Carroll runs a loose ship that has resulted in NCAA/Pac-10 investigations, arrests, assaults, suspensions, academic woes and dismissals. But how can you not have Carroll at the top of a “Best Coaches” list when he has 59 wins in the last five years? Bottom line: He’s a great college coach, one of the best ever. Given that he wasn’t USC’s first choice to replace Paul Hackett, or even its second, I’d say the Trojans got pretty lucky.
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