Ranking the Pac-12 Coaching JobsPosted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 18th, 2013
Last week, Will Leitch of Sports on Earth wrote a piece ranking the Best 25 Coaching Positions in College Basketball. Since then, some of my colleagues here at RTC have taken their swings at the same topic, albeit on a micro-level, counting down the best jobs in each conference from top to bottom. Now it’s the Pac-12’s turn, using Leitch’s list of priorities. To be clear, we’re not talking about any one thing here. We’re not talking about which team is the best this year, or who has the best chance to be really good in 2017. We’re talking about playing a fun hypothetical game designed to do little more than to start an argument; to wit, if suddenly every single Pac-12 job opened up all at once tomorrow morning, which school would have the best chance of landing its most desired head coach. Or, as Leitch put it: “If I were a hypothetical Average Coach, which job would I most desire?” It’s a completely unanswerable question that is dependent on a million different factors, right? Yeah, screw that. Find the correct answers below.
- Arizona – Leitch puts Arizona as the 11th best job in the nation, just behind UCLA, which checks in at #8. UCLA’s got 11 banners in the rafters, the legacy of John Wooden, an alumni list that could be mistaken for a list of basketball Hall of Fame inductees, a great campus with an opportunity for a great education, and it’s right there in the heart of Los Angeles. Undoubtedly, UCLA is one of the three best college basketball programs of all-time. But Arizona’s the better job. We’ll get to some of the relative negatives on the UCLA side of things below, but here, since we’re talking about Arizona, let’s wax positivity about this position. Arizona, as you may know, has had some basketball success of its own. It is the Pac-12 program with the most recent NCAA title (1997). In the modern era of college basketball (let’s call that post-Magic/Bird), it has the most regular season conference titles of anyone in the Pac-12, it has as many Final Four appearances as UCLA (at least according to the NCAA’s official record book; UCLA had its 1980 Final Four appearance vacated), and it’s got the same number of national championships as the Bruins. Let’s call those records a wash. What is not a wash is the level of support that the Arizona fan base gives its team. It isn’t really up for debate; Arizona has the best basketball fans in the Pac-12. By a long shot. And, in part because of that, when it comes down to the facilities arms race, Arizona is probably in the lead there as well. That’s true even before the McKale Center begins a $30 million renovation. UCLA is a great job, don’t get me wrong, but all things being equal, the UofA head coaching gig offers the best chance for success in the Pac-12 over the next couple decades.
- UCLA – Above, we’ve already alluded to quite a few of the positives that UCLA has going its way. Its history is unmatched in college basketball. But, in the past 35 years, UCLA has one national title and 10 times has gotten at least a piece of the Pac-12 title. In other words, while nobody is ever going to forget about that great history, UCLA takes something of a back seat in the modern era of college basketball. And a lot of that has to do with fan support. Right now, you go to a UCLA basketball game and you’re liable to see a Pauley Pavilion that would generously be called half-full. Even during the three-straight Final Four era of Ben Howland, there were plum mid-afternoon weekend starting times against Top 25 conference opponents that wouldn’t sell out. And the expectations at UCLA? Yikes. Yes, it was probably best for both sides that Howland and UCLA parted last season, but let’s remember: Howland went to three straight Final Fours half a decade ago, was coming off a Pac-12 title, and got straight canned. Limited fan support plus unreasonable expectations? Yeah, UCLA is a good job – a very good job – but compared to the sunshine and rainbows in Tucson, Westwood is a briar patch.
- Oregon – We’re 700 words in and only now beginning to mention a Pac-12 school other than Arizona and UCLA. I mention that for two reasons: (1) from here on out we’re going to tighten things up a bit and, perhaps more importantly, (2) the Pac-12 is very much a conference where those top two teams are far and away ahead of the rest of the pack. But if there was one school that could catch up post haste, that would be Nike U. in Eugene, Oregon. The facilities are off the charts, they have all that great Nike swag, and the football team has made Oregon athletics incredibly cool. But unlike football where you’ve got to bring in dozens of high-caliber players to be able to compete with the big boys, in college basketball, a couple of strong recruits here and there combined with decent role players and you’ve got national title capability. But really, yeah, Oregon is #3 mostly because of all that Nike money.
- Washington – For a long while there, Lorenzo Romar had made Washington basketball cool. Up-tempo hoops, plenty of star power. Yes, the Huskies had it rolling. Recently, that momentum has stalled out, but there are still solid facilities, a talented metropolitan recruiting base, good fan support, reasonable expectations, and the brand of fun basketball that Romar has built. There may not be a ton of history in Washington, but Romar has the overall vibe of this program feeling good.
- Utah – With a new hoops facility on the way, great history in the program, and a basketball-mad population, the Utes are a sneaky good Pac-12 program. Conference fans may not realize it, given Utah’s sorry status since emigrating from the Mountain West, but the Utes have a long history of success and will never lack for support among the home crowd. The five-spot may still seem a bit too high given all that, but all of the teams that will be ranked from here on down have some serious issues that need immediate attention.
- USC – Sure, there is no history of basketball success here, and, yeah, all else on the Los Angeles campus pales in comparison to the football program. But the USC athletic department has a history of devotion to success in plenty of other sports that do not involve a pigskin. The Galen Center may not be the greatest arena in the history of the sport and the concept of a “USC basketball fan” may seem completely foreign. But the USC brand is major, they’ve got the big Los Angeles recruiting base in their own back yard and, well, let’s get right down to it: song girls. The brand is cool, the location is great, the facilities are decent. There is no reason USC can’t be a regular NCAA Tournament entrant.
- Colorado – Even a couple of years ago, considering the Buffaloes this high would have been laughable. Nowadays, there will probably be Colorado fans complaining that they are too low on this list. That just attests to the amazing job Tad Boyle has done in building a basketball program in Boulder. There are now expectations of greatness, there is ridiculously good fan support, and, in the wake of these kinds of successes, there are improvements to the athletic facilities on the way. In fact, yes, maybe CU is too low on this list.
- Stanford – Odds are good that Johnny Dawkins is going to leave The Farm come March. Odds are surprisingly good that the Cardinal will be able to come up with a perfectly cromulent replacement. You see, the success of the Stanford football program has definitely renewed interest in athletics on the Stanford campus. And it wasn’t all that long ago that Maples Pavilion was jumping on a regular basis as the Cardinal were ripping off four Pac-10 titles in six years back around the turn of the century. Much like we mentioned about Oregon above, it only takes a few – rather than a few dozen – elite players to make for a successful basketball team.
- California – You know, Cal actually won an NCAA Tournament! Back in 1959. They’ve made three Final Fours! The most recent in 1960. They just won an outright Pac-10 title back in 2010! Their first in my lifetime. You may not realize it watching Mike Montgomery lead the Golden Bears in the thick of things in the conference recently, but there is not much history of basketball success in Berkeley. The facilities are outdated and Haas Pavilion is regularly quieter than the Doe Memorial Library. Enjoy it while you can Cal basketball fan(s); somehow, these are the glory days.
- Oregon State – Way back, there was plenty of basketball success in Corvallis. Conference titles and Elite Eights and Final Fours. Gary Payton and Ralph Miller. Well, those days are now in the distant past. Nothing good has happened basketball-wise in Corvallis in some time; the last NCAA Tournament appearance is old enough to drink now. But, despite Craig Robinson’s inability to completely flip the script, he’s gotten the Oregon State name on the national stage a bit. Even more importantly, the Beavers have terrific new basketball facilities. Were it not for the fact that Corvallis is Corvallis and the Bay Area is the Bay Area, OSU would probably be ahead of Stanford and Cal on this list.
- Arizona State – Did you know there are a total of five NCAA Tournament wins in Arizona State history? A single Sweet Sixteen appearance? Playing up the interstate from national power Arizona in a state that doesn’t put out a ton of great recruits probably plays a part in this, as does the lack of a great fan base and lacking facilities. But USA Basketball will be moving to new “state-of-the-art” facilities on the ASU campus beginning in 2015. It’s unclear yet if this will be a boon for the Sun Devils basketball program, but it can’t hurt, can it?
- Washington State – The Palouse is beautiful and all, but Washington State has absolutely no geographical advantages going for it. The fact that Tony Bennett was able to do what he did there is unprecedented. The fact that it made the job for his replacement so much more difficult is unfortunate. While there are five NCAA Tournament appearances since Magic/Bird, there is no real history of sustained basketball success in Pullman. Expectations at WSU need to remain realistic.