The Pac-12 proved to be one of the deepest conferences during the 2012 season. While several teams, such as Colorado and Utah, resided at the bottom of the standings throughout the year, seven teams were nationally ranked at some point in during the season. Oregon and Stanford remained the powerhouses atop the conference leaderboards, and UCLA and Oregon State shocked the nation with their outstanding seasons.
Much of this success can be attributed to the solid coaching in the Pac-12 from top to bottom. However, three coaches have set themselves aside over the past year as the cream of the crop.
It’s hard to include someone on this list who has yet to stand on the sidelines as head coach during a game. However, Oregon’s Mark Helfrich has played a key role in Oregon’s offensive success over the last couple of years. Though Chip Kelly is now in the NFL, Helfrich has the talent and intelligence as a coach to keep things running smoothly in Eugene.
Another coach that deserves some credit is Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez took over as head coach of the Arizona Wildcats in 2012, and subsequently turned Matt Scott into an intriguing NFL prospect and Ka’Deem Carey into the nation’s leading rusher. He’ll have to improve on his defensive gameplan in 2013, but Arizona’s offense should remain elite under Rodriguez.
No. 3: Mike Riley, Oregon State
Riley is known around the Pac-12 as a terrific coach and an all-around great guy. The Corvallis native has coached the Oregon State Beavers for 13 years now, the longest current run in the conference.
Over that time, Riley has put some outstanding squads on the field, and in recent years has helped to churn out some quality production from elite NFL prospects such as Jacquizz Rodgers, Jordan Poyer, and Scott Crichton.
Riley surprised everyone in 2012, as an early win over a ranked Wisconsin team indicated that the Beavers had regained national relevance after back-to-back seasons of mediocrity. Expect to see Oregon State continue that success in 2013 under the longest tenured coach in the Pac-12.
No. 2: Jim Mora Jr., UCLA
Pac-12 fans love to see a guy like Mora join the conference. A former NFL coach that has had success on all levels will always help to improve the image of the conference as a whole.
UCLA, like Oregon State, surprised the college football world with the emergence of freshman stud quarterback Brett Hundley taking the reigns and playing in the Pac-12 championship game.
Though the season ended on a low note with a big loss to Baylor, Mora turned UCLA into one of the most potent teams in the West. He will have to replace running back Jonathan Franklin, but Mora proved in 2012 that he has the talent as a coach to keep churning out wins.
No. 1: David Shaw, Stanford
The number one spot on this list goes to Stanford’s David Shaw. Two seasons ago, when Jim Harbaugh left Palo
Alto to coach the San Francisco 49ers, everyone thought that the Cardinal were going to fall off of the table under their new head coach.
Shaw led that team to an 11-2 record and a Fiesta Bowl appearance. Last season, Pac-12 fans once again assumed that the same type of drop-off would occur, especially considering the loss of Andrew Luck and three additional early-round NFL draft picks.
Once again, however, Shaw surprised everyone. His brilliant coaching led the Cardinal to a Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl win in 2012, perhaps his best move being the insertion of Kevin Hogan at quarterback midway through the season.
There is plenty of talent on the sidelines as well as on the playing field in the Pac-12, to be sure. However, these three coaches have set themselves apart over the past couple of seasons, and proven themselves to be the top coaches in the conference, especially after the departure of Chip Kelly.