- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our theme today, as part of our "Love to hate" week at ESPN.com, is "Left in the lurch." This is about coaches who bailed out on a Pac-12 program at an unexpected or awkward time. We're not including Urban Meyer leaving Utah for Florida or Jim Harbaugh leaving Stanford for the San Francisco 49ers because their departures were not unexpected and came only after unprecedented success.
Of course, these situations vary greatly in terms of circumstances and reaction. There aren't many college football jobs out there considered better than one in the Pac-12, so most of the coaches who bailed out on their programs left for the NFL.
But here is a sampling from the Pac-12. Feel free to provide your own thoughts below.
California got dogged twice. First, after going 10-2 in 1991, Bruce Snyder bailed on the Golden Bears for Arizona State. It's rare for a coach to jump from one conference program to another, and it certainly hurts more. Then, in 1996, Steve Mariucci lasted just one year in Berkeley before jumping aboard with the San Francisco 49ers.
Dennis Erickson twice left Pac-12 teams for sunnier pastures (at least in theory). After two years at Washington State, Erickson bolted for Miami after the 1988 season. Then, after a strong run at Oregon State from 1999-2002, Erickson left Corvallis for the San Francisco 49ers. He has repeatedly said that was the worst move of his career.
Dick Vermeil lasted two seasons at UCLA. After going 9-2-1 in 1975 and upsetting No. 1 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, he left for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Rick Neuheisel shocked many when he left Colorado for Washington before the 1999 season for a million-dollar contract, which was at the time considered exorbitant. He left behind NCAA sanctions for the Buffaloes and immediately got into trouble with the Huskies. It didn't make folks in Boulder feel any better when the Huskies and Neuheisel swept a home-and-home series over the next two years.
But two departures really stand out.
Don James is on the short list of greatest college football coaches of all time. In 18 seasons at Washington, from 1975 to 1992, he won a national title and four Rose Bowls. He went 153-57-2 (.726) and set a then-record of 98 conference victories. From 1990-92, the Huskies won 22 consecutive games.
He is the Dawgfather.
And that's why many Huskies fans will tell you the lowest moment in program history is when he resigned in protest of NCAA and Pac-12 sanctions on Aug. 22, 1993. (James really, really didn't like Washington president William Gerberding and athletic director Barbara Hedges, either).
His resignation just before the season forced Washington to promote defensive coordinator Jim Lambright, a good man and a good defensive coordinator but not an ideal fit as head coach. Other than a Rose Bowl victory after the 2000 season under Rick Neuheisel, things have never been the same in Husky Stadium. Not yet, at least.
A more recent shocker: Pete Carroll bolting USC after the 2009 season for the Seattle Seahawks.
Carroll's hiring in 2001 was widely panned, but all he did thereafter was build a college football dynasty, winning national championships in 2003 and 2004 and falling just short of a third consecutive title in 2005 in a thrilling loss to Texas. He went 97-19 (.836) in nine seasons (11-2 versus rivals Notre Dame and UCLA), won six BCS bowl games and finished ranked in the AP top-four seven times. He won 34 consecutive games from 2003-05 and coached three Heisman Trophy winners and 25 first-team All-Americans.
So, yeah, he accomplished a lot. And many thought he would coach USC for life, though many others also suspected the lure of the NFL would prove too much.
It was the timing of his sudden, stunning departure that frustrated many Trojans fans. While Carroll has repeatedly denied oncoming NCAA sanctions had anything to do with his decision to leave, that's a hard line to buy. He skipped town after a 9-4 season that featured blowout losses to Stanford and Oregon and left behind a team with a two-year bowl ban and deficit of 30 scholarships over three seasons.
Still, not unlike how James is viewed by Huskies fans, Carroll is mostly spared the wrath of Trojans fans because of what he accomplished.
There's no question, however, that both programs were left in the lurch.
8hTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney