Take 2: Pac-12's second-best coach?

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
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Folks like rankings, which is why a lot of you had opinions on both Athlon Sports and our rankings of Pac-12 coaches this week.

There are very few naysayers to the idea that Oregon's Chip Kelly is an obvious No. 1. In fact, I'm not even sure how you gainsay that.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillKyle Whittingham is 7-1 in bowl games, including a BCS victory.
But who's No. 2?

That's the question before your faithful Pac-12 bloggers.

Kevin Gemmell: Since you went first last week, and I used it as an opportunity to take a shot at you about Darron/De'Anthony Thomas Top 25 incident, I'll take the lead this week and suffer whatever ribbing comes from it.

To be honest, I was pretty torn when trying to figure out who I would put at No. 2 in the conference. I think you can easily make an argument for three or four different guys. But I've also seen what Kyle Whittingham has done at Utah from the very beginning when I used to cover the Mountain West Conference.

His résumé is stellar, and his credentials are without question. He has an undefeated season to his credit and two BCS bowl game victories (I believe the NCAA credits him and Urban Meyer both for the Fiesta Bowl win). If I'm wrong on that, he still has a BCS bowl victory at a then mid-major program.

He's 7-1 all-time in bowl games. That means he's a closer. The only bowl loss was in 2010 to Boise State -- the Broncos' second football game following the Nevada field goal debacle. There weren't many that thought Boise would lose that one.

What I think is the most impressive thing about Whittingham, though, is that he's proven to be his own man. He easily could have fallen into the trap that David Shaw now finds himself in at Stanford. Critics will constantly question Shaw about if he can do it outside of Jim Harbaugh's shadow and without Andrew Luck on the roster. Whittingham faced similar charges in the face of Meyer's departure.

In that time, he's gone 66-25 and stewarded the program into the Pac-12, where the Utes went 8-5 last season, including a come-from-behind win over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Sustained success means several things. He can recruit. He can reinvent himself and the team with each new generation of players. And he makes good hires.

We all know one bad recruiting class can set a program back several years. Bad hires can have an even longer impact. Whittingham is not afraid to take gambles -- and the latest one is naming former quarterback-turned quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson his offensive coordinator. At least some see it as a gamble. But Whittingham has given us no reason over his career to think it's not going to be a great hire.

The fact is, Whittingham wins year after year. Can't ask for much more out of your coach.

Ted Miller: I deserved the snark over the twin No. 12s. That was a moment of clumsy compensation for a boneheaded oversight on my part. Of course, you did steal my No. 2 coach, which I will write off to your savvy and your foreknowledge you got to go first this week.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Courtesy of J&L PhotoRich Rodriguez led West Virginia to two BCS games, but struggled considerably at Michigan.
And it gives me a chance to tout a guy who might shortly challenge for the top-spot on this list: Arizona's Rich Rodriguez. In fact, if we could make Rodriguez's ill-fated, three-year tenure at Michigan magically disappear, and then view Rodriguez as arriving in Tucson after a brilliant run at West Virginia, you would be able to make a case for him against even Kelly.

Before the disaster in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez was widely viewed as among the nation's best coaches. He'd been successful everywhere he went, and was considered one of the nation's truly great offensive minds -- not unlike Kelly. He went 60-26 at West Virginia and, after going 3-8 his first year, never won fewer than eight games. He also won a Sugar Bowl over Georgia, and his team won the Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma after he bolted for Michigan. The Mountaineers won 33 games his final three seasons. According to this high-powered calculator, that's an average of 11 wins per season.

But what about Michigan? Well, as we've said before and surely will say again, his failure at Michigan was more about Michigan than Rich Rodriguez. It was a bad fit from the get-go in terms of his personality versus the "Michigan way"; Rodriguez wasn't able to hire his defensive coordinator, as he has done at Arizona with Jeff Casteel; he was shamefully betrayed and undermined by a Machiavellian Lloyd Carr; and it's not unreasonable to question the agendas of some of the media coverage he received.

Some Michigan fans take issue with that perspective on Rodriguez's Michigan tenure, much of which is detailed in John Bacon's book "Three and Out." But only because they love the Wolverines more than the truth, at least in this instance.

Rodriguez repeatedly has said he's not a quick-fix guy -- he, by the way, told the folks hiring him at Michigan exactly that -- and that it will take three years for his systems and recruiting to truly take hold. I doubt Wildcats fans are exciting about waiting that long, but the smart money is on Rodriguez finding a way to get it done in Tucson.

And, yeah, that means it's legitimate to dream about a first Rose Bowl within five years.

Wouldn't it be fun if it were against the Wolverines?

Ted Miller | email

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