Pac-12: Doug Nussmeier

Petersen will be challenged in Pac-12

December, 6, 2013
Major narratives in college football change quickly. Just as the midseason hyperventilating surrounding the BCS title game typically sounds nothing like the end-of-season hyperventilating about the BCS title game, so do narratives almost immediately evolve on coaching changes.

Washington formally announced the hiring of Chris Petersen away from Boise State on Friday, answering one of the major annual questions in college football: Will Chris Petersen ever leave Boise?

[+] EnlargePetersen
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsChris Petersen won 92 games in eight years at Boise State.
The hiring, rightfully, will be widely celebrated, particularly among those wearing Huskies purple.

With a list of big-name targets after Steve Sarkisian opted to bolt for USC on Monday, athletic director Scott Woodward moved quickly and decisively. He checked in with UCLA coach Jim Mora, who thought seriously about the job before re-upping with the Bruins. Rumors briefly flew over Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, a Don James disciple. Then two names emerged: Petersen and Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who worked under Sarkisian from 2009 to 2011.

Both would be good hires, but Petersen is the big fish, the guy who spurned many previous overtures because he liked living and coaching in Boise. He has won five conference titles and two BCS bowls while winning 88 percent of his games (92-12) over eight years with the Broncos.

This hiring will create immediate buzz across the country. Huskies fans, many of whom were growing impatient with Sarkisian not challenging Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 North Division, probably view themselves as being in a better place today than they were just after finishing the regular season 8-4. They would like to thank USC for poaching their former coach, as well as apparently passing on Petersen in favor of Sarkisian.

But that narrative will shortly shift as well. Words, spin and column inches celebrating Petersen's arrival will eventually give way to actual games. While Petersen is a great hire on paper, he is not a certainty. This is new territory for him. Coaching Boise State in the WAC and then the Mountain West is not the same thing as coaching the Huskies in the Pac-12.

For one, he will no longer be primarily recruiting proverbial diamonds in the rough who are overlooked by major powers and then taking time to develop them. He now must go after elite players who have offers from USC, Stanford, Oregon, Ohio State and Alabama. It's a different type of recruiting with different challenges and different potential pratfalls.

Of course, the biggest difference will be the schedule.

At Boise State, Petersen built a national power by gaining nationwide attention on a near-annual basis with an early-season victory over a marquee AQ conference foe -- Georgia, Oregon, Virginia Tech, etc. -- then running the table through a weak conference. It was a nice formula for non-AQ success, and the magical win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2006 season gave the Broncos national credibility that trickled down through the years.

While there were plenty of naysayers, Boise State earned a spot at the adult table. The general feeling was an undefeated Boise State deserved a shot at the big boys, even if it never was invited to the championship game.

Much deserved credit for that goes to Petersen, who reached many short lists of the nation's best coaches, alongside guys named Nick Saban, Chip Kelly and Urban Meyer.

Petersen, however, will need a new formula in the Pac-12. There are no Wyomings, New Mexicos or Colorado States in his new conference, which is as deep in quality players, coaches and teams as it has ever been.

He has never coached a team that faced a Pac-12 grind of nine conference games. He's never led a team through a back-to-back-to-back slate of Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State, as the Huskies did during a midseason three-game losing streak that turned fans sour.

We know Petersen, 49, is smart. We know he's an offensive innovator. He is the only two-time winner of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award as national coach of the year. He seems to be good at evaluating talent, both with players and assistant coaches.

Nonetheless, we don't know for sure if he has the coaching chops to consistently win at this level. Or win big enough to make himself the long-term answer at Washington, though it's perfectly reasonable to believe he will be. Just recall how things went for the former Boise State head coaches who preceded Petersen in bolting for AQ jobs, Dirk Koetter to Arizona State and Dan Hawkins to Colorado. At the time, both were widely viewed as fantastic hires. Neither succeeded.

To be fair, the only sure things in college football right now are Saban and Meyer.

Speaking of assistant coaches, Petersen's first big recruiting job will be persuading defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to stick around. Wilcox could follow Sarkisian to USC, though his contracted $1 million buyout is pricey, even for the Trojans, or he might end up a head-coaching candidate, starting with the place Petersen just left.

Wilcox was Petersen's defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2009. They could prove a powerful tandem in Montlake.

There also is a not unreasonable Pollyanna side to this. Maybe when Petersen gets an A-list program with A-list facilities and A-list revenue he becomes an even better coach? Maybe he becomes Washington's Nick Saban.

Or maybe he becomes the second coming of Don James.

While the specifics of UCLA coach Jim Mora’s new contract agreement through the 2019 season aren’t yet known, he could be getting more money for his assistant coaches and football facility upgrades.

And does anyone else find it just a tad coincidental that the news broke just as Steve Sarkisian was being introduced as USC’s new coach?

This is a huge step forward for the Bruins, who are recognizing the progress the program has made under Mora. It’s a declaration that they are ready to be more than just a basketball school.

As the Pac-12 blog mentioned this morning, there was a strong possibility that if the Bruins brass didn’t make a commitment to Mora and the football program, he could pursue the Washington job that was vacated by Sarkisian’s move to USC.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJim Mora signed a contract extension with UCLA through the 2019 season.
Mora made sense for the Huskies given his roots in Seattle, where he played and owns a home. And it’s not the first time his name has been floated for the job. The extent to which he has been pursued in the past 24 hours probably won’t ever come to light. But no doubt, phone calls were made and interests were gauged.

This was the smart play by Mora and the Bruins. They won the Pac-12 South championship in Mora’s first season and were in the thick of the South hunt up until the final two weeks of the 2013 regular season. Through two seasons, the Bruins are 18-8 with Mora at the helm and 9-1 against South Division teams.

More importantly, they are 2-0 against USC. And that gave Mora leverage to push for the things he needed to keep the program moving in the right direction. Wisely, UCLA’s decision-makers concurred.

From a conference perspective, Mora staying put means a hyper-competitive Pac-12 South for years to come. Todd Graham has the Sun Devils in the Pac-12 title game in his second year. Rich Rodriguez has the Wildcats bowling for two straight seasons and they’ll be getting a boost next year from multiple transfers. USC figures to be a player again with Sarkisian at the helm. And let’s not forget that Kyle Whittingham’s Utah team beat Stanford and seems to be on the edge of breaking through, while Colorado got to four wins in its first season under Mike MacIntyre.

While we’ll never know for sure if Washington was going to offer Mora the job (or if it did), the fact that he’s no longer in the running leaves a void. ESPN’s Joe Schad has reported that Boise State coach Chris Petersen could be in the mix. Petersen was also linked to the USC job. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has been rumored to go with Sarkisian to USC, but that could change if he’s offered the position at Washington.

Other reported names include Alabama assistant Doug Nussmeier and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel.

All Huskies fans can do is sit and wait. And watch next year’s USC-UCLA game feature their former coach on one side and a former player on the other.

Sarkisian critics get their wish

December, 2, 2013

Lane Kiffin only became USC's coach in 2010 because Steve Sarkisian didn't want to leave Washington. "It wasn't the time," he told me.

On Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, however, the time was right, as USC hired Sarkisian to replace Kiffin, two good friends who coached the Trojans' offense together under Pete Carroll.

It's an interesting and perhaps surprising hire. It will receive a mixed reaction.

More than a few Washington fans, while grateful that Sarkisian led the Huskies back from a long-term tailspin that crashed and burned with an 0-12 season in 2008, were growing impatient. The program hadn't taken the proverbial next step, hadn't yet made a move against the Oregon-Stanford hegemony in the Pac-12's North Division. The Huskies went 7-6 three years in a row and only gained a Sarkisian-high eighth win Friday with a victory over Washington State in the Apple Cup regular-season finale.

So more than a few Washington fans will receive the news with: "Good riddance."

That such sentiments, arguably emotional and unreasonable, exist, and Sarkisian was fully aware of them, is probably part of the reason he deemed it time to leave Washington.

So Sarkisian's Huskies critics get their wish: a new coach.

The search could be concluded quickly if athletic director Scott Woodward opts to promote defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who almost certainly will follow Sarkisian to USC if Washington doesn't hire him. Wilcox is a true up-and-comer, a young but proven coach who built quality defenses at Boise State, Tennessee and Washington.

Of course, there is a big-fish candidate the Huskies might make a run at: UCLA coach Jim Mora. He played for Don James at Washington and has long been a favorite among more than a few boosters who wanted to hire him previously, when Mora was in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian turned around Washington but had trouble reaching the next step.
Mora said a few weeks ago that he has never interviewed for the Huskies job or been approached by a representative of the school. UCLA and Mora have been a good match, and the Bruins almost certainly would do everything they could to retain him.

For one, Mora has beaten USC twice in a row, including a 35-14 blowout Saturday. Second, it would send a bad message about the pecking order in Los Angeles, no matter the recent results, if USC hired away the Washington coach, and then Washington hired away the UCLA coach. Do the transitive property on that one.

Another big-fish name that will pop up: Boise State's Chris Petersen. While his name has been attached to every major coaching vacancy since Petersen started working magic for the Broncos -- including USC, UCLA and Washington before it hired Sarkisian -- there might be some legitimacy in his candidacy for the Huskies.

Boise State slipped decidedly in the national pecking order this fall, going 8-4, which included a loss to Washington. With the advent of the four-team playoff in 2014, Boise State might find itself outside looking in among the national powers even more than it did under the BCS system. If Petersen was ever going to leave Boise State, this might be the time. While he didn't seem like a good fit for the hurly-burly of Los Angeles, laid-back Seattle might be more to his liking.

Another current coach whose name is sure to come up is Tim DeRuyter, who has done a fantastic job rebuilding Fresno State. The Bulldogs went 9-4 his first season and are 10-1 this year, and was seen as a likely BCS buster from a non-AQ conference before they lost to San Jose State on Friday.

Another intriguing possibility is Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The former Idaho quarterback was Sarkisian's offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011 before being lured away by Nick Saban in 2012. He was highly thought of even before he spent two years under Saban -- a pair of seasons where he's been privy to Saban's celebrated "The Process."

There is no lack of strong possibilities for the Huskies.

Many Washington fans will be disappointed about Sarkisian leaving. A vocal minority will celebrate it.

The bad news for sportswriters? USC and Washington don't play again until 2015, so the emotions won't be as raw when the programs clash for the first time, with Sarkisian adorned in cardinal and gold instead of purple.
Happy Friday. Hope your brackets are beautiful.

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This mailbag is a salute to the state of ... Texas. Yeah, I have no idea why so many folks from Texas wrote in this week.

To the notes!

rtXC1 from Denison, Texas writes: I have a couple questions regarding the new playoff system and its committee. Do you think the criteria for selecting the 4 playoff teams will be more specified than it is now or just as vague? My biggest complaint of the current system is how the voters contradict themselves. In 2011, Alabama got the nod over OSU because it was the "better team," although OSU clearly had the better resume; in 2012, had Ohio State been eligible, the National Championship would've been ND vs Ohio State (the 2 best resumes, AKA the only 2 undefeated teams), which is a joke considering A&M, Bama, Stanford, and Oregon were clearly the 4 best teams. Will we see more clarity on the rules of choosing these teams or continue on with some on the committee voting for the 4 best resumes while others vote for the "4 best teams?" Since it is so difficult to judge which teams are better than others without them playing, it makes more sense that only resumes should be looked at (and most fans outside of the southeast would probably agree).

Ted Miller: The bad news is the process will continue to have a strong subjective element, which is unavoidable without a pure playoff, and that means you will be able to find inconsistency if you look for it.

What the new playoff will become is a 4-team version -- at least for now, as most think it will expand -- of the NCAA basketball tournament. You'll have a committee of knowledgable folks who, nonetheless, will be easy to be suspicious of. They will have inherit regional affiliations, and that will cause outsiders to believe, not unreasonably, they will advocate for "their" teams.

And the job would be brutal even without fretting potential biases.

Think of all the challenging complications:
  • How do you compare teams with the same record that play comparable schedules? It's difficult to not believe that "reputation" will then play a big role. In other words, tag always goes to the SEC. Or Texas. Or USC.
  • Is head-to-head the be-all, end-all, or does body of work matter? Say Boise State beats Oregon by seven in the season-opener and goes undefeated against a schedule that features no other ranked teams. And the Ducks then beat five ranked teams and finish 12-1. Who gets pick for a final four?
  • How do you compare teams that play eight conference games in the SEC with four weak nonconference foes versus teams that play nine conference games in the Big 12 and tough nonconference foes?
  • What role does the "sight test" play? Let's face it, there are plenty of years when there's an interloper in the national title race that does not look to be in the same class of the other teams, no matter the record.
One thing a lot of us in the media hope the folk in charge will do is have a transparent system of advanced statistical metrics that the committee uses, which then can be used to support decisions after the selection process is over.

Kyle from Austin, Texas writes: Theodore,You say Tuiasosopo's new role as Huskies QB coach '"will allow Sarkisian to be more big-picture with the offense." First, I'm wondering--what do you mean by big-picture? Are you saying that by having Tuiasosopo helping out with the nitty-gritty details of the offense, Sarkisian can focus on broader aspects of the offense? Or are you saying that having Tui around will influence Sark to be more open with the offense in general?Second, I'm wondering: the statement I quoted seems to imply that Sark has been very closely involved with the details of the offense--maybe too much so. Do you think Sark has possibly been too intimately engaged in planning and calling the offense the past few years, which might diminish time spent on the more overarching jobs of a head coach? If so, how do we know and what does this mean? Lavish me with your insight, good sir.

Ted Miller: It's more a matter of fit.

Last year, Eric Kiesau was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, replacing Doug Nussmeier, who did a great job at Alabama last year. While Kiesau played QB at Portland State, most of his coaching chops are with receivers. Tuiasosopo played quarterback at Washington and in the NFL and he's a young coach who will be able to communicate well with his QBs.

I think this is a stronger configuration for the Huskies staff.

I think Tuiasosopo is capable of getting Keith Price to be more his 2011 self than his 2012 disappointment. That would allow Sarkisian, who calls the offensive plays, to worry less about Price's psyche and more about the Xs and Os.

To your second question, head coaches who call their own plays -- on either side of the ball, but most particularly on offense -- have more on their plates than coaches who don't. When the play calling is productive -- see Chip Kelly at Oregon or Pete Carroll calling the defense during his USC tenure -- then things are great. Media sorts leave it alone.

But when things are bad -- see Lane Kiffin calling offensive plays at USC -- then media sorts and fans wonder of the head coach is stretched too thin.

Sarkisian and Kiffin have had success calling their own plays, but they both had down offensive years in 2012. So, launch the criticism rockets! The difference there, of course, is Kiffin was calling plays for a fabulously talented unit, while Sarkisian was dealing with a depleted line, banged-up QB and a new array of skill players.

My personal opinion as a media sort who has never coached college football is it's better for a head coach to act as a CEO and let his coordinators call plays. One simple and practical reason for this is you get better coordinators because the best guys in those roles often want to call their own plays. Not always, see Mark Helfrich at Oregon, who I believe is an outstanding offensive coach. But let's put it this way: Justin Wilcox wouldn't have left Tennessee if Sark were calling the defensive plays.

Sarkisian has done a nice job rebuilding the Washington program, but fans are impatient for the proverbial next step. The good news is the talent is on hand for that next step to be taken this fall. So it feels like this season will be a good measure of Sarkisian as a head coach.

My impression, developed in large part from a lot of smart football folks telling me, "Sark is a good football coach," is that Sarkisian is a good football coach. I suspect the Huskies are going to have a breakthrough this fall, potentially winning nine or 10 games and climbing into the Top 25.

Howard from Richardson, Texas writes: When you made your comment regarding OU in your Cal article, were you trying to be funny or are you just ignorant of anything that is not deep South or East coast? Yes I know you are from Atlanta and went to school at Richmond.

Ted Miller: Howard I wasn't trying to be funny. I was being funny. Ask anyone.

I'm ignorant about a lot of things. For example, my ice maker isn't working well and I have no idea why. I wish I were more handy around the house in general. And had a better understanding of insurance. And jazz.

My ignorance list also would include what the second part of your question means. If you are implying that I am fairly knowledgable about things from the South, East and, by implication, West, because that's where I've lived since 1999, then thanks.

Mailbag: Raging over commitments & USC

February, 8, 2013
Welcome to the mailbag. Thanks for coming.

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To the notes!

Brian from Salem, Ore., writes: Hey Ted,I was just wondering why recruits bother making verbal commitments to schools? It seems that a larger number of recruits are going back on their words and committing to other schools, some even multiple times. It doesn't seem right that fans have to sit here the week before National Signing Day and worry about whether their verbal commitments will actually sign (specifically the Ducks with Dontre Wilson and the Robinsons potentially going elsewhere).

Ted Miller: Recruiting is an ugly business. Some might go even further and say college football is an ugly business. I'd counter that just about every big operation -- government, business, etc. -- has its ugly side because humans are inherently crappy.


The recruiting phase also is the only time the athletes -- at least the elite ones -- have real power. Coaches are putting on song-and-dance numbers for them during those months, but once he signs the player loses his autonomy due to NCAA rules. The coach can leave for another job whenever he wants. The player has transfer rules he must follow.

Coaches and fans are frustrated by how often athletes break commitments. The term itself has almost become ironic. Perhaps we should change it to "maybe." As in: USC just received a maybe from Eddie Vanderdoes! It certainly would be more accurate.

While I understand the frustration, my response is, "Tough toenails. Cry me a freaking river."

Understand that "maybe" cuts both ways. Some kids get their offer yanked when more appealing options become available for a team. All a maybe does is allow everyone involved to get a rough idea of where things stand at this moment, with each principal in the bargain knowing things could change at any moment.

Understand: Athletes need to play this game -- hard -- particularly ones who don't have a bag full of offers. Say you're from Orlando and dream of going to Florida, but you only have an offer from South Florida in August. You should commit to South Florida so you at least know you have a scholarship to fall back on. Play the season. Do well. Raise SEC eyebrows.

Then say you get an offer from Tennessee. Decommit from South Florida and commit the Volunteers. Disloyal? Please. It's a business decision.

And here comes Florida coach Will Muschamp! G'bye Knoxville, hello Gainesville!

Fans and coaches mad? They can suck on a lemon. This decision belongs to the young man and his family. No one else. Why? Because he will have to live with the consequences of that decision every day for the next four or five years.

Dave from San Diego writes: [USC] historic depths in 2012? Last season was viewed as bad because of the expectations that were driven in no small part by 'experts' such as yourself. To now say it reached "historic depths" sounds like sour grapes on your part. Yes for us USC fans the season was a disappointing but NOT historically bad, not even close.

Ted Miller: Umm... yes, it was historically bad. I'd wager that most USC fans would call it the most disappointing season in their lifetime. I've, in fact, heard that exact phrase, "Ted, This is the most disappointing season I've been through as a Trojans fan."

You are correct, though, in one respect: The "historical depths" were based largely on the vast distance between preseason expectations and the actual results. Yet even that was historical in a measurable way, because no preseason No. 1 in the AP poll had ever lost six games before.

Sour grapes? Well, I'm not a big fan of being wrong. I'm particularly unhappy being so wrong I look foolish (you can imagine that article -- It was assigned! It was assigned! -- gets a lot of play from my friends over in the SEC). But I can honestly tell you that Kevin and I really don't have a dog in this race. I lost no sleep over USC's collapse.

USC was a preseason No. 1 for a multitude of good reasons. The reasoning for high expectations was sound. That's what makes the horrid reality even more difficult for USC fans. It's difficult to figure out what exactly went wrong. Other than just about everything.

Dave from Tumwater, Wash., writes: In 2011 UW had a great offense and lousy defense. New DC led to much improved defense. But OC moved to Alabama and contributed to national championship, while UW was a major disappointment offensively. I haven't heard much about how the change in OC might have contributed to the Huskies' problems.

Ted Miller: Boy, Doug Nussmeier did a great job at Alabama this season. He's certainly on my list of hot head coaching candidates.

Still, Nussmeier didn't call the plays in 2011. Steve Sarkisian did. But I don't think play-calling was the problem this fall.

The problem was quarterback Keith Price losing his confidence when things didn't go well early in the season. His offensive line was struggling, he and the Huskies got humbled at LSU, and the offense failed to find any consistency thereafter. Price also was banged up much of the season, which took away the effectiveness of his scrambling.

Sarkisian repeatedly said that Price need to trust the offense. I don't think that happens, though, until Price regains his mojo.

The good news is Sarkisian hired Marques Tuiasosopo in the offseason and made him quarterbacks coach. I'm sure Tuiasosopo, a Huskies quarterback legend who won the program's last Rose Bowl, and Sarkisian will be double-teaming Price this spring, aiming to rebuild his confidence and restore him to the previously unflappable guy from 2011.

If that happens, the Huskies are going to be a top-25 team.

Ryan from New York, N.Y., writes: You missed the point about USC's sanctions. Because they're limited, they had to "swing for the fenses" on all their recruits, and hence couldn't focus on the 3 star guys who are lower hanging fruit. They can't afford "projects" or potential misses. Sure they signed a smaller class, but part of the problem was the sanctions. With 20 scholies next year, that should be less on an issue. As Kiffin said, his Top 13 guys are better than anybody in the country, something you again fail to mention. And Scout and Rivals put an emphasis on class size, not on the rating per man. You're brutal sometimes, just brutal. Come on man, get a clue.

Ted Miller: Ryan writes me a lot of notes like this. I have figured out that he doesn't like UCLA.

Humbly, Ryan, I'd offer that the point is USC had five players decommit and sign elsewhere. That's losing 28 percent of the previously touted class. The Trojans lost three top guys on signing day. Those decommitments caused the Trojans to tumble from No. 1 in the recruiting rankings to No. 14.

Most would see that has a bad thing. To use your term, "brutal."

As for my evaluations, on Thursday I wrote this: "The story of this class, as good as it is, is the handful of decommitments." And on Friday I wrote this: "USC still signed an outstanding recruiting class, with 12 of the 13 members earning four stars and nine ranking among the nation's top 150 players."

As for your analysis: 1. USC never targets three-star prospects who are projects; 2. The sanctions had nothing to do with the decommitments.

Finally, I will try to get a clue.

EddieX from San Francisco writes: Matt Barkley the No. 14 player in the Pac-12? That's just stupid. Your list loses credibility with that.

Ted Miller: Golly, this is a USC-heavy mailbag.

To understand Barkley's ranking, you have to look at what Barkley did on the field and not base an evaluation entirely on preseason expectations. Our rationale goes like this:
  • Barkley plays quarterback, the most important position on the field.
  • Barkley ranked 12th in the nation in passing efficiency (third in the Pac-12 behind Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly).
  • Barkley threw 36 touchdown passes. That's four more than anyone else, and seven more than the third-best total.
  • Barkley passed for 297.5 yards per game, which ranked second in the Pac-12, four yards behind Arizona's Matt Scott, and 30 yards ahead of UCLA's Brett Hundley.
  • Barkley set a new Pac-12 record with 116 career TD passes, 17 more than former Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart. That means he's accounted for 102 more points through the air than any previous conference quarterback. Yes, career achievement -- a monumental one at that -- matters.
  • Barkley turned in the most efficient passing performance in conference history when he completed 19 of 20 passes for 298 yards and six touchdowns and no interceptions (319.16 rating) in a 50-6 win against Colorado. Yes, Colorado was bad. But there have been worse teams in conference history, and they never had a guy do to them what Barkley did to the Buffs.
  • He produced two of the top-three passing performances in the Pac-12 this season (493 yards against Arizona and 484 yards against Oregon).

Further, I put more blame for the inconsistency of USC's offense this year on coach Lane Kiffin, who calls the Trojans' plays, than on Barkley.

Finally, there's this: If we held a Pac-12 draft right now for 2013 from all the 2012 players, with every coach still knowing what happened this season, Barkley would be selected well before the 14th spot. Trust me on that. He's still going to be an early round NFL draft choice.

Put that all together, and I think Barkley is a solid choice for No. 14.

Or maybe I just need to get a clue.

Pac-12 chat wrap

October, 5, 2012
If you missed my chat on Thursday, you can read the transcript here.

Here are some highlights.

David Smith (University of Washington (Seattle)) Are the huskies overrated? Do they really belong in the top 25 or is this just a one week stay like the other times in the past 4 years?

Ted Miller (3:02 PM) Maybe... we still don't really know who Washington is because we don't really know who Stanford is or USC for that matter. The LSU game was really ugly, too. If Washington is within 10 of Oregon on the road, that suggest to me this is a top-25 sort of team.

Robert (Seattle, WA) How much of the Beaver's success is due to the fact that Mike Riley took over the play calling from offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf this season?

Ted Miller (3:06 PM) Hard to estimate because my impression is he and coordinator Danny Langsdorf collaborate plenty... but when things go well, you tend to think that was a dramatic change. I'd suggest a lineup growing up, particularly the O-line, Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks counts for more...

Jesse (The District of Columbia) How much do you think the Huskies' extra two days to prepare for Oregon will factor in the game Saturday night @ 10:30pm EDT on ESPN? (see what I did there?)

Ted Miller (3:09 PM) I think it has to help just based on getting ready for the change of tempo and the misdirection. It's more time for a defense to train its eyes. It also helps because Stanford was a much different team. Further, the extra rest after a physical game helps, as does the time to get over the euphoria.

Noah (hollywood) Hi Ted. How terrible of a decision was it for the ACC to abandon its plans for a 9 game conference schedule next year?

Ted Miller (3:11 PM) Well, probably not terrible for ACC teams... helps them. It also puts further pressure on the Pac-12 to consider going back to 8 games. If the SEC, Big Ten & ACC are playing 8 conference games and the Big 12 and Pac-12 are playing 9, then three conferences have an automatic advantage at the beginning of every season. Just pure math.

Winston Free (Big Apple) UW's offense has not been in sync all season vs. FBS opponents. Was former Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier more valuable than previously thought?

Ted Miller (3:18 PM) Maybe... but Sark calls the plays. What Sark would like to do is to order up a couple more healthy, veteran offensive linemen. The Huskies have struggled up front, and it's difficult to do much of anything on offense when you're not blocking well.

Chris (Eugene) Is it fair to say that Oregon has one of the best if not the best Coaches in the game today?

Ted Miller (3:23 PM) yes.... Saban, Meyer, Kelly..

Jason (Phoenix) If Cal ponies up serious money to dump Tedford, who do you think would be a good fit? Season Professional a la raid another coach Petersen or TCU's Coach, Hired Gun Petrino, or go young up and comer IE Wilcox?

Ted Miller (3:30 PM) I try to be objective in how I cover things, but I've known Tedford for so long, it's extremely difficult for me not to root for him to get things turned around. So I felt a twinge this week when I first thought to myself: I need to consider who might be next. Petrino isn't happening. I don't think Petersen will leave Boise, nor Patterson TCU.... Wilcox, it seems to me, would be on the list. But it's difficult to project forward because you really don't know the money Cal could pay. $2 million is a baseline rate. To get an A-list guy to come to the super-expensive Bay Area, I'd say you'd have to ante up $4 million. And then you have to pay his staff. So I don't expect Cal to be able to go for a big name. And that might not be a bad thing.

Lance Romance (Winnipeg, Canada) If the devils can finish with 9 wins, meaning 2 conference losses, is that enough to get them into the Pac-12 title game?

Ted Miller (3:31 PM) If they beat USC... won't be easy in the Coliseum... they both would have 2 conference losses & the Sun Devils would own the tiebreaker.

John (College Station) Do you think Colorado's victoria solamente versus Wazoo will keep Embree his job for entire season? Would a loss have opened the exit door sooner?

Ted Miller (3:33 PM) I think folks recognize what Embree inherited. It would be a mistake to write him off after just 2 years. So I think he survives this season no matter what. He's a Buff after all, so he deserves a fair shot even more than an outsider would. Got to show respect within the family.

Kyle (Springfield) Do you think it is better to go into a rivalry game with the Chip Kelly every-game-is-the-same attitude, or do you like coaches playing to their players emotions for a rivalry?

Ted Miller (3:39 PM) I don't think they are mutually exclusive. I also think that Chip could humor folks -- fans, media -- on the topic a bit more while maintaining the team culture of "Every game is a super bowl." Overall, I think his approach is more the future. It's sound. But when the Ducks walk onto the field, and the crowd is charged more than it has been -- or probably will be -- this season, then the rivalry emotion will come into play. For a good team with a good culture, you don't need that during the week of preparation.

Herman (Tucson) The Wildcats started off the year looking pretty impressive, but have since lost their last two games. Would you mark that up to scheduling, lack of real ability, a little bit of both, or something else entirely?

Ted Miller (3:46 PM): Oregon is the No. 2 team in the nation, and the Beavers also have quality wins over Wisconsin and UCLA. So, yes, it seems to the Wildcats just lost to two good teams. But the schedule ahead is rugged, too, and the Arizona defense is thin up front. Doesn't help that they are going to face Stanford's tough front-7 without center Kyle Quinn. I think the Territorial Cup could be very interesting.... In the preseason, .500 looked like a good record with the available talent. That still might be the case.

Jim Mora (Westwood) I have the same players pretty much as last year's squad, but everyone around me says things are different. Quantify my success: __% better coaching __% better players (ie Hundley) __% better schemes

Ted Miller (3:49 PM) I think it's too early to make definitive statements. But the Bruins do seem better coached, Hundley is clearly a better QB (thanks to Rick Neuheisel for redshirting him) and the schemes are better because they are working... I think Mora's coordinators are much better, particularly because they are getting to run the schemes of their choosing,... so 20 %, 20 % and 18 %.

Trevor (Hillsboro, OR) Reynolds and Poyer. Wheaton and Cooks. Best CB and WR duos in the league? Coincidence?

Ted Miller (4:01 PM) That is a very strong foursome... you might be able to enter it in the "best in the nation" argument, in fact. But, of course, Mike Riley can't recruit. The game has passed him by... I think a lot of us in the media are enjoying the Beavers resurgence just because of how it silenced the absurd gripes about Riley.

Pac-12 salaries still not top of food chain

March, 26, 2012
There's ka-ching and then there's KA-CHING!

Much has been made of how Pac-12 coaching salaries went up this off-season -- head and assistant -- due to the new mega-TV deal with ESPN and Fox. And rightly so.

But, well, then there's Alabama, which is coming off its second national title in three years under Nick Saban.

Saban just signed a contract extension through 2020. He'll be making $5.3 million in 2012 and $5.97 million in 2019.

Moreover, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart received a $100,000 raise to $950,000. The Alabama's nine-man staff, in total, will be paid $3.81 million.

That, of course, dwarfs the highest paid staff in the Pac-12 -- Washington at $2.73 million in 2012 (though USC's and Stanford's figures are not public records because both are private schools). The highest paid staff from the non-private Pac-12 schools in 2011 was Colorado at $2,490,000.

Of course, Alabama's eye-popping numbers are based on success. As Jon Solomon of the Birmingham News pointed out, Alabama's staff made $2.24 million in 2007, Saban's first year. Big money, yes, but not off the charts.

By the way, Saban's staff also includes new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who with the Huskies in 2011. He signed a three-year deal that will pay him $590,000 annually. He was paid $365,000 at Washington.

Huskies top Pac-12 assistant coach pay

January, 23, 2012
Washington's rebuilt football staff is in the money, but perhaps not as in the money as some speculated in would be during a flurry of postseason hires.

Tosh Lupoi, the recruiting ace who bolted California to be the Huskies defensive line coach, won't get $500,000 as speculated. Lupoi's memorandum of understanding -- the figures released by the school have not yet become signed contracts -- calls for guaranteed $350,000 per year from 2012 through February 6, 2015. It includes one-time payment of $100,000 and an additional $100,000 if he remains on the Huskies' staff through the agreement's end date.

Including a $51,000 supplement on top of a base salary of $164,000 Lupoi made $215,000 in 2011 at Cal.

New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will be paid $750,000 in 2012, with $350,000 in base pay and $400,000 in supplemental pay. He will get $800,000 guaranteed in 2013 and $850,000 in 2014.

Wilcox is essentially taking a pay cut to move back to the Northwest from Tennessee. While he was scheduled to make $700,000 in 2012 with the Volunteers, Seattle has a substantially higher cost of living than Knoxville -- making $750,000 in Seattle is the equivalent of making $552,000 in Knoxville.

In total, the Huskies staff, which includes five new members, will be paid $2.73 million in 2012, which is more than any Pac-12 staff was paid in 2011 (though USC's and Stanford's figures are not public records because both are private schools).

New offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau will be paid $375,000 this year, $400,000 in 2013 and $425,000 in 2014. His first-year pay is $10,000 more than what the man he replaced -- Doug Nussmeier -- earned last year. Nussmeier left for Alabama. Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian will still call offensive plays.

Linebackers coach Peter Sirmon, who came with Wilcox from Tennessee, is getting a two-year contract that will pay him $225,000 in 2012 and $250,000 next year. New secondary coach Keith Heyward, who came from Oregon State, will get $150,000 this year and $160,000 in 2013

Also, according to the release, "All the new assistants can earn incentive pay for reaching the Pac-12 championship game, for winning it, for appearing in a bowl game and for appearing in a Bowl Championship Series game or the BCS title game."

Former defensive line coach, Johnny Nansen, got a raise with his new title as assistant head coach, special teams coordinator and recruiting coordinator. His salary of $165,000 in 2011 will increase to $200,000 in 2012 and $225,000 in 2013.

Jimmie Dougherty, the 2011 wide receivers coach, is now also the pass game coordinator. His salary of $135,000 in 2011 will increase to $190,000 this year and $205,000 next year.

Running backs coach Joel Thomas has added the title of associate head coach for offense. His pay goes from $160,008 to $190,000 in 2012 and $205,000 in '13.

Offensive line coach and running game coordinator Dan Cozzetto's salary remains $300,000 per year.

The Huskies staff was paid up from $2,305,028 in 2011. It is scheduled to be $2,895,000 in 2013.

You can read more here.

Cal to UW, take II: Huskies hire Kiesau

January, 17, 2012
Washington again raided California to complete its revamped coaching staff on Tuesday, hiring Eric Kiesau away from the Bears.

Cal confirmed Kiesau's departure with a short statement from coach Jeff Tedford and athletic director Sandy Barbour. It has been reported that Kiesau will be the Huskies' offensive coordinator -- he coached receivers for Cal -- but it seems likely that head coach Steve Sarkisian will continue to call plays, as he did with former coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, who is leaving for Alabama.

On Monday, the Huskies hired Tosh Lupoi away from Cal. He is considered perhaps the best recruiter in the conference.

Kiesau is the fifth new coach Sarkisian has hired this offseason. In addition to him and Lupoi, Sarkisian hired Justin Wilcox (defensive coordinator) and Peter Sirmon (linebackers) away from Tennessee and Keith Heyward (secondary) away from Oregon State.

What has become clear: Washington is willing to pay big money to stock a staff around Sarkisian. When the numbers are published, it's possible that Washington could have the highest paid coaching staff in the conference in 2012, though USC doesn't release salary information. It's certainly clear that Cal couldn't keep up, even though both schools will rake in big money from the Pac-12's new TV contract. Simple fact: Washington is a wealthier athletic department, as Mitch Sherman notes here.

Here is the statement from Tedford: “Tosh and Eric have decided to take other jobs, and we wish them the best. When people have career opportunities they make decisions based upon a wide array of reasons that are important to them. We appreciate their contributions to Cal football, and we exhausted all of our resources to try to retain Tosh and Eric within the confines and continuity of our coaching staff, but both chose to take advantage of new opportunities. We will proceed to replace them with quality coaches who will continue to stand for what the University of California and our football program represent, just as Tosh and Eric did.”

And from Barbour: “Tosh and Eric are outstanding football coaches that did a terrific job during their tenures on the Cal staff. We certainly valued everything they brought to our football program and appreciate their time with us. We did all we were able to do to have them remain at Cal and appreciate our community’s willingness to assist in that effort. We remain excited and confident about the direction of Cal football under the leadership of Jeff Tedford.”

And, yes, it is fairly unusual for the coach and athletic director to release statements after they lose assistant football coaches. Tedford and Barbour probably felt they needed to in this case because Cal fans -- understandably -- aren't taking this well, particularly so close to national signing day on Feb. 1.

Huskies land Tosh Lupoi

January, 16, 2012
"Boom!" went Pac-12 recruiting.

Tosh Lupoi, the best recruiter in the Pac-12 and one of the best in the nation, is leaving California for Washington, where he has been named defensive line coach and defensive run game coordinator.

Washington recruiting has been sagging of late, while Cal has been surging. That could change almost immediately. (See this immediate reaction from a Bears recruiting site.) Lupoi, the youngest full-time coach in Cal history when he joined the staff at the age of 26 in 2008, spent the past four years as the Bears' defensive line coach.

Here's the official release from Washington.

“Coach Lupoi is a terrific young coach and a dynamic recruiter,” Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said in the release. “He will have an immediate impact with our team both on the field and in recruiting.”

Immediately, a couple of A-list recruits tweeted about Lupoi's move, including safety Shaq Thompson, who is committed to Cal, and defensive lineman Aziz Shittu, who has yet to commit.

On a day when it appears the Huskies lost offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to Alabama, Sarkisian's staff appears to have taken another step forward, particularly when you include the hiring of Justin Wilcox away from Tennessee as defensive coordinator.
Spring is a time of renewal. And change. But at Oregon and Washington, it's the same old boring thing.

At least in terms of coaching staffs. And that's typically -- not always, but typically -- a good thing.

While the other 10 Pac-12 teams worked through or are still working through some staff changes -- whether that's a single, non-coordinator assistant (such as Arizona State, Oregon State or USC) or a new head coach and staff (Colorado and Stanford) -- the Ducks and Huskies head into 2011 spring practices with the same staff that led them through the 2010 season.

We'll be highlighting some of these coaching changes as well as chatting with some new assistants in the coming weeks heading into spring practices, which really start to get cracking the second week of March, but first let's consider Oregon and Washington.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly and Steve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesChip Kelly and Steve Sarkisian are the only Pac-12 coaches to hold on to all of their assistants this offseason.
What does stability mean for these two?

As a general statement, it means Chip Kelly and Steve Sarkisian are happy with their coaches and their coaches are happy to be in Eugene and Seattle. Both staffs had a couple of flirtations, most notably Ducks receivers coach Scott Frost with his alma mater Nebraska and Huskies quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier with LSU, but neither ended up leaving, for whatever reason.

You could also conclude stability is a good thing for both programs. It's not hard to argue both were well-coached in 2010.

We don't have to spend much time with Oregon, right? It went undefeated in the regular season and played for the national championship. It was elite on both sides of the ball as well as on special teams. Is there an area that underperformed or wasn't sound? To answer that as Kelly would, no.

Washington is a bit trickier because after nine games it was one of the more obvious disappointments in the conference. But coaching isn't only about championships; it's also about getting better. And the Huskies found a way to get better after a 3-6 start, winning their final four games, including getting their first bowl win since 2000. While an easier schedule played a part, it's also fair to say the Huskies refocused and improved in all areas, particularly on both lines, as the season went on. The defensive improvement might have been most impressive due to numerous injuries which forced younger guys onto the field.

The verdict: These were two well-coached teams that are fortunate to keep their staffs intact.

Further, looking forward, no staff changes obviously means every position group jumps into spring practices knowing fully what to expect. While most good coaches like to keep their players on edge with some unpredictability, routine is a part of football: Do it 1,000 times in practice so it works well once in a game.

Both staffs will be on the proverbial same page. Scheme, general logistics and communication don't figure to be issues this spring.

At Oregon, that means full steam ahead rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines with coaches -- Steve Greatwood and Jerry Azzinaro -- who know the strengths and shortcomings of every player on their depth charts. (Hey, which coach seems happier to be in a coat and tie for his mug shot?) That means quarterback Darron Thomas gets Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich, 2.0. That means thinking more about LSU than making sure every coach knows the scheme's terminology.

At Washington, it means Sarkisian and Nussmeier should be fully in sync about how they want the quarterback competition to go between Keith Price and Nick Montana. It means defensive coordinator Nick Holt & Co. know what -- and who -- worked last fall and what (and who) didn't and what needs to happen to transform from improving to actually being good.

So if Ducks and Huskies fans are looking for something to be happy about between recruiting and spring practices, this is it.

And I'm shocked that you would be soooooo cynical as to think that grouping Oregon and Washington together in a story might yield some amusing back-and-forth among you kibitzers.

Lunch links: Is LSU after a UW assistant?

January, 14, 2011
Happy Friday.

An 'Insider' look at Washington's Jake Locker

July, 7, 2010
Interesting look at Jake Locker's NFL draft prospects here, for all of you who are "Insiders."

The article compares Locker with former Florida QB Tim Tebow. They share an impressive physical profile but little else. Tebow piled up wins in college. Locker hasn't. Tebow put up jaw-dropping numbers. Locker hasn't.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
AP Photo/John FroschauerJake Locker will lead an offense returning eight other starters.
And yet Tebow was -- and remains -- a questionable NFL prospect. Locker is a likely top-10 pick and may go No. 1 overall next spring.

The story ultimately concludes that Locker must improve his accuracy this season in order to be picked at the top of the draft.
But eventually, the tools need to work, and the accuracy question is the big one surrounding Locker. "He's got to get that number up," said one NFL evaluator, in reference to Locker's completion percentage. "[Sam] Bradford was playing catch a lot of the time in that offense, but his accuracy was never a question."

The magic number for evaluators is 60 percent. As a note on the resume, it's vital. And Locker knows he'll be judged by it. Consider that JaMarcus Russell completed 67.8 percent of his passes as a junior, far superior to Locker's 58.2 as a junior.

Get out your pen and paper. My reply is an iron-clad guarantee: Locker will complete more than 60 percent of his passes in 2010. Period. If I were naming a number, I'd say 65 percent.

And his overall passing numbers will be much better. He'll almost certainly throw for more than 3,000 yards. My guess is he'll be close to 3,750 yards of total offense.

Why? Let me count the ways.

  1. His completion percentage has improved an average of 5.5 percent annually over his previous three seasons.
  2. He'll be over 60 percent just because he's an experienced senior who will be more comfortable in his second year with Steve Sarkisian's pro-style offense.
  3. The 2010 Huskies will be by far the best team Locker has led.
  4. Locker will be surrounded by eight other returning offensive starters, including an outstanding crop of skill position players. His top seven receivers from 2009 are all back as are four linemen to protect him in the pocket and 1,000-yard rusher Chris Polk to keep defenses honest.
  5. Locker started as a true freshman. He played only four games in 2008 for a terrible team before getting hurt. That's a big reason his career numbers are tepid.
  6. The Huskies play 11 BCS teams and BYU. That means no games in which Locker will be on the bench with a 50-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
  7. The Huskies' defense is questionable. It's unlikely Locker and the offense will often play conservatively trying to sit on a lead.
  8. Sarkisian is a good offensive coach -- see Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez -- as is quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier. Last year, they gave Locker introductory lessons. This year, Locker is taking graduate classes. Said Sarkisian this spring: "In my opinion, the real strides, the real improvement, occur from Year 1 to Year 2. That's historically what we've seen."
  9. Did you see the California game? In fact, in the final two games of the 2009 season -- both UW wins -- Locker completed 35 of 51 passes (69 percent) for 444 yards with three touchdowns and one interception while rushing for 171 yards and three TDs.
  10. Did you see Locker during spring practices? Three words: sharp, comfortable, confident.

There are plenty of questions with the Huskies. The biggest one: With such a brutal schedule, can they win six or seven games and earn bowl eligibility?

But the Pac-10 blog doesn't view Locker fulfilling his potential and producing a statistical breakthrough in 2010 as much of a mystery. You can count on it.

Feldman on Jake Locker

May, 4, 2010
This is an Insider story on Washington quarterback Jake Locker. A lot has been written about Locker this spring but -- as can be expected from Bruce Feldman -- this effort includes many interesting tidbits that you don't get elsewhere.

Some of highlights:

  • "He doesn't play much golf, but he's the best 'Happy Gilmore' drive guy I've seen," said his dad, Scott Locker. "He can do the walk-up [swing] and hit it 350 yards."
  • "Jake would get up Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays early for two years from the time he was 15, so he could go an hour and a half before school and do a sprinter's workout with the track coach to increase his speed," said his dad. "Sometimes, people think it's all God-given, but he's got a lot of work ethic, too."
  • Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian on his USC QBs compared to Locker: "Jake's got the most going for him of all of them. There's one thing that he doesn't have going for him. You look at Carson [Palmer], [Matt] Leinart, [Matt] Cassel, [Mark] Sanchez, even Matt Barkley, those guys were trained by Bob Johnson or Steve Clarkson since they were fifth- and sixth-graders. It was Quarterback 101 in terms of stance, footwork, drop, re-sets, pocket presence, all of the nuances of the position. With Jake, we started all over one year ago. The strides he's made have been amazing. Physical standpoint, he's as good or better than all those guys."
  • Feldman asks: "If Jake Locker ran a 4.9 instead of a 4.4 would people still be talking about his as a top 10 draft pick?" Said UW QBs coach Doug Nussmeier: "Yes, I really think so. He's got a wonderful arm. He can make every throw in the book. When you combine that with his size and speed, it's scary. He's got great velocity. He's his own guy. He's such a unique guy. We're just starting to scratch the surface."
  • Sarkisian said Locker's arm strength compares to Carson Palmer: "It's close. Where Jake's arm can get a little skewed is if you throw in this stadium when the wind gets swirling, it's like throwing in the Meadowlands. Your arm strength can look poor. It's not like throwing at Howard Jones Field on an 80-degree sunny day."

Pac-10 lunch links: Checking in with 'Pete Carroll'

July, 29, 2009

Posted by's Ted Miller

You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use them as the backbone of a life trying to defend something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it.