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Dykes, Rodriguez flirtations presage 2016 Pac-12 coaching changes

What we can say about South Carolina's pursuit of Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez? It was awkward and ardent and ambivalent and amateurish, and Gamecocks fans have a right to be wondering what the heck is happening in their administrative offices. But explorations of behind-the-scenes matters in coaching searches is mostly gossip and semantics with parties propped up with plausible deniability.

The reality is the Gamecocks hired Will Muschamp and Rodriguez will be back for his fifth season at Arizona. Wildcats fans might feel ambivalent about the flirtation, but they should know that if Arizona bounces back strong in 2016, it's going to happen again. The only way Rodriguez isn't pursued is if things don't go well next fall, and that opens up a different can of grumpy worms.

So damned if you win, damned if you don't. Bottom line is Arizona will have a good, proven coach in 2016 leading a roster with some critical questions, so Wildcats fans should practice mindfulness and live in the moment, which is -- hey! -- basketball season!

Meanwhile, California coach Sonny Dykes is mired in a contract extension negotiation that is stuck in slow motion, a process that benefits no one, not Dykes, not the football team, not the administration at Cal, not the public perception of Cal.

A triangulation of information here: The perception of Dykes wanting out at Cal is a false one. He wants a competitive contract -- for himself and his staff, which is paid less than staffs at Purdue and Iowa State while situated in one of the most expensive areas in the country. Cal appears to be playing a leverage game, unwilling to commit to Dykes long-term until it sees more progress on the field, an approach that seems fiscally responsible in the short term but is almost certain to bite Cal on its rear in the future.

It doesn't appear the process is acrimonious, but suffice it to say that if some sort of compromise isn't arrived at -- and Dykes has done more than enough to merit a raise -- a dark cloud is going to hang over the program, with national signing day in sight Feb. 3 and the 2016 season ahead.

Hullabaloos surrounding Rodriguez and Dykes speak to what may be a Pac-12 theme of 2016: Renewed coaching instability after a period of relative and unusual stability.

Seven Pac-12 teams changed coaches over the 2011 and 2012 seasons. In the three years since, it's been four. Two of those changes have been at USC, and USC's hiring of Steve Sarkisian away from Washington necessitated the fourth.

So there's been stability outside the nutty village inside Heritage Hall, stability that has been rooted in a general upgrade in overall coaching talent. The foundational class arrived in 2011: Rodriguez to Arizona, Todd Graham to Arizona State, Jim Mora to UCLA and Mike Leach to Washington State.

The first three flew high until this season, when they fell short of preseason expectations for various reasons. Leach's up-and-down ride took a decided upturn this year.

It appears USC will be the only team changing its coach this year, though of course there might be a surprise or two ahead. Perhaps the NFL raises an eyebrow.

Yet you can see potential storms on the horizon. The only place where there is a high degree of mutual contentment is Stanford with David Shaw. You'd think Clay Helton will have a honeymoon at USC, but Trojans fans already aren't in the best of moods. Chris Petersen seems to have things moving up at Washington, but the expectations next fall might be breakthrough or bust for the Huskies. Oregon fans' assessment of Mark Helfrich, who has turned in outstanding coaching jobs the last two seasons, almost feels like a week-to-week thing.

Patience is thin, and coaches know that. An uptick this year -- say with Leach -- won't offer a mulligan for next fall. Colorado coach Mike McIntyre might need a bowl game in 2016 to hold onto his job, but it's not just about hot seats. It's about the first whiffs of Next-Step-Itis creeping into a fanbase. As in: "So what if your record is historically good among our list of previous coaches -- we want to win the Pac-12 and get into the College Football Playoff ... NOW!"

That creates a dynamic tension between coach, school and fanbase, where it's important to recognize that loyalty is a "won"-way street that alternates direction. Six conference coaches will have been with their present team at least five years entering the fall. Three others will be entering their fourth seasons. In college football, that's, if not an eternity, enough time to declare a pattern.

The coaches that fall short of expectations in 2016 -- yes, that includes the ones who were feted long, long ago in 2013 or 2014 -- will find themselves being questioned. Likewise, those same coaches who meet or exceed expectations should ask their agents if it's time to use that success as a springboard to a new place, where they will get more money, yes, but, as important, more newness.

In this country, we get misty eyed over individualism and self-interest. Until we don't. That redirection typically happens when someone else's self-interest clashes with our own. In college football, that would be when a coach acts like his job is a job and a potential promotion is a promotion, and fans of said coach's team suddenly prioritize collectivism and loyalty, sounding like a gang of Bolsheviks on the message boards.

“There was a mutual interest and curiosity,” Rodriguez tersely limited his comments to reporters concerning his flirtation with South Carolina. “At the end, it wasn’t enough to make a move on both ends.”

You can see the scales of self-interest teetering back and forth even within that quote, for school and coach.

The 2015 season of Pac-12 coaching changes apparently will be mostly about huffing and puffing and rumors with little upheaval. In 2016, be prepared for some actual carnage.