Which of the Pac-12 Coaches do you FEAR?

FishDuck Staff Editorials 42 Comments

This is a wonderful week of contributed articles by so many of our “regulars” and we thank BigDucksFan for this one to ponder!  Charles Fischer

We all know that Head Coach Mario Cristobal is your favorite coach, but who else in the Pac-12 piques your interest as a head coach and can challenge Oregon for the Pac-12 champion bragging rights of the future? Below is a summary of each with his records. Who do you fear?

Kevin Sumlin began his tenure with the Wildcats in 2018 and has accumulated a two-year record of only 9-15. Sumlin was previously the head coach of Texas A&M, and with his disappointing track record at Arizona, he is already “on the hot seat” for Pac-12 head coaches. (And many Oregon fans wanted to hire him instead of Cristobal!)

Arizona State
Herm Edwards started his era with Arizona State in 2018 and has accumulated a two-year record of 15-11 — and he was previously a pro football analyst for ESPN. Herm has received a two-year extension and seems to have the Sun Devils heading in a positive direction with an almost NFL-type staff. Arizona State is recruiting at a higher level, but the big question is, “Can they overcome USC for the leadership of the South?”

Justin Wilcox has been at Cal since the beginning of 2017 and has accumulated a three-year record of 20-18. Wilcox previously was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, was born in Junction City, Oregon (just outside Eugene) and played his college football at the University of Oregon, graduating in 1999. Wilcox  coached under Steve Sarkisian at Washington. In addition, in 2019 Cal (under his direction) went 8-5 and was ranked No. 15 after a 4-0 start. The future looks good for Cal under Wilcox, and we can expect the Golden Bears to contend for leadership of the North.

Kevin Cline

David Shaw loves to beat the Ducks.

Karl Dorrell starts as head coach now and will have his first season with the ‘Buffs as the head-man after coaching on the Colorado football staff twice in the past. Prior to the Colorado gig, he  was the receivers coach for the Miami Dolphins. Dorrell replaces Mel Tucker, who resigned just after a few months on the job when he decided to follow the money to Michigan State rather than coach at Colorado (A situation that Oregon fans know all too much about). We wish Dorrell all the best.

David Shaw took over the Cardinal in 2011 and has accumulated an overall record of 82-26. Shaw was the team’s offensive coordinator for the entire tenure of Jim Harbaugh, and then took over the head coaching job after Harbaugh moved on to the San Francisco 49ers. Over the years Shaw has done well at Stanford, bringing the power game to the West coast and at times to the dismay of Oregon fans. Under Shaw, Stanford lost its first “Big Game” to Cal this last season, but it still gives Shaw an 8-1 record in that match-up. With a 2019 record of 4-8, Shaw is going through a tough time right now, but I’m sure Stanford will give him time to right the ship, if he wants it.

Chip Kelly started with the Bruins in 2018 and has accumulated a record of 7-17. We are all familiar with Chip and his fantastic run as head coach at Oregon, but after leaving UO for the NFL, Chip’s coaching career went into a skid that still hasn’t stopped. Who in the conference is on the hot seat? Chip’s name has got to be near the very top of the list. Chip’s strength is as an offensive coordinator, but his weakness is recruiting, and it shows up big time at UCLA. The school is located in a hotbed of star football players, and you don’t see that many playing for UCLA. Oh how the wheel turns…

YouTube Video

Kyle Whittingham always out-performs in “coaching-up” his players.

Clay Helton’s time with the Trojans began in October of 2015 and he has accumulated a record of 40-22. Now, a record like that would seem acceptable; however, 2018 was a losing season of 5-7 — something USC does not take lightly. Trojan fans began to call for Helton to be fired. 2019 turned out a little better for Helton with an 8-5 record, but you can bet things had better keep improving or the calls will be back. With the forecast looking better in 2020, Helton may still be around for a few more years. (But you can bet he will be on a short leash.)

Kyle Whittingham has been leading the Utes since 2005 and has accumulated a record of 128-62. Whittingham had been coaching at Utah as DC for 10 years prior to accepting the head coaching role. He is known as someone who can “coach up” players, getting them to outperform their own star status. They reached the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2019, but were overwhelmed by the Ducks. While 2020 is a rebuilding year for Utah, we can expect to see them contending with USC and Arizona State for control of the South in the near future.

Jimmy Lake started as head coach this year after being the Huskies’ defensive backs coach under Chris Petersen, who retired. At this point Lake is an unknown to most, but to some schools in his past, his ascension to head coach is no surprise. Until we know how this is going to work out for Lake, Oregon had better not take him too lightly. (But he is closer to Chip in recruiting than Cristobal!)

Kevin Cline

Jonathan Smith is a great offensive coach and if he gets a defense…

Washington State
Nick Rolovich is in his first season with the Cougars after coaching at the University of Hawaii. Already, Rolovich has created sparks at Washington State after telling wide receiver Kassidy Woods that aligning with the Pac-12 player unity group would create “an issue” with the program. At Hawaii, Rolovich had a record of 28-27 and was the Mountain West Coach of the Year in 2019 with a 10-win season and a win in the Hawaii Bowl over BYU. He is converting the Mike Leach “Air-Raid” offense to a new “Run-and-Shoot” offense in his first season.

Oregon State
Jonathan Smith returned to his alma mater to become head coach in 2018 and has accumulated a record of 7-17. Smith came from coaching as co-offensive coordinator and QB coach for the Huskies under Petersen. Smith was a four-year player for Oregon State and was a walk-on under then head coach Mike Riley. Smith quarterbacked perhaps Oregon State’s best season ever, beating Oregon and Joey Harrington in the rivalry game in 2000. Smith is expected to do well, but being in-state and so close to the Ducks and yet totally under-financed will be a challenge. His opportunities will be limited unless he can catch the Ducks on a bad Saturday. (That’s been known to happen in a rivalry game!)

Mario Cristobal was elevated to head coach of the Ducks in 2018 and has accumulated a record of 21-6. Cristobal was previously the offensive line coach at Oregon and Alabama, and served as the head coach at Florida International University from 2007-2012. His recruiting at Oregon has been outstanding and has put the Ducks in a position to contend for a National Championship run in the future. Cristobal is everyone’s favorite; fans and players alike.

There you have it. So, which of the head coaches do you fear the most, and who might have a chance of dethroning the Ducks?

San Diego, California
Top Photo by Kevin Cline

Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in Bozeman, Montana.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Daily Articles NO MORE on FishDuck

Please see this explanation right here… and to learn about the impact of FishDuck on so many–check the summary right here.  I will be writing intermittently on FishDuck (as the mood strikes) this summer, and a couple of times a week during the football season, and those articles and analyses will be posted here on FishDuck, and the links to my articles will also be available on the new site PuddleHuddle, when it is up soon.

New at FishDuck? Learn about the site right here!

Our 32 rules can be summarized to this: 1) be polite and respectful, 2) keep it clean, and 3) no reference of any kind to politics. Easy-peasy!

Take note though, there are NO STRIKES, NO WARNINGS, and NO SLACK given. Violate the rules and you are gone, as this is what the 99% who post superb comments want. (The Ban could be for weeks, months or permanent) For the less than 1% out there who do not have impulse-control … as you write your comment that violates our rules, ask yourself, “is this worth getting banned over?”

FishDuck members….we got your back.  No Trolls Allowed!

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Great article.

Jon Joseph

Reading these interesting comments, I find illustrative of his lack of CFB HC chops that no one fears The Chipper.

Think of the millions of $ this guy has made since MB brought him west from NH and handed him the keys to the O and a terrific, experienced group of assistant coaches.

Yes, he flipped the Black Mamba but MM’s recruitment was all Helf. He is a ‘1 trick pony’ and hats off to him for taking CFB by an up tempo storm. But DCs have adjusted. And the man cannot recruit.

‘Loyalty?’ He could not wait to bail on UO as soon as the right NFL job opened up. What happened then? Initial success before Chip Kelly became the Eagles GM.

The way NA’s D played against Auburn in the BCS game, what should have been a defining win was squandered by Kelly’s bull headed play calling..


Personally I think it takes two to three things to make a fearful coach/program. ability to coach and ability to recruit and a few other things that are harder to quantify. I am not sure any coach in the p12 has both of these skills.

If we start in the pac 12 south, USC which is probably the biggest threat in the conference is the biggest dog, They have probably one of the worst coaches in conference but USC practically recruits itself. This is the biggest threat in my opinion.

Following that Whitingham is my second favorite coach in the conference he clearly does more with less(averages probably a top 35 recruiting class) but I think the P12 championship proved coaching is not enough, our Oline and Dline with superior talent destroyed utah. in a game far worse than the final score add in that utah has to replace 9 starters on defense it is just to much.

Sumlin’s record speaks for itself.

I actually don’t hate the Dorrell hire, is he a top tier coach, probably not but I think he he will win some games he shouldn’t and will probably lose a few he shouldn’t as well. I feel for Colorado being dropped in the bucket by their last HC.

UCLA, chip has proven he can’t build a team from the ground up, He is(I still believe this) a fantastic OC/X&O’s coach but trying to build a team is not his forte especially when he despises recruiting. I don’t expect much.

ASU, I’ve received flack on a lot of other Social Media for my opinion of herm edwards, He is a nice guy, and a better coach than what I thought when ASU announced his hiring but he isn’t a amazing coach. 1 his record in two years is on par with graham’s last two years. the ASU recruiting is almost exactly the same and he refuses to recruit pac 12 quality oline. and I like to say if oregon didn’t drop the game to them they would be the team with losses to Colorado, Oregon state and UCLA. In fact of their division opponents in 2019 they lost to every except AZ.

pac north,

I like the rolo hire, WSU will never be able to recruit as well. any coach at oregon shouldn’t be losing to them.

Same with Smith at OSU. I think he is a fantastic X&O coach and does well by his players they just have to big of a recruiting gap.

Wilcox is more or less the same, id make him a bigger threat but I just don’t think they have the offensive fire power to be good enough.

Lake could be a threat, Washington has the ability to be a good recruiting place and lake has been a good DC, I hope he turns out to be like Helfrich and is a terrible HC. It sure looks that way with his OC hire.

Lastly Shaw, Who was until 2018 one of the most consistent coaches in the conference. Stanford has a lot of concerns with Grad transfers that shaw has to work through. Add in that stanford doesn’t accept early enrollees and it makes it harder. I think stanford’s biggest issue right now is Oline, Since Bloomgren left for Rice the Oline at Stanford has been horrid. stan 2017 rushing yards a game – 202 since then they have average around 100/game. If Shaw can get a competent Oline coach look out.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Fear is a big word, but concern is more applicable for many of us. I believe there are many good coaches in the conference, but it takes more to have a program that is a perennial champion. I am concerned about USC as a program, but not the current coach; if Wilcox or Jonathan Smith got that HC gig…with their coaching chops and then being able to recruit to USC? A tough deal for Oregon…

I think Herm is a good coach with a good staff, but they are lacking in recruiting this year. The point is…it is very hard to put it all together and many schools have the pieces of a good program, but not all of them. (BTW….in my mind Oregon is not the complete program yet until we get an offensive system that works and is established.)

In terms of recruiting….for last year and this year thus far, and of the 4-Star and 5-Star players:

Cal 4
Arizona State 10
Washington 14
Oregon 25

If Shaw, Edwards, Smith, Wilcox and Chip Kelly could recruit well–they would be a tough out. As it is….a team of three stars can beat you on their home field on a given night, etc.

This is actually a subject that could be broken down further in future Ponder-Points…and anyone is welcome to contribute one.

And THANKS to BigDucksFan for coming through with a dandy again!

Jon Sousa

Personal opinion: I think that the best coach in the PAC-12 not named Mario Cristobal is Jonathan Smith.

I remember when he played for the Beavers that people were saying that as good a QB that he was, he was going to be an even better coach. That has certainly been the case. When Jonathan Smith was hired away from Washington, coach Chris Petersen was asked what he thought of his assistants now coaching in the PAC-12. Petersen said that he didn’t want to be facing Smith in a few years. Everyone noted that the Washington offense took a step back after Smith left.

Since getting to Corvallis, we have seen a notable improvement, not only in play but in recruiting. I have especially been surprised at how the defense has improved. This tells me that JS also makes good hires.


This is where I am, and thankful he is at OS, and not any of the other schools, where I think he would be an upgrade.


I would say I fear the program which is, what Oregon use to be.

I don’t fear the trojans, as they want to be what we are now, and can’t be with their coach. The same can be said of the dogs, but we don’t know much about how Lake will play out.

The beavs and the rest of the underlings don’t scare me, if we truly become the dominant force it seems we are headed too. We should dominate the programs that can’t keep up with our recruiting.

The one program I fear is Cal. With Wilcox they can become the underdog program we use to be. With enough talent they can be the pest that a program has to be ready for our they will surprise everyone. This can be said of Stanford and ASU, but the real underdog program is Cal and that is what the elite have to fear.

The other fear is of ourselves. If Cristobal doesn’t get out of the way of his excellent assistants then we can screw it up ourselves.


Clay Helton at USC worries me more then Cal because I think he can bring a better game plan, and with the high level of talent he gets makes him scary. However we’ll know the answer after Spring.

Jon Joseph

Helton without Sam Darnold? Lost to BYU last season and blown out in its bowl game by B1G W 3rd place finisher, Iowa. Iowa owned both LOS.

The DC he hired was fired by Texas before the Alamo Bowl game.

The guy is the All Teflon Coach Award winner hands down. Bailed out again; this time by team COVID.


Hmmmm I like all of those things, especially if they belong to a USC head coach. My fear is USC will get rid of Clay and get someone who is really good. I would like Clay to be good enough to keep his job but not good enough to beat the Ducks.

Jon Joseph

Urban Meyer?


USC seems like the perfect place for UM. But fortunately, for now at least, the new USC AD says it’s not going to happen. Fight On, Clay!


Shhhhhh, don’t let anyone from USC hear you say that name. That would certainly be a “game changer”.


Yeah, that would be a game changer, but the thing about Meyer, at least if I were an AD looking to hire a new coach, is that he has had two jobs that he left for A) health reasons, and; B) due to allegations that in today’s society will get you fired if there’s even a hint of truth.

He’s a great coach, I don’t think too many people can argue with that, and there probably aren’t too many Ducks that weren’t at least thinking he’d be a great fit here when we were in a coaching transition, BUT, to me he has things in his recent past that would make me question hiring him, especially if he only makes it a couple years before yet another decision to leave, or “retire” again. You can only cry wolf so many times, or in his case, “retire” so many times before that decision is taken out of your hands.


All so true, however I don’t think USC cares about those things as much as you and I.

Lou Farnsworth

If the question is which coach has the football brain with the greatest potential to out-scheme Christobal….I would have to say Shaw, Edwards, and Wilcox. If the question is what team do I fear the most, it would be USC due their talent.

The game that I am most concerned about this season, ( assuming we have a season ), is the Cal game. Road game, with a very good coach, and a good roster.

Great ponder point BDF!


To bring things back down to reality (speaking in general, not to you specifically, since I think we’re all doing the “what if” thing) but remember the last couple of years there were plenty of people that were frustrated with Oregon’s performance…that the offense especially was predictable and vanilla…and a lot of people were saying that MC was somewhat tying Arroyo’s hands. I don’t know if there’s truth to that, but if there is, it isn’t a matter of who can out-scheme him, it’s a matter of can he let Moorhead loose?

Lou Farnsworth

Couldn’t agree more DF. If MC gives JM free rein of the offense, we could be looking at an average PPG in the mid 40s. We were close last year with 35.4.


Herm DID out-coach MC and even Avalos last season.


To an extent I agree, but he’s going to have to do that on a regular basis before I crown him the next Pete Caroll or Nick Saban…guys who know they’re going to pretty much beat everyone all the time. Herm, at least right now, is the equivalent to a broken clock…he’ll get it right a couple of times, but the rest of the time he’s just off. Time may change that, but 15-11 as ASU’s coach doesn’t put him in the sound the alarm bells category just yet…


That was a very good title, BDF, in that there aren’t any Pac-12 coaches that I fear. For all of Stanford’s success I don’t fear Shaw. He’s been impressive in how he followed Harbaugh and did even better. But I haven’t really been impressed with his coaching acumen. In the comeback win over the Ducks a couple years ago, that literally was a case of the Ducks collapsing more than orchestrated Stanford comeback, and there have been several instances I can remember where I think Shaw just made the wrong call.

Herm actually did better than I thought’ his hiring just seemed like a hype fest from the start, so we’ll see how it goes.

Wilcox. I guess we all want to see him have some success, and so far that’s what he’s had. But until he can keep the Bears going the 2nd half of the season, he’s still a work in progress.

Whittingham: Consistency is what we’ve seen at Utah, and I don’t see that changing.

Jimmy Lake? It isn’t in me to say anything approaching positive when it comes to this guy. So.

Rolovich? First, I have to question anybody who leaves Hawaii for Pullman? But I already like him more than I did Leach.

Smith. I am actually thankful that he’s at OS rather than at any other school in the conference. He’s already surpassed expectations and has improved the talent level to where they aren’t overwhelmed from the start.

I almost forgot, good old Clay down at SC. I fear that one day he will be replaced.

Jon Sousa

I think that CH may stay at SC and really turn things around. He seems to be evolving and making better hiring decisions.

David Marsh

Shaw – typically the highest on my list as he has maintained a very high level program even with Stanford’s admission constraints. Though I am fewer concerns about Stanford right now as they have a much depleted roster.

Wilcox – as he and Cal are rising fast. They have had some problems having that program come to fruition but due to location Cal has a really high ceiling if they can just make things work.

Smith – That Oregon State program is going somewhere and they’ll be there before we know it. Pair that with a Beaver desire to defeat the Ducks then you have a real scary combination.


Good choices. Somehow I just don’t see Oregon State being able to recruit the way the Ducks do and that should always keep them down. I’ll give them an odd win once in a while but nothing that would be consistent.

David Marsh

I doubt Oregon State is going to get to the Oregon caliber of talent… but they will certainly field some good teams.

Most schools operate under the idea that making a bowl game is good and there will from time to time be a team that puts all the pieces together and can win the conference. Oregon was one of those teams for a long time and Oregon State under Mike Riley was definately one of those teams that could have a very good year.

Smith I see being able to bring Oregon State back to consistent bowl games… and as they are a rival they will be all the more hungry to knock off the Ducks… especially if Oregon is having a sleepy day. Don’t forget that Oregon State finished tied for #2 in the Pac-12 north last year… granted the number 2 teams in the north were all a far cry from Oregon in terms of record.


You know it’s funny that you mention those three. I think most people would actually agree with you, but programs as a whole, one coaching change and USC becomes what they were for a very long time…and given their location and history, they could become that scary thing again. Recruiting against them when they’re on top is going to be difficult at best. There is truth to the difficult to recruit here belief, which honestly does say a lot about the current staff given what they’ve accomplished. Impossible? No. Difficult? Yeah, I’d day it is, and will always be compared to a place like USC. I mean (hypothetically) think about what this staff would accomplish if they were there instead of here…that would be scary.

David Marsh

I agree… one coaching change and USC’s head coach goes into my top three list. Right now I don’t think Helton is that scary. Though that could change at a moment’s notice.

Jon Joseph

Check out Helton’s record minus Sam Darnold, who he did not have the sense to start at the beginning of the season.

His LOS play on both sides of the ball was destroyed by Iowa.

In his favor, he did realize that with his recruiting that he had to go mini-Air Raid.

His teams are soft.

My biggest fear for Oregon, not the conference, is that SC will smarten up and hire Meyer.


Yea, for recruiting, wining and being in national contention can bring in a lot of kids wanting to be part of it and can be more powerful than the desire to go to the neighborhood school USC.


As a ponder point: I’m not so sure Helton can be written off just yet, and may be the greatest threat to UO for 2021.

For 2019 he hired (and got out of the way of) a new OC who did a great job with mostly a true freshman QB. For 2020 he changed out several other coaches, including their DC, whose on field chops are to-be-determined, but whose recruiting acumen is clearly an upgrade, based on what they are doing so far with their 2021 class.

SC seems a hands-down winner of the Pac12 Covid sports boycott, avoiding road games with Bama, UO, and others (original schedule) while allowing their many new coaches a likely 18 month ‘redshirt season’ to install new (defensive) or enhanced (offensive) schemes; evaluate, develop, and recruit players to bolster their quality depth as well as front line talent (essentially two full high school, JC, and transfer classes: 2020-21). Their lack of depth at the critical QB position (after the Daniels transfer) will likely be resolved by the two highly ranked QBs in their 2021 class, who can enroll in January and have plenty of time to get up to speed. Transfer candidates will be out there as well.

Further, many of SC’s current elite players are in a Brady Breeze like situation of needing another year of high visibility performance to demonstrate their pro potential, so they would likely stick around rather than enter the 2021 NFL Draft which will already be top heavy with elite college players coming out early, many of them with 2020 seasons of film highlights.

As an aside, Rolovitch and Dorrell would seem to be the other big winners, for the same set of reasons, while Shaw may have taken the biggest hit with the loss of his two 5 star offensive tackles who had decided to come back from injury plagued 2019 seasons, but will likely now go for the draft.

Jon Joseph

I am SURE Helton can be written off.


“I fear no man, no beast or evil, brother!” -Hulk Hogan


The only team that can beat you is yourself. A good position to be in.

Jon Joseph

We have met the enemy and they are us!


This is correct. None is the only answer.


A more interesting question is which of the coaches is the beast and which is the evil brother? hehe


I would think that Herm Edwards is the evil brother and it would be hard to argue that Kyle Whittingham isn’t the best as he gets the most from the least.

Jon Joseph

Good call on Whittingham who led the league in 2020 NFL draft picks.


Well I mean if there were an evil brother it’d be whomever is heading the Beavs since (another famous Cliff Harris quote) “You know we da big brotha”, but I do have to point out that I managed to slip in that comma, so it’s “…evil, brother!”. As far as actual evil, as in ‘we just don’t like you’ type of evil, oh those purple things up north will most likely always fit that bill.

The beast rotates. There are a few teams that play us tough for a few years, but they eventually fall to mediocrity again…USC, ‘Furd, WSU, Cal, to name a few. Right now, we’re our own beast. The only thing standing in the way of Oregon is Oregon…


The only thing standing in the way of Oregon is Oregon” you are sooooooooo right.

Jon Joseph

Add – COVID 19, Larry Scott and his bosses?

And a tip of the hat to the Pac-12 Network, ESPN, Doc Pepper and the Playoff Committee.


Nothing is easy. So many players against you + those on the field.