Any ranking of Pac-10 coaches has to begin with USC's Pete Carroll, who arguably is the standard against which all college coaches are measured. But the Pac-10 boasts an impressive collection of coaches beyond Carroll.
Oregon's Mike Bellotti, Oregon State's Mike Riley, Arizona State's Dennis Erickson and Cal's Jeff Tedford can match wits with any coach in America. That Bellotti, Riley and Erickson are looking to cement their legacies during what looks like the last stops of their careers further augments this collection of coaches.
The league has young talent, too. It's hard to argue there's a more promising young coach out there than Stanford's Jim Harbaugh, and it'll be worth keeping an eye on Washington newbie Steve Sarkisian as well.
Carroll boasts an 88-15 record, two national championships and a $4 million salary. Pac-10 titles? Carroll has so many -- seven in a row, to be exact -- that they don't even matter anymore. To top it all off, the guy has his own Web site where, for a mere $2, fans can purchase a voice tone reminding them "USC rips it."
Riley's a melting pot of experiences and possesses an eclectic background that includes playing for Bear Bryant at Alabama and being a head coach in the Canadian Football League, the World League of American Football and the NFL. Riley has used all of those experiences to make him one of the nation's best coaches. Plus, you won't find a nicer guy.
He's the godfather of Pac-10 coaches, having marched to a 116-55 record and earned two Pac-10 championships (2000-01) and 12 bowls in 14 seasons. But is the end near? Bellotti already has acquiesced to a succession plan, planning to give way to offensive coordinator Chip Kelly at some point (this fall?) and become the school's athletic director. Enjoy Bellotti while you can.
Can you even remember who coached Cal before Tedford? Tedford has single-handedly made Golden Bears football matter, forging a 59-30 record in seven seasons. Even more important to Cal fans, Tedford is 6-1 vs. Stanford. Before he arrived, the Bears had lost seven "Big Games" in a row to the Cardinal. To cement his status, though, Tedford must deliver a Pac-10 crown. (Oh, the coach before Tedford: Tom Holmoe, who's now the athletic director at BYU.)
No matter which way you slice it, Erickson is a Hall of Fame coach. He won two national championships (1989 and 1991) with Miami, enjoyed two head-coaching stints in the NFL (Seahawks and 49ers), engineered a quick turnaround at Washington State, laid the foundation for greatness at Oregon State and already has led the Sun Devils to a share of a Pac-10 title (2007).
Harbaugh is a terrific coach. Sure, his two-year record on The Farm is just 9-15 with a couple of seventh-place finishes, but Walt Harris left little to work with following his disastrous 6-17 run from 2005-06. Harbaugh has made this a tough, competitive program that is inching closer to making its first bowl appearance since 2001. Let's hope Harbaugh doesn't bolt to the NFL before it happens.
"Slick Rick" will have to do his best selling job ever to lift the Bruins to the same level as crosstown rival USC. Don't discount a motivated Neuheisel, who loves his alma mater and has to know this likely is his last chance to be a big-time coach after runs at Colorado and Washington. Neuheisel's 4-8 debut in Westwood offered signs of hope -- if you look hard enough.
Stoops is continuing to mature as a head coach as he enters his sixth season in Tucson. Last season was a breakthrough, as Stoops took himself off the hot seat by delivering Arizona's first bowl since 1998. Now comes the hard part: following success with success. Stoops will receive help from a strong staff led by offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, both future head coaches.
Let's call 2008 a learning experience, as Wulff went 2-11 in his debut season with the Cougars. It wasn't an accurate reflection of the skills he forged during a seven-year run as coach of Eastern Washington, where he went 53-40 with three playoff appearances. Wulff, a Cougars alum, knows what it takes to win on the Palouse. Give him time to build the talent base.
This ranking reflects Sarkisian's inexperience, not his potential. Give him time. He's only 34 as he tries to put his stamp on a once-proud program that has suffered through a lost decade. Sarkisian, who turned down the Oakland Raiders' coaching job in 2007, learned at the feet of a master as Carroll's offensive coordinator at USC. Now comes the true test: Can Sark build and lead a program? He has built a good staff, led by defensive coordinator Nick Holt.