Chris Petersen to Washington is another shock wave along the PAC-12 fault line, but it doesn't mean Oregon football is going to fall into the ocean.
A tough conference just got tougher as the Dawgs have added a coach who is smart, organized and a proven winner.
Thing one and thing two: these two coaches turned the PAC-12 house upside down with surprise visits this week. The last time they met head-to-head, Sark beat Pete, but on a different scoreboard, Chris Petersen is winning by one million dollars (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times photo).
Petersen, a former UO receivers coach many fans and boosters coveted when Mike Bellotti left and then again when Chip Kelly left, was 92-12 in 8 years at Boise State. He had two undefeated seasons, four Top Ten finishes, and Fiesta Bowls win over Oklahoma and TCU. He was 2-0 against the Ducks, both beatdowns, physical dominations, embarrassing upsets. Overall he was 8-2 versus the PAC-12 as the head man of the Broncos, including bowl wins over Washington and Arizona State.
He knows how to win and how to coach. Word is that former defensive coordinator Josh Wilcox could replace him at Boise, and BSU DC Pete Kwiatkowski will be joining Petersen's new staff in Seattle.
Over the years Petersen has rejected overtures from UCLA and USC, and many thought he would never leave The Gem State. He was one of Pat Haden's top choices for the Trojan job before they settled on Steve Sarkisian. The Huskies are going to pay him 3.6 million dollars a year, making him the 11th highest-paid coach in the country, a full million more than they were paying Sark for his annual 7-6 records. Expectations will be commensurately high.
Given the startling week in PAC-12 football, with Sarkisian going to SC, Petersen replacing him, and Todd Graham and David Shaw squaring off in the conference championship game, it's evident that the PAC-12 has become a cradle of coaches, so much so that collectively, their lifetime winning percentage is a gaudy .619. Everybody out here wants to win, and stands ready to compete hard for supremacy, not just on the West Coast, but in a steadily rising national perception. A conference that has always been a dogfight with a self-cannibalizing 9-game conference schedule becomes even more daunting.
How would you rank the PAC-12 coaches? It's worthwhile mental exercise, part of knowing your enemy and assessing your strengths, two of the key principles in the art of war.
Coaching means more in college football than any other sport at any level. Great college coaches shape a program and define it, infuse it with their personality. It's part of why Nick Saban makes $5.5 million a year. Statues are erected and streets are named after the great names of college football, and the genius to lead men and create advantages is rare and makes legends: Bo. Woody. Dad Gum. The Man in the Houndstooth Hat. There's a handful of guys in NCAA history who, as Bum Phillips once said about Don Shula, “He can take his’n and beat your’n and he can take your’n and beat his’n.”
But one thing to remember is, the ability of the head coach, while extremely important, is just one factor in the success of a program. Helfrich is going to continue to grow in the job. Kelly wasn't a finished product in his first year as a head coach either. The 2009 team went 10-3 with four narrow escapes and a letdown game, one win that hinged on a dribbler Nate Costa plucked off the turf to make a tying extra point in a game the Ducks won in double overtime.
The Ducks have tremendous athletic ability and talent, a great overall staff, great facilities, and a winning tradition. All of that puts them in a better overall position than several of the coaching geniuses around the conference.
I respect Coach Petersen. I don't know how any Duck fan couldn't. But he may be less of a savior than he appeared to be in the WAC/Mountain West. He'll do a solid job at Washington, but there is no reason to panic about Mark Helfrich's ability or potential as a head coach. He's a smart guy with a good football mind, a solid work ethic and excellent organizational and people skills. He's proven himself to be a solid recruiter, a key part of the job that Kelly didn't particularly embrace. His first two hires, Matt Lubick and Ron Aiken were quality selections, although only Lubick has paid dramatic dividends as yet (he transformed the receiver corps this season, refined Josh Huff's game so dramatically that The Huff is finishing off one of the top wide receiver seasons in school history.) Aiken has an impeccable resume but so far hasn't made the impact on the defense we saw from Jerry Azzinaro. Not sure about the cohesion on the defensive staff this year. They need an improved comprehensive plan.
10-2 suggests MH has the potential to be a very capable head coach. This team sent two first round draft picks to the NFL (Long, Jordan), replaced a 1700-yard rusher and 225 tackles at linebacker. De'Anthony Thomas missed four games, and Marcus Mariota played hurt all through November. Mariota's injury in particular crippled this team. It limited what they could do. It shook their confidence and destroyed their rhythm. Chip Kelly might have coaxed a perfect season out of this group, but Mora, Petersen, or RichRod? I think they'd have gone 10-2 also.
Off the top of my head, I'd rank them:
- David Shaw
- Jim Mora
- Chris Petersen
- Todd Graham
- Rich Rodriguez
- Mark Helfrich
- Mike Riley
- Kyle Whittingham
- Mike Leach
- Steve Sarkisian
- Mike McIntyre
- Sonny Dykes
All of them, however, can scheme and coach. The bottom two have as much football knowledge as any of them, but they are limited by talent and facilities.
Given his relative inexperience, Helfrich is probably no better than 5th on anyone's list, even though his short-sample winning percentage (.833) ranks third. But a healthy Marcus Mariota could make any coach on it look awfully smart in a given year.
What? Peterson has coached 0 games in the Pac12, let alone a full-season, and he gets ranked higher than 9 other proven/seasoned Pac12 coaches. Because he can coach in the MWC? Let's give him a chance to prove that he can coach in the Pac12 before declaring him the 2nd coming of Pete Carroll. In the end, he may be a great coach in the "big boy" leagues, but he needs to show me something before I declare him the 3rd best coach in the Pac12. I think there is going to be a rude awakening for him when he has to get his team ready to play ASU in Tempe and then the Beavs in Husky Stadium, followed by USC away, Ducks at home, Stanford on the Farm, etc. There is a difference between this and what he has had to do at Boise State: maybe 1 big OOC game, followed by 8 - 9 mostly mediocre teams and maybe 1 or 2 tough challenge(s) against a semi-tough league opponent, and then the (hopefully) marquee (BCS) bowl game. That's 2 - 3 (possibly) tough games in a full season, rarely if ever, several following one after the other. And now he has to follow obviously stricter academic requirements at UDub while recruiting against other very great recruiters throughout the Pac12. Yeah, he may have been a great coach in the MWC at Boise State, but wasn't that also true of Koetter and Hawkins, to just name the 2 that popped into my head? No, until he proves he can coach in the Pac12 and win (without cheating) against the other 11 good/great coaches, I say he is #12. Just sayin'.
I don't see Shaw above Mora. I also think that Mike Riley should move up. He turned down USC twice. Somebody thinks he is good. Maybe USC tried to hire him just so he would stop embarrassing them. He has done great at OSU with very little to work with.
Peterson jumps to the top before the first snap. Shaw didn't miss a beat when he took over. Mora improved the New Weasel mess on day one. Riley and Whittingham do more with less. Graham turned around an undisciplined team immediately. Rodriquez boat raced a FAR superior Helfrich coached team. Leach is a jerk but he has a very strong resume. Jury still out on Sark as started with an 0-12 team....but he gets the best players at USC.
Ducks have the BEST facilites. Helfrich inherited a Win The Day culture and could not sustain it. Ducks have the tenth best PAC 12 coach.....what a shame. In my view our 10-2 record is a mirage.......OMG...... I hope I am dead wrong.
This is one we will probably never know about. It seemed to me that the Oregon program deserved a national search for a top coach. Chip Kelly doing his dance "I'm leaving, I'm staying, I,m leaving at the most inopportune time with national high school signing day right around the corner probably left Rob Mullens thinking he had to make an immediate decision. Mark Helfrich and his decision to take all the coaches on the recruiting trail to the top prospects immediately was brilliant. Now we see what happens in a bowl game, plus high school signing day and then the second year at the helm. Good luck MH I will support you but Chris Peterson was my first choice.
@FALizardHips2 It's a subjective list, and the point of the exercise is to address the question, how strong are the Oregon coaches and how can the Ducks do better competitively in the PAC-12? If you could have the coach that you presently have or another one on the list, which would take? It's particularly meaningful for Duck fans, many of whom wanted Petersen when Helfrich was hired.
You are right to point out that Petersen hasn't coached a game in the PAC-12, but he's a proven winner who has a great track record against the Ducks, the PAC-12 and in big games. Of course, now he has the greater challenge of facing quality opponents week after week, but he will have PAC-12 facilities, talent, and a $3.6 million salary.
@JonSousa The list is certainly subjective, and the changes you suggest have merit. Wins, reputation, adjustments, titles, getting the most out of your talent and infrastructure--there are a lot of ways to look at a question like this. The chief value of it is getting a read on where the Oregon program is and how Helfrich can improve and where.
To me, that list has no credibility. As I stated above, Peterson hasn't coached 1 game in the Pac12, let alone a full season. Ask Whittingham how tough the Pac12 can be for a full season, year in/year out. Putting Peterson at the top before coaching 1 game in the Pac12 is like saying Tyner would win the Doak Walker award in his freshman year before having played 1 meaningful game (let alone a conference game), which I think some Duck fans thought possible before the season started. Many great mid-major, non-AQ coaches have gotten paid a great amount of money to coach at the higher level in an AQ conference and have promptly become mediocre coaches. Peterson may become a great Pac12 coach, but to put him above proven coaches (to include Helfrich) is ludicrous. By the way, Helfrich's lifetime winning percentage: 83%, possibly 85%. So far the exact same winning % as Chip had in his first year at the same point in the year. Remember, also, that Chip's Duck team lost to tOSU in the Rose Bowl. And it's not as if Chip took over the Colorado Buffalo or the Cal Bears programs. The Ducks were pretty good, if not yet great, when Chip took over. The Ducks' 10-2 record a mirage? How do you figure that? What games prior to the Stanford game (and Mariota's injury in the UCLA game) do you see the Ducks having lost? Name 1, I say 1 game, before the MM injury and the Stanford loss that the Ducks should have lost? Even remotely, 1 game? Your statement makes no sense to me. And after the Stanford loss: Utah or the Beavs? The Ducks beat Utah by 23 points. I will grant the Beav game could have been a loss (but I think that is arguable, mostly for the fact that the Ducks DID win). All FBS teams, besides Florida State, not only lost games, but won games in less than dominant fashion or played weak/overrated schedules. Does that mean that Alabama's record, say, or even more questionably, Auburn's, was a mirage? Do you remember that Washington State could have beaten Auburn early in the year (at Auburn, no less) if not for a few horrid plays by the Coug's QB? And what about the unbelievable play vs. Alabama or the miracle play vs. Georgia? Auburn won 5 games by a TD or less plus losing outright to LSU. The Tigers will be playing in the Natty. Would you describe that as a mirage?
@totalDuck We'll see in the next three months if Helfrich has the stuff to move up in the rankings.
@SonomaDuck Many people coveted Petersen at Oregon but the timing was never right. It's an imposing list of coaches in this conference, and Helfrich is going to have to compete every day to contend with them. Hopefully he's putting his work in.
@FALizardHips2 Thanks for your thoughts FHL. The objective answer to our question will be provided in the next five years. The list was a way to evaluate and consider the strength of PAC-12 coaches, Oregon's in particular. Did Helfrich get the most out of his talent this season? Petersen regularly did in Boise. I understand how you're looking at it also, and the points you make are well-taken.
The list, however, is just a list. It neither lacks credibility or reflects it, except for the demonstrated judgment of the list-maker. I've been offering opinions and analysis here for four years. Sometimes, I am dead wrong. Sometimes I nail it, through some accident of cosmic timing and blind luck. In this case, I went with my gut, which says that Coach Helfrich is a smart, principled man with the drive to get better, but he needs more experience and a comprehensive plan to prevail in a fiercely competitive conference.
I don't see how anything gets proved in the next three months. Ducks have had recruiting classes ranked some where around #10 to #15 during our BCS years. I think our best year ever in the last ten years was #8 class. Right now we sit at #32. Based on how things usually go for Duck recruiting (always late to the party)....Ducks should finish in the top 20. The Ducks are NEVER going to consistently be in the top 10 for recruiting classes. Good news though: Ducks have proven you don't have to have a Top 10 class to have a Top 5 team. What makes the difference: Coaching. It's all about who's steering the ship......and you already know how I feel about that. I LOVE MY DUCKS!
@totalDuck I think the bowl game, the recruiting class and his off-season moves, particularly how addresses concerns in his staff and issues with scheme and preparation, are strong indicators of where Oregon is going with Helfrich as head coach. What did he learn in his first year and what will he do to compete and win. Part of my challenge in making this site interesting on a daily basis is to read the tea leaves and observe, while not having the inside view you'd get from McNamara or Moseley, both of whom do an excellent job, but are bound by their employment contracts not to speculate or conjecture. We try to fill in between the lines.