Ranking the Pac-12 coaching hires

Hiring of Pitt coach Todd Graham caps an embarrassing search for Arizona State.

Dan Guerrero can send a Christmas card to everyone in the Arizona State athletic department for making UCLA's dysfunctional and chaotic coaching search look downright pleasant.

Whereas the Bruins swung for the fences, trying to pry Chris Petersen away from the blue turf of Boise State and were then left trying to find someone – anyone – to take the millions of dollars the school was now willing to commit, the Sun Devils ran an absolute how-to clinic on bungling.

Arizona State had the better part of a month to try and find the coach capable of putting the tumultuous program long regarded as a sleeping giant in the Pac-12. They could have gone with the flavor of the month in Kevin Sumlin, a flashy coordinator like Gus Malzahn or a young upstart like James Franklin of Vanderbilt or Iowa State's Paul Rhoads. They could have rolled the dice on a proven coach with baggage, as the athletic directors down the road in Tucson or up on the Palouse chose to do.

Instead, ASU chose to focus on SMU coach June Jones, an aged and reliable program-builder with a wandering eye, just like the man they fired in Dennis Erickson. The boosters freaked out and ASU pulled its offer right as Jones was set to accept.

So, they went out and hired… Todd Graham?

That sound you heard was the rest of the Pac-12 falling out of their chairs laughing.

Graham is now on his fourth head-coaching job in six years, informing his players by text message to head to a place that has spit up and chewed up more accomplished men than him.

He has no West Coast ties and just went 6-6 in the Big East, which is the equivalent of going 2-10 in a real conference.

Sure, he has strong ties to Texas. So did Jones, but at least he is well versed in recruiting Los Angeles, the lifeblood of the Pac-12.

Jones would have been able to bring ace recruiter Adrian Klemm with him to the desert, able to sell his turnaround of the Mustangs, his success at Hawaii and a dynamic offense.

Graham is selling what? His messy exit? His mediocre track record?

This is going to end badly for ASU. Either Graham finds a modicum of success and bails quickly for another job - Texas Tech comes to mind - or is swallowed up by the newly reenergized Pac-12 and the Sun Devils are right back where they started in four years.

But hey, at least it made Guerrero look good.

Ranking the Pac-12 Coaching Hires:
1. Mike Leach – Washington State
The Cougars' success in the late 1990's and early 2000's was characterized by three things: a high-powered passing offense, a slightly eccentric head coach, and an ability to find and develop players other schools overlooked.

Leach addresses all three criteria. His Air Raid attack turned unheralded recruits into a team capable of beating Big 12 powers Oklahoma and Texas, while his love of pirates turned him into a sort of cult hero.

He has already energized a lethargic fan base in Pullman, and that's a win.

It will be hard to dethrone Oregon on a consistent basis, but like he did in Lubbock, Leach will build a reliable bowl team that is capable of pushing for a conference championship every three or four years.

2. Rich Rodriguez – Arizona
A relatively young, hungry coach with plenty to prove, an innovative athletic director and a program still in search of its first Rose Bowl bid all add up to what should be a winning formula in the mediocre Pac-12 South.

With dual-threat quarterback Matt Scott in the fold, Rodriguez won't have to deal with the messy offensive transition he faced in Ann Arbor, but hiring a strong defensive coordinator will be key.

3. Jim Mora - UCLA
Pete Carroll 2.0? Based on his initial coaching hires, the long-time NFL coach certainly seems to be following that path, adding Klemm, ASU's Steve Broussard and Demetrice Martin of Washington, all exceptionally strong recruiters, along with Noel Mazzone as his offensive coordinator.

However, Mora still will have to adjust to the college game, something that eluded the wave of NFL washouts over the past decade. Can he create schemes to defend the likes of Oregon and Washington State? Can he adapt to the limited time he gets to work with players? Can he instill a winning attitude that has been lacking in Westwood?

And if he actually succeeds, can he resist the siren song of the NFL?

4. Todd Graham – Arizona State
Total disaster. And this is why the Sun Devils are always labeled a "sleeping giant," not a legitimate threat to win the Pac-12 on a year in, year out basis.

Now if they ever get competent administration, look out.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest. Follow him on Twitter at @DanGreenspan.

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