Welcome to the Pac-12, conference of football coaching legends.
We may have just four teams currently in the Top 25, we can’t see the four-team College Football Playoff without a telephoto lens and we haven’t claimed a national championship in 13 years, but things are getting really interesting on the Pac-12 sidelines.
There are two ways to define a great football coach. The first is obvious: He wins a lot of games and lifts his team to national prominence. The second might be more important to those of us in the media. A football coach should be entertaining. Two recent transactions promise to fulfill these requirements.
On Nov. 25, UCLA hired Chip Kelly to resuscitate its program. And earlier this week, Arizona State introduced Herm Edwards as its new coach. Let’s examine these new/old warhorses.
It will be hard for 49ers fans to acknowledge that Kelly fits into either of my stated categories. Last year, his lone season coaching in Santa Clara, was a disaster. The 49ers finished 2-14 and fielded a historically bad defense. People actually yearned for Jim Tomsula. And Kelly sleepwalked through press conferences, mumbling like the bedraggled lead character in a quirky independent film. You could have sworn he wasn’t all that interested in his job.
But as a UCLA alum, I’m counting on the Chipster to become a West Coast version of Nick Saban, whose coaching career has been like an Oreo, if the outside layers were the most delicious cookie you’ve ever eaten, and the middle layer was sawdust. Saban couldn’t cut it with the Miami Dolphins, but he was brilliant at Michigan State and LSU before that, and more recently has built a dynasty at Alabama.
It’s possible opponents have caught up to Kelly’s spread offense, which was at the advance guard of a revolution. We’ll see. For now, it’s enough to celebrate a highly prized coach choosing a Pac-12 job over Florida, the other school that went hard after Kelly. We’re used to playing second fiddle to the schools that offer “Audibling to the Run When Facing a Single-High Safety” as a graduate course.
ASU, meanwhile, took a different approach. I have no idea whether Edwards can handle this job. He hasn’t coached in a decade, and his only college experience was coaching defensive backs for three years at San Jose State in the late 1980s. But I’m pretty sure he’ll be fun.
Edwards declared as much during his introductory press conference Monday, punching the air with passionate declarations and stopping for long, meaningful pauses in the gospel style he brought to NFL studio shows.
At one point, a reporter from Devils Digest, which covers the program for Rivals/Yahoo!, asked Edwards a question and the 63-year-old coach replied, “Devils Digest, huh? Where you located, my man?” He added: “I’m a Catholic, I’m a Christian. Watch out for them devils.”
It’s highly likely that Herm Edwards did not know the mascot of the team he had been hired to lead.
Two coaches do not make an interesting conference, but the Pac-12 was in good shape before Kelly and Edwards landed. David Shaw is creative and erudite, the perfect coach for Stanford. Washington’s Chris Petersen is hands-down one of the best coaches in the game. Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez is a crusty sideline pacer who once compared an NCAA investigation into his program at Michigan to the tribulations caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.