Pete Carroll, Chip Kelly and Jim Harbaugh represent the best guys to pace the sidelines of the conference during the past 10 years.
One of the likely reasons that Oregon is head and shoulders above the rest of the Pac-12 right now is that head coach Chip Kelly is simply head and shoulders above the rest of the coaches in the conference at the moment. While there are a couple young coaches with talented teams and decent records (David Shaw & Lane Kiffin), some old stalwarts who have won a ton of games at their schools (Mike Riley, Jeff Tedford & Kyle Whittingham) and some new blood that is making noise (Jim Mora, Rich Rodriguez & Todd Graham), Kelly is simply in a class all of his own. It's not just the current coaches that fail to stack up with Kelly's coaching prowess, as his impressive resume and quickly accomplished achievements can be measured up against pretty much any coach in the history of the conference.
When looking at the recent history of coaches in the conference, there is a legitimate argument of who was the best coach of the last 10 years or so between Pete Carroll and Kelly and some other coaches who aren't far behind that can be thrown into the conversation.
*In this, I am only considering a coach's career between 2002 and 2012, so they don't get credit for any success they had or lose any points for failures they had prior to 2002. Also, since it is a Pac-12 list and not a Pac-10 list, Utah and Colorado coaches are considered.
1. Pete Carroll USC
Carroll took over a floundering USC program and turned it into one of the best dynasties in college football history with the Trojans finishing in the Top 4 and winning the conference every year from 2002 to 2008 while also going 6-1 in BCS bowl games. While being known as the best recruiter the conference has ever seen as he stockpiled his rosters with overflowing NFL talent, Carroll also had a particular knack for game planning and game day coaching against top opponents as his teams were 14-3 against Top 10 opponents from 2002 to 2009.
It would be interesting to see how Carroll would have done at USC had the Reggie Bush controversy not started to infect the program towards the end of his tenure and had it not ultimately forced him to go back to the NFL. Regardless Carroll stakes his claim as one of the best coaches in the history of the conference and the country.
2. Chip Kelly Oregon
Kelly's in conference record is even more impressive than his staggering overall record as he has only lost two conference games in four years and both of those games were nail bitters. There may be other coaches in Pac-12 history who have reached greater heights and won more bowl games and national championships, but none have been as efficient and dominant within the conference as Kelly has been. If the Ducks win the conference in 2012 and Kelly does leave for the NFL, he will leave the conference without ever not winning it and likely having only lost to two of the teams in the conference, ever.
Outside of just wins and losses, Kelly's Duck teams have rewritten almost all of the conference's offensive record books and (for good or bad) have actually changed the way that college football is played. Kelly has also racked up a staggering amount of coach of the year awards in his short time in the conference.
3. Jim Harbaugh Stanford
Harbaugh's straight up record may not be that impressive on paper, but what he accomplished at Stanford is. Harbaugh took a historically inept program that doesn't care much about football and had become one of the worst programs in the nation after two bad hires and made them a conference and national power that not only was good, but had a reputation as one of the toughest teams in the country. Harbaugh had one of the toughest tasks in the conference's recent history in turning around Stanford and he not only brought them to the top of the conference, but also left behind a lasting legacy that should keep Stanford near the top of the conference.
4. Urban Meyer Utah
Meyer went onto greater heights at Florida, but was incredibly impressive in his brief time in Salt Lake City and also paved the way for the continued success of the program that led to it being an attractive add for the Pac-10. Meyer took a program that wasn't highly regarded in the Mountain West and turned them into a national power that finished in the Top 5 in his last season. Meyer's Utes were also 3-0 against Pac-10 teams during his tenure at Utah, downing Oregon, Cal and Arizona.
5. Mike Bellotti Oregon
Chip Kelly gets a lot of credit for turning Oregon into a national power, but the truth is that Bellotti basically already did that in the early-2000s and then later set the table for Kelly before he took over in 2009. Bellotti had some lean years in the mid-2000s, but got the Ducks back on track before he left and with Kelly at offensive coordinator, he had them ready to rip the Pac-10 championship away from Pete Carroll and USC in 2007 before Dennis Dixon went down with a knee injury.
6. Mike Riley Oregon State
No one in the Pac-12 does more with less than Riley or turns unheralded recruits into NFL players. Riley hasn't reached the great heights that a lot of the other guys on this list have had, but he is incredibly consistent and a great in-game coach whose teams always seem to play hard and always seem to get better as the season goes on.
7. Kyle Whittingham Utah
Whittingham's stock has really dropped since Utah joined the conference, but his superb record at Utah can't be ignored. Whittingham had the cupboards stocked by Urban Meyer when he took over and led the Utes to their best season in school history in 2008 when they went undefeated and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
8. Jeff Tedford Cal
Tedford is another guy who would have been a lot higher on this list about four or five years ago. Tedford turned around a moribund Cal problem and actually had them competing for not only a Pac-10 championship, but a national championship a couple of years in the mid-2000s. Regardless of how Tedford's tenure ends, he will always be remembered and appreciated as the coach that brought Cal back to respectability.
9. David Shaw Stanford
Harbaugh will probably be remembered as the guy who turned Stanford into a national power, but Shaw will probably end up winning a lot more games than Harbaugh in Palo Alto. Shaw has faced some criticism for his in-game coaching, but no one can argue against his win/loss record at the moment and he just got the biggest win of his career at Oregon.
10. Mike Price Washington State
Price's ranking is based only on his last season in Pullman in 2002 when he took the Cougars to the Rose Bowl before leaving for Alabama and a large room service bill. Judging by how bad the Cougars have been since he left, Price's ability to get the Cougars to the Rose Bowl and have them compete for a national championship in 2002 is a huge testament to his abilities as a coach.