In recent years, it has become obvious that head football coaches are expected to win more in shorter amounts of time than ever before. The high benchmark was set by unlikely contenders like Boise State or Stanford rising to the top of their respective conferences, and then challenging perennial powerhouses in BCS match-ups, bringing loads of notoriety to the underdog schools.
Jim Harbaugh is perhaps the best example of a coach that followed through on those lofty societal expectations (Stanford boosters probably didn't/don't set those kinds of goals for football). It's almost hard to think that Stanford was at the bottom of the PAC-12 just a handful of years ago, which makes it even harder to believe that the Cardinal have come so far in so little time. How far down on the supremacy list were they? Harbaugh walked in with a team that had not won a game in over a year, and in just three years, the team was approaching a breakthrough.
Stanford's turnaround can be summed up in a short list: Harbaugh, Gerhart, Luck, Skov, Thomas, massive O-Line; conference contender. Upon Harbaugh's arrival, the Cardinal became known for a power running attack with an efficient passing game. That scheme created an undeniable identity for the football program, as running off tackle against eleven in the box is now something that the players and fans now anticipate to define Stanford football for years to come. When Harbaugh left Stanford, he left a winning culture, that's for sure.
Harbaugh, along with coaches such as Chip Kelly, Steve Sarkisian, Brian Kelly, and Al Golden were hired at big programs because they brought certain identities along with them. Both Chip and Brian Kelly brought high octane offense, while Sarkisian and Golden brought balanced attacks, for instance.
The PAC-12 coaching carousel brought four new coaches out west, and identity was key in all of their hires. Jim Mora is the oddity, in that he brought defensive experience to the table, but Mike Leach, Todd Graham, and Rich Rodriguez were all brought in with established offensive identities (heck, two of them could be credited with shaping the modern spread offense).
With all the firepower added to the PAC-12 sidelines, it seems as if Leach, arguably the most schematically talented of the newcomers, is having the most trouble gaining rhythm at his new school. Mora has installed a similar offensive system at UCLA, and their program is night-and-day better than last year. Rodriguez's Arizona team followed the same path as well to this point in the season. Which brings us to the age-old topic of "It's not the X's and O's, it's the Jimmies and Joes."
Funny thing is, Leach is the guy that trumped the personnel ideal in the first place. The players Leach used at Tech were often under-recruited, or were not expected to be competitive on the Longhorns' depth chart, and yet his teams in Lubbock were constantly up near the top of the BIG 12 standings. That being said, it's hard to see Washington State challenging Oregon or Stanford up north based on Leach's body of work to this point.
If WSU wants to knock off Oregon or Stanford and contend for the divisional title, they'll need to start looking like a Mike Leach team. Then again, Mike Leach never won the conference championship while at Texas Tech. The only year Tech had a say in the matter, Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell were on the same team, and none of Tech's offensive linemen seemed to be going hungry in any capacity.
The fact that Leach is slow out of the gates, while his new competition seems to be sprinting out of the gates goes against the new idea that if you hire some sort of football guru, he'll find a way to make your team a winning right away with gameplans and playbooks. Football strategists are probably getting chills just thinking that the SEC model of uncreative football will remain the classification for national championship contenders.
There are plenty of examples that indicate that personnel still outweighs schematics: Jim Mora inherited an extremely talented UCLA team, and Rich Rodriguez didn't walk into a particularly bare cupboard either. Jeff Tedford hasn't produced a serious conference title contender Aaron Rodgers was in Berkley. At higher levels, Vince Young won a national title without an offensive coordinator, and Cam Newton has proven to be the biggest talent influx in Auburn history.
It doesn't take too much to notice that most of Harbaugh's turnaround was helped by two Heisman-runner ups. Seeing that UCLA should have been performing at a higher level for some time doesn't take a lot of investigating either. Leach's early struggles seem to go hand in hand with the "bare-cupboard" situation, but the jury is still out on his future in the PAC-12 without a doubt.
So how much should a coach's "identity factor" weigh in to their hiring? Some of the most obvious examples of not following through on schematic hype would be Charlie Weis wherever he has gone, or Norm Chow's second run through college football. Perhaps a coach's ability to recruit both players and position coaches should be given more attention in the hiring, as opposed to who can light up the scoreboard more.