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Pac-12 Football Coaching Stats: Rating Performance Relative To Recruiting Rankings

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If you want a fun place to lose yourself on an idle day at work and lose yourself in college football statistical minutia, Coaches By The Numbers contains plenty of nice empirical data regarding the records of college football coaches. You can sort their overall performance based on regular stats, but also look at coaching salaries and other material. Today, I looked at how well our coaches performed with regards to their talent level.

CBTN recorded recruiting rankings based on's data, averaged the data over a four year period, then used it to figure out the records of coaches against teams they were either superior to (10 spots or higher on the recruiting rankings), equivalent to (within 10 spots), or inferior against (10 spots or lower in the recruiting rankings) on the football field.

So let's say you look at the numbers on Mike Stoops...

Average recruiting rank: 39.34
With Superior Talent: 9-9
With Equivalent Talent: 14-21
With Inferior Talent: 14-22

So Mike Stoops lost to teams that were better than his team, lost to teams that were on equal footing with his team, and lost to teams that were definitely worse than his team. It basically reinforces all the stereotypes you had about Mike Stoops as a head coach.

What were the overall looks of our current Pac-12 coaches?

Coaches Avg. class rank Superior to opp.
Equivalent to opp.
Inferior to opp.
Lane Kiffin 6.61 16-6 2-1 0-0
Rich Rod (Mich) 8.98 11-6 2-6 0-0
Chip Kelly 21.09 20-1 10-2 2-3
Jeff Tedford 25.55 36-15 20-11 3-11
David Shaw 25.75 6-0 3-2 2-0
Mike Leach (Texas Tech) 30.12 29-8 8-3 9-11
Steve Sarkisian 31.46 10-5 4-8 4-6
Todd Graham (Pitt) 32.5 5-4 0-2 0-1
Rich Rod (WV) 45.22 20-1 10-3 8-5
Mike Riley 48.08 7-7 31-25 14-11
Jon Embree 53.75 1-1 2-1 0-8
Kyle Whittingham 65.46 35-8 11-3 16-14
Todd Graham (Tulsa) 84.57 7-2 20-7 5-8

Quick thoughts on each coach.

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

Rich Rod in Michigan was the polar opposite of Rich Rod in West Virginia. Rodriguez in Michigan took talented teams and couldn't win football games while adapting players to his scheme. The Wolverines went 11-16 in games where they were the more talented team, and were a further debilitating 2-6 on a level playing field.

Rodriguez will thankfully not have that problem in Tucson, where he figures to not have to worry about recruiting pressure and expectations and focus on building his system back up. Arizona hopes he'll replicate his West Virginia days, where Rodriguez's numbers are startlingly Chip Kelly-esque: Rodriguez was almost perfect as the clear favorite at 20-1, hoisted a similarly dominant record when fielding an equivalent squad at 10-3, and even posted a solid 8-5 record as the underdog.

Todd Graham, Arizona State

I doubt Arizona State hired Graham because of his dubious tenure at Pitt. Graham managed a middling 5-4 record against superior squads and went 0-3 against equivalent/inferior teams despite having far more talented teams on paper. It is undoubtedly his Tulsa record that earned him his current job, where he coached arguably the least talented teams any of these conference coaches have ever had to solid seasons. Graham took care of the lessers (7-2), held his own with lesser talent (5-8) and besting teams that were his equal on paper (20-7).

Thankfully, if we look at the Arizona State coaches in front of him, we can see ASU has managed a solid recruiting rank in the upper 30s (Koetter had an average rank of 31.69, Erickson 32.57). Graham will almost certainly have to channel his Tulsa days if he plans to be in the conference for awhile, because Arizona State has gone 3-17 in the Koetter/Erickson days against teams with better talent.

Jeff Tedford, California

The dean of Pac-12 coaches sports a solid 36-15 record when he has the superior squad. He's had his hiccups against the Arizonas and Oregon States of the world, but has taken care of business against Washington State and Arizona State on a regular basis. That record remains a solid 20-11 against equivalent competition though, so he's generally in good shape when he fields a team on equal if not stronger footing.

However, it falls off when he's the clear underdog, going 3-11 overall. Most of that has to be the result of his 1-9 record against USC, but it's likely Tedford will have to beat the Trojans if he's ever to get Cal that elusive Rose Bowl bid. The good news is that recruiting is starting to pick up again for the Bears (three straight top 25 recruiting classes), so Cal should be playing more teams on the top and middle side of the distribution and generally only have to worry about the Trojans on the other side.

Jon Embree, Colorado

Embree inherited a mess in Colorado, and the data confirms it. A recruiting ranking in the mid-50s culminates a slide from the Gary Barnett times when the Buffs were solidly in the upper-30s; Dan Hawkins's teams were generally in the 40s. Recruiting is looking better for Colorado, but it's clear this is going to be a process rather than a quick fix.

The good news is it took Embree one season what it took Hawkins his entire career to do: Beat two teams on his level. (Hawkins was 2-11 against equivalent talent, Embree is currently 2-1). Embree is actually 3-2 when he fields a non-underdog team, a good sign that he can beat a team if he has the talent. He's unfortunately 0-8 when he doesn't, so he's going to have to bulk up his upset credentials since he's probably going to be playing a lot of favorites these next few years.

Chip Kelly, Oregon

What do I need to tell you that you didn't already know? Kelly has lost only one game when he didn't field the superior squad, and that was his first game as a head coach (20 straight wins since then, sorry underdogs). Against teams he stands on equal footing, he has outcoached and out-offensed almost everytime, besting first round quarterback talents like Andrew Luck and Jake Locker and Keith Price.

The only blemish? His 2-3 record against the powerhouses like LSU, Ohio State and USC (although he does stand 2-1 against USC overall). Regardless of that, the talent is starting to filter into Oregon on a regular basis, so the expectations will rise for Kelly to hold the fort against the Trojans in the Pac-12.

Mike Riley, Oregon State

Want to win a game as the underdog? For a long time in the Pac-12 Riley was your guy. He's posted over .500 records for years and for awhile played the spoiler to any hopes of the conference getting a team in the BCS title game (beat #1 USC in 2006 and 2008, beat #2 Cal in 2007). Riley is an impressive 14-11 when he faces a more talented team on paper, and manages a 31-25 record when he's on an equivalent playing field. Not at all a bad record to have if you want to hang around while losing recruiting wars.

The flip side to that equation (and the only thing that keeps Riley from winning Coach of the Year every year)? Riley boasts a sub-par 7-7 record when he battles a squad that's clearly less talented than his Beavers. OSU has started to fall back to the pack lately, so the Beavers are going to need some more consistency against the lesser squads while re-learning how to be competitive against the best of them. The recruiting gap against the rest of the conference sure isn't getting any smaller.

David Shaw, Stanford

Hard to judge anything with Shaw just yet. Besting USC has to feel good, but those Oregon and Oklahoma State losses still have to sting. Shaw is recruiting well though, so he figures to be on the right trajectory with getting the players he'll need regardless of his coaching ability. To be continued.

Jim Mora, UCLA

Mora will have the second-most talent in the conference, which is a good sign. A bad sign is that his predecessor managed to do precious little with that talent. Rick Neuhisel went 17-16 against the worst of the conference, 4-10 against the middlers, and 0-4 against USC. Horrid numbers and probably the worst metrics of any Pac-12 coach surveyed relative to recruiting rankings. Mora will have to do a lot better if he plans to last as long as Neuheisel did. Deja vu isn't likely to be tolerated.

Lane Kiffin, USC

Still early, but Kiffin does seem to be getting the hang of coaching top-10 recruiting classes on a regular basis. He's a ways from catching up with Pete Carroll's magic, but you figure a big-time season with a national title contender moves him a little closer.

Kyle Whittingham, Utah

If I didn't worry about the MWC curve, it'd be easy to hand the award to Whittingham as the most accomplished coach on this list. Whittingham has a pretty low recruiting ranking every season, but dominates level competition (11-3) and can handle the underdog role pretty well (16-14). Considering Utah will probably be in this position awhile, success at both those spots will be crucial.

Steve Sarkisian, Washington

Sark is well on track to beating the worst of them with regular impunity: He's 10-5 against the teams that sport less talent. Unfortunately, he's 8-14 against everyone else, including an 0-6 mark against hated Oregon and bruising Stanford. No wonder Sarkisian brought in Tosh Lupoi: The clear solution for the Huskies to get better is to get talented.

Mike Leach, Washington State

Here's the thing about the Pirate: Leach's teams were sneaky solid on talent in Texas Tech (29-8 as the superior team). That's not going to be the case for awhile in Pullman, where Paul Wulff never could ratchet up recruiting momentum (53rd overall during his tenure). Leach can play as the underdog though, and has a near .500 record at the spot at 9-11. That's pretty good since he's probably going to end up playing most of his games as the spoiler. More importantly, when he's on equal footing he generally conquers: 8-3 overall.


No one is going to top Kelly on this list, not right now. He takes good talent and tornadoes them into an unstoppable offensive blur. Still, almost all the coaches acquit themselves admirably. Whittingham did well in the MWC, Kiffin and Shaw are coming off of double digit winning seasons, and Riley has proven he's capable of springing upsets. Tedford has proven he can have his moments, Embree is still rebuilding his Buffs, and Leach and Rodriguez are well-worth keeping an eye on for their furtive movements on the recruiting trail. And we haven't even gotten to the fallacies of recruiting rankings altogether, which could only slightly invalidate the results on this list.

Everyone's a winner in some regard. Hooray!

(Thanks again to Coaches By The Numbers for compiling all that data and putting it in one place.)