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What would a Pac-12 football coaching Mount Rushmore look like?

Who are the four defining coaches in the history of the Pac-12?

Doug Pensinger

If you were to make a Mount Rushmore of Pac-12 coaches there is pretty much no question that Don James' face would be carved somewhere in a mountain out west, let's say somewhere in Yosemite.

The passing of James last weekend was mostly felt by those associated with the Washington program and Husky fans, but the ripples of condolence and respect came from all across the country the past few days, testify to just how much of an influence the master of Montlake had on the game of college football. The sentiment all around the Pac-12 seems to be the same, with an overflowing of heartfelt sentiment even coming out of Pullman and Eugene, and it's all the deserved as James is very much in the conversation for the greatest coach in the history of the conference.

I could go over some of James' accomplishments, accolades and skills, but that's already been done and in better ways than I could write, so I wanted to think about sometime that I brought up earlier... who would be on the Mount Rushmore of Pac-12 coaches?

Obviously there are only four spots, and as mentioned earlier, I think two are already on lock down.

Break out the chisel, they are locks

John McKay

With four national championships and nine conference championships to his name, McKay is the biggest no-brainer and has so many legendary players, wins and traditions associated with his tenure that he should easily be considered the conference's greatest coach.

Some quick notes in addition to the championships listed above that sum up just how great McKay was:

  • Popularized the I-Formation.
  • Started the Student Body Left and Right movement
  • Is the winningest coach ever at USC, so I'm assuming he probably is for the Pac-12 too of any coach that probably coached a good number of games in the modern era
    • Overall record 127-40-8 (70-17-3 in Pac-8)
  • Coached two Heisman winners
  • Dominated Notre Dame back when they were a powerhouse
  • Helped put the Pacific Conference on the map at the start of the emergence of modern college football
  • Rebuilt USC after the program had fallen on some of the hardest times in its history.

With all of this in tow, McKay has a spot on the Pac-12 Rushmore locked down.

Don James

McKay is unquestionable the most successful coach in conference history, but you could maybe make an argument that James is the "best" or most skilled as he won two (Washington is the 1984 national champion, not BYU) national championships and a conference championship in a third of his years coaching (6). James wasn't quite as successful as McKay, but he did what he did at a school that didn't have the nation's most fertile recruiting grounds in its backyard during an era where the vast majority of players stayed home.

The only thing disappointing about James' career was that it came to an end during his best stretch of consecutive years with three-straight conference championships due to a very questionable off-the-field scandal. One of the biggest "What ifs?" in conference history is what would have happened with James, Washington and the conference, had James stayed on as head coach of the Huskies past 1992.

Fighting for the other two spots

This is where it starts to get interesting as there are a number of well-deserving coaches who would be fighting for the other two spots.

Please chime in with comments of who you think is most deserving.

Pete Carroll USC

Of any of the recent (Past 10-15 year) coaches, Carroll has far and away the best chances of getting on there, and I he would actually be my choice for the third guy. Two national championships, a conference championship in every year but the first and last of his tenure, two Heisman winners and a breathtaking dominance of other elite programs in big games, Carroll's only problem is that the controversy and sanctions that followed him have tarnished his reputation.

John Robinson USC

Kind of the forgotten one of the great USC coaches, Robinson won four Rose Bowls and a national championship. Robinson doesn't quite have the overall record that McKay and James do, but was stellar in bowls (8-1) and won the conference/Rose Bowl in half of his seasons during his first tenure (76-82) with USC. Robinson's career did lose a little bit of luster though during his second stint with USC (93-97) when he went 6-6 and 6-5 in his final two seasons.

Bill McCartney Colorado

Yes, he didn't coach in the conference, but I would feel bad not acknowledging any candidate from Colorado or Utah at all and McCartney is the best of the bunch. McCartney brought a national championship to Colorado, had a fantastic overall record and won the Big Eight three times in-a-row from 88-90.

Frank Kush Arizona State

Along with having the best rapped name for a college football coach ever, Kush is an underrated legend. Kush mainly coached in the Border and WAC conferences and actually won some national championship polls in the 70s, though his teams didn't get the major polls. He finished with an impeccable overall record and essentially built the foundation of Arizona State football.

Jim Owens Washington

Before there was James, there was Owens and his status in the history of Husky football is solidified by his statue that rests outside Husky Stadium. Owens' overall record isn't that impressive, but he had a great run in the 50s and 60s that produced a national championship and three Rose Bowls.

Henry Sanders UCLA

Probably UCLA's greatest coach, Sanders took the Bruins to the ultimate peak, winning a national championship in 1954 that was sandwiched by two Rose Bowl trips. Sanders ended his tenure at UCLA with an impressive 66-19-1 record.

Terry Donahue UCLA

Donahue is probably the best coach to ever coach in the conference who never won a national championship. Donahue won the conference five times, played USC well and had a great overall record as a coach.

Chip Kelly Oregon

Kelly only coached in the conference for four years, but he was so good in those four years that he deserves to be in the conversation. I don't think he has any chance of making it on, but he might have the best four-year gap of any coach to ever play in the conference and changed the game maybe more than anyone to ever helm a team in the Pac-12.

Mike Belloti Oregon

Kind of the Terry Donahue of Oregon, Belloti is another long-serving Pac-12 coach who built up his program, had great overall success over a long period of time, but was never able to win it all. Overall, his lack of championships and overall record probably

Howard Jones USC

This is going way, way back in a completely different era of college football, but just overall, Jones' résumé is just about as good as McKay's. Jones won four national championships, seven conference championships and had an impeccable overall record. Jones was also 5-0 in the five Rose Bowls he coached in at USC.

Glenn "Pop" Warner Stanford

I think a lot of Pac-12 fans don't realize that one of the most famous names in football coaching history coached at Stanford and won a national championship in 26.

Andy Smith Cal

Not only did Smith win the first recognized Pacific Conference national championship, he won three of them in-a-row. He won five conference championships and was the first coach to have wild national success in the conference.


As I mentioned above, I think McKay and James are no-brainers, so then who are the other two. I've only watched Pac-12 football since the early-90s, so I don't have the best historical perspective, but I would have to lean towards having Smith and Jones joining McKay and James - just edging out Carroll and Warner.

Let us know what you think. Chime in with your four choices in the comments section.