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Four Pac-12 football programs have new coaches, and additional changes could be coming over the next few weeks and months.
The carousel might have another spin or two left, folks.
Welcome to the latest installment of the Hotline's early look at the 2022 season:
Hot Seat assessments for every coach in the conference, from the rookies to the lifers and everyone in between.
(Listed alphabetically by school.)
Arizona's Jedd Fisch
2021 record: 1-11
Noteworthy: The '21 victory total was Arizona's lowest since 1957 (excluding the COVID-shortened 2020 season.)
Fisch's contract status: signed through the 2025 season
Seat heat: frozen over
Assessment: As hot as it gets in Tucson in the dead of summer, Fisch's seat is the Arctic version of that. The on-field product was worse than expected in his rookie year — and we expected bad — but one of the best recruiting classes in program history and the arrival of transfer quarterback Jayden de Laura provides a base for optimism. Even if the results don't immediately improve, Fisch has at least two more years, and probably three, to get the Wildcats back to respectability. Simply being the opposite of Kevin Sumlin in energy and affability buys him time with the faithful.
Arizona State's Herm Edwards
2021 record: 8-5
Noteworthy: Edwards is 17-14 in conference play through four seasons. His predecessor, Todd Graham, was 23-13 through the same timespan in Tempe.
Edwards' contract status: signed through the 2024 season
Seat heat: scalding
Assessment: The Sun Devils haven't materially improved their position in the conference over the sweep of Edwards' tenure — the best that can be said is that ASU was a second-half blowout away (at Utah) from leading the South division entering the final month of Edwards' fourth year. Meanwhile, the recruiting scandal cost four assistants their jobs. And according to a published report, NCAA investigators have been told that Edwards either knew about, or participated in, the improper activities during the dead period. All in all, no program in the conference is facing a more dire immediate future.
Cal's Justin Wilcox
2021 record: 5-7
Noteworthy: In his five seasons, Wilcox is 10-13 against North division opponents and 5-12 against the South
Wilcox's contract status: signed through the 2027 season
Seat heat: cold as the relationship between Cal football and Berkeley Public Health
Assessment: Seriously, Wilcox might as well be cryogenically frozen in the Bears' big chair at this point. His decisions to not get involved with Washington and to turn down the Oregon offer proved his commitment to Cal, and that's a good thing for the program — there's nobody better suited to deal with the unique challenges presented by Berkeley bureaucracy and Cal's academic mission. The results must improve, and that can only come with an influx of talent at the skill positions. The transfer portal has increased the degree of difficulty by an order of magnitude, as it has for Stanford.
Colorado's Karl Dorrell
2021 record: 4-8
Noteworthy: The Buffs averaged 18.8 points last season, which was 11th in the conference and 121st in the country.
Dorrell's contract status: signed through the 2024 season
Seat heat: warming rapidly
Assessment: The 2022 season is crucial for Dorrell — his final chance to build on the surprising success of the pandemic season before an all-too-familiar miasma engulfs the program. The Buffaloes have produced just one winning season (in a normal year) since joining the conference in 2011. (Unlike Utah, they don't have much in-state talent, and it's difficult to consistently pull elite prospects from Texas and California.) All eyes will be on the staff changes, especially on offense. CU needs stability at the top, but if the coming season is a flop, Dorrell's seat will be hot to start 2023.
Oregon's Dan Lanning
2021 record: N/A
Noteworthy: Lanning will earn more per year ($4.85 million) than any rookie coach in conference history, according to the Hotline's crack research staff.
Lanning's contract status: signed through the 2027 season
Seat heat: room temperature
Assessment: First-year coaches rarely occupy warm seats, and Lanning's security is by no means fragile. But there is a moderate level of pressure on two fronts: 1) The absence of head coaching experience could leave Lanning susceptible to more scrutiny than a veteran coach would typically face in his first year; and 2) The standard for success in Eugene is extremely high after three consecutive appearances in the conference championship game. The Ducks took a risk hiring a 35-year-old head coach, who ultimately answers to an 83-year-old patriarch craving a national championship.
Oregon State's Jonathan Smith
2021 record: 7-6
Noteworthy: OSU beat Washington last season for the first time since 2011 and won at USC for the first time since 1960.
Smith's contract status: signed through 2027
Seat heat: Siberian
Assessment: The '21 season was both a breakthrough and a disappointment for OSU fans — a breakthrough because the Beavers claimed their first bowl berth since 2013, a disappointment because they were positioned for the division title before a second-half fade. That said, Smith is seemingly a few winning seasons from lifetime-contract territory in Corvallis. No Pac-12 program is better set for long-haul stability than OSU when success and age are considered. (Smith is a mere 43.) Any change at the top will come as the result of Smith leaving for a more prestigious opportunity.
Stanford's David Shaw
2021 record: 3-9
Noteworthy: The Cardinal was No. 126 nationally in rushing offense and No. 127 in rushing defense last season
Shaw's contract status: unknown
Seat heat: cold
Assessment: Shaw has come under unprecedented criticism following Stanford's worst season since 2006 — its second clunker in three years — and for his apparent refusal to make staff changes. Anywhere else, and there would be legitimate seat heat. But not at Stanford, where the head coach is a well-respected alumnus who got married in the Stanford chapel and is oh-by-the-way the winningest coach in school history. Shaw is comparable to a tenured professor at this point. Might he bolt for the NFL in the next few years? Perhaps. But that's the only chance of change anytime soon.
UCLA's Chip Kelly
2021 record: 8-4
Noteworthy: UCLA swept Cal, Stanford and USC for the first time since 1998 (and by a combined score of 139-71)
Kelly's contract status: signed through the 2025 season
Seat heat: lukewarm
Assessment: Sure, Kelly just signed a three-year extension, but don't presume the heat has dissipated entirely. In our view, he's two just subpar seasons away from dismissal. Why? The lingering odor from his first three years combined with the lack of substance within the 2021 ledger. (The Bruins had no victories against teams that finished with winning records.) The true measure of Kelly's job security is buried in the yet-to-be-released contract he signed a few weeks ago: How steep is the buyout if the Bruins decide a change is necessary after 2023? Our guess: Not exorbitant.
USC's Lincoln Riley
2021 record: 11-2 (at Oklahoma)
Noteworthy: The Trojans are No. 3 in the 247Sports ranking of transfer classes, behind Mississippi and LSU
Riley's contract status: unknown
Seat heat: warm
Assessment: The most significant Pac-12 football coaching hire in eons doesn't come without immediate pressure. It's USC, after all, and expectations soared the moment Riley arrived. (We don't know specifics, but his contract is likely in the 10-year, $100 million range.) Our distinct sense is that USC fans will tolerate one mediocre season as Riley overhauls the roster. But by 2023, he will be on the hook for a conference title. And by 2024, it's playoff-or-bust territory for a program that has won seven wire-service national titles, more than every other school in the Pac-12 combined.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
2021 record: 10-4
Noteworthy: Among active FBS coaches, only Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (1999) has a longer tenure than Whittingham (2005)
Whittingham's contract status: signed through 2027
Seat heat: irrelevant (Whittingham doesn't have a seat; he has a throne)
Assessment: Whittingham will depart when he wants to depart and not a nanosecond sooner. We continue to believe there's a non-zero chance that the Utah legend retires this winter — the post-Rose Bowl window for Whittingham and his family to conclude that enough's enough hasn't closed yet. (Also, recruiting is in full force through Wednesday.) If the Utes get to March and the 62-year-old hasn't stepped down, then our forecast for a coaching change in Salt Lake City will drop to zero. Right now, it's holding steady at 10 percent.
Washington's Kalen DeBoer
2021 record: 9-3 (at Fresno State)
Noteworthy: DeBoer's contract averages $3.3 million annually, making him one of the lowest-paid coaches in the conference
DeBoer's contract status: signed through 2026
Seat heat: cool
Assessment: DeBoer gets one honeymoon season because he's taking over a program that was 4-8 last year and an additional honeymoon season because, for UW fans, anything is better than the chaos and embarrassment experienced under Jimmy Lake in 2021. So the fair and reasonable target is 2023. If DeBoer doesn't have the Huskies at or near the top of the conference by then, his seat will turn toasty. And make no mistake: There's opportunity for rapid progress in the North, where Oregon has an inexperienced coaching staff and there are no equivalents to Utah or Lincoln Riley.
Washington State's Jake Dickert
2021 record: 3-3 (as interim coach)
Noteworthy: Dickert plans to deploy the so-called Coug Raid, an offshoot of the Air Raid made famous by former coach Mike Leach
Dickert's contract status: signed through 2026
Seat heat: same as the temperature in Pullman right now
Assessment: If you're wondering, today's weather forecast on campus calls for a high of 36 degrees: That's cold, but not frigid. And the same goes for Dickert's seat. Coaches promoted from within are often subject to a higher level of scrutiny as fans tend to shift quickly into what-could-have-been mode. Also, Dickert's resume includes a flag-planting 40-13 win in Husky Stadium, so expectations are elevated. His promotion made all the sense in the world — WSU didn't need a culture change — but our guess is that Dickert can't afford a multi-year downturn, or the '24 season will be dicey.
Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.
Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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