Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes
And Stanford makes seven.
With David Shaw's departure, announced early Sunday morning, seven Pac-12 schools have changed head coaches since early in the 2021 season.
Seven schools in 15 months.
That makes turnover in the SEC look like amateur hour by comparison.
If you'll recall, USC (Clay Helton), Washington State (Nick Rolovich) and Washington (Jimmy Lake) all dismissed their head coaches, for various reasons, during the 2021 season. As soon as it ended, Oregon lost Mario Cristobal.
The plot repeated this fall, with Arizona State (Herm Edwards) and Colorado (Karl Dorrell) making in-season changes and Shaw stepping down after the Cardinal's finale.
Could the Pac-12 experience additional coaching turnover this winter? It seems unlikely. But after the past 15 months, nothing would surprise us.
Here's an assessment of the coaching situations across the conference, now and in the near future.
Coach: Jedd Fisch
State of affairs: If Fisch's first season (1-11) was a tad underwhelming, his second was exactly what would be expected of a program on the rise. The Wildcats won five games, beat their rival (Arizona State) and recorded a signature victory (at UCLA). Fisch's swift rebuild comes courtesy of the transfer portal, which has accelerated roster overhauls everywhere. Expectations of a bowl berth will define the next 12 months and increase the pressure. But hey, that's better than the alternative.
Chance of a vacancy: None. But a year from now — if the Wildcats are sitting on seven or eight wins — Fisch's phone might start ringing.
Coach: Kenny Dillingham
State of affairs: Dillingham has been on the job for two days, so we'll refrain from offering a critique of his performance. The challenges are easier to address: He must convince key players to stay, assemble the best staff possible, make optimal use of the transfer portal and lay a foundation for in-state recruiting. And at that point, maybe Dillingham can take an hour off to celebrate Christmas with his family. So much of ASU's immediate future depends on the severity of NCAA sanctions.
Chance of a vacancy: None. Unless an off-the-field transgression surfaces, Dillingham has at least four years to prove himself.
Coach: Justin Wilcox
State of affairs: Dreary. The Bears haven't regained their pre-COVID momentum and, in fact, are regressing. Wilcox received a contract extension last winter (through 2028) and isn't in any danger of dismissal. Nor is there a pool of quality candidates who would be as accepting as Wilcox of the unique institutional dynamics and resource limitations. Cal is a tough job that gets tougher by the year as the terrain shifts rapidly. That said, Wilcox can't make another mistake with the offensive coordinator position.
Chance of a vacancy: 1%. We don't foresee Wilcox leaving for another job. But Cal being Cal, you never know when the next bureaucratic frustration might be the last he's willing to tolerate.
State of affairs: The Buffaloes have been in search mode since dispatching Dorrell two months ago. Deion Sanders confirmed reports that he has been offered the job, and perhaps he's seriously considering the position. However it ends, the offer shows the extent to which CU wants someone capable of elevating the program's profile. Sanders coaches Jackson State (FCS) and has a game this weekend. If he doesn't accept the offer, the Buffaloes must pivot quickly to name a coach before the transfer portal opens Dec. 5.
Chance of a vacancy: 100%. Whether it's Sanders or someone else, the Buffs need a coach with high energy and a desire to engage the community — the anti-Dorrell, in other words.
Coach: Dan Lanning
State of affairs: Years of elite recruiting and program investment put the Ducks in win-now mode when Cristobal bolted for Miami, except they hired a first-time head coach who would have to learn on the job. Those growing pains were evident in the season-opening loss to Georgia and in stretch-run collapses against Washington and Oregon State. Lanning isn't going anywhere, but he must make a smart hire with his offensive playcaller (to replace Dillingham) and take a hard look at the defense, which did not play to its potential.
Chance of a vacancy: 0%. But if Lanning wins at a high level for several years, the SEC will come calling.
Coach: Jonathan Smith
State of affairs: In a word: spectacular. The Beavers are 9-3 for the first time since 2012, produced a memorable victory over Oregon and will finish the season with a ranking next to their name. And they accomplished it all with second-tier quarterback play. If Smith fixes that position and maintains the proficiency at the other 21, watch out. His staff hires and recruiting evaluations have been sharp. More than anything, Smith has implemented a broad strategy for roster building and development that fits perfectly with what OSU has to offer.
Chance of a vacancy: 1%. We don't expect Smith to leave this winter. But eventually, a blueblood will swoop in with money OSU simply cannot match. And then what?
State of affairs: The timing of Shaw's departure was surprising. The decision itself? Only modestly so. Any separation with the winningest coach in school history had to be mutual, and Shaw apparently was willing to walk away. Now, an institution that seldom moves quickly must find a replacement rapidly, with the transfer portal opening Dec. 5 and numerous players considering their options.
Chance of a vacancy: 100%. The first call must be to Chris Petersen, whose views on college sports and program management are in line with Stanford's priorities. If Petersen isn't interested, the Cardinal needs the 2022 equivalent of Jim Harbaugh (circa 2006): Someone with ambition, energy and a willingness to turn Stanford's weaknesses into strengths.
Coach: Chip Kelly
State of affairs: The Bruins had a schedule made for eight wins and topped that number by one to secure their best season of the Kelly era. Is the foundation in place for consistent success and annual top-25 rankings? We aren't convinced — not without proof that the defense can hold quality opponents under 35 points and the quarterback position will remain efficient without Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Years without a conference title: 24 and counting.
Chance of a vacancy: 2%. Kelly's contract extension, signed last winter, was school-friendly. If a suitor comes calling — granted, that seems highly unlikely — we have no doubt that he would listen.
Coach: Lincoln Riley
State of affairs: It's difficult to imagine a better start to the Riley era, what with a playoff berth in reach and a Heisman Trophy awaiting quarterback Caleb Williams. And make no mistake: USC's success has helped elevate the Pac-12's profile, regardless of the school's 2024 departure. (College football on the West Coast is more entertaining and more relevant when USC is elite.) From here, Riley's greatest offseason challenge might be on the staffing front, if defensive coordinator Alex Grinch takes a head coaching job. The carousel has several spins remaining.
Chance of a vacancy: None. But check back in two or three years. You never know which NFL jobs will come open.
Coach: Kyle Whittingham
State of affairs: Glorious, now and forever. OK, maybe not forever, but for as long as Whittingham remains in charge. The Utes have won at least nine games in seven of the past eight seasons (2020 excluded) and are playing for the conference title for the fourth time in the past five years. They are the model program for every Pac-12 school not named USC or supported by Phil Knight.
Chance of a vacancy: 1%. At some point, the 63-year-old Whittingham will retire. Granted, that point could be years away. But the Hotline plans to take the 1% approach every season, just to cover our bases.
Coach: Kalen DeBoer
State of affairs: As the Hotline opined previously, DeBoer was the best under-the-radar hire in the country last winter and a stark contrast to the model used by a certain school five hours south. Of course, the Huskies have already reworked his deal with an extra $1 million annually and two seasons tacked on. That should suffice for the present, especially with Nebraska and Wisconsin having filled their vacancies.
Chance of a vacancy: None. Eventually, UW will have to open the vault to keep DeBoer away from a deep-pocketed Big Ten suitor. And then we'll know if president Ana Mari Cauce is truly committed to football.
Coach: Jake Dickert
State of affairs: That WSU was able to endure the back-to-back disruptions caused by COVID (2020) and Rolovich's dismissal (2021) without a setback speaks to the foundation in place and steadfast support of the administration. The main area of concern is the offensive line, which has regressed in the post-Mike Leach era and must be fortified. Otherwise, the Cougars, much like Oregon State, are thriving in the resource-maximization game.
Chance of a vacancy: None. As Dickert told the Hotline last spring: "I'm forever indebted to Washington State. They're going to have to pry my ass out of here."