In the brief time since Arizona beat the Oregon Ducks 42-16, Pac-12 football has continued to shift seismically. It’s not what-have-you-done-lately, it’s what-have-you-done-today.
Cal accepted an $18 million deal to re-name Memorial Stadium; Arizona State paid coach Todd Graham more than $800,000 in bonuses; Colorado regents approved $143 million of football facility improvements; UCLA boosted coach Jim Mora’s salary to almost $3 million a year; Washington then made Chris Petersen the league’s highest-paid coach.
ESPN analyst Desmond Howard said Petersen “is going to take Washington to another level.”
That is wildly off-target. The Huskies are going to struggle just to stay the same. Moving up? Who’s going to move down?
The Pac-12 now has nine franchise-type coaches, maybe 10 once Utah’s Kyle Whittingham has another year or two to recruit Pac-12 level players. Every school has a Big Name Coach except Cal and Colorado. Every school except Colorado, UCLA and ASU have state-of-the-industry facilities, and all will soon begin the bricks-and-mortar process of keeping up.
It’s mind-blowing to think that 10 years ago, Washington State was coming off of two Rose Bowl appearances, three 10-win seasons and was a powerful face of Pac-10 football.
Do you know how that happened? It happened because USC hired Pitt retread Paul Hackett to coach the Trojans and because UCLA, hurting financially, hired uninspiring Bob Toledo and then career assistant coach Karl Dorrell to coach the Bruins.
All were cheap hires.
It was an era when Cal’s athletic director, Steve Gladstone, had been the school’s crew coach with no background in high finance. It was a time when Stanford counted its pennies and hired Buddy Teevens, whose top qualification was that he coached Tulane. And ultimately, it was period in which Wazzu was fully unprepared to replace Rose Bowl coach Mike Price, choosing to stay in-house and hire Bill Doba, an old-school defensive coach, who blew up the Cougars’ program and put them in a 10-year death spiral.
The day is long gone that someone with the background of Toledo and Doba would even get an interview to coach a Pac-12 football team.
Now it’s all flash and cash.
You won’t see a Pac-12 school hiring a volleyball coach as its AD, as ASU did with Lisa Love eight years ago. You’ll see Colorado hiring Rick George, COO of baseball’s Texas Rangers, to run the school’s athletic affairs.
When Arizona joined the Pac-10 in 1978, the Oregon schools didn’t have 10 cents to spend. Cal and Stanford were playing in facilities from the Marx Brothers days and bumped along in neutral. UCLA, with no money and no buzz, began a 25-year period under Terry Donahue in which the Bruins never quite got over the hump, or fully tapped into their recruiting resources.
Now, all these years later, Pac-12 football has become a pseudo-NFL. Every school is all-in. When USC hires Steve Sarkisian and gives him the funds to hire an all-star staff, it barely merits a yawn in Corvallis, Ore., and in Tucson. It’s just another day at the office.
The Road to the Rose Bowl has always been hugely difficult. Now it’s harder.