Do you know what's definitely easy to objectively evaluate due to its simplicity? College football coaches! It's not like their success is dependent on a number of factors like academic requirements, fanbase expectations, and program history!
Athlon Sports decided to undertake this super easy task, considering a multitude of factors other than simply wins and losses. And, thing were less than good for the California Golden Bears...
11. Sonny Dykes, California
Record at California: 6-18 (2 years)
Career Record: 28-33 (5 years)
The depth of the Pac-12's coaching prowess is on full display when Sonny Dykes ranks as the No. 11 coach on this list. After a successful 22-15 stint at Louisiana Tech from 2010-12, Dykes is 6-18 in two seasons at California. The Golden Bears went 1-11 in 2013, but showed marked improvement last fall. California finished 5-7 overall and lost four games by eight points or less. Dykes has this program trending in the right direction, and the offense should be among the nation's best in 2015. If Dykes can solve the defensive woes, California will make a bowl game this year.
Although they use the qualifier that the Pac-12 boasts a deep crew of coaches, being deemed second-to-worst seems excessively harsh. But, while we're all pleased with the progress Dykes has done to instill a culture of accountability and academics at Cal, it became pretty difficult to find a higher-ranked coach whom I'd put below Dykes right now.
I put David Shaw and Mark Helfrich in the same group—both fairly early in their head-coaching career and fortunate enough to have inherited riches from their respective predecessor. For the most part, they'll be considered successes if they can just keep their programs from imploding and neither has yet to prove their ability to surpass the work set by their former boss.
Coaches Mike Leach and Chris Petersen have yet to be a force in the Pac-12, but came into the conference with rich histories of success, which warrants high rankings on this list. In particular, Petersen deserves recognition for his ability to coach up less-heralded players and boasts double-digit wins in each of his first season (but like Shaw and Helfrich, he owes part of that success to his Boise State predecessor, Dan Hawkins); Leach is one of the innovators of the Air Raid offense that's sweeping the sport, which definitely factors hugely into his rank. Kyle Whittingham is in a similar spot as these two, but had a great season last year with wins over Stanfurd, USC, and UC Los Angeles; if he can continue this trend, then he'll only move up the list.
In my always-correct opinion, the coaches who have the weakest cases for being ranked above Dykes is Jim Mora and Steve Sarkisian. Ignoring his NFL coaching career, Mora has undeniably had great success with the Bruins, winning nearly 75% of his games; however, you could argue that despite struggling to get wins, Rick Neuheisel was always able to get great talent to UC Los Angeles, thanks in part to their brand value. Furthermore, it's still fairly early in Mora's college career, which makes me reluctant to conclude that he's a great coach. As for their cross-town rival, Sarkisian still has yet to shake his reputation as Seven-Win Sark (43 wins over 6 years is literally 7.2 wins/year); while his first year at USC was hindered by scholarship restrictions, it'll always be easy to recruit kids to be Trojans. Despite all this, it's still pretty tough to rank them below Dykes, who's also pretty young in his career and below the mark of 7 wins per year mark, let alone 9 wins per year.
Ranking coaches in an impossible chore. It's far too easy to just fall back and use win-loss record as your sole criterion and it only gets more complicated to factor in the cachet of the coach's university and program expectations. None of us know each of the twelve coaches well enough to know how they go about their business, recruit players, and hone talent. As Cal fans, it's easy for us to say Dykes deserves credit for intangible success like improving academic commitment, but we don't all know the fine details of the other coaches and it's difficult to stay unbiased in our analysis as fans and alumni. Hearing the label of "11th-best coach" causes a knee-jerk reaction of saying that's too low, but when you sit down and try to evaluate each coach, it's hard to make a case for Dykes when the conference is so loaded with talent.