Rating The New PAC-12 Football Head Coaches – Who Stands Out?

With the 2022 football season on the horizon, this is an excellent time to look at the new coaches in the conference and see what they have been up to. With that, we should get an idea of which programs were winners and which were losers in the quests to improve their programs.

For this study, I will use algorithms and trend projections from my Savvy Index and use that data to assign a rating in four areas for each new coach. The ratings will be “5” for the best and “1” for the very least.

To further simplify things, I’ll bundle the various data into head coaching history, hiring of an offensive coordinator, hiring of a defensive coordinator, and how well they have done with recruiting so far. Then, I will add up the values of those categories to reach an overall rating which will appear right below each coach’s name.

Jake Dickert – Washington State

Overall grade of this hiring: 12 (less than average)

Head coaching resume: grade 2.5

Dickert took over the WSU head coaching job midway through the 2021 season, and the Cougar players responded with an immediate “bump” upward that we often see with coaching changes.

Although Dickert only won three of his six regular season games, it was enough for Cougar admins to remove the “interim” tag and name him full-time head coach. A month later, the Cougars lost to Central Michigan in the Sun Bowl, and Dickert is now 3-4 as a head FBS coach.

With just six games as a head coach and a 3-4 record, his head coaching history, and his win-loss percentage are both less than average.

Offensive coordinator hire: grade 4

Dickert brought in Eric Morris to run his offense, and Morris is more than capable of putting big numbers on the scoreboard. He is familiar with WSU because he was the wide receivers coach at WSU in 2012.

From 2013 to 1017, Morris built a terrific offense at Texas Tech, one that was second in the nation in 2015 for yardage and scoring behind 4683 passing yards by Patrick Mahomes.

Morris left Tech in 2018 to become head coach at Incarnate Word (San Antonio), where he was 24-18 and in the playoffs in all three seasons. One day after being announced as WSU’s offensive coordinator, Incarnate Word All-American quarterback Cameron Ward entered the transfer portal and followed Morris to The Palouse.

Although Morris has no experience in an elite program, this hire is a good hire.

Defensive coordinator hire: grade 2.5

On the defensive side, Brian Ward has been a defensive college football coach for 25 years but only the past six years at the FBS level. His FBS experience began with one brilliant year as defensive coordinator at Bowling Green before he followed Dino Babers to Syracuse, where he had one good year before Babers fired him in 2019 in an effort to keep his own job.

From there, Ward went to Nevada, but, unlike Nevada’s offensive coordinator, Ward was not retained by head coach Mike Norvell when Norvell became head coach at Colorado State.

With just two FBS jobs and neither ending voluntarily, Ward’s experience is less than average. The defense has been the Achilles Heel for this Cougar program, and I believe better candidates were available.

Recruiting trends: grade 2.5

Experience tells me that I should not overlook negative recruiting trends that are already showing in my Savvy Index analytics. Yes, it is early, but history shows that most of the time, early recruiting trends are good indicators of how well a new coaching staff will recruit over the long term. 

Former WSU coach Nich Rolovich is a good example. He made an immediate impact on WSU’s recruitment of higher-rated players right from the start, and he continued that in the entire recruiting cycle that followed.

Downward recruiting trends are especially troubling when compounded with the issue that the coaching trio of Dickert, Morris, and Ward have very little west coast or power five experience.

Kalen DeBoer – Washington

Overall grade of this hiring: 14.5 (better than average)

Head coaching resume: grade 3.5

New coach Kalen DeBoer has proven he knows how to win games, build programs, and improve recruiting. He has no history in elite programs, but the job he did in two seasons at Fresno State was magnificent. Can he do it in his first stint in a power five conference with only two years as an FBS head coach? It would be a shock if he didn’t increase UW from four wins to six. If his history in FBS was longer, his rating would be higher.

Offensive coordinator hire: grade 3

DeBoer brought Ryan Grubb with him from Fresno State after four seasons as the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator. Although results were inconsistent, FSU’s pass-happy offense was generally effective.

When Grubb accepted the UW position, his quarterback at Fresno State, Jake Haener (former Washington Husky), announced his intention to transfer back to Washington. However, Grubb lured Michael Penix Jr., a player Grubb had pursued while at Indiana; Haener canceled his Seattle plans.

Grubb’s offense passed more than 500 times last season. That won’t work well with UW quarterbacks throwing more interceptions than touchdowns last year while Penix was leading Indiana to the ninth worst interception performance in all of FBS, so Grubb has his work cut out for him.

Defensive coordinator hire: grade 4

DeBoer also brought his defensive coordinator William Inge with him from Fresno State. Inge has been a defensive coordinator for 11 seasons, and in each of his two seasons at FSU, he brought the defensive points per game down.

Recruiting trends: grade 4

Washington’s prestige among recruits has been dropping since former head coach Chris Petersen left the program. However, Kalen DeBoer produced one of the highest up-trending recruiting profiles in the nation while he was at Fresno State. Now that he has his top two assistants with him, expect UW recruiting to prosper.

Lincoln Riley – USC

Overall grade of this hiring: 15.5 (excellent)

Head coaching resume: grade 4.5

I know I’ll hear about Savvy Index rating Lincoln Riley 4.5 instead of a perfect five, but I also see why the algorithms are suppressing things.

Yes, Riley won 55 out of 65 games as head coach at Oklahoma, but after inheriting Bob Stoops’s roster in 2017 and taking it to three successive 12-win seasons, he never hit 12 wins again using his own players. And after winning three straight Big 12 titles through 2019, he never won another. In fact, last season, his bandwagoners finished third.

Offensive coordinator hire: grade 2

Why would any coach who is taking over a legendary power five program like USC hire an offensive coordinator who has only brief OC experience and none in the past six seasons? One would think Riley could choose from dozens of high-profile and highly proven offensive coordinators. Yet, he hired Josh Henson, who had a short time as offensive coordinator at Missouri but has spent the past six seasons with two other programs that hired him as offensive line coach and never promoted him to coordinator. This hire by Riley is concerning and worth watching.

Defensive coordinator hire: grade 4

Alex Grinch became somewhat of a defensive hero at Washington State from 2015-2017 with his stunting and chaotic defensive schemes. He was so successful that Ohio State hired him as co-defensive coordinator in 2018, but his time as a Buckeye lasted less than one year. Lincoln Riley then hired him to Oklahoma, where Grinch has done well.

Recruiting trends: grade 5

Although the star ratings of Riley’s recruits at Oklahoma were widely inconsistent, his overall effort was much better than his predecessor Bob Stoops. He did a magnificent job with not only saving high school recruits during USC’s coaching transition, but he increased USC’s position and raided the transfer portal to bring in last year’s Biletnikoff winner in wide receiver Jordan Addison of Pitt, to go with his starting quarterback Caleb Williams who won several freshman of the year awards after completing his first year at Oklahoma.

There is no question that the talent will be there, and this first year will burst upward in Trojan success and fan excitement. The question I have is how long it will last.

Dan Lanning – Oregon

Overall grade of this hiring: 16.5 (superior)

Head coaching resume: grade 3

Although Dan Lanning has never been a college head coach, the Savvy system incorporates how much experience a new coach has as a coordinator with elite programs. Lanning has more than is needed to have the highest rated non-head coach resume rating in the past eight years. Head coaches with no HC experience and only three as a coordinator have almost never been ranked higher than 2.5, but Lanning is worthy of breaking that tradition.

And, of course, we all know why.

He was hired as defensive coordinator at Georgia in 2019 and instantly reduced the Bulldog’s defensive points per game from 19 to just 12. Last year, it was just 10 points per game.

And lest I forget: Georgia won the 2021national championship.

Offensive coordinator hire: grade 3.5

Lanning hired two offensive coordinators. (Sorry, Dan, but that won’t double your rating here.) I will rate just Kenny Dillingham because he has the most experience as an OC and because he is the coach who brought new quarterback Bo Nix from Auburn.

Dillingham was hired by Mike Norvell to run the offense at Memphis, where he met Lanning. When Norvell accepted a new position at Florida State, Dillingham opted for a one-year sentence at Camp Chaos, aka Auburn. After a year of good behavior, Dillingham rejoined Norvell at Florida State before now rejoining Lanning at Oregon.

Dillingham has plenty of experience and no evidence of red flags in his offensive leadership. After watching their Ducks waddle in boredom under Mario Cristobal, fans will rejoice that Oregon’s speed will again be on full, national display.

This is a good hire, but Dillinham’s resume’ is not yet spectacular.

Defensive coordinator hire: grade 5

Hiring Tosh Lupoi as defensive coordinator is an outright home run by Lanning. He has six years as a defensive coach in the PAC-12 and four years in the Alabama program, with the last two years as the Crimson Tide defensive coordinator. While at Alabama, none of his defensive teams allowed an average of more than 19 points per game.

After Tuscaloosa, Lupoi opted for the NFL, where he has spent the past three seasons.

Only once in the past eight seasons has Oregon had a competitive defense with the big boys. With defensive guru Dan Lanning as head coach and Tosh Lupoi as defensive coordinator, things will change dynamically and quickly.

Recruiting trends: grade 5

We all know how well Cristobal and his staff recruited and how Oregon’s recruiting prestige increased immensely. This may seem hard to believe, but Savvy metrics point to Lanning and his crew putting the Cristobal results so far in the rearview mirror as not to be seen.

One of the Savvy algorithms for recruiting analyzes how much a team’s profile changes from one season to the next and over four seasons in all. The average change in recruiting from year to the next is about four-tenths of a point up or down.

Lanning’s first-year up-tick was an astonishing 2.16!

And that’s going against a recruiting history that was already among the nation’s best.

When you put it all together, the hiring of Dan Lanning and his subsequent hiring of coordinators is truly spectacular and is Savvy-rated as the best in the PAC-12 this year.

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About Bobby Albrant 135 Articles
Bobby Albrant is a former journalism major at the University of Oregon, creator of Savvygameline.com for college football predictions and rankings, former analyst for Southern Mississippi football games, and twenty years coaching girls basketball for all ages through CIF high school. He has three grown children with his youngest daughter playing on the Ventura (Ca) High School basketball team that defeated Dom Lugo High School and was the last high school game ever played by Diana Taurasi. He can be reached at bobbywildcat@gmail.com.