Mailbag: USC vs. Washington staffs

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
5:30
PM PT
Happy Friday.

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To the notes!

 




Don from Any place other than Pullman writes: Am I alone in feeling excited about Chris Petersen, but uninspired by his chosen staff? He doesn't seem to have hired anyone with significant Pac-12 experience. I'm concerned about their ability to recruit big-time athletes to UW and their level of preparedness of the weekly grind that they never experienced at BSU. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Ted Miller: Petersen brought most of his Boise State staff to Washington -- six of nine coaches -- which is what most head coaches do when they change jobs. For one, familiarity and loyalty are important among coaches, and Petersen surely believes that he's not the only reason the Broncos had such a long run of success.

Two guys who were not at Boise State last year, receivers coach Brent Pease and linebackers coach Jeff Choate, were at Florida in 2013 but had previously coached at Boise State. And there's one spot still open.

Meanwhile, former Washington coach and new USC coach Steve Sarkisian brought five coaches from his Huskies staff to USC, and they joined Clay Helton and Tee Martin, holdovers from Lane Kiffin's staff. Sarkisian then hired Tim Drevno away from the San Francisco 49ers to coach his offensive line.

Petersen, at least with only one void remaining, opted not to retain any of Sarkisian's assistants.

A few weeks back, we declared Washington the winner over USC in terms of the PR surrounding both head coaching hires. You could say that the second round of the PR battle between the programs goes to the Trojans, though this is obviously a superficial and subjective judgement.

In terms of general name-recognition and "prestige" hires, USC ended up ahead. This is a really, really good USC coaching staff, though I'm not sure Sarkisian wouldn't have been better off retaining defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

The big blow to Washington was losing Tuiasosopo, an all-time great Husky. When I wrote on Dec. 13 that he was expected to follow Sark, plenty of Washington fans called me an idiot because they thought Tuiasosopo, the Huskies' interim coach during the Rose Bowl, would take a job with Petersen. He could have -- he was offered the tight ends job -- but didn't.

Yet, Don, you are mistaken when you say these guys don't know the Pac-12 and won't be up to the grind. As noted, Pease and Choate were in the SEC this year, and plenty of Petersen's assistants have Pac-12 experience. Heck, DBs coach Jimmy Lake has coached DBs at Washington before.

Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith played quarterback at Oregon State, leading the Beavers to a Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame after the 2000 season. Linebacker coach Bob Gregory played at Washington State and was a successful defensive coordinator at California, and he also coached at Oregon and Washington State.

If you have faith in Petersen's head coaching skills, that would include having faith in his ability to evaluate coaches and assemble a staff.

Finally, it's all about what happens going forward, not PR victories. As we previously noted, the public relations and perception winner before either staff has coached a game or even recruited a player will be the least important victory either posts during their respective tenures.

 




Josh from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Was it just me or was the Rose Bowl a little hard to watch with David Shaw's stubborn play-calling? For someone so highly thought of in coaching circles, Shaw certainly didn't give his team much of a chance to win. I think your article about what Stanford can improveon is missing David Shaw reflecting on his play-calling decisions and playing big games too conservatively. Remember his play-calling in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago? Taking the ball out of the best QB in the nation's hands in the final drive? Will this affect the NFL's opinion of him?

Ted Miller: No, this will not affect the NFL's opinion of him. Nor will it affect most folks' opinion of Shaw. He's one of the nation's elite coaches. Know how we know this? He's 34-7 and has won consecutive Pac-12 titles.

Stanford has an identity, and sticking to that identity is a big reason for that 34 above. Why does Shaw keep calling power running plays, even when they are not working? Because that strategy in the past has helped get to that 34.

Now, this doesn't mean the Pac-12 blog is immune to the "I'm Smarter Than The Coach Syndrome?" No. Absolutely not. I've questioned Shaw's play-calling in tweets. I questioned the end of the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State. I've also questioned Chip Kelly's play-calling. Heck, I've questioned just about every coach I've covered.

Know why? Because it's part of my job to kibitz in areas where I'm a decided amateur, just as it is a prerogative of fans to do the same. It's part of the reason we watch the games, fantastically putting on the headset and immersing ourselves into the strategy of what works and doesn't work.

One of two things happen when a play is called: 1. It works; 2. It doesn't work. In the case of No. 2, folks often second-guess.

Let me give you an example. I didn't like Shaw's call on fourth-and-1 at the end of the Rose Bowl -- a dive for fullback Ryan Hewitt to the left side that was stopped for no gain. What would I have done? I would have said, "There's no way we drive methodically for a touchdown here." I would have run play-action and had QB Kevin Hogan look deep for the receiver who was not covered by Spartans all-world cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

And, if Shaw had done that, he would have been: 1. A genius if it worked; 2. A questionable play-caller who should have run power if it didn't.

Stanford was a very good, but imperfect team this year. Michigan State simply outplayed the Cardinal in the Rose Bowl.

 




Ben from Denver writes: What greater meaning for the Pac-12 do you see after the Rose Bowl loss? Was everyone delusional that the Pac-12 was so strong this year? Until yesterday, I assumed Stanford would win the Rose and that Oregon would have handily beaten Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, UCF and Baylor had they made the BCS cut, but now I really doubt it. Is Oregon Stanford's big game? They seemed to play at a higher level against the Ducks, but in many other games this year, and especially the Rose Bowl, they looked pedestrian. Is there something in the Midwest water that helps non-Badger quarterbacks have career games in the Rose? See Cooks/MSU and Pryor/OSU. Do you see the Rose Bowl loss leading to an overall lower expectation or ranking for the Pac-12 and thus a tougher road to a playoff spot next year?

Ted Miller: As I previously noted, Stanford's Rose Bowl loss served as more of a validation for how good Michigan State was than as potential ammunition to say that Stanford and the Pac-12 were overrated.

The reason folks thought the Pac-12 was good this year was because it went 28-8 against FBS foes in nonconference games and it was loaded with All-Americans and NFL prospects at nearly every position.

While fans and media inevitably read too much into bowl results, bowls often operate as a separate entity from the regular season -- see Texas Tech's inspired performance against a bizarrely uninterested Arizona State team.

The Big 12 champion, Baylor, got whipped by Central Florida. SEC superpower Alabama got whipped by an Oklahoma team that lost to Texas by 16 and Baylor by 29.

I don't think anything that happened in the bowls or this season will diminish the general perception that the Pac-12 probably remains the No. 2 football conference behind the SEC. I certainly don't think there will be any negative ramifications heading into 2014 and the first year of the College Football Playoff.

 




Tony from La Jolla, Calif., writes: I sure hope you've noticed how solid the Arizona recruiting effort has become after the easy win over a brutal BC squad in the Independence Bowl. After snatching Jalen Tabor from Bama and Jordan Poland from SC, surely this vaults Arizona into the top 10 nationally and to the very top of the Pac-12 for 2014 recruits. Still, however, the most important recruit still "unsigned" is a two-time consensus all-American that could be the final piece in a Pac-12 South championship, a spot in the title game, and an outside shot at making the Final Four. Things are great at Arizona now; it's time to jump on the bandwagon. If Carey stays, this team should be your pick to win the South (especially if Hundley and Mora leave UCLA.) What say you?

Ted Miller: I have noticed. Rich Rodriguez is making his big move, it appears.

ESPN.com currently ranks Arizona No. 16 in the nation and No. 1 in the Pac-12. It also interesting that the Wildcats good friends from up north, the Arizona State Sun Devils, are No. 18 and No. 2 in the Pac-12. That, to me, is both surprising and amusing. We have something else for these two fan bases to trade barbs about!

As for your "unsigned" recruit, I'd rate the odds remote that RB Ka'Deem Carey returns, and I'd personally strongly advise him to leave for the NFL draft. He has nothing left to accomplish at the college level and running backs have a short NFL shelf life. Even the best ones don't play into their 30s.

The bigger question for the Wildcats contending in the South next year is quarterback. Who's it going to be?

But after two years watching Rich Rod and QBs coach/co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith work wonders with Matt Scott and B.J. Denker, I'm thinking even modest expectations at the position would be pretty darn high.

So, yeah, I'm starting to see Arizona as a true South Division darkhorse.

 




Robert from Santa Clara, Calif., writes: So a friend and I are having an argument about the effects of Stanford's Rose Bowl loss. My friend Jason is arguing that "If Stanford won the Rose Bowl, some of the winning pot money is split among the Pac-12 and therefore Cal could get a small share."

Ted Miller: When Stanford lost the Rose Bowl, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour was handed a pot of gold by a leprechaun dressed head-to-toe in tie-dye pajamas, who proceeded to sing:
Nine mile skid on a ten mile ride,
Hot as a pistol but cool inside.
Cat on a tin roof, dogs in a bind,
Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.

Of course, while singing, said leprechaun did that back-and-forth swaying dance that frat guys do at jam-band concerts, one that the Pac-12 blog was last seen doing in 2004 in Seattle at a Drive-By Truckers show.

What we mean to say is that, win or lose, the Pac-12 got $17 million for the game, which is split equally among the conference programs.

Ted Miller | email

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