Dennis Erickson and Rick Neuheisel are almost out the door at Arizona St. UCLA, respectively. Almost, as in they will both be gone after coaching one more game.
After an impressive 6-2 start to the season, the Sun Devils dropped 4 straight games, including the Territorial Cup on their own field, and as a result, the Pac-12 South Division Championship that seemed to be a sure thing at the end of October. As a result, Athletic Director Lisa Love announced that Erickson will coach Arizona St. in their bowl game, and then begin to look for work. Erickson, 64, said he want's to coach again, dismissing speculation that he might just retire.
Erickson had a career record of 148-65-1 in his 18 years as a college coach, and had posted 9 win seasons at 5 different schools, including Oregon St., when he arrived in Tempe in 2007. And in his first year, Erickson posted a 10-3 record, which upped his count of schools he had led to at least 9 wins to 6, and earned him Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors. Erickson is one of only 3 coaches, along with Washington's Don James and USC's Pete Carroll, to ever be named Coach of the Year in the Conference 3 times.
But despite an 8-0 start, Arizona St. lost 3 of their last 5 games that year, and Erickson has not won more than 6 games in a year since. His record with the Sun Devils stands at 31-30, and unless he wins whatever bowl game Arizona St. gets to, very probably the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, he will wind up as just a .500 coach in the desert, which was not sufficient in a market dominated by pro teams, and pro expectations.The situation is even more curious in Westwood, where Neuheisel will coach the Bruins this Friday, in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game in Eugene against Oregon, but will then be replaced by offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Mike Johnson as the interim head coach, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero announced.
Guerrero clarified that should the Bruins make it to a bowl game, it will be Johnson that coaches the team, even if its the Rose Bowl. UCLA is a 30 point underdog against the Ducks, but an epic upset would in fact send the Bruins into a home game in Pasadena.
Guerrero explained that the short week's preparation, which Neuheisel and his staff were already working on, was the reason the coaching change will wait until this weekend to actually happen.
It was also clarified that UCLA has appealed to the NCAA for a waiver to participate in a bowl should they lost Friday, which would leave them with a 6-7 record, despite being the "official" Pac-12 South Division Champion even though they lost to USC 50-0 Saturday night, since USC is serving the second and last year of their post-season ban as a result of NCAA sanctions involving the Reggie Bush agent wanna be affair.
Despite making the Conference Championship, and possibly a bowl game, Neuheisel, a UCLA alum, was "relieved of his duties". or more accurately advised that he will be soon, in part because of the 50 point loss to the Trojans, which was the fourth lopsided loss by multiple scores to USC in his 4 years at UCLA. It was also the 5th. loss by 4 scores or more this season, which upset Bruin faithful more than the wins encouraged them.
Erickson's and Neuheisel's departures raised the number of coaching changes in the Conference this season to 3, with Arizona ahead of the curve, after firing Mike Stoops mid season, and hiring Rich Rodriguez last week.
With Urban Meyer officially announced today as the new head coach at Ohio St., the Bruins can stop
dreaming deluding themselves about getting Meyer to come to Westwood.
Guerrero announced a national search has commenced, but facilities shortcomings and other challenges won't make UCLA as attractive a destination as some other jobs that have opened up nationally. Boise St.'s Chris Petersen will be Guerrero's first target, with a trip to Boise on his itinerary.
Houston coach Kevin Sumlin is a popular topic of conservation everywhere there is an opening, but it could be a while before he's available for official negotiations, with the Cougars, the only other undefeated team in the country besides, and one of many that beat UCLA, potentially headed for a BCS Bowl game if they successfully navigate the Conference USA Championship Game Saturday against Southern Miss.
Mike Leach has been rumored as a candidate for both the Arizona St. and UCLA jobs, but Leach has not been mentioned by those actually connected with the UCLA search. Leach would be an attractive option as far as selling tickets in Phoenix, where the Sun Devils have had a hard time filling seats even when they were winning.
Leach is also in the rumor mill, as well as having been in town, up in Pullman as well, where Paul Wulff hasn't been released or retained as the Washington St. coach after 4 losing years. The Cougars have posted improved records each of the last 2 years, but that only meant moving up from 1 win to 3, and this year 4. And after starting out 2-0, and 3-1, losing 7 of their last 8 wasn't the finish to the season WSU fans or their administration was expecting.
Athletic Director Bill Moos was expected to announce a decision about Wulff either Sunday or Monday, but still hasn't committed one way or another. That's a pretty good indication that Moos is having discussions with one or more potential replacements when he isn't meeting with Wulff, but hasn't gotten a commitment yet, and isn't going to send Wulff, a WSU alum, away until he has a replacement that he believes is an improvement secured.
The openings elsewhere in the conference, and across the country, including Penn St., Kansas, and Illinois, almost all of which qualify as more attractive than Pullman, give high profile coaching candidates options, and therefore, leverage. At the same time, an $80 million upgrade to facilities project puts pressure on Moos to cut other costs, and still sell seats. A somewhat contradictory set of objectives in the NCAA coaching derby.
Moos now has a press conference scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at 2 PM, to "discuss the future of Cougar football."
One place where there apparently won't even be a change of assistants is Corvallis, where Oregon St. coach Mike Riley has said he will "take a hard look at everything," but then immediately backtracked, stating he won't even consider any staff changes, after the Beavers floundered to a 3-9 mark, their worst in 15 years.
How the current ineptness of the Oregon St. offense and defense will be improved in the face of 3 or 4 more aggressive new coaches coming into the conference without change wasn't something Riley had an explanation of.
And it isn't just coaches that are being ousted. Oregon will be losing President Richard Lariviere on Dec. 28, before he even gets to go with his team to the Rose Bowl.
After 2 1/2 years of moves to stabilize and enhance funding and staffing in Eugene, Oregon University System Chancellor George Pernsteiner last week recommended that Leriviere's contract not be renewed after the current academic year, due to Laiviere's having taken proposals to the state Legislature designed to create endowed funding for faculty positions. A vote was scheduled for tomorrow.
After enraged University of Oregon faculty, staff, students, and boosters voiced support for Laiviere during Saturday's Civil War, and Ducks coach Chip Kelly voiced support for Laiviere, the vote was moved up to today, and the Oregon State Board of Higher Education voted unanimously to oust Laiviere at the end of the year.
This power struggle could change the face of the Pac-12 more than any coaching change, depending on how Phil Knight, who, like essentially everyone, is also more than a little upset with Pernsteiner, responds.
Stay tuned for further developments on all of these job openings, as "silly season" shifts into high gear.