Arizona and ASU used different strategies to find Dick Tomey and Bruce Synder.
Photo by Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Wildcats need a new football coach. Where have Pac-12 schools been finding their coaches and what does it tell us about where the UA should be looking?

Preseason is the best time of year for fans of most teams because everyone’s undefeated. Using that logic, the start of a coaching search may be the absolute peak of sports enthusiasm because every potential coach is in play. No one has said no yet.

At Arizona the question always comes up: Why can’t they just hire the Lute Olson of football? Why can’t the Cats find a good coach from an area with bad winters and get him to come to Tucson?

Putting aside the historic differences between the UA football and basketball programs, that kind of move doesn’t happen very often in this part of the country. If you don’t count Lane Kiffin’s 13 games at Tennessee, the last time someone in the Pac-12 hired an active head football coach from another BCS-level program was when Stanford lured Walt Harris from Pitt in 2005, and that was a leave-before-they-fire-me move a la Herb Sendek at NC State.

Before that you have to go back to Washington hiring Rick Neuheisel from Colorado in 1999 and then all the way back to Arizona State convincing Bruce Synder to jump from Cal in 1992. So two full decades of Pac-12 coaching hires and only three were lateral moves. Where have all the other coaches come from?

Here is the list of where each school looked for its last couple football coaches (and I went all the way back to the start of the Pac-10 era for Arizona). If the coach was only at his previous job one year I included what he did the year before.

(But wait, there’s more! Keep reading to see how this should impact the Arizona coaching search.)

ARIZONA Mike Stoops DC (Oklahoma)
  John Mackovic Fired (Texas)
  Dick Tomey HC (Hawai’i)
  Larry Smith HC (Tulane)
  Tony Mason HC (Cincinnati)
ASU Dennis Erickson HC (Idaho), Fired (NFL)
  Dirk Koetter HC (Boise St.)
  Bruce Synder HC (Cal)
CAL Jeff Tedford OC (Oregon)
  Tom Holmoe DC (promoted)
  Dan Hawkins HC (Boise St.)
OREGON Chip Kelly OC (promoted)
  Mike Bellotti OC (promoted)
OSU Mike Riley Asst (NFL), Fired (NFL)
  Dennis Erickson Fired (NFL)
  Mike Riley OC (USC)
STANFORD David Shaw OC (promoted)
  Jim Harbaugh HC (San Diego)
UCLA Rick Neuheisel OC (NFL)
  Karl Dorrell WR (NFL)
USC Lane Kiffin HC (Tenn.), Fired (NFL)
  Pete Carroll Fired NFL HC
UTAH Kyle Whittingham DC (promoted)
  Urban Meyer HC (Bowling Green)
WASHINGTON Steve Sarkisian OC (USC)
  Ty Willingham Fired Notre Dame
WSU Paul Wulff HC (E. Wash.)
  Bill Doba DC (promoted)

HC = head coach, OC = offensive coordinator, DC = defensive coordinator, Asst = assistant coach, TE = tight ends coach, WR = wide receivers coach

The Neuheisel situation was unique in that he had been fired at Washington before ending up as an assistant in the NFL.

What can we learn from the recent Pac-12 hires? Oregon likes to promote its offensive coordinator. USC likes fired NFL coaches. Oregon State really likes Mike Riley.

For Arizona, the last two hires were a departure from the strategy used to find the UA’s previous coaches in the Pac-10 era.

Each of the Pac-12’s hires can be divided into the following categories:

Winning head coach from a smaller conference
Successes: Dick Tomey, Larry Smith, Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer
Failures: Tony Mason, Dirk Koetter, Dan Hawkins
Candidates: Chris Petersen, Boise State; Kevin Sumlin, Houston; Troy Calhoun, Air Force; Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette

(By the way, players get knocked for being “system quarterbacks” when they put up huge numbers in pass-happy offenses. Maybe Boise State produces “system coaches.”)

Winning former head coach
a. Fired from college
Successes: none
Failures: John Mackovic, Ty Willingham
Candidates: Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez

b. Fired from the NFL
Successes: Pete Carroll, Dennis Erickson, Mike Riley
Failures: none
Candidates: Jeff Fisher

c. Retired from college
Successes: none
Failures: none
Candidates: Mike Bellotti

Assistant from winning BCS program
Successes: Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly, Jeff Tedford
Failures: Tom Holmoe, Bill Doba
Candidates: Gus Malzahn, Auburn OC; Jim McElwain, Alabama OC; Paul Chryst, Wisconsin OC

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After the last two Arizona hires my preference is for an experienced college head coach, someone used to running his own program so he can get right to building instead of having to learn how to build.

Since we’re talking ideals, it would be a huge plus if the new guy dreams of coaching in the Pac-12. Mackovic had been fired from the NFL and the Big 12 and he wasn’t even coaching. Stoops played in the Big Ten and coached in the Big 12. The Cats need someone who loves the West, respects the Pac-12, and yearns for the Rose Bowl.

Greg Byrne was a Pac-10 guy who left a good job to get to the region he loves. Now he needs to find a winning football coach willing to do the same.

Lute Olson would approve.

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Scott Terrell is an ideological kind of guy. Dream big on Twitter and Facebook.