<
>

Mailbag: Coaching woes in Pac-12 South?

Happy Friday. Time for this week's mailbag.

Follow me on Twitter to submit questions for future mailbags. Or check out my Facebook page. You also can send old-school email at TedMillerESPN@gmail.com.

To the questions!

Peter from Auburn, Washington, writes: The program arcs of the Pac-12 South's 2011-12 coaching hires (Jim Mora/UCLA, Rich Rodriguez/Arizona, Todd Graham/Arizona State) seem remarkably similar. Each took over a losing team from 2011, turned the program around, peaking in a 2014 season in which all three won 10 games, then took a step back in 2015 before a 2016 season in which all three declined further, each missing a bowl game for the first time in his tenure. What do you think the likelihood is that their arcs remain the same, and if so, which direction might that be? How plausible is it that all three will be fired/resign by the end of 2017?

Ted Miller: It's notable that the program arcs are even more aligned than in your observations about the three coaches in question. Each of these three teams would be hiring its fifth head coach since 2000 if it made a change after the 2017 season.

Hmm. Extrapolate as you will on that factoid.

I'd be surprised if all three are fired/resign/leave at the end of the season. But I wouldn't be surprised if one of the three isn't back in 2018. In fact, my perhaps jaded expectation is that some turnover is likely among that troika, in large part because inhabiting the same division means that -- 2014 notwithstanding -- one's success probably comes at the others' expense.

That's the coaching profession. It's not easy to rebuild a struggling program, but it's far more difficult to sustain excellence, particularly when said program isn't a national brand name (think Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida State, USC, etc.).

What went wrong? Well, all three coaches could point to notable injury issues, but it's more than that.

Rich Rodriguez might be the best offensive coach in the nation, but the Wildcats' recruiting has fallen short. Jim Mora's fortunes took a downturn with schematic and staff issues. Todd Graham blends together those two problems but also has dug himself a hole with rhetorical flourishes that promised more than he delivered. Only Mora will be working this fall for the athletic director who hired him.

Arizona State and UCLA, on paper, look like they have the talent to turn things around this fall, though no one will pick either to eclipse USC in the South. The Sun Devils must get smarter on defense. The Bruins need a healthy, more mature Josh Rosen living up to his potential behind center. Arizona seems to have issues on both sides of the ball, though the Wildcats' improving offensive line is a foundation for hope.

The caveat we always offer up, however, to fan bases eager to see their coach fired is this: Be careful what you wish for. All three of these programs have longstanding patterns of moderate-to-impressive upticks, followed by increased expectations and then downturns that quickly douse any previous goodwill and immediately surround the program in negativity.

As Bonagura said in the obscure Shakespeare play "Dick Tomey, Bruce Snyder and Bob Toledo Send Their Regards," “O! beware, my message board denizens, of negativity; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

Peter (not from Auburn, Washington) writes: My one concern for bringing in fifth-year QBs is what what does for that school's recruiting of QBs out of high school. Would a top recruit still want to go and buy into the "development within the program" if that coach has a track record of just bringing in QBs? Transfers are already commonplace in NCAA if a QB is not named starter or a freshman phenom comes in and takes the starting spot from a sophomore. Why commit when you can just keep transferring and then end back up at Oregon for your fifth year?

Seems shortsighted to me, but NCAA coaches aren't given a lot of time to win.

Ted Miller: To me, the whole issue with transfers -- QBs or otherwise -- is the individual freedom to define oneself. That's a highfalutin way to say, "A young man should be able to do what he wants."

First off, keep in mind that with the issue of "graduate transfers" -- as opposed to regular transfers, who typically have to sit out a season -- the player must complete his degree before transferring. While many, not without justification, look at the process with some cynicism, supposedly a young man getting a college degree is a huge part of this whole "amateur," "college" football thing.

So mission accomplished.

Most players who find themselves No. 2 on the depth chart, at QB or another position, decide, "Well, that stinks, but I really like it here, my chances for an NFL career are remote and uprooting myself for a single season elsewhere at this point seems like a pain in the tookus."

A far smaller number of players think, "I really, really want to start. That's why I play college football, and I'll go anywhere to get that opportunity. I refuse to allow my NFL dream to die!"

Meanwhile, there are the players who must now compete with incoming transfers. To them, I offer up the world's smallest violin playing a sad song. If they had developed sufficiently within the program, then they'd look at the transfer as simply an upgrade to the depth behind them.

All those players need to do is work hard, compete like crazy and win the job, which is no different from what is expected of any other player on the team. A QB -- or any player, really -- who becomes publicly grumpy about increased competition and talent upgrades to his team should probably transfer to an FCS team, while perhaps also endlessly spooling Brando's "I coulda been a contender!" speech from "On the Waterfront."

Hector writes: Utah consistently sends players to the NFL. The Utes have proven they know how to develop "lesser" talent. What will it take for Utah to become a national powerhouse?

Ted Miller: Efficient, productive play at quarterback. References: 2004 and 2008.

See? I'm not always long-winded.