Rating Pac-12 coaches' job security

We are about to type that Oregon State coach Mike Riley is on the hot seat. It feels strange, but it is true. And that tells you a lot about being a college coach in an automatic qualifying conference.

Life is good, until it isn't. You make millions, but the put-up or get-out window has been reduced from five to three-to-four years. You win, win, win, win, lose, lose, and you're on the hot seat. Way it goes.

So where do the Pac-12 coaches stand as we head into the bowl season?

Glad you asked (And, obviously, winning or losing a bowl game would affect these rankings).

We're going from most secure to least, and let's start with the three new guys (Arizona State isn't in this because it doesn't have a coach yet).

New hires

1. Mike Leach, Washington State: There seem to be exactly zero people who think Leach is a bad hire. The reaction in Pullman could be described as euphoric, but that sells it short. Still, there is pressure that comes with euphoria -- see that old "too high or too low" syndrome. Folks expect him to work miracles. To me, 6-6 or 7-5 would be a successful 2012 season. Get the feeling some Cougs expect to immediately take down Oregon.

2. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona: Folks in Tucson are reasonably juiced. Rich Rod is a heck of an offensive coach, and he's highly motivated to make sure folks see his ill-fated tenure at Michigan as an aberration. A lot of things are in place for Rodriguez to get the Wildcats back to a bowl game in year one. But, again, high expectations mean a 7-5 record -- a three-game turnaround -- might be met with a, "Meh. Stoops did that."

3. Jim Mora, UCLA: Mora's hiring hasn't been celebrated. In fact, it's been met with negative reaction among Bruins fans as well as the national media. Much of that reflects a lack of confidence in athletic director Dan Guerrero, but the negativity certainly won't help get the football program back on its feet. For Mora, he needs to understand the environment, remain pleasant and work his butt off to change it.

Returning coaches

1. Chip Kelly, Oregon: Kelly has won three consecutive conference titles and played for a national title. If he wins the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, he'll officially become the King of Eugene. The NCAA and Willie Lyles? We shall see, but we leave you with our word of the day: Teflon.

2. Kyle Whittingham, Utah: Seven years, seven winning records. His Utes nearly won that Pac-12 South Division without their starting QB. Sure, there jury is still out on whether the Utes can regularly win nine or 10 games in the Pac-12. But this jury looks favorably on it happening as long as Whittingham is around.

3. David Shaw, Stanford: You can write off an 11-1 year one as being brought to him by Lucky No. 12, but there was plenty of pressure on Shaw to win this year and he delivered. It seems almost certain the program will need to regroup next fall, and the measure will become truer thereafter. But Shaw is a Stanford man who is well-liked, and that will buy him more time than someone who is neither.

4. Lane Kiffin, USC: A 10-2 finish couldn't have come at a better time. It proved Kiffin can coach, and it seems there is a solid amount of sober realism around the program about what losing 30 scholarships over the next three seasons is going to mean. There will be some patience -- not a lot but some -- as sanctions tighten the screws. Further, Kiffin can help himself by continuing to be his new, mature and often surprisingly gracious self.

5. Steve Sarkisian, Washington: The Huskies took a step forward in 2011, as they did Sarkisian's first two seasons. Not a huge step but a notable one. Still, Huskies fans are eager to get back into the top-25 and the Pac-12 race. And they don't like seeing Oregon on top. Nine or 10 wins in 2012 will be the best way to keep the natives from showing any signs of restlessness.

6. Jeff Tedford, California: Tedford is actually in far better position now than he was on Oct. 29 after a bad loss to UCLA. And if the Bears beat Texas in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, there will be considerable offseason momentum. Cal looks like a potential factor in the 2012 North Division race, and playing in a renovated Memorial Stadium also will juice the fans. That said: A losing season -- or perhaps even a 6-6 one -- next fall would make his seat toasty.

7. Jon Embree, Colorado: A 3-10 finish doesn't make anyone happy, but it's best to post a 3-10 finish for your first season as a head coach. The reason Embree isn't on the bottom here is because it's unlikely, barring a complete collapse, that a bad 2012 season will get him fired. For one, the Buffs look to be mired in a rebuilding mode. It's possible next year's team will be worse than this year's, seeing they lose many of their best players.

8. Mike Riley, Oregon State: After the 2009 season, Riley was at or at least near the top of this list. But consecutive losing seasons, including a 3-9 faceplant this fall, have some Beavers fans believing they should and can do better. Oregon State has some young talent, and a return to a bowl game seems like a perfectly reasonable expectation in 2012. Another losing season, however, could put Riley's once-secure job status in jeopardy.