Share story

This month marks an anniversary of sorts, though supporters of the University of Washington probably weren’t breaking out party hats and noisemakers.

Twenty years ago, Aug. 22, 1993, was Black Sunday in these parts. It was the day that Washington administrators flipped a penalty from the Pac-10 Conference – choosing two years of a bowl ban and one of TV appearances instead of the reverse – prompting coach Don James to resign in protest.

It was a flashpoint day, and time, in UW history. It all happened with stunning swiftness.

Or maybe it felt that way, because things didn’t move at quite the turbocharged speed they do in 2013.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

If you don’t like what your favorite Pac-12 program is doing these days, no worries. Just break ground on a new football-ops palace or fire the coach.

When the ’13 season begins shortly, three new football coaches will be in place in the conference. That’s atop four the previous year. In the previous six years, there were no more than two coaching changes in any one season.

Think about the landscape 20 years ago. We can reasonably assume that absent the seismic events at Washington, James would have hung around for his 19th season with the Huskies.

He didn’t have a lot of tenure on some others in the league. Terry Donahue of UCLA was entering his 18th season, and Rich Brooks of Oregon was heading into his 17th. Dick Tomey of Arizona was midway through a 14-year run.

Today? If Oregon State’s Mike Riley suddenly decided to pack it off to his summer haunt in the Hill Country of south-central Texas, Washington’s Steve Sarkisian would be the dean of Pac-12 coaches at a wet-behind-the-ears five years (Utah’s Kyle Whittingham has put in eight, but only two in the Pac-12).

Forbearance seems such a bygone concept. Back in ’93, OSU’s Jerry Pettibone was starting year three of running the wishbone (such a quaint notion). The Beavers were indulgent enough to give him six years – six years of going 13-52-1.

Here’s how it is now: Paul Wulff of Washington State complained that it was no way to treat an old grad when he was cashiered after four seasons in 2011. Then Colorado’s Jon Embree, also a alumnus, got half that long before they ran him out. He had three conference wins in his two years, compared to Wulff’s one in his first two.

You can get rich coaching, if you can keep from getting fired. His last year on the job, James made about $470,000, all told. He was the greatest modern-era coach in school history. Twenty years later, UW assistant Tosh Lupoi – a position coach, not a coordinator – will earn only a little less, $416,000 annually, if he stays three seasons.

Mike Price, who would later take Washington State to two Rose Bowls, made $151,000 in 1993. You’d hope WSU’s Mike Leach, pulling down $2.25 million, would pick up the tab when they have dinner.

Mobility is nobility, apparently. It appears there’s more of a willingness to look nationwide for a coach than 20 years ago, when only James and Pettibone had come from outside. Leach (WSU), Sonny Dykes (California), Rich Rodriguez (Arizona) and Todd Graham (Arizona State) all have roots far from the Pac-12 footprint. So does Mike MacIntyre (Colorado), though he just came from three years at San Jose State.

What else is different? Well, Phil Knight hadn’t yet begun shoveling millions into the mouth of the monster at Oregon. His latest football-ops creation, Duck Football Excess Nexus, looks like it sprang from the mind of George Lucas.

Back then, the league couldn’t beg its way onto ESPN. Now it flies its coaches back to Bristol in July, and they weigh in before anybody on the West Coast has a crack at them.

The day Don James exited, the news came down on radio and TV. There was no Internet, no Facebook, no message boards, no Twitter – and therefore, no apologies necessary for yesterday’s offensive tweet.

The league’s media day was always in a hotel. The past four have been at the Rose Bowl, Fox Studios, Universal Studios and Sony Picture Studios.

In 1993, the league’s football TV contracts with ABC and Prime Ticket were worth a total of $15 million annually. Take the average of today’s 12-year, $3 billion deals with ESPN and Fox, and you get $250 million a year.

That doesn’t count Pac-12 Networks (if you can get them).

So – is the Pac-12 a better place than in 1993? Debatable. More impulsive, more glitzy, more urgent? Book it.

Pac-12 coaching carousel
Things tend to change quickly in the Pac-12 these days, especially head coaches. Seven of the conferences’s coaches will be in their first or second season as coach at their current school.
Coach School Year
Mike Riley Oregon State 13th
Kyle Whittingham Utah 9th
Steve Sarkisian Washington 5th
Lane Kiffin USC 4th
David Shaw Stanford 3rd
Todd Graham Arizona State 2nd
Mike Leach Washington State 2nd
Jim Mora UCLA 2nd
Rich Rodriguez Arizona 2nd
Sonny Dykes California 1st
Mark Helfrich Oregon 1st
Mike MacIntyre Colorado 1st

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.