The Hotline mailbag is published each Friday. Send questions to email@example.com.
What’s the over/under on Pac-12 coaches getting fired this year? — @solarschmidt
Oh, goodness. I have no idea. And it’s a bit early to start speculating.
Whoa, maybe it isn’t too early to start speculating.
Let’s circle back to the original question: “What’s the over/under on Pac-12 coaches getting fired this year?”
Instead of focusing on dismissals, we’ll broaden the scope and examine how many teams could experience turnover for any reason before the 2022 season.
The Hotline’s official over/under is 3.5 for total Pac-12 changes (pink slips and voluntary departures) in the 2021-22 offseason.
We’re guaranteed to have one, USC, with an excellent chance that both Arizona State and Washington State experience turnover at the top, as well.
ASU, because Herm Edwards either will be forced out by NCAA infractions or because the 67-year-old will decide enough’s enough.
WSU, because Nick Rolovich either won’t comply with the state vaccine mandate — the situation could be resolved next week — or because the university refuses to employ an unvaccinated coach in a high-profile leadership position.
That would create three vacancies, but the over/under is 3.5 for a simple reason: The likelihood that a fourth coach, somewhere, is terminated or decides it’s time to move on.
And where might that fourth vacancy surface?
We see several possibilities, but Washington is not one of them. Jimmy Lake isn’t getting fired, even if UW’s season continues to unravel. Remember, he was immensely valued by the school for his work as an assistant/coordinator, he was the no-brainer choice to succeed Chris Petersen in December 2019, and he won the North division in his rookie year.
Some rickety recruiting, a questionable choice for offensive coordinator and one substandard season aren’t reason enough to move on from Lake. Not even close. Barring an off-the-field transgression, Lake will be back next year and the year after that.
If you’re looking for potential dismissals, Westwood is the most likely location beyond Tempe and Pullman.
We believe Chip Kelly has the foundation in place for success and for a return in 2022. But if the Bruins founder, a change could follow. Kelly’s exorbitant buyout reportedly drops to zero in January, and UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond is a recent arrival — he didn’t hire Kelly.
Again, we suspect UCLA’s early success will continue and that Kelly’s job security will be a nonissue by the end of the season. But for the moment, the possibility of a change cannot be completely ignored.
Far more likely, in our view, is the potential for a Pac-12 coach to leave voluntarily.
There are at least four candidates:
Justin Wilcox: Despite Cal’s downturn, Wilcox isn’t getting fired. He’s valued by the administration, understands what works in Berkeley (on the field and off) and receives the benefit of the doubt for the stalled momentum because of the insanity of the local COVID protocols. Also, the Bears don’t have the money for a change.
But might Wilcox be growing weary of Cal’s limitations? Might the COVID situation have made him realize there will always be something working against football success in Berkeley?
Granted, his job options could be limited if the Bears struggle. But Wilcox is well respected in the industry and has shown he’s willing to leave the West Coast. We won’t completely discount the potential for Wilcox to move on, although it seems highly unlikely.
Mario Cristobal: He has a great situation, plenty of contract security and an employer with the means of matching any offer. And to be clear: We don’t expect him to leave for USC.
But if the Ducks fall just short of expectations and a premier job opens in the southeastern quadrant — hello, LSU — it’s not unreasonable to think Cristobal would consider a jump. Also, his alma mater (Miami) might need a coach.
The most likely scenario, by far, has Cristobal remaining in Eugene. But until the offseason carousel stops spinning, it’s not a lock.
Jonathan Smith: Yes, Oregon State is his alma mater, gave him the chance of a lifetime in November 2017 and would do everything possible to keep him.
But if the Beavers win the North — or win eight or nine games but not the division — Smith would be one of the hottest coaches on the market. And many places on that market will have deeper pockets, and more potential, than Oregon State.
Unlikely … extremely unlikely … but not quite impossible.
Kyle Whittingham: In our opinion, the window for Whittingham to leave Utah for another job (USC, for instance) closed a few years ago. The Hotline would be fairly stunned if he coached somewhere else next season.
But we would not be stunned if Whittingham, who’s about to turn 62, decides he doesn’t want to coach anywhere next season.
In other words: He steps away, either to recharge for a few years or permanently retire — a move comparable to what we saw from Chris Petersen two years ago.
He has been grinding for a long time, the tragedies (Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe) are undoubtedly taking a toll, and the demands and distractions that accompany the job (NIL, transfer portal, etc.) are skyrocketing.
As with our assessments of Wilcox, Cristobal and Smith, we view the odds of Whittingham departing as somewhere south of slim and north of none.
But the potential for one of five openings to materialize (UCLA, Cal, Oregon, OSU and Utah) is enough to warrant setting the over/under at 3.5.
And if you’re wondering about Stanford’s David Shaw: The Hotline doesn’t believe the 49-year-old will coach his alma mater until retirement, but it’s not quite time for a move. He has never viewed the grass on the horizon as necessarily greener.