Are any coaches in danger of dismissal in the final year of the Pac-12?
When you scan the Pac-12 contract terms, one thing stands out: Every coach will have at least five years of security when the 2023 season begins.
Terminations can happen at any time. However, a coaching change after this season — or even next season — would almost certainly result in a massive buyout for the coaches at the ten public schools required to make the contracts available.
This implies that each coach should be exposed to extremely low levels of heat. The Hotline, on the other hand, prefers to gauge seat temperature one or two layers down, where contract details fade and the reality of a win-now profession lurks.
(Please keep in mind that the salaries listed below are based on published reports or school disclosures and are averaged over the course of the term.)
Jedd Fisch is from Arizona. Contract: signed until 2027 (annual salary: $3.3 million) Seat heating: It’s as cold as a late-November evening in Tucson: Jacket and hat are required. Fisch is not in danger of losing his job, even if Arizona fails to qualify for a bowl game. However, we believe that his third season is critical for the program’s long-term trajectory into the Big 12. Last season, the Wildcats won five games. If they don’t add to the total this fall, the momentum will wane. It’s difficult to regain for a football coach at a basketball school once it fades.
Kenny Dillingham of ASU Contract: signed until 2027 (annual salary: $4.1 million) Seat heat: the inverse of 31 consecutive days of at least 110°F. Comment: The rookie coach has been tasked with cleaning up the mess left by his predecessor, rebuilding the roster, and leading ASU back to prominence — a daunting task that will take time (even in the transfer portal era). Dillingham’s job security is guaranteed for at least three years because he is a Phoenix native and ASU graduate.
Justin Wilcox of Cal Contract: signed until 2027 (annual salary: $4.8 million) Seat heat: It would be toasty anywhere else; in Berkeley, it’s barely warm. Comment: We don’t think Wilcox’s job is in jeopardy right now, but the Bears have clearly regressed. They were thwarted by COVID and further hampered by some questionable personnel decisions. Meanwhile, the chancellor (Carol Christ) is retiring next year, and the athletic director (Jim Knowlton) has other concerns, including the future of the athletic department.
Colorado’s Deion Sanders Contract: Signed through 2027 (salary: $5.9 million) Seat heat: Like objects in the passenger mirror, Sanders’ departure is closer than it appears Comment: It appears that Sanders is doing triple duty as head coach, university chancellor, and mayor of Boulder. However, his coaching abilities have been thrust into the spotlight as a result of the high expectations. Sanders’ seat temperature will drop quickly if the Buffaloes stumble through the season and he appears outmatched on the sideline. On the other hand, if he does well in Year One, he may be gone by Christmas.
Dan Lanning is from Oregon. Contract: signed until 2028 (annual salary: $7.5 million) Seat heat: Cool, but watch out for global warming. Comment: Lanning won 10 games in his rookie season and recently received a significant contract increase; unless he has a complete meltdown, he will not be fired. However, given how 2022 ended, with come-from-behind losses to Washington and Oregon State, his seat could quickly warm if Year Two falls short of expectations. Furthermore, Lanning’s leadership of the program will be measured against what the Ducks require to compete in the Big Ten beginning next year.
Jonathan Smith of Oregon State Contract: signed until 2028 (annual salary: $5.1 million) Seat heat is the same as liquid nitrogen (-320 degrees). Comment: The King of Corvallis could lose every conference game while wearing a stovepipe hat, disco shoes, and high on LSD… and still be in line for a contract extension. In all seriousness, the issue for Oregon State is not Smith’s seat heat, but rather his seating preference. Will he remain for the post-Pac-12 era? There will be no shortage of suitors if Smith ever starts looking for work.
Stanford’s Troy Taylor Contract: Terms not disclosed Seat heating: The heat on Taylor is nonexistent, much like the crowds at Stanford Stadium. Comment: We’re not sure if anyone would notice if Taylor’s first season far exceeded expectations or plodded along at a two-win clip, such is the level of apathy following former coach David Shaw’s sharp downturn. Add to that the difficulties posed by the transfer portal and NIL — the school was not designed to deal with either — and Taylor faces a massive renovation project regardless of conference affiliation.
UCLA’s Chip Kelly Contract: Signed through 2027 (salary: $6.2 million) Seat heat: Room temperature in both Westwood and Manila Comment: Kelly was given a two-year extension and a raise this spring to provide security during the school’s transition into the Big Ten. But don’t misinterpret the contract changes for an icy-cold coaching seat. The Bruins’ success last season (nine wins) was fueled in part by a soft schedule, and it did little to appease a constituency forever scarred by Kelly’s difficult early years in charge.
USC’s Lincoln Riley Contract: Terms not disclosed Seat heat: Cold as deep space … unless Riley flies too close to the Sun Comment: Riley’s job security would be unquestionable anywhere else in the conference — and at 97 percent of Power Five schools — after an 11-win debut season. With a playoff berth on the line, conference games against Ohio State and Michigan on the horizon, and USC being USC, Riley is one bad season away from feeling the heat.
Kyle Whittingham of Utah Contract: signed until 2027 (annual salary: $6.8 million) Seat heat: Not applicable; Whittingham sits on a throne Comment: The Pac-12’s dean of coaches, Lord of the Lake, and owner of back-to-back conference championships has a job for life. Whittingham, who turns 64 in November, will coach until he decides it’s time to retire. That could happen after this season or in five years. We gave up guessing along with Whittingham’s love of competition and addiction to the grind a long time ago.
Washington’s Kalen DeBoer Contract: Signed through 2028 (salary: $4.5 million) Seat heat: January, dead of night in Vladivostok Comment: During his sensational first season (11 wins), DeBoer received the expected contract increase — a wise move by UW to keep potential suitors at bay. He must deal with increased expectations this year, the Big Ten’s move in 2024, and, at some point, a new athletic director. But, until there are signs to the contrary, DeBoer is only leaving Montlake when he decides.
Jake Dickert of Washington State University Contract: signed until 2027 (annual salary: $2.7 million) Seat heating: There can be no heat if there is no seat. Comment: Dickert is listed last because we went through the conference alphabetically (by school), but it’s an appropriate spot given the impressively low level of drama that comes with his job status. He was outstanding as an interim coach in 2021, leading the Cougars to a bowl appearance. WSU is pleased with him, and he is pleased with WSU. There is nothing to see. Let’s get this party started.