Program Tiers: Pac-12
Our recent piece on schools that should be perennial powers received a good deal of feedback, so we figured it's the perfect time to capitalize and bring more of the same content.
All jobs aren't created equal. There are some schools that have more funding, more prestige and better resources at their disposal to make recruiting (and, by extension, winning) more sustainable. As an attempt at pegging which jobs in the major conferences are best and which are most difficult based on those factors, we developed a seven-prong tier system, ranging from the perennial blue bloods to the spots with annual uphill battles.
A good coach can raise their program a tier, perhaps even two if there's longevity involved. These rankings fluctuate slightly as a result of the man in the head chair, but are largely dependent on factors outside of who the boss is right now.
As a hoops league, the Pac-12 is one of the weakest major conferences out there. Call it East Coast bias if you will, but many of the middle-upper tier teams struggle to sustain success once they build it. Combine that with a couple of the worst power-6 jobs in the country and a whole bunch of large programs without a winning tradition and the lack of hoops prestige is evident.
Tier #1 - Bluebloods
UCLA - John Wooden. Pauley Pavilion. The Blue and Gold. In Los Angeles. The Bruins may have had a couple ups-and-downs lately but this school should always win 20 games and will always be relevant in recruiting circles for elite-level talent. That hasn't been their issue when they've struggled; it's on keeping talent and developing it, which is a coaching issue and not an institutional one.
Tier #2 - Consistent and Historic
Arizona - Lute Olson built a hell of a program and the Sean Miller era has sustained it. Well... Miller is in hot water in some areas, but he continues to bring in great talent. The job is one of the best in the nation. There is a ton of help from boosters, an administration who wants to win and a campus environment that is always attractive to prospects from anywhere.
Tier #3 - Have it Rolling Right Now
Oregon - The Ducks are somewhere between Tier 2 and Tier 4, so we'll throw them here. The Nike connection, beautiful campus and decade of 20-win seasons under Dana Altman has the Ducks in good shape. But they should be a little more nationally-relevant with elite recruits and during March than they have been. I don't think they'll take a major step back any time soon, but the Nike factor should eventually raise them a tier on its own.
Tier #4 - Should Be in Tier #2
USC - It's crazy that Andy Enfield's 26-win season in 2016-17 is the program record for wins. The Trojans haven't made the tournament since (although likely would have last year) and have only been ranked in the top-ten once this decade. It's amazing how consistently such a prestigious school in an elite area with a rich local fanbase and talent pool has underachieved.
Tier #5 - You Can Sustain Winning There
Stanford - An academic-minded school, Stanford has a good amount of athletic tradition and success. The Duke of the West Coast, the Cardinal have been the second-best program in California for much of the last 30 years. They made 11-straight tournaments under Mike Montgomery and Trent Johnson. But they have only been once since 2008. Stanford is a place capable of winning, though they haven't done it lately.
Washington - Beautiful campus in a big city. Clear recruiting dominance in-state. Lorenzo Romar proved it's a place that can have some success in the mid-2000s. But the Huskies haven't really been able to recapture those moments. Romar got a long leash on his way out, and Mike Hopkins might be on his way out. The next hire needs to be one that keeps them firmly above the bottom-tier.
Tier #6 - In Someone Else's Shadow
Colorado - Boulder is awesome. Campus is gorgeous. Colorado is a trendy place to be, and now that the Buffaloes are out of the loaded Big Twelve, they should have an easier time climbing to the middle tier of their conference. There is no real history of success here, though. Zero Sweet Sixteen appearances since the 60s. Tad Boyle has done an admirable job, but they're not exactly in a recruiting hotbed and isn't budgetarily superior than many in-league. Without the historical backing of any success, it's an underdog's job.
Arizona State - Tempe is known as a party town, and the Sun Devils draw well from out of state as a result. It's a fact of life. You'll walk around on campus and ask "how is this school not elite in everything?" They can get things rolling there with a coach who utilizes out-of-region ties well, for sure. But much of what they offer can also be found in Tucson with the Wildcats, a more successful and historic program. The Sun Devils should be in Tier 5, but they're a half-step below.
Utah - I'm not sure if the Utes are necessarily in someone else's shadow, but their move to the Pac-12 from the Mountain West will mean it's difficult for them to rely on their prior successes in the 1990s under Rick Majerus. Larry Krystowiak does as well as he can, but it's a non-rich region with some budgeting shortfalls that prevent them from recruiting on a national level very successfully, even though they want to be good. It takes a special kid to come to Salt Lake City for college, too. I'm not sure if they can sustain success there if it gets captured. They can remain middle-of-the-pack, but that's about it.
California - The Golden Bears haven't won 25 games since Pete Newell was coach in 1959. They hang around as a fringe NCAA Tournament team, but aren't really a threat to break into the top-half of the conference consistently. Some of that is the academic pressures of the school and different administrative emphasis -- the athletic department is a mess. That makes sustaining success mighty difficult.
Tier #7 - Uphill Battles
Washington State - The Cougars get demolished in-state. They have major budgetary constraints. There's little local talent. The Cougars are a tad ahead of the Beavers because they've historically hired better, their in-state rival is worse than Oregon State's, and there are some in-roads for international talent, which can be their saving grace. There is a pathway to mediocrity or flash-in-the-pan success. But great coaches who win here get poached and go elsewhere in the Power Five, making it really difficult to stay out of the basement.
Oregon State - The Beavers get demolished in-state. They have major budgetary constraints. There's little local talent. It's a really tough job from a basketball standpoint.
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Assistant Men's Basketball Coach, Dickinson College.