Being on the West Coast, the Pac-12 always seems to get the short end of the stick in the sports world. Fewer people get a chance to watch the league, so the all-time greats in the conference don’t stand out as much. It’s one of the great injustices of college sports, especially when you consider the legendary coaches who have helped make the Pac-12 (and before it the Pac-10, Pac-8, and Pacific Coast Conference) one of the best football conferences in the country. To help make amends for that, let’s get to know the biggest coaching legends in Pac-12 football history.
David Shaw, Stanford
Shaw’s time in the Pac-12 isn’t over yet but he’s still done enough at his alma mater to deserve some recognition. He served as the offensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh for four seasons, helping turn the Cardinal around. Shaw then picked up where his former employer left off, taking over as the head coach when Harbaugh went to the NFL.
During Shaw’s first seven seasons, Stanford won at least a share of the Pac-12 North title and won the Pac-12 Championship Game three times. The Cardinal also had two Rose Bowl wins and four top-10 finishes during that time. Considering the lack of conference titles Stanford won during the second half of the 20th century and the recruiting limitations because of the school’s academic reputation, the job Shaw has done with the Cardinal is nothing short of astounding.
Pete Carroll, USC
Carroll loses points for the sanctions that came down during his time at USC. However, it’s hard to deny that Carroll had the Trojans running like a well-oiled machine. He spent just nine seasons as the head coach at USC, but during that time they were one of the elite programs in the country.
If you include the controversial 2003 season when the Trojans weren’t invited to the BCS title game, Carroll won two national championships at USC. The Trojans also won at least a share of the Pac-12 title in seven consecutive seasons from 2002 to 2008. Naturally, the Trojans went to the Rose Bowl five times during that span, winning four of those Rose Bowls. In the Pac-12, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Don James, Washington
When James took over at Washington in 1975, the Huskies were a below-average team that hadn’t won a conference title in over a decade. In fact, the program had just three winning seasons in the last eight years. But James turned that around quickly, winning the Pac-8 and defeating Michigan in the Rose Bowl during his third season at Washington.
From there, the Huskies continued to be one of the league’s best teams while also emerging as a national power. Washington reached its peak under James when they went undefeated and won a national championship in 1991. James also won six conference titles during his 18-year tenure at Washington and had a winning record against every Pac-10 team except UCLA. That includes a 13-5 record against in-state rival Washington State and a 15-3 record against border rival Oregon.
Terry Donahue, UCLA
UCLA hasn’t always been a powerhouse in the Pac-12, but under Donahue they were. Between 1982 and 1987, the Bruins won four conference championships and were undefeated in bowl games. During that stretch, UCLA won the Rose Bowl three times and finished ranked in the top-20 every season.
When all was said and done, Donahue spent 20 years at UCLA, leading the Bruins to five conference titles and winning Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors twice. Perhaps more importantly, he had a winning record in games against Los Angeles rival USC and remains the winningest coach in UCLA history.
John McKay, USC
Why is USC a national power with high expectations every season? McKay is one of the biggest reasons. He took over an up and down program and turned the Trojans into a bonafide national power. In his 16 seasons, the Trojans finished first or second in the Pac-8 13 times.
During McKay’s 16 years as head coach, USC won nine conference titles and four national championships. His tenure also included five Rose Bowl wins and three undefeated seasons. While there’s some good competition, McKay is undoubtedly the best coach in Pac-12 history.