Cal Football: Just How Good a Job is the Bears’ Head Coaching Position Anyway?

Cal's Justin Wilcox and Arizona's Kevin Sumlin make be joiking about which has the better job.Photo by Casey Sapio - USA TODAY Sports

Athlon ranked the appeal of Pac-12 and national coaching positions to would-be applicants; so did we

Athlon magazine posed an interesting question? What are the most attractive head coaching jobs in college football?

You hear the question all the time when a prominent head coaching job becomes open: Is that an attractive job, and what kind of candidate can that school attract? There is constant debate about how attractive Cal’s head football coaching job is, and this provides an outsider’s opinion. (Spoiler alert: Athlon does not think much of the Bears’ coaching job within the Pac-12 context. But we have a slightly higher opinion in our rankings.)

So Athlon went ahead and ranked each coaching job in the Pac-12, and then took it further by ranking every FBS coaching job in the country.

This is NOT a ranking of the best head coaches, but rather a ranking of the prestige and allure of the football head coaching position at each school.

For example, the USC football program probably boasts the best coaching position in the Pac-12, but its current coach, Clay Helton, probably would not rank among the top three head coaches in the conference.

Here is what the magazine said about its process in determining the rankings:

“We considered many factors — tradition, facilities, location, money, ability to recruit talent — but in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach?”

First of all, the rankings lost a little credibility when you notice that the Pac-12 rankings were not consistent with the national rankings. For example, USC “remains the clear No. 1” in the Pac-12 rankings, but at No. 22 in the national rankings the Trojans are behind No. 11 Washington, No. 12 Stanford and No. 14 UCLA.

For the most part, we laud the Pac-12 rankings but have doubts about the significance of the national rankings.

But we push on, because our focus here is Cal. The Golden Bears’ coaching spot ranks only 10th in the Pac-12 rankings, ahead of Oregon State and Washington State. We agree with most of these rankings, but we think that Cal’s ranking might be a little low.

Here are Athlon’s rankings:

12. Oregon State

11. Washington State

10. Cal

9. Colorado

8. Arizona

7. Utah

6. Arizona State

5. Stanford


3. Oregon

2. Washington

1. USC

This is what Athlon said about the Cal coaching position:

“As the flagship state university in the biggest state (by population) in the nation, you would think that California is set up for big-time success in college football. That, however, has not been — and currently is not — the case. Jeff Tedford is the only Cal coach who has had more than two straight winning seasons since the early 1950s.”

Our feeling is that the only drawback to the Cal coaching position is money, i.e., salary. Justin Wilcox’s salary in 2018 was the lowest in the conference, according to USA TODAY, and even with the raise he received, he is far from the top of the conference.

But Cal’s recruiting pool is large, the school and area have considerable appeal (who wouldn’t want an outstanding education in the Bay Area?), the facilities have improved and are competitive, and Cal can admit most of the athletes it chooses to recruit. Jeff Tedford proved what can be achieved at Cal in terms of national recognition, and the general prestige of the university should take care of the rest. In our opinion, there is no reason Cal cannot have top-notch football and basketball coaches and programs.

The money issue is a big one, of course. Perhaps Cal should be lauded for limiting the amount it pays to the coach of an athletic team, choosing not to participate in the astronomical pricing war that goes into attracting and keeping an elite, proven coach. But it will get what it pays for unless it gets in on the ground floor of an untested head coach who turns out to be successful. That is what happened with Tedford and what Cal hopes will happen with Wilcox.

Having said all that, the Cal job should be ranked somewhere around eighth or ninth, ahead of Colorado and possibly ahead of Utah. The fact that Cal hired an assistant coach with no head coaching experience (Justin Wilcox) the last time it had an opening suggests it cannot be ranked any higher than eighth, though.

Of course, this does not mean the Bears cannot achieve big things even if its coaching position is not as attractive as some others. Washington State is the prime example. Few would claim WSU is a more attractive coaching job than Cal, but with Mike Leach in Pullman, the Cougars are a threat every year.

We would agree that the USC coaching job is the most attractive in the Pac-12, but Washington is close behind, with Oregon a safe No. 3 given its rise in prestige over the past two decades.

Here are our rankings of the appeal of the Pac-12 coaching jobs:

12. Oregon State

There was a time, many years ago, when there was talk about kicking the Beavers out of the conference because they could not be competitive.

Oregon State coach Jonathan SmithPhoto by Joe Caporeale - USA TODAY Sports

11. Washington State

Mike Leach’s presence skews the fact that this is not a very good job.

Washington State coach Mike LeachPhoto by James Snook - USA TODAY Sports

10. Colorado

Nice weather, but they hired a guy (Mel Tucker) whose only head coaching experience was on an interim basis for five games in the NFL.

Colorado coach Mel TuckerPhoto by Dale Zanine - USA TODAY Sports

9. Cal

Justin Wilcox was the lowest paid coach in the Pac-12 last season. ‘Nuff said.

Cal coach Justin Wilcox

8. Utah

Kyle Whittingham’s salary of $3.87 million in 2018 was third-best in the conference, giving the Utes the edge over Cal

Utah coach Kyle WhittinghamPhoto by Kelley L Cox - USA TODAY Sports

7. Arizona

Wildcats have not developed a winning tradition for some reason.

Arizona coach Kevin SumlinPhoto by Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

6. Stanford

The recent success under David Shaw hides the fact that the Cardinal seldom lures proven head coaches to Palo Alto. (Shaw and Jim Harbaugh had never been FBS head coaches when they were hired.)

Stanford coach David ShawPhoto by Stan Szeto - USA TODAY Sports

5. Arizona State

The mystery is why the Sun Devils have not become a power despite the apparent advantages.

Arizona State coach Herm EdwardsPhoto by Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

4. Oregon

The Ducks’ prestige has risen considerably the past two decades, but one person (Chip Kelly) made that happen and the Alabama-Ohio State-type appeal is not quite there yet.

Oregon head coach Mario CristobalPhoto by Troy Wayrynen - USA TODAY Sports


Chip Kelly had a lot of choices, but he chose the Bruins for a reason.

UCLA head coach Chip KellyPhoto by Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

2. Washington

It took a special place to pry Chris Petersen away from Boise State.

Washington coach Chris PetersenPhoto by Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

1. USC

The Pete Carroll years along with existing football tradition of excellence made this one of the elite jobs. Clay Helton may need to win the Pac-12 South to keep his job.

USC coach Clay HeltonPhoto by Jeffrey Swinger - USA TODAY Sports

​Now the Athlon national rankings, which can be found here, leave something to be desired:

USC should not be as low as 22nd, and Stanford should not be as high as 12th. And there are a number of other questionable placements in the national rankings: Washington State ahead of Auburn? Ole Miss ahead of Georgia? Houston ahead of Florida? Something is amiss here.

Cal actually came out with a rather favorable national ranking, coming it at No. 44. That is just one spot behind Texas, and I defy you to find an individual who would claim that the Longhorns’ head coaching job and the Bears’ head coaching job have virtually the same level of appeal.

We will dismiss the national rankings for our purposes and focus on the Pac-12 rankings.

Is the placement of Cal at No. 10 or No. 9 an accurate ranking? We’d like to hear what you think in the comments below.