Mario Cristobal has only coached two full seasons with Oregon football and the head coach is already considered one of the Pac-12’s best.
In fact, if you look at any ranking of head coaches in the Pac-12, he would probably be in that top three without question. And it would be almost impossible to argue otherwise.
There are some solid head coaches in the Pac-12 such as Kyle Whittingham, Herm Edwards, David Shaw, Chip Kelly, and even Clay Helton has his moments. But there does Cristobal rank, especially with new up-and-comers like Justin Wilcox, Jimmy Lake, and Nick Rolovich joining the fold?
The top coach in the conference, in my opinion, has to be Whittingham. He does so much for Utah and he never truly gets the credit he deserves. He’s 134-66 in 16-plus seasons with the Utes and has a sparkling 11-3 bowl record. He actually started his career at Utah with an 11-1 bowl record but he’s lost his past two. He has just one conference title when Utah was still in the Mountain West, but he’s won three division titles in the Pac-12 South.
Right now, Whittingham has the edge because of his experience as a winner even without a Pac-12 title. He does have a solid 45-41 record in the Pac-12 which is especially impressive considering how difficult it is to go from the Group of Five to the Power Five.
After Whittingham, the No. 2 might be a heated debate.
Edwards has shown a decent amount in his three years, going 17-13 and leading Arizona State out of mediocrity. He hasn’t won any titles yet but it looks like the Sun Devils improve each year.
It’s hard to overlook what Shaw has accomplished at Stanford. He has a 90-36 overall record at Stanford after taking over for Jim Harbaugh and he’s 62-24 in conference play. He also has three conference titles, five division titles, a 5-3 bowl record, and two Rose Bowl wins. In my opinion, he has to be locked into that second spot despite a disappointing past couple of seasons.
As we all know, Kelly was a magician when he was in Eugene, but his coaching at UCLA has knocked him down a few pegs. He may be close to a breakout in Los Angeles, but I think he’s dropped out of that top three range because of his UCLA stint.
And sorry, Helton is not a top-three coach, especially since he’s on the hot seat every year.
That leaves us with Cristobal in that third spot behind Whittingham and Shaw.
The Oregon football coach is rapidly climbing up the list
Cristobal just took over a few seasons ago in the Ducks’ 2017 bowl game as an interim coach and had that tag removed as he took over full-time in 2018.
Since then, he’s compiled a 25-9 record which includes two Pac-12 titles and two bowl victories, including a Rose Bowl victory.
Not only is he winning on the field, but the former national recruiter of the year at Alabama has paced the conference in recruiting. He consistently lands the top recruits in the conference and it’s almost a shock if Oregon doesn’t have the No. 1 class in the Pac-12 each cycle.
Being a great coach is more than just about Xs and Os, it’s also about recruiting and getting guys to the league and he does all three at a plus level.
Cristobal has gone from interim to top-three coach in the conference in just a few years and if he has another couple of solid seasons in a row, he could take over that top spot.