When Chip Kelly and Herm Edwards were hired, many praised UCLA for being able to beat Florida for Kelly’s services and criticized Arizona State for hiring a former NFL coach who had not been on the sidelines since 2008.
Nearly two years later those perceptions have changed. Edwards has the Sun Devils on the cusp of bowl eligibility for the second straight season while Kelly and the Bruins have sunk to the lower tiers of the Pac-12.
Going into Saturday’s game at the Rose Bowl, Edwards has the second-best record of the conference’s five second-year coaches while Kelly is tied for the worst mark. Oregon’s Mario Cristobal is at the top of the heap, though, with the Ducks leading the North Division.
With the second half of the season getting ready to start, here is a look at how the second-year conference coaches are faring:
Mario Cristobal (Oregon, 15-6)
Cristobal’s success in recruiting was a big reason he was promoted when Willie Taggart left after one season for Florida State, but he is also beginning to show that he can be successful in big games.
The Ducks were 2-3 in conference road games last season but rallied for a 35-31 win at Washington last Saturday to take control of the North. No. 11 Oregon (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12) – which has the likely conference Offensive Player of the Year in QB Justin Herbert – hosts Washington State on Saturday and still has key road games against USC (Nov. 2) and Arizona State (Nov. 16).
Cristobal likes how his team has played in difficult situations.
“The harder it gets, the better we play,” he said after the Washington win, “It has taken a lot to get to this point but our discipline has to carry over.”
Herm Edwards (Arizona State, 12-8)
The 24th-ranked Sun Devils showed their youth in a 21-3 loss at No. 12 Utah .
For as well as Arizona State has played this season, the Sun Devils have done it starting five true freshmen (fourth-highest in the country). Jaylen Daniels completed only four of 18 passes for 28 yards and was held to eight yards rushing. Freshmen have been responsible for three-fourths of their offensive yards (second-most in the nation).
Edwards is pleased his team has established “competitive consistency,” meaning they have had the chance to win the game in the second half each week. Now he wants to see how his team handles adversity.
“We’re in our second year, make no mistake, we haven’t had a lot of potholes yet,” he said. “Utah hit us in the mouth and beat us up. Now we’re going to find out a lot about ourselves and where this team is at.”
Kevin Sumlin (Arizona, 9-10)
Sumlin has not had the same early success that he had at Texas A&M or Houston. Some of it can be attributed to injuries, but quarterback Khalil Tate has not played consistently at the level he did two years ago.
“We want to win now. Everyone wants it right now including me. The two ways to get better in my opinion are recruiting and player development,” he said. “We’ve increased our depth, which has reaped some dividends early this year, especially on the defensive line.”
The Wildcats (4-3, 2-2) have dropped two straight going into Saturday’s game at Stanford.
Jonathan Smith (Oregon State, 5-14)
Smith is the only one who has not been a head coach at another school, but he has brought hope and optimism to his alma mater. Last Saturday’s 21-17 win at California marks the first time since 2013 the Beavers have won two straight conference road games.
The Beavers (3-4, 2-2) have a bye week before traveling to Arizona on Nov. 2. Oregon State still has games against Washington and Oregon, which makes its chances of winning three of its last five to get bowl eligibly unlikely but there is still an outside shot of another win or two.
“It’s satisfying for sure. These guys are working hard, and they’re trusting us and trusting the process,” Smith said.
Chip Kelly (UCLA, 5-14)
Last Thursday’s 34-16 win at Stanford was the most complete game the Bruins have played this season. It also slightly turned down Kelly’s hot seat.
UCLA (2-5, 2-2) has the second-highest percentage of freshmen on its roster in the nation (52.8%), but no one expected Kelly to get off to the worst start by a Bruins coach since Harry Trotter went 2-13-1 from 1920-22.
Kelly has been consistent in asking for patience, but with a $20.3 million contract and declining attendance at the Rose Bowl, many are getting frustrated. Kelly has a $9 million buyout, though.
“I think every day we are working to improve, that is part of developing a young team,” he said. “You have to develop them over time. When you see flashes with young teams how does it become second nature?”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.