HOLLYWOOD — The Pac-12 Conference football coaches were everywhere on Wednesday. Washington’s Chris Petersen was here, and so was Washington State’s Mike Leach, and UCLA’s Chip Kelly, too.
It was Pac-12 football media day.
Oregon’s Mario Cristobal demonstrated the proper application of a Jiu–Jitsu chokehold to a Seattle radio-show host. It was a joke. Sort of. And Arizona State’s Herman Edwards posed for photographs with the championship trophy. And Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith told good stories. Every time I turned around in the Ray Dolby Ballroom, another Pac-12 football coach was slapping backs with someone.
All 12 head coaches were here.
But you know what this media day needed?
One more head football coach.
It struck me as conference commissioner Larry Scott spoke, and as I observed the Pac-12′s executive team in action on Wednesday, that what the conference executive team lacks is anyone with a shred of football knowledge.
Scott is a Harvard-educated tennis player. Deputy commissioner Jamie Zaninovich is a basketball guy. General counsel Woodie Dixon worked for a time with the NFL’s Kansas City franchise, but his job there was to manage the contracts and salary cap.
Nobody at Pac-12 headquarters knows anything about football, and when you’re additionally hamstrung by financial challenges, that’s a killer. The absence of a credible football voice in the front office of the conference also underscores the issue of trust when you consider how little of it the rest of us have in conference leadership.
The Pac-12 needs to hire a 13th coach.
An ex-coach? Mike Bellotti? Mike Riley? Nick Aliotti? Some ex-coach from another conference? Anyone?
The conference headquarters need a reasonable, rational, credible football voice in the room when they’re making football policy. It needs a football administrator with credibility who knows the game. Someone who might advocate on behalf of the conference’s struggling product. At the very least, it would give the Pac-12 the ability to trot out someone the public trusts on media day.
Understand, Wednesday wasn’t a total loss for conference leadership.
Scott posted a solid early victory on Wednesday. He announced that the Pac-12 had negotiated to move the conference’s championship football game to Las Vegas in 2020 and 2021. It’s a deal that formalized in the wee hours of Tuesday night. A nice win for Scott. But when cast against a line of defeats, and announced by a suit that nobody much trusts anymore, it felt hollow.
Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara as a title-game site was a dud. Moving the game to the NFL stadiums in Los Angeles wouldn’t have been any better. Getting the game to The Strip was a win. But again, when you find the end zone while down by 11 touchdowns, you don’t perform a dance.
Scott also announced that the Pac-12 hasn’t yet found a private-equity partner, and may not ever come to a bailout deal. Also, the commissioner announced that the “independent” review of football officiating affirmed what we all knew — the conference’s officiating procedure and protocol last season were officially a mess. Dixon meddled in an important instant-replay decision, telephoning in from his home to overrule the crew at the stadium.
He should have been fired on the spot.
Instead, the Pac-12 waited 10 months, set up in Hollywood, and then quietly stripped Dixon of his oversight of David Coleman, the head of officials. It was determined by the review that Dixon wasn’t qualified to be in charge of football.
Said one Pac-12 headquarters employee: “They don’t really fire people here. They just move them around quietly.”
Moving forward, Coleman will report directly to — Scott?
For the record, the commissioner is also woefully unqualified on the football front.
The Pac-12 needs an executive on the payroll with deep football knowledge. That needs to happen now. Sell some of the lavish furnishings at the conference office on eBay, if needed. Because you can talk all you’d like about what it takes for the conference to compete nationally, but without true understanding of the day to day challenges of a football program, it’s just talk.
Scott paid homage to the dozen conference athletic directors in his opening address, but it felt forced, as if his own bosses had instructed him to give the nod. Scott says his relationship with his ADs is as good as it’s ever been, but I wonder if he believes that saying so is all it takes to make it true.
This is complicated and messy. But the whole thing is cast against a room of talented, smart Pac-12 football coaches — some of the best football leaders in America — who must look over at the conference headquarters and shake their heads at the show.
Scott is under contract as commissioner through 2022. The conference’s media rights can be negotiated in 2024. But the feeling I had yet again on Wednesday is that it’s unofficially over for him even as he’s still on the job. Public confidence in him has eroded. His words don’t land with force. They skip and scatter about the place.
At one point, Scott said of the Pac-12′s lagging revenue, “You’re going to see the Pac-12 skyrocket up (in 2024) … I can’t tell you where we’re going to land, but it will be impressive.”
Trot out a promise like that on a football coach, and he’d probably send you on a lap.