Mario Cristobal, Jonathan Smith and the need for the Pac-12 to catch up
Both hired in 2018, the two coaches have transformed their programs. After wins Saturday, the question is: Where is the rest of the conference?
EUGENE — Three and a half years ago, Mario Cristobal and Jonathan Smith were introduced to the Pac-12 Conference in Hollywood. It was Pac-12 media days in July of 2018, and the Oregon and Oregon State coaches were among a class of five new leaders in the conference.
Arizona State unveiled Herman Edwards, the popular former NFL head coach and ESPN commentator. Arizona imported Kevin Sumlin in from the SEC and UCLA made the splash of the offseason by bringing in Chip Kelly to Westwood.
Smith had no prior head coaching experience. Cristobal had a losing record during his tenure at Florida International. For a conference that indulges in style often without substance, the two new hires in the Northwest were firmly placed in the “wait and see” category.
Things haven’t always been perfect since. It’s been a slow burn for the Beavers rebuilding from the crater Gary Andersen left in Corvallis, and while Cristobal has led the Ducks to a pair of Pac-12 title wins, a Rose Bowl and currently has UO sitting third in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, his wins often come with plenty of hand wringing about style points.
But both coaches won on Saturday, Oregon 38-24 over Washington State to improve to 9-1, and Oregon State 35-14 over Stanford to reach bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2013 season. The Ducks are first in the Pac-12 North. The Beavers are tied for second.
It’s not hard to make an argument that these two relative unknowns back in 2018 have turned into two of the best hires the conference has had in the last decade.