Pac-12 coaches and players pose outside Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal… (Damian Dovarganes / Associated…)
To walk in cold on the Pac-12 Conference these days means parking in the Frankenstein lot at Universal Studios and ascending sky-bound escalators to the Gibson Amphitheatre.
There, safe from the drone of back-lot explosions, in the heart of Pac-12 media day, first-year Washington State Coach Mike Leach is comparing quarterback Jeff Tuel to a Civil War general.
"I would have to say that Jeff would be a little more like Stonewall Jackson," Leach said. "… He's not afraid to split the force, connect again, and attack from different angles."
It should be noted that Washington State finished 4-8 last year and Jackson, the Confederate general, died after being accidentally shot by his troops.
Leach, the cerebral, pirate-loving tinkerer who turned Texas Tech into a winner as he battled Craig James and sued ESPN, is one of several reasons why the Pac-12 has never seemed more hip, quirky, eclectic and volatile.
It's not the Southeastern Conference when it comes to grit, grits or national titles, but it's safe to say the Pac-12's modern makeover is in full swing.
The once-sleepy league from Walnut Creek has dust flying everywhere. The money from a $3-billion television contract will soon start rolling in like oranges.
The Pac-12 Network, with six regional networks and one national, debuts Aug. 15.
Remember when you couldn't find a Pac-12 game on TV?
"It is very intense right now," said Larry Scott, Pac-12 commissioner.
The launch date is approaching with the league having yet to secure a contract with the mom-and-pop distributor … DirectTV.
"I know there's a lot of anxiety," Scott said. "It's understandable … it matters a lot."
California just completed a major renovation on venerable and vulnerable Memorial Stadium. USC cut ribbon on the John McKay Center. Jackhammers are displacing concrete in Seattle to make a home of Washington's Husky Stadium.
USC and Oregon enter the fall as national title contenders. Stanford is coming off consecutive major bowl trips.
"I think we're incredibly well-positioned," Scott said.
Four new coaches are set to infuse the conference like a quadruple jolt of caffeine.
What an interesting mix of bolts and nuts: Leach, Rich Rodriguez (Arizona), Todd Graham (Arizona State) and Jim Mora (UCLA) join a league that already pays innovator Chip Kelly (Oregon), polarizer Lane Kiffin (USC) and fast-riser Steve Sarkisian (Washington).
"All these coaching hires, they were national coaching hires," Sarkisian said.
Mike Riley, once a bright young mind at Oregon State, now answers as elder statesman.
Jeff Tedford, a bolt of intellectual lightning when he took over at Cal a decade ago, is approaching AARP. You picture him with a pipe and sweater vest playing catch with Wally and the Beaver.
The Pac-12, as a league, is really a league of nations. They may need operators with headsets to translate all of the accents and languages.
"I would hate to be a defensive coordinator in this league," Rodriguez said at a lunch table under an umbrella. "How do you practice? How do you prepare?"
All these hiccups, spin-offs and hybrids match the conference's frenetic pace of zig-zag advancement.
It is exciting to imagine what Leach might do with a quarterback of Tuel's talents. Leach's brainpower alone might be able to light Pullman.
One week you might face a team without a tight end and a fullback, such as Washington State, and then have to prepare for a pro-style physical assault from Stanford.
Mora, who spent most of his career in the cookie-cutter NFL, can't wait to start baking.
"It is different, it does present challenges," he said. "But I like it."
Rodriguez's spread offense is run-based and he is thankful to inherit a mold-fit senior in Matt Scott.
"That was the best decision that coaching staff made," Rodriguez said of the departed regime that elected to let Scott be a redshirt last season.
Rodriguez carries the baggage of his failed experience at Michigan, but his years at West Virginia earned him guru status as a spread-offense originator.
"You've seen one West Coast offense, you've seen all West Coast offenses," Rodriguez said. "You see one spread, you're not seeing all spreads. It can be entirely different."
Graham is a wild hair with wild offenses who arrived at Tempe from the tempest he left at Pittsburgh. Graham has a habit of quick-exiting programs in a hail of departing expletives. He promises tough love in the wake of Dennis Erickson. Graham was channeling Frank Kush when he moved summer practice back to torturous Camp Tontozona.
Mora brings more of the same to Westwood. He was probably thinking "Junction Boys" by moving his training camp to the swelter of San Bernardino.
He intersperses four-letter words between eight claps and brings a cutting edge UCLA has been desperately missing.
He was also smart enough to nab Noel Mazzone, Arizona State's freewheeling offensive coordinator.
New guys, meet the old guys.
In the Pac-12, you're either moving forward or left behind.
Kelly, coach of the reigning Rose Bowl champions, kept sharp this month by running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
It was a fitting way to prepare for a league where everything Pac-12 seems to be busting out of a gate.