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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Who made the best coaching move in college football?

Mike Leach (Washington State) and Urban Meyer (Ohio State) figure to win right away. Jim Mora is more of a question mark at UCLA.

July 31, 2012|Chris Dufresne

A good coach can go a long way in this business. Last year, for example, Brady Hoke went all the way from San Diego to Michigan to turn the Wolverines back into winners.

Anyone who thinks Nick Saban wasn't worth the Brink's truck Alabama backed up for him probably has a stake in Shula's Steakhouse.

Those were a couple of hits.

And then, there are misses: Mike Price to Alabama sparks a five-alarm memory, followed by George O'Leary to Notre Dame, Howard Schnellenberger to Oklahoma, John Mackovic to Arizona, Tom Holmoe to California, Bill Callahan to Nebraska and Bobby Petrino to Arkansas (read: The Motorcycle Diaries).

Here's a ranking of some of this year's top coaching hires, reserving the right to flip-flop like a politician if these guys don't at least lead their schools to the GoDaddy.com bowl.

Brilliant

Mike Leach to Washington State: Athletic Director Bill Moos gets credit for this Cougars coup. Leach is probably too eccentric for mainstream programs, but he should slot perfectly into Pullman, which is basically Lubbock with colder winters.

Leach is already 1-0 at Pac-12 Conference football media day, winning last week's news conference with quips about which league coach would make the best hunting partner.

He decided on Utah's Kyle Whittingham.

"He's sandwiched between a bunch of mountains," Leach said.

Urban Meyer to Ohio State: Concerns about health, family and pending NCAA sanctions evaporated when Jim Tressel's career implosion left this premium comeback path open for the ESPN analyst.

Meyer has claimed a lot of "dream jobs" in his time — Notre Dame, Florida — but at heart he is an Ohioan from Ashtabula.

Bottom line: Meyer won at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida … he's going to win big in Columbus.

Justin Wilcox to Washington: Wilcox is only a defensive coordinator, but boy did the Huskies need one after holding Baylor to 67 points in the Alamo Bowl. Wilcox has an Oregon pedigree with a minor at Boise State, but he was plucked away from Tennessee.

Washington Coach Steve Sarkisian said he hoped Wilcox's arrival would have the same defensive impact the hiring of DeWayne Walker had on UCLA in 2006. That was the year UCLA beat USC, 13-9, to knock the Trojans out of the national title game.

"I feel something very similar with us," Sarkisian said.

Good

Rich Rodriguez to Arizona: Forget what happened at Michigan. Coaches used to make pilgrimages to see RichRod when he was at West Virginia.

Rodriguez says he didn't know until midway through the interviewing process that Arizona had never been to the Rose Bowl — and he took the job anyway.

John L. Smith to Arkansas: Smith was the perfect fallback after Petrino fell off his motorcycle. Petrino left in his skid mark a national title-contending team. Smith is a former Hogs staffer who spent 18 years as a head coach.

Arkansas seems less convinced, locking Smith up with a 10-month contract.

Maybe

Charlie Weis to Kansas: He probably should have started here and worked his way up to Florida and Notre Dame.

Jim Mora to UCLA: The Bruins hope he does half for them what NFL-retread Pete Carroll did for USC.

Tim Beckman to Illinois: Hiring out of the Mid-American Conference is hardly ever a bad idea.

Terry Bowden to Akron: The upside is, he can now tell recruits his father has more non-vacated wins than any coach in major college football history.

Maybe not

Todd Graham to Arizona State: Graham knows how to coach, yet is a perennial flight risk. He left Pittsburgh after only one year. Arizona State needs to make sure he has an address, not a P.O. box.

Norm Chow to Hawaii: He finally scored his first head-coaching gig right at an age (65) most guys are rolling over their 401ks.

Bob Davie to New Mexico: Why, Bob, why? You were a terrific ESPN analyst.

Bill O'Brien to Penn State: He might have never left Tom Brady's side in New England he had known then what he knows now.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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