Perhaps the juiciest story to break in college football in recent memory in unfolding before our eyes in Morgantown, W.Va., as Bill Stewart is being accused of asking reporters from the Mountaineer beat to “dig up dirt” on head coach in-waiting Dana Holgorsen.
The marriage between Holgorsen and Stewart was ugly from Jump Street. When West Virginia AD Oliver Luck introduced Holgorsen to the media he essentially said Stewart wasn’t the man to lead the Mountaineers back to the BCS, but Holgorsen was. That had to make things awkward around the water cooler.
At that press conference Stewart uttered this line, easily the money quote in hindsight:
“We’ve met, and we’ve gotten along really, really well. This will be a very smooth transition.”
Funny way of showing it, Bill. I can’t wait for Karen in Morgantown’s reaction to all of this.
Maybe Stewart wasn’t a fan of Holgorsen’s hard-partying ways? This was a doomed partnership at its inception, but it’s not the only head coach in-waiting tandem that has fallen apart.
The successes have been overshadowed by the failures. Chip Kelly is the gold standard in terms on on-field success, but there were rumors that Mike Bellotti was pressed to leave a year early so as to ensure Kelly wouldn’t be plucked by another school.
As far as on-field success and creating a re-energized program, Jimbo Fisher has been a great success, but let’s not forget the shit storm that his ascension caused Florida State.
Joker Phillips is the perfect example of on-field success and off-field harmony. Kentucky named Phillips the coach in-waiting in 2008, and after the 2009 season Phillips replaced the retired Brooks.
Purdue named Danny Hope the successor to Joe Tiller and has since run the Purdue program into the ground. Hope needs a big year in 2011 or he’s gone. James Franklin was the head coach in-waiting at Maryland after Ralph Friedgen retired. Franklin is entering his first season as Vanderbilt’s head coach (bless his heart) and the Fridge has been fired.
And then there’s Texas. The Longhorns hit a home run when they hired Will Muschamp as their defensive coordinator in 2008, and after that season, he was dubbed Texas’s coach in-waiting. The line of succession sounded fantastic as Texas would finally have a coach who knows, well, how to coach. If only Brown would have played along.
It became clear after the 2010 season that Muschamp would have to wait to be the head coach at Texas much longer than he wanted to. Brown, coming off of a dismal 5-7 year (at TEXAS!!) wanted a few more shots at the title.
Enter Florida, and we all know what happened next.
My issue with the coach in-waiting thought process is two-fold. One, you’re asking for the balance of power to become a fluid situation. Do players listen to the man on his way out, or do they begin to do what they think the new guy wants? Will the current head coach want to leave when his successor wants him to leave? That has proven to be a resounding no, by the way.
Secondly, having a coach in-waiting limits your options when you replace the current coach. Being the coach in-waiting means making a boat load of money as an assistant coach (Muschamp was making just south of $1 million at Texas). Why pay that kind of money when you can just offer him the job when the time comes?
What happens if the coach in-waiting has a bad year or two? You had better hope you did what Texas did and refuse to put a penalty for not being he coach at a certain point, something Florida State didn’t do. The Seminoles would have had to pay Fisher $4 million had Bowden coached two more years.
If you are Kentucky, I can see the attraction to the coach in-waiting, but the succession has to take place quickly (no more than 2 years). However, if you’re Texas, Alabama or some of the other top dogs, why would you limit your options? If you feel your program is a destination job, the guy you want to name head coach in-waiting will be there when the time comes.
Not all coach in-waiting situations have turned into a
dumpster couch fire like that in Morgantown, but the upside isn’t worth the almost guaranteed backbiting and awkwardness that is completely unavoidable.
I’m not sure the coach in-waiting will go away completely, but I do think we will see less programs go in that direction, and I think that’s a good thing.