Coach In-Waiting Makes Little Sense

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.

 

  • John G aka Shatner

    The UK crowd already wants Joker gone, btw.

    This is the perfect time to say “I hate the UK crowd.”

    They’re not racist. Their more ignorant fans just yell louder.

  • ParrishWalton

    Why do they want him gone already? He went 6-6 last year in the SEC at Kentucky. I know he lost the bowl game, but that’t a solid first year, no?

  • John G aka Shatner

    Everyone here seems to have forgotten that a few years ago, this team was lucky to win three games. Now they’re “supposed to” make a big leap to a new years day bowl.

  • ParrishWalton

    Everyone here seems to have forgotten that a few years ago, this team was lucky to win three games. Now they’re “supposed to” make a big leap to a new years day bowl.

    Always tough when fans are idiots.

  • Triston27

    Coach in waiting is more of a recruiting ploy than anything else. Let’s the recruit know that there won’t be massive turnover when the head man leaves and it won’t break your familiarity with the program.

    Sure, it limits your options, but if you name a CIW then you are already happy with your option.

    It doesn’t always work out cleanly, but, how many coaching hires do? There is so much turnover in CFB. I bet if you compared regular hires to CIW hires, you’d see that it works out more favorably to have a coach in waiting in regards to a retiring coach.

  • ParrishWalton

    I bet if you compared regular hires to CIW hires, you’d see that it works out more favorably to have a coach in waiting in regards to a retiring coach.

    I disagree with this.

  • Trey

    Bill Stewart is making sure he brings down WVU with him…woooooooooooooooooooooo hooooo

  • ParrishWalton

    I don’t think there is evidence that proves it one way or the other, but the fallout is almost never a good thing in these situations.

  • Triston27

    I disagree with this.

    So if a coach retires, you’d rather see the whole staff blown up and rebuilt rather than a few promotions?

    If I recall, Solich had success in succeeding Dr. Tom and it wasn’t until they fired Solich and blew up the staff that Nebraska had to go full rebuild.

  • ThatsSoTaguchi

    I bet if you compared regular hires to CIW hires, you’d see that it works out more favorably to have a coach in waiting in regards to a retiring coach.

    I disagree with this.

    Every situation is different. Triston’s argument feels more right (because its logical) but it feels like coaches in waiting always fail, even if that’s factually incorrect. Someone should do a study.

  • http://cbhsports.blogspot.com cbh49er

    Someone should do a study.

    Get Lisk on it.

  • ParrishWalton

    If I recall, Solich had success in succeeding Dr. Tom and it wasn’t until they fired Solich and blew up the staff that Nebraska had to go full rebuild.

    Solich had success in the same way the Coker had success at Miami. He rode Osborne’s players until he had to recruit his own. Then it hit the fan. Firing him as the right call. It the disastrous hire that came after it that dropped the nuclear bomb in NEBs program.

  • Trey

    Well, does it have to be formal?

  • Triston27

    Solich had success in the same way the Coker had success at Miami. He rode Osborne’s players until he had to recruit his own.

    His 6th and final year was all his recruits and they went 9-3. They haven’t had a winning % that good since. I’m not saying Solich was a great coach, but he did as well with his players as your current staff has with theirs.

  • ParrishWalton

    His 6th and final year was all his recruits and they went 9-3.

    Go back and look at that year again. They played 3 good teams all year…and were hammered in all of them. That was a VERY soft 9 wins.

  • Trey

    Again. Formal or informal? It was always kinda understood that Solich was taking over for Osbourne, but never really announced.

    Just go through college football though. In many cases these guys are replacing legends, and anyone who replaces a legend almost always struggles.

  • Johnny

    I’m glad Penn State doesn’t have a coach in waiting. Of course Joe is telling recruits that he can coach another 4, 5 or 6 more years…

  • John G aka Shatner

    How do I convince my girl that hanging out with her family isn’t as much fun for me as it is for her?

  • ParrishWalton

    Again. Formal or informal? It was always kinda understood that Solich was taking over for Osbourne, but never really announced.

    Not true, actually. It was a big question as to which coordinator would get the job. Charlie McBride (DC) or Solich. It was also presumed that whomever didn’t get it was gone, and McBride retired when Solich got the call.

  • Trey

    How do I convince my girl that hanging out with her family isn’t as much fun for me as it is for her?

    Get shitty wasted, call one of her family member (guy or girl) a whore.

  • http://cbhsports.blogspot.com cbh49er

    How do I convince my girl that hanging out with her family isn’t as much fun for me as it is for her?

    You can’t, just gotta suck it up brah.

  • Triston27

    Go back and look at that year again. They played 3 good teams all year…and were hammered in all of them. That was a VERY soft 9 wins.

    No doubt, but the 10 wins these last two years haven’t necessarily come against CFB’s elite.

  • ThatsSoTaguchi

    How do I convince my girl that hanging out with her family isn’t as much fun for me as it is for her?

    I usually bring up the time she passed out in my lap high and drunk while they were discussing renovating their house with me. Ah, to be young again.

  • John G aka Shatner

    Damn it.

  • Triston27

    Not true, actually. It was a big question as to which coordinator would get the job. Charlie McBride (DC) or Solich. It was also presumed that whomever didn’t get it was gone, and McBride retired when Solich got the call.

    But that’s still within the program thus keeping most of the staff intact. That’s what most of these hires are designed for.

  • ParrishWalton

    But how many have worked, Triston? Outside of Kentucky none have been smooth except maybe Purdue (on field it’s been anything but smooth). It seems like a very unnecessary practice.

  • Triston27

    Miami won a championship. You’re right, in that Coker was riding the coattails, but that’s better than starting with a whole new staff and watching half your recruits bail and go then go on to struggle.

    Sometimes the new coach might only be there for 6 years, and maybe only 4 or 5 will be successful, but that’s better than a new coach coming in for 4 years with only 2 of them successful.

    As Trey said, replacing a legend is damn near impossible to begin with. I just think you’re slightly ahead of the game by replacing that legend with someone who has had some tutelage under that very coach.

    It puts the university at a bit more ease, as well as the players. More importantly, it makes the boosters, who are paying the bill anyway, more comfortable with the hire of someone they’re familiar with.

  • younglefty

    FSU’s coach in waiting scenario seems to have worked out just fine.