‘Head coach in waiting’ should go away
Like Crystal Pepsi, the wildcat offense, and grandparents on Facebook, the latest trend taking the nation by storm — major programs announcing a “head coach in waiting” — needs to stop.
Time and time again — proven two more times this past week — teams’ awkward efforts to hang on to the tradition of the past, while simultaneously having eyes glued to the future, have led to strange exits and fruitless results.
At both Texas and Maryland, prominent assistants previously tabbed as their respective schools’ “head coach in waiting” stepped out from their “best man” roles and accepted head coaching gigs and the opportunity to say “I do” elsewhere. Both schools now are left with neither men roaming the sidelines, and with unanswered questions looming from the top to the bottom of their coaching staff org charts.
Will Muschamp, the high-energy defensive coordinator who helped land several of Texas’s top recruits in his three years in Austin, was named as the “head coach in waiting” back in November 2008. At the time of the announcement, athletic director DeLoss Dodds said with confidence, “This is a plan that has been enthusiastically agreed to by Mack Brown, President Powers and the Board of Regents. With the landscape in college football and all of the changes around the country, I’ve been looking at this for the last couple of years. When it’s not working, you have to go outside and make changes. Things are going well here, it’s working, so it’s best to be prepared to build from inside and that’s what we’re doing.”
A little more than two years later, though, 59-year-old head coach Mack Brown hadn’t retired and wasn’t looking to retire, so the University of Florida came knocking with one of college football’s prime gigs. The 39-year-old Muschamp, who lived in Gainesville for 10 years as a child, left his high-paying coordinator job in Austin for an even higher paying head coaching gig at Florida. In his wake, Muschamp leaves a program that went 5-7 in 2010, missed bowl contention for the first time since 1997 and also saw the firing or resignation of three top assistants, including longtime offensive coordinator Greg Davis.
Major Applewhite, a former Longhorns great and the running backs coach at Texas for the past three seasons, could end up following Muschamp to Florida, too. Whether Applewhite stays or goes, it leaves you wondering: What in the heck did Texas get out of naming Muschamp the “head coach in waiting” two years ago?
Certainly, the program’s not in any better shape than it was in November 2008 — and if Mack Brown wasn’t 100 percent committed to stepping down, what exactly was the point?
If anything, the naming of “head coach in waiting” gave Muschamp more national name recognition, enabled him to walk into any recruit’s living room with an impressive title and provided more leverage and security in potential discussions with other schools.
The situation in College Park, Md., is even odder. Just a few days after Muschamp left Austin for Gainesville, Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin — the “head coach in waiting” behind 63-year-old Ralph Friedgen — left the Terrapins to take the head coaching gig at Vanderbilt.
"It was obvious to me right away that this place could be something really special," Franklin said at his introductory press conference last week. "It was really about the people. I was blown away by the people. Really, I was in a situation where I didn’t really have to take a job. I had a pretty good situation. It was going to take something really special to get me to jump on board."
In accepting the job at Vandy, the 39-year-old Franklin became the first African-American coach of any major sport in the school’s rich history. He also left his old “pretty good situation” for a far better one. What’d Maryland get out of naming him their “head coach in waiting” in 2009?
I’m not sure. Shrugged shoulders and some explaining to do for recruits, I guess.
Then, on Monday, Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson announced that Friedgen was fired, effective after the team’s Military Bowl game Dec. 29 against East Carolina. Anderson said he’d intended to keep Friedgen for the final year of his contract until Franklin left for Vandy.
Meanwhile, citing sources close to the Maryland football program, the Washington Post reported Sunday that former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach would be the first choice to replace Friedgen. Anderson said Monday he intended to immediately form a search committee to find Friedgen’s replacement, and acknowledged that Leach is on his preliminary list.
Leach’s agent, Gary O’Hagan, said Saturday that Leach "had gone fishing." Leach, who now lives the good life in Key West, Fla. (as wonderfully detailed by FOX’s Thayer Evans here), did not respond to text messages to his cell phone. It’s worth noting, though, that Leach has a very good relationship with former Maryland football player and Under Armour founder Kevin Plank. The Texas Tech football team was one of the first to sign with the Baltimore-based sports apparel company.
So, there could also be a complete overhaul of the coaching staff at Maryland. If stability and a smooth transition was the goal, the Franklin “head coach in waiting” era could be graded a complete failure.
So, again, I ask: What was the point of naming Franklin the “head coach in waiting” in the first place? Or any “HCIW” at any school, for that matter?
Furthermore, an NCAA rule was passed in January that severely limited the recruiting capabilities of designated coaches in waiting. The rule states assistants "publicly designated" as the next head coach are now bound by the same recruiting rules as the current head coach. That means the “HCIW” can make only one off-campus visit with a prospect, and it can’t be during the critical spring evaluation period of April 15-May 31. Other assistants can have multiple off-campus visits, though.
One more time: What’s the point?!
Time and time again, the naming of a “head coach in waiting” ends awkwardly and with questions to be answered. It’s as if the college football world learned nothing from the Leno-Conan disaster over at NBC.
With Jimbo Fisher anxiously waiting in the wings as the “head coach in waiting” at Florida State, Bobby Bowden and his 377 career wins were pushed uncomfortably out the door last season, before Bowden likely wanted to exit stage left. Fisher was anointed the “HCIW” in 2007, and when New Year’s Day 2010 came around, it was now or never time. Out with the 79-year-old Bowden, and in with Fisher. Thanks for the memories, Bobby.
Though Mike Bellotti’s handing the reins to Chip Kelly in ’09 and Rich Brooks’ passing of the torch to Joker Phillips last season have seemed to worked out fairly well, there doesn’t seem to be much benefit — especially with the new recruiting rules — in naming a "head coach in waiting."
Sure enough, though, late last week — just days after Muschamp and Franklin bolted for greener pastures — West Virginia named former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen its "head coach in waiting."
The offensive wunderkind will replace head coach Bill Stewart for the 2012 season, and Stewart will take an administrative role after the 2011 season. Before naming Holgorsen as their “HCIW,” though, West Virginia officials first had to convince Stewart to surrender the final two years of his existing contract, one that would have paid him in excess of $2 million in 2012 and 2013 combined.
According to the Charleston Gazette, there’s speculation in Morgantown that the school apparently did so by “threatening to void that contract and the liquidated damages clause within it based on the NCAA violations that targeted Stewart.” West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck on Sunday refused to acknowledge that, but he did not deny it.
“I can’t go into coach Stewart’s state of mind and all of that. I wouldn’t want to speculate on that,” Luck (Andrew Luck’s father, by the way) said. “But in terms of the NCAA [investigation], my comment would be that I can’t really comment on that because we’re still in the summary disposition proceedings.”
Whatever the case, it should make for a rather odd situation for head coach and offensive coordinator in Morgantown next season.
Awkward, odd and confusing — the three words I’d use to describe the “head coach in waiting” trend. What’s not to like?
One more time — and say it with me, folks: What’s the point?
Then again, this is college football. And if we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that some questions are just better left unanswered.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.