Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp (left) has been named as Texas' next head coach, although Mack Brown has no plans to retire
I thought of writing about this some time ago, but rather than making the story a rant about an annoying trend, I decided to let some situations progress so more of a conclusion could be made.
Seven Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) ((formerly known as Division I-A)) (((I hate having to say all that))) programs have turned to the head-coach-in-waiting method to beget success through continuity. Some programs already have their successors as the head coach, while other successors are still waiting for their current head coaches to retire. The seven teams who have a head-coach-in-waiting or have already utilized a head-coach-in-waiting, are Texas, Oregon, Florida State, Wisconsin, Maryland, Purdue and Kentucky.
I have a serious problem with this method because it does not allow a fair interviewing process for head coaching vacancies. With so many qualified candidates available, and a push being made for minority candidates, it flies in the face of the system to announce who your next head coach will be before you even need a new head coach. Moreover, I have an even bigger problem with programs and coaches who have not achieved anything to have the audacity to name a successor. In all seriousness, in what other profession do you know where someone could do a mediocre job, not bringing you any tangible progress or success, then turn around and not only tell you when they feel like leaving, but tell you who will be replacing them? It’s laughable.
Maryland has announced offensive coordinator James Franklin will replace head coach Ralph Friedgen when he retires. Friedgen’s big shining moment was finishing first in the ACC in 2001 and then promptly getting blown out by Florida, 56-23, a month later in the 2002 Orange Bowl. Since 2004, the Terps have posted only two winning seasons and this year they are off to a 2-6 start. Franklin is in just his second season as offensive coordinator, his seventh total season with the program. I’m trying to see where exactly the credentials are for a head-coach-in-waiting. This resume looks more like something you would get fired for rather than having a job saved for you in the future.
Purdue is in its first season with head coach Danny Hope, who was predetermined to be the successor to long-time head coach Joe Tiller. Tiller was a good coach, but never took the team past nine wins in his 12 seasons there. His greatest accomplishment was finishing the 2000 season tied for first place in the Big Ten, with Drew Brees leading the way. Hope got off to a rough start, beginning the season 1-5, but pulled off an upset against then-seventh ranked Ohio State, Purdue’s first victory over a ranked opponent since 2003. Purdue is currently 3-5. Again, a program with moderate success, but nothing gaudy has a head-coach-in-waiting, despite not beating any ranked team in six years. That doesn’t quite qualify as a resume so good that you need to save a head coaching job. Its program is certainly not good enough that you have to have someone in place before your coach retires to prevent any turmoil. So far it doesn’t look like the move has paid off.
Kentucky has been known far more for its basketball team than its football team. However, head coach Rich Brooks has decided his offensive coordinator, Joker Phillips, will take the reigns of the program when he leaves, although he has made no retirement plans. Brooks is in his seventh season as head coach, and named his successor in 1994 when he was coach at Oregon. Kentucky is currently 4-3 and looking for its fourth straight winning season. While Brooks has found success afer three abismal years to start his tenure, he has never gotten past eight wins in a season, and Kentucky has never contended for the SEC title. Naming Phillips as your successor despite never winning a conference championship seems a little pretentious considering half the teams in your division have gone to BCS bowl games in the past few years. Kentucky might be on the uptick, but it’s nowhere near a powerhouse and naming a head-coach-in-waiting seems like something they should be doing for basketball rather than football.
Oregon is the program that did this method before anyone else. When Rich Brooks was named coach of the St. Louis Rams in 1994, he made sure his offensive coordinator, Mike Bellotti, took over as head coach of the Ducks. Bellotti made the same move when he left his position with the football team to become Oregon’s athletic director last year. He also picked his offensive coordinator, Chip Kelly, to be the next head coach. Kelly is in his first season and dodged an awful start to get his team to 6-1. Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Boise State player after the team’s first-game loss and was suspended for the season. Kelly turned the situation around and now has the Ducks on a six-game winning streak.
Wisconsin is a program that did this method a couple years ago when long-time head coach Barry Alvarez became athletic director of the university and named Brett Bielema his successor. It has paid off as Bielema went 12-1 in his first year. Now in his fourth year, he is on pace for his fourth winning season. The Badgers are currently 5-2.
Texas has had tremendous success under head coach Mack Brown, but decided to name first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp its head-coach-in-waiting last year. While Texas is a powerhouse program that is successful enough to name head-coaches-in-waiting, it is strange that they would name a first-year coordinator, especially when Brown has absolutley no plans to retire anytime soon. It has been reported that the Longhorns did it as a way of keeping Muschamp with the program, but it is not fair to the hiring process to name a successor when the current person in place has no plans of going anywhere. Texas is a program that is big time enough to do this sort of thing, but the timing of this is absurd.
Florida State is known for its coach Bobby Bowden. But as we all know, all things must come to an end, and Bowden’s career is beginning to wind down. The Seminoles plucked LSU offensive coordinator, Jimbo Fisher, putting him in the same position at Florida State, but promising to name him the next head coach. I didn’t have a problem when this happened because this was the type of situation that head-coaches-in-waiting was really invented for. You have a coach who has built an upper echelon program over the past three or four decades and it is finally time for him to step away. Therefore, you name someone in advance so the program has little turnover when the coach retires. However, due to Bowden’s love for what he does, Fisher is now in his third year as offensive coordinator and his wait could continue. Bowden has talked about coming back for another year or two, putting Fisher in an awkward position. Hindsight being 20/20, it seems a little odd to have a successor wait for what looks like four or more years to take over.
While the concept of naming a successor has good intentions behind it, it doesn’t always work out the way it was planned. With the turnover and uncertainty in college football today, it seems ridiculous to name someone to a position five or six years into the future (maybe even more) just so you don’t have to deal with searching for a new coach and maintaining recruits. Having a head-coach-in-waiting does not allow a fair hiring or interviewing process in a country where equal employment opportunity (EEO) is mandated by law. This concept has become trendy, but should not continue.