Monday, December 13, 2010

"Coach in Waiting" is a Bad Idea

Will Muschamp, the Texas Head Coach in Waiting (HCIW), just bolted Texas to replace Urban Meyer at Florida. His actions along with recent history of the position proves again that appointing a coach in waiting is a bad idea.

It's all the rage these days. Colleges fixate on the idea as a way to lock in high powered assistants, usually coordinators, and provide some guarantee of continuity to recruits. Texas, Oregon, Florida State and Maryland represent the major schools who recently tried it; none went well.

The idea fails because it compromises the unity of command and accountability a football coach and team need. It invites ongoing controversy and divided loyalties in the team and creates a trip wire designed to maximize pressure and undermine the head coach.

The NCAA had to develop special rules to treat Head Coaches in Waiting just like head coaches in the recruiting process. Having the Head Coach meet a recruit or parents is a big big deal, and Head Coaches have restricted time on the road. However, if you have two head coaches, then the college could bring the cache of the "head coach" visiting a recruit or school twice as far. Other colleges quite justly complained and wanted the same recruiting restrictions on HCIW.

No matter how you cut it, guaranteeing a top assistant that they are now HCIW makes no sense. First, having a hydra heading coach undermines all leadership principles about unity of command and accountability. It undermines relations among the other assistant coaches by closing off opportunity for advancement at the school or creates divided loyalties among assistants since they must worry about whether the HCIW will keep them after the existing head coach leaves. The assistants and players now have two bosses and are not sure where their real loyalties lie.

Second, at a deep level appointing a coach in waiting violates the push for diversity in college football coaching ranges. With the exceptions of James Franklin, the HCIW at Maryland, all these agreements involve the good old boy fraternity reproducing itself. It bypasses a real search process and undermines the fairness of the search. It makes a mockery of the opportunity and obligation to look at strong minority coaching candidates.

Third, the HCIW places places a loaded gun at the head of the head coach. At Florida State University the regents used the HCIW, Jimbo Fisher, to not so subtly push out Bobby Bowden. Bowden publicly opposed the idea and was pushed out one year after Fisher became HCIW. At Maryland Franklin has a contract that pays him 1 million dollars if he is NOT appointed head coach in 2012. Yet present head coach Ralph Friedgan has announced he wants to stay on and continue coaching, so the team is torn by divided loyalties and leadership especially since Franklin is the top recruiter. After Oregon locked in their unique offensive coordinator Chip Kelly as HCIW, the university pressured head coach Mike Bellotti to step down and take on an AD position which he did not want and which he left within a year to become a fine ESPN analyst.

Fourth, as Muschamp leaving for Florida illustrates, the whole approach is a fraud. HCIW gives the illusion of continuity to recruits and programs, but two headed monsters seldom work well for very long. The heads start to snap at each other. The Texas situation provided a very interesting case. Mack Brown, a robust and ultra successful 59, had no intention of retiring, although he played with the idea. Nonetheless, Texas locked in Muschamp, the hot assistant de jour as HCIW. Not only did Brown have no intention of leaving any time soon, but his prior two defensive coordinators had gone on to be Head coaches at Syracuse and Auburn.

However as soon as Texas stumbled this year, internet mavens and fans turned with brutal suddenness and yelled for Muschamp to replace Brown. The marriage of a vibrant successful head coach and a coach in waiting is guaranteed to not last and perpetuate the cycle of non-minority hires.

It only takes two to three years to unravel. At FSU, Oregon and now Maryland it all came apart. Now Muschamp is leaving Texas because he is ambitious, good and courted. He will replace Urban Meyer after Meyer's second retirement in 12 months and inherit the 35 arrests and team in disarray. The point is that a restless, ambitious and good assistant will not stay locked in the shadows and will not wait too long. They will either precipitate a coup as at Oregon or FSU and possibly Maryland, or they will leave.

The Head Coach in Waiting concept is a bad idea that cannot work smoothly. The younger or more vibrant the Head Coach, the lousier the idea. Appointing a Head Coach in Waiting violates every good principle of leadership and a commitment to diversity and fairness in hiring. It is a bad idea.

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