June 10, 2011

Coach-in-waiting concept can create turmoil

West Virginia A.D. Oliver Luck had no choice this week but to force out coach Bill Stewart after rumblings began that Stewart and/or his wife had fabricated stories about coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen to newspaper reporters.

News of Stewart trying to sabotage Holgorsen's image seemingly came out of nowhere in recent weeks. In March, I asked Stewart, 58, if he had any hard feelings about Holgorsen coming in to take his job after the 2011 season.

"That is baloney," he said then. "We are going to show a defining moment next year. The new coaches have been so respectful. Things are going pretty good. It has been a dream come true."

Earlier this spring, Holgorsen also sounded as though things were running smoothly.

"Do me and Bill have any hard feelings between us? No, he is a great guy," Holgorsen told me. "He's just a West Virginia guy who wants the school to be successful. We are working well together and will try to win a bunch of games. This is going to be fun."

Turns out, it wasn't much fun at all for those two. Still, the assistants say the staff as a whole gets along.

"That's the one thing that has been surprising to me in the media," says one WVU assistant, who asked to remain anonymous. "We actually get along well. We have a good rapport, but people make it seem like we are fighting. That's not the case."

An offshoot of this Morgantown soap opera may be the end of "coach-in-waiting" arrangements.

In recent years, we have seen Florida State, Kentucky, Texas, Purdue, Maryland and Wisconsin hatch such arrangements. And in many instances, the process was rocky.

The idea seems good in theory. A school avoids the tumult of a sudden coaching change that can rock a program's recruiting effort. And if a school has to hire a head coach at an inopportune time - say, in January or even after February - the market for good assistants can be scarce.

But these arrangements are rife with potential problems. The biggest issue: Who is in charge?

Do the assistant coaches listen to the coach or the coach-in-waiting? The players can be equally as confused.

"It isn't fair to the current head coach," says a current college assistant who served on the 2008 Purdue staff that featured Danny Hope as coach-in-waiting under Joe Tiller and asked for anonymity. "On top of that, it creates tension. You don't know at the end of the year if you are going to have a job.

"You are working hard, but you are tense and you aren't yourself. You feel like you are auditioning for the new guy taking over. It creates a lot of uncertainty."

James Franklin was named coach-in-waiting at Maryland in 2009, but he never did take over. Ralph Friedgen was fired after the 2010 season, but he wasn't fired until Franklin had taken the coaching job at Vanderbilt.

"It was tough because you are serving two masters," says an assistant who was on that 2010 Terps staff and asked to remain anonymous. "You don't know who you should be loyal to. You know one guy is on his way out, but he's still in charge. The other guy isn't in charge, but you know he's going to be the boss.

"A lot of times, the new guy is trying to get things in order like he wants. But it might not be what the head coach wants. That can make it tough."

The players also are impacted.

"They almost have to pick sides," says the 2010 Maryland assistant. "Who do you hook your wagon to? The players want to be loyal to the head coach who brought them in, but at some point they will be playing for the other guy."

Staff strife apparently was an issue at Florida State. Jimbo Fisher was brought on board in 2007 to serve as coach-in-waiting under Bobby Bowden. The program foundered, and one reason was because there was a chasm between the assistants who were loyal to Bowden and those that Fisher had brought in.

From 2007-2009, the program struggled, going 23-16 overall and 13-11 in the ACC. Once Fisher took over at the end of the 2009 season, he fired three members of the old staff and hired five new assistants. The program proceeded to win the ACC Atlantic title and post a 10-4 record last season. It was Florida State's first double-digit victory total since a 10-3 mark in 2003.

With Stewart out, West Virginia can keep the focus on the field. That's good because this is a team that's picked by most to win the Big East. The reason for the optimistic forecast? Holgorsen's arrival means WVU will be running his high-powered version of the spread offense.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.




 

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