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Head-Coach-In-Waiting: A Concept Whose Time Has Come And Gone

Recently there have been discussions and comments on our boards, and more at some of our sister sites, due to the shenanigans of Bill Stewart at West Virginia, about the head-coach-in-waiting concept.  The whole head-coach-in-waiting concept can become very disadvantageous and could very well become a double-edged knife (in the back-pun intended).

Florida State is very fortunate and we are very grateful that having gone through the HCIW scenario, it appears to have turned out very good for us even though it did get a little messy at the end when Bobby Bowden was not ready to retire.  The situation with Stewart at WVU, while not quite the same,  i.e. a coach who felt he was not being treated fairly and that he deserves more time, is headed for a meltdown.  This is all due to a gutless AD who decided that instead of firing Stewart outright, it would be better to give Stewart his one year notice of termination and have him break in his successor. Stewart allegedly wasn't  thrilled with this arrangement and decided to expose HCIW Dana Holgorsen as a sloppy drunk who repeatedly gets thrown out of casinos.  I don't see any way Stewart will survive this, and I believe his treachery will lead to his resignation, buy out, or firing.

In football, credit is given to Wisconsin as the pioneers in the HCIW concept. The Barry Alvarez to Bret Bielema HCIW situation at Wisconsin is one of only a few that has gone smoothly and according to plan where there was a named HCIW ready to take control from their predecessor.

From:  A Successful Blueprint For A Head Coach in Waiting Arrangement.

Wisconsin pioneered the HCIW concept back in June of 2005 when they announced that Coach Barry Alvarez would be relinquishing control of the football program after the 2005 season to HCIW Bret Bielema.  There had been HCIW deals prior to that, but only in basketball, and this was the first such arrangements I could find ever in college football.  Today there are many HCIW deals in place including one in our own ACC, at Maryland between Ralph Friedgen and Jim Franklin, there is also one at Texas between Mack Brown and Will Muschamp, and there are presently deals in place at Oregon, Kentucky, and Purdue...

The first key to a successful HCIW deal is that the termination date for the current coach must be defined and agreed to in advanced by all parties, and the transition date should not, under any circumstance, be more than 1 year away.

The next thing Alvarez did at Wisconsin is to allow Bielema full access to all his notes on team matters from the years past, and copy him on all the notes he took on daily basis. This only seems logical and worked out well at Wisconsin, however I have my doubts that Bowden's notes would be of much use to Jimbo.  The point is though, the sharing of as much possible information to help your replacement succeed.  I can't say for sure, but I don't think Bowden is all that eager to help out Fisher as we would like him to be.

Next, HCIW Bielema was present at and sat in on every offense meeting, defensive meeting, and special teams meeting between coaches.  He watched and learned how Alvarez conducted these meeting, to get an idea of what went on during these meetings, how to run these meetings, and what was going on in the day to day happenings of the other parts of the team that he was not in direct contact with on a daily basis.

Whenever Alvarez held a press conference, HCIW Bielema would attend, not to participate in, but to listen in on the questions being asked of the Coach Alvarez, how he answered those questions, about what information to release regarding the status of the team, and to become familiar with the members of the media.

Finally, as the season was coming to an end, there was a transition period where Alvarez slowly relinquished some of the day to day functions of the team, turning them over to the HCIW. 

There was no questions who the number 2 coach was on that team. 

There were no conflicts, power struggles, backstabbing, or sabotaging, between coaches on that team. 

And finally the returning players, on all sides of the ball, were gaining respect and getting to know their future head coach.

The other HCIW situations at Kentucky, Purdue, Oregon, Texas, and Maryland, well, I let you decide how well they turned out.

While the Joker Phillips for Rich Brooks at the University of Kentucky, and the Danny Hope for Joe Tiller at Purdue HCIW transitions appeared smooth, they were both seamless due to the impending retirements of their former coaches who had a set timetable, and were ready to retire.  However....

Whether or not Joker Phillips at UK was the right choice as head coach, only time will tell. If he is able to maintain something close to a .500 record, he will probably meet the low expectations of the Wildcat alumni and could very well survive for the time being.

It has become clear that naming Danny Hope HCIW at Purdue was obviously a mistake, and unless he performs some miracles this upcoming season, I would be very surprised if he returns in 2012.

Aside from FSU, it appears that Oregon also had a successful HCIW arrangement.  The Ducks are having the on-field success the rich boosters demand and the appearances of a smooth transition were present. However, the Mike Bellotti to Chip Kelly transition may not have been as smooth as was portrayed to the fans and media. 

Like Bowden, it was strongly rumored that Bellotti intended on coaching another year, but was forced out ($$$) earlier than planned because of the fear by mega-booster Phil Knight (Nike), as well as others, that Kelly would leave for another job if Bellotti stayed any longer.  Being the good $oldier he is, Bellotti denied these rumors at his earlier than planned resignation news conference. Nevertheless, the rumors persisted that if he did not leave a year earlier than planned, Bellotti would not become the Athletic Director, a position he was promised as part of the Chip Kelly HCIW package.  It was also rumored that Bellotti really wasn't all that interested in, nor qualified, for the AD position.  These rumors may have some merit since Bellotti "resigned" after only 9 short months on the job. Also, during his tenure as AD, Bellotti worked without a contract or any severance package in place.  Yet after his "resignation," he walked away with a $2.3 million severance package and joined ESPN. Again, even though Kelly has brought the Ducks success on the field, their many off-field disciplinary issues have kept them in the headlines ever since he took over.  Disciplinary issues aside, Kelly does appear to be a solid football coach and a good fit.

The situation at Texas also could have gotten very messy if Mack Brown were to get pressured if he were to have another miserable season like the one he just had, because Brown gives all appearances that he has no intention of leaving.  However, we will never know how it would have played out because Will Muschamp saw the writing on the wall, got tired of waiting, and decided to jump ship when presented with the chance to coach at Florida.

The HCIW scenario at Maryland also never got the chance to play out.  Despite having a successful season by Maryland standards, it became crystal clear to James Franklin, the HCIW, that their new AD had no intention of honoring the HCIW deal in place (signed by their previous AD) and he left for Vandy when presented the chance, since the new AD said Ralph Friedgen would be given an extension. Franklin's departure was the best possible scenario for the Terps since it saved them a reported $1million dollar buyout or a possible legal battle, and opened the door for Maryland to use that money to fire Friedgen.

At this point, nothing good will come from keeping Stewart on at WVU for another year. WVU’s HCIW plan was one that was doomed for failure from the start since it was initiated by their AD due to Stewart not being a very good coach.  If Stewart is allowed to stay he could very well become a cancer that could cause infighting and divide the coaching staff by their allegiances, as well as the players. Sound familiar?

We at FSU know first hand how the blueprint was not followed here, how things turned ugly because there was no set timetable, and how Bowden was allowed to do a year by year "self-evaluation" to see if he wanted to continue. The cancer I spoke of above is exactly what happen here at FSU.  This is why the first thing Jimbo Fisher did when he took over on Jan 2nd was clean house of the worthless assistants that Bowden retained out of loyalty.  Those same ones who undermined him at every possible opportunity. You would think as HCIW, Fisher would have had some control or input in how things were being done. But in reality he was #4 in level of authority behind Mickey Andrews and Chuck Amato. However, despite the ugliness that ensued at FSU, all of us are positive that the morals and characters of Bowden and Stewart are nowhere similar. While Bowden didn’t want to leave either, and he let it be known he wanted more time despite it being past time for his departure, he would never resort to the douchebag tactics "allegedly" tried by Stewart.

I guess my point is that for almost every HCIW agreement that has existed, with the possible exception of Wisconsin, there have been presiding coaches who decided they were not ready to leave or weren't in agreement with the termination date, or the HCIW agreement never came to fruition or went as planned, or the HCIW might not have been the best candidate for the job or they are not meeting expectations and their teams are under-performing.

Despite the perceived benefits of having a HCIW already on board, recent history tell us it may be wiser to wait until the head coaching position is, or about to become vacant, for whatever reason, then conducting a search and choosing your next head coach from the national pool of available candidates.

As far as any other major college football program installing a HCIW in the future, with the new restrictions placed on head-coaches-in-waiting by the NCAA as far as recruiting is concerned, I would be very surprised if we ever see it happen again at any major college program. Although stranger things have and will continue to happenen in college football.