A coaching trend that's near extinction
The designated head-coach-in-waiting, all the rage among FBS staffs just two years ago, went into hospice care Saturday. Only one living, breathing model of the HCIW, James Franklin of Maryland, remains.
Will Muschamp, the most prominent of the designees, abdicated his future ascension to the throne of King Mack I on Saturday and left Texas to become the head coach at Florida. Muschamp's career at Texas and how he ended it highlighted both the advantages and the limitations of the concept.
The concept is the discussion. The reality of the head-coach-in-waiting contracted a terminal illness last year. The NCAA ruled that the designated successor would be subject to the more restrictive off-campus-recruiting rules of a head coach instead of an assistant. The schools that had designated successors got a waiver, because a Texas isn't going to pay a Muschamp $900,000 to stay home.
"The NCAA decision ensures that the trend will not continue," NC State athletic director Debbie Yow said. When she was athletic director at Maryland, she and head coach Ralph Friedgen had signed a deal with Franklin, the Terps' offensive coordinator, to be Friedgen's successor.
The head-coach-in-waiting became merely a fad, the Snuggie of athletic administration. He has disappeared from campuses faster than Four Loko, another great idea on the drawing board that had unintended consequences once it hit campus. Turns out it's not such a great idea to mix caffeine and alcohol.
In February 2009, Maryland, Kentucky, Oregon, Purdue, Florida State and Texas all had named one of their coordinators as the successor-to-be to their longtime head coach.
Four of the designees ascended to the job as planned. Chip Kelly has taken Oregon to the BCS National Championship Game this year and won the Pacific-10 Conference in each of his two seasons. As messy as the transition from Bobby Bowden to Jimbo Fisher became, the latter led Florida State to the the ACC championship game in 2010.
Joker Phillips eked Kentucky into the BBVA Compass Bowl this season. Danny Hope, 9-15 in two seasons at Purdue, is struggling. That left Franklin at Maryland and Muschamp at Texas. In January 2009, Muschamp told my colleague Mark Schlabach, "The opportunity to be the head coach at Texas is unbelievable. There isn't a better job in the country."
On Tuesday night, Muschamp will get the news conference that every assistant coach dreams of. Except he will get it at Florida. Muschamp turned out to be the coach-in-tired-of-waiting. "I wouldn't have left for any other job," he said Saturday night.
Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds has no regrets. He believes the Longhorns benefited from making Muschamp the designated successor to Mack Brown.
"He had opportunities to leave and should have had them and still wanted to be at Texas," Dodds said Monday. "Florida is one of those schools you don't turn down. I understand that. I think everybody knows that. But it kept him here three years."
In those three years, Dodds went on to list, the Longhorns came within one second of being No. 1 going into the Big 12 championship game (2008) and played for the BCS national Championship (2009). And even in the most recent, eminently forgettable 5-7 season, the Longhorns' defense played better than the team's record.
"We gained a lot from it, and he gained a lot from it," Dodds said. "And I think it gave Florida some confidence in hiring him."
Muschamp's designation at Texas gives Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley some cover for hiring a coordinator with no head-coaching experience. Muschamp has been considered a can't-miss candidate -- he's smart, he's fiery and he works the requisite 80-hour weeks -- for several years. Still, Foley hired veteran assistant Ron Zook as head coach in 2002. Zook won at Florida, just not enough to meet the Gators' standards (23-15 in three seasons).
But Muschamp has the cachet to satisfy the Bull Gators. Florida stole him from Texas! Dodds, as he said above, understands as much. He liked the idea when Brown wanted to do it. Looking back, he still likes it. Dodds would appoint another designated successor.
"If the circumstances were right, I'd consider it," Dodds said.
The NCAA has assured that they never will be right again. The head-coach-in-waiting is, like Wall-E, the last of his kind.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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