So long, coach-in-waiting

June, 13, 2011
6/13/11
9:00
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Let us all hope West Virginia is the last school to ever employ a coach-in-waiting.

The Mountaineers are just the latest team to see the situation fail miserably. About the only people who thought it was a good idea to hire Dana Holgorsen to learn under Bill Stewart for a year were Oliver Luck and the West Virginia administration. But after the events of the past few weeks, Luck has been second-guessed to death. He probably is going to second-guess himself, too, after his quote at the late Friday news conference announcing Stewart was out and Holgorsen was in, a year earlier than planned.
[+] EnlargeBill Stewart
AP Photo/Steve CannonAfter 10 seasons at West Virginia -- the last three as head coach -- Bill Stewart is leaving the program a year earlier than planned.
"At the time I thought it made a lot of sense and was a good management practice. With hindsight, folks could certainly disagree. I will take some time to think about it myself and decide if I made mistakes and, if I did, I will be the first one to acknowledge that I did.

At the time I thought it made some sense. I had an agreement from both coaches that they liked the idea and were willing to work with us on the concept, but hindsight is always 20/20 as we know."

When has a coach-in-waiting worked? When the departing coach has picked his successor or has his own time line for when he wants to step down. There were easy transitions at Wisconsin, Oregon, Kentucky and Purdue. The Boilermakers are the only team of that group that has yet to make a bowl game under their new head coach.

But the situation turned ugly at Maryland, Florida State and now West Virginia. Even Will Muschamp realized he had no idea when Mack Brown would step down at Texas; so he bolted from his coach-in-waiting designation to take the head job at Florida last December. What happened at Florida State is reminiscent of what happened at West Virginia.

You have a coach who's not quite ready to go, a large part of the fan base eager to see him retire, his replacement standing next to him as offensive coordinator and tensions flaring on the coaching staff. At FSU, there were Bowden loyalists on staff and Jimbo Fisher loyalists on staff, and rumors swirled about infighting and no sense of direction in the final few seasons when it seemed the situation was untenable.

After what happened at Florida State in 2009, it seemed obvious the coach-in-waiting idea was a bad one. But that did not stop Luck, who believed it would help Holgorsen ease into the job if he learned from a veteran coach. The idea is a sound one if it existed in a vacuum. But there are egos and feelings involved in any personnel decision.

Luck said there was nothing concrete that pointed to Stewart being the source of allegations that smeared Holgorsen in recent weeks, but it was obvious the situation was untenable. Players admitted as much this weekend.

Offensive tackle Jeff Braun said, "Coach Stewart said himself that these past six months were tough and it would be tough for anybody to have a dream job in your hometown basically and to know that in the back of your mind this is going to be it for you. It’s tough. I think everything fell into place the way it should have at this point. We got rid of any problems and I think for the program itself, it’s going to help us move forward."

Cornerback Keith Tandy said, "It relieves the tension a little bit, I guess. With Coach Stew and Coach Holgorsen both around, it was hard to figure out who to listen to and who was in charge. Now it's more clear-cut and we can get back to work."

We can all say that West Virginia should have never made the decision to designate a coach-in-waiting. But what is important now is that the situation has been resolved before marring the actual football season. Hopefully the rest of the college football world has made a note: "Never again."

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