Archive for the ‘Coach-in-waiting’ Category

On the Spot: Will Muschamp

May 7, 2009

When I first looked at the iPhone with all of its cool bells and whistles, I decided that I had to have one. It’s hip. It’s a conversation starter. And most importantly, you can’t help but feel like you’ll be better off once you have one. I mean, that one guy runs his entire company on his for crying out loud.

I’ve had my iPhone for a little more than six months now, and it seems like I like it. The different apps are pretty neat. I like the video and audio functions. The browser is great. Overall, I feel like I keep telling myself that I’ve reached some ineffable level of all-around “better” for having it.

The only problem is that I don’t really know if I can explain how it’s better than my old Blackberry, let alone if it actually is. Since I’ve had it, I haven’t really been able to achieve the level of excitement that I felt when I was about to buy it. Nor have I reached some nirvana-like state of mobile computing. In short, it’s cool, but it’s not the end-all-be-all that it seems. (And typing on it kinda sucks. And why didn’t anyone tell me there wasn’t a cut-and-paste option?)

Whether they want to admit it or not, defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is the no-longer-brand-new iPhone for Burnt Orange Nation.
Coach Blood arrived in Austin from Auburn last offseason oozing with promise. Given the Longhorns’ success with ex-Auburn defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, Texas fans had good reason to think Muschamp could shore up a defense that struggled mightily in 2007. In fact, Muschamp so ingratiated himself on the 40 Acres that the higher-ups decided to name him Mack Brown’s successor before the end of his first season at UT.
The Longhorns had an outstanding year in 2008–they beat Oklahoma, won a BCS bowl game and finished the season with a sparkling 12-1 record. So it’s not surprising that the Texas brass and fan base collectively feel better about the state of their program with Muschamp on board.
And it’s not like Texas’ defense didn’t show signs of improvement last year. For example, the Longhorn D gave up seven fewer points per game than they did in ’07. Sacks jumped dramatically, up from 28 in ’07 to 47 in ’08, evidence of the life the fiery coordinator injected into his unit.
On the other hand, Texas allowed slightly more yards per play last year than the year before–5.5 to 5.3. Turnovers generated were way down in 2008. Also, some of Texas’ tougher competition rolled up some big offensive numbers. Against OU, while the Longhorn defenders came up big when they needed to, the Sooners still strafed UT for 35 points and nearly 400 yards passing. Likewise, Texas Tech gained almost 600 yards in total offense en route to 39 points in a win over UT.
Where, exactly, is the dramatic improvement that warrants all the excitement around the young coach-in-waiting? Clearly, Muschamp looks and feels the part of the energetic young turk ready to lead the Longhorns. At the end of the upcoming season, we may have a better idea if really he is.

Coaches Waiting to Fail

March 14, 2009

There’s a saying that goes something like “cemeteries are full of irreplaceable people.” Try telling that to the college football world, where a more appropriate credo seems to be “never follow a legend.”

Seriously, Homerism is struggling to think of one instance in the last three decades in which a coach was able to step in and successfully replace a legendary predecessor. (The situations at Miami in the ’80s and LSU this decade come to mind, but the men who started these sustained periods of excellence, Howard Schnellenger and Nick Saban, both had relatively short tenures.)

Yet, you could write a biblical-like genealogy of successors who have failed to live up to the lofty expectations established by an icon:

  • Oklahoma: Switzer begat Gibbs, who begat Schnellenberger, who begat Blake;
  • Notre Dame: Holtz begat Davie, who begat Willingham, who begat Weis;
  • Nebraska: Osborne begat Solich, who begat Callahan;
  • Florida: Spurrier begat Zook;
I could keep going–Alabama, Michigan, Texas, Ohio State, USC–but you get the point. Looking at that list, that whole “ties to the program” hasn’t worked out too well either.

So yesterday’s news that Mike Bellotti had decided to hand over the reins at Oregon to predestined successor Chip Kelly got Homerism to thinking about this trend of “coaches-in-waiting.” Specifically, other than money, why the hell would any up-and-coming assistant like Kelly be interested in this kind of arrangement? 

Kelly’s situation isn’t much different from that of Will Muschamp at Texas, Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, or even Joker Phillips at Kentucky. All are highly regarded assistants with no head coaching experience who parlayed outside interest from other schools into lucrative guarantees from their current employers.

Now, whether or not Bellotti qualifies as a legend is certainly debatable. However, what shouldn’t be debatable is whether or not he is the best coach in Duck history. He’s leaving the Oregon football program in a completely different stratosphere from where it was when he inherited it. For Kelly, there’s a little room to move up and a whole lot farther way to fall. That doesn’t strike Homerism as a situation built to succeed for a first-time head coach.
At least the CIWs are getting paid, though. Considering the track record, athletic directors pushing these arrangements just look foolish.

Sure, the allure of “continuity” is understandable. And maybe coaches actually do benefit from apprenticing at the side of a legend.

In reality, though, when successful leaders leave any organization, seamless transitions just don’t happen–the chain is broken. Likewise, the notion that iconic coaches can be cloned seems like pie in the sky. Sure, it’s possible to impart strategies from one generation of coaches to another, but it’s not like personality transplants occur. Also, obsessing over one aspect of a candidate’s resumé, such as having a history with a school, can cause the people making a hiring decision to ignore what should be its goal: finding the best coach for the job.

Any time a school loses a coach who has become synonymous with its football program–think Bowden, Paterno, Spurrier–the specter of that figure is always going to loom large for whomever takes over. That’s tough enough, but expecting the replacement to actually be his predecessor makes the task that much harder. Especially for a second banana taking over at the top.
When a legend steps down, bringing in an outsider may not play well with the boosters. After all, if it ain’t broke. 
Know what will play even worse with the alums? Disappointment and a painful divorce a few years down the line.