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Coach-in-waiting agreements in college football seen as risky propositions

West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck said he was influenced by the coach-in-waiting models at Wisconsin and Oregon when he decided to hire Dana Holgorsen as Bill Stewart's successor following the 2011 season.
West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck said he was influenced by the coach-in-waiting models at Wisconsin and Oregon when he decided to hire Dana Holgorsen as Bill Stewart's successor following the 2011 season. (Jason Deprospero/the Dominion Post Via Associated Press)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2010; 12:14 AM

In a matter of days this past week, the coach-in-waiting trend that was all the rage in college football two years ago appeared in danger of extinction. Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp and Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin - the two remaining members of the coach-in-waiting fraternity - departed the programs they were in line to take over eventually, instead assuming head coaching positions elsewhere .

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Then West Virginia sustained the movement Wednesday by hiring Dana Holgorsen, who served this past season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, to become Coach Bill Stewart's successor following the 2011 season.

Coach-in-waiting arrangements are viable only when an explicit endpoint is laid out, according to first-year West Virginia Athletic Director Oliver Luck.

"Over the years, as someone who has followed college football, I've looked at these arrangements, and I haven't been, quite honestly, a big fan of them," Luck said in a telephone interview. "The reason in my mind was the lack of a definite date in most of the cases."

In December 2008, five division I-A programs employed coaches-in-waiting. Two months later, Maryland said Franklin either would assume the reins from Coach Ralph Friedgen by January 2012 or he would be paid $1 million. However, Friedgen was under no obligation - contractual or otherwise - to step down during that time period.

Since then, only West Virginia has elected to go the coach-in-waiting route.

One deterrent has been the recruiting restriction the NCAA put into effect last spring that bound coaches-in-waiting to the same rules as head coaches. That meant such designated assistants - often a staff's best recruiter - would be severely limited in the number of in-home visits he could make and in the times during the year in which he could make them.

Texas and Maryland - the only two schools affected by the new rule at the time - were granted reprieves so that the new rule did not apply to them. Texas Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds said his school's fight to abolish the rule is ongoing.

"Yeah, I think it's a deterrent because you want all of your assistant coaches viable to recruit," Dodds said in a telephone interview. "We've got some legislation that's pending. The first one we did was to grandfather us out of it, and the second one was to do away with the rule. It's a rule that shouldn't be there. It's something that will be looked at this year by NCAA membership."

The concern also exists that coach-in-waiting arrangements carry the potential of dividing players, staffs and fan bases, especially if a team's performance spirals downward.

When Jimbo Fisher, then Florida State's offensive coordinator, was tapped as the program's coach-in-waiting in December 2007, no timetable was established for when Coach Bobby Bowden would retire. Following a disastrous 2009 season during which unrest in and around the Seminoles' locker room became the norm and Fisher drew interest from other programs in search of a head coach, Bowden was forced to step down. Since then, Bowden has displayed bitterness toward his former employer in his public comments.

The potential for such fallout was a central concern for Virginia Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver when he took part in preliminary discussions with Coach Frank Beamer and university president Charles Steger more than a year ago about the possibility of naming defensive coordinator Bud Foster the program's coach-in-waiting.

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