Coach in waiting - who wins and who loses?

The coach in waiting phenomenon, which was just announced at Texas and occurred a couple months ago at Florida State, is likely to become a familiar part of the college athletics landscape. But who wins and loses in such an arrangement? Is this a wise choice? Some things to consider:

Potential Winners -

1) The coach in waiting - Obviously a larger paycheck and a public coronation while the head coach keeps your headset warm for you has no downside. Further, nothing says "I'm ready to be a head coach" like this title, which makes you that much more attractive to potential suitors who might offer you even more money and potentially a better job (Does the coach in waiting have a buyout clause?).

2) The current head coach - The ability to retain the person who is your most loyal, trusted and theoretically talented assistant coach for the foreseeable future is a tremendous benefit for the success of your program. Further, there is nothing like having a hand picked successor to help further cement your coaching legacy.

3) The athletic director - Having a succession plan in place before a vacancy ever develops is part of what a good athletic director does, and this clearly says "I've got a plan - Coach Waiting is the best coach in the country". Otherwise, why would you do it.

4) Agents - As they increasingly infiltrate college athletics, this new title has just opened up a whole new rationale for assistant coaches to use an agent. Agents can further justify their services and associated fees to offensive and defensive coordinators as well as head coaches up and down the pay scale.

Potential Losers:

1) Diversity - The Black Coaches Association, Dr. Richard Lapchick, and many other organizations and individuals have frequently cited the lack of diversity in college football. Each year the BCA releases a report card of hiring practices in five categories - Communication, Hiring and Search Committee, Candidates Interviewed, Reasonable Time, and Affirmative Action Procedures. Time will tell if the coach in waiting is one that enhances or diminishes the diversity of college football in head coaching positions, but I would assume that none of the five criteria that the BCA has identified to promote diversity in the coaching ranks will be met in any situation where a coach in waiting exists.

2) The current program - Life can be unpredictable. What if the coach in waiting commits a crime or is arrested for a DWI? What if the coach commits NCAA recruiting violations? What if the coach in waiting falls out of favor for reasons related to the sport? Coaching changes are complicated enough. Already having named your future coach makes them that much more tricky.

3) Other members of the staff - The reality is that coach in waiting title is a signal to the other coordinator that he has no shot at the head coaching position should it open. While that may have been understood anyway, since you can only have one coach in waiting he should start considering his options for advancement elsewhere and take those calls that come his way.

While there have long been designations like associate head coach to signal who is the second in command in a program, this move is an escalation of that concept and is a very public statement that no one else need apply or hold their breath in anticipation of an opening. And while the rationale for such a move will vary from institution to institution, there are no guarantees that what looks like a wise move today, will appear so thoughtful and visionary three, five or ten years down the road despite what are the best intentions behind that choice today.
-ultimate sports insider


J Simon said…
I think the coach in waiting concept can be positive when a school is dealing with a 1 to 2 year window when a coach is set to retire. Setting up the replacement coach can aid in the transition and help prevent negative recruiting for the school.
What I do not agree with are the open ended arrangements set up at FSU and Texas. What happens if Texas looses to Oklahoma for the next 5 years and gives up an average of 60 points a game? It was very surprising for Texas to hand over the keys to their program to someone who at the time of the decision had been on the campus for a little over 10 months and had never been a head coach before. Also, what happens when the AD who made the decision retires? A new AD may be handcuffed by a decision and commitment made 5 maybe 8 years ago when the climate of the program was completely different. Setting up an open ended coach in waiting can be risky and costly to the budget when you consider the fact the coach in waiting at Texas will reportedly be making more money than a few head coaches at BCS schools. The jury is still out but it may become a trend to be a safer career move to serve as a coach in waiting and stay at a big time BCS school rather than taking a job as a head coach at a non BCS school to work your way up the coaching ranks. The real question is who will end up being a better head coach someone who actually was a head coach or some who served as a head coach in waiting.
Michael Cross said…
Excellent observations. The continuity in recruiting is a key factor and makes sense for certain situations. Indeed it may be part of the primary motivation. A coach in waiting suggests a level of certainty. However, this certainty is difficult to achieve in circumstances where a person has been on staff for 10 months. Again, the greatest benefactor of these situations is the coach in waiting himself. He gains certainty, less so everyone else. If Iowa State head coach Gene Chizik with a 5-19 record can leave Iowa State after a 2 seasons and a verbal agreement for a contract extension, there is no level of certainty that can be applied to an offensive or defensive coordinator.