Bill Stewart Out? Implications for Cockydom
So it appears yet another athletics director, this time Oliver Luck of West Virginia, has decided to immolate himself on the fast-growing pyre of AD’s who have opted for the “head coach in waiting” approach to coaching stability. On the heels of reports that head coach Bill Stewart had been caught soliciting damaging “dirt” on incoming offensive mastermind/head coach in waiting/future Valhalla resident Dana Holgorsen, the none-too-surprising news is breaking via Joe Schad at ESPN that Stewart’s days are probably finished at WVU. It appears, I can’t help observing, that WVU is determined never to have a non-controversial coaching situation again, ever. Let’s leave aside the tantalizing question of what precisely is the matter with these people, who have lately added in-stadium beer sales for the Mountaineer faithful to the motley retinue of reasons Big East fans really ought to consider the joys of HD television when planning their road game itineraries.
More interesting to me, and presumably to readers of this blog, is the problem of dynastic succession at the University of South Carolina upon the retirement of Steve Spurrier. (A quick aside for context: Based on an excellent and totally super-secret source close the the Big Man himself, the HBC is not going to leave USC for another job under any circumstances, does not have the liquid assets he wants to retire on, was recently constrained by Jerri Spurrier to sell the house they built in favor of another as-yet-undetermined property, therefore wants another four to five years at Carolina, consequently DID ask for an extension from AD Eric Hyman, subsequently WAS turned down contrary to reports elsewhere, and thus is kinda stuck with USC while the reverse is not exactly true.) It’s going to be a black day at Carolina when Spurrier hangs up his (ahem) spurs. In anticipation of this, and in the belief that SOS is the only reason South Carolina is able to recruit effectively of late, many fans have suggested that the AD really ought to name a head coach in waiting–favorite candidates vary–in order to help keep the staff together and put potential recruits at ease about the stability of the program.
I’m not wholly unsympathetic to the argument, but I think events at those schools who have gone that route speak for themselves, and there are reasons why it wouldn’t work well at South Carolina in particular. First of all, the HCIW is a big, blinking red sign that reads, “Head Coach Getting Old, May Retire Soon.” It worsens the very perception problem that your program is already busy trying to manage, and the truth of the matter is that any assistant worth the HCIW tag is probably not all that interested in waiting very long, as Will Muschamp will tell you. This points out the second problem, which is that most older coaches resent the message the whole arrangement sends and the consequent pressure it puts on them to retire from the sport at a time more convenient to the university–after every big loss such a coach can practically hear the AD clearing his throat suggestively over his shoulder. All this can possibly do is create damaging tension and resentment between him and his assistants, as has been demonstrated not only at WVU, but most famously at Florida State.
Which brings us to USC’s particular situation. There has been a problem with Carolina’s staff not often being on the same page because of interpersonal issues of precisely this nature. Some of these have become relatively public, and some of them haven’t. Spurrier is an extremely proud man (and with very good reason, I should say). His son is also on the staff, and has gotten some opportunities that haven’t always set well with other coaches. Beyond that, there has been a serious problem keeping the defensive coaching staff united behind Spurrier and whoever the DC happened to be at any given time, that is, the tension between SOS and his defensive staff that exists as a matter of course. Add to this the fact that AD Eric Hyman is actually eager to put his stamp on the coaching situation at Carolina, and what you end up with is a situation where a HCIW is not only unrealistic, but a potential source of problems on the field.
Moreover, I would argue that the concern over high school recruits’ perceptions is baseless. It might be that coach Spurrier’s name still has a lot of purchase with the average high school junior–I personally doubt that it does–but the bottom line is that nobody on the current staff is much of a household name except among SEC super-fans. Naming G.A. Mangus as the HCIW wouldn’t exactly do much for perception, and while Assistant Head Coach Ellis Johnson certainly has the respect of everyone who knows the sport, he’s also got one really glaring characteristic that defeats the entire purpose of a HCIW: He’s kinda freakin’ old, and not likely to be in coaching for another eight or ten years. Don’t get me wrong, I think he could make a fine head coach wherever he went, but it isn’t as though naming him as Spurrier’s successor would solve the problem with long-term coaching stability. And as for naming Spurrier, Jr.? I hope I don’t have to explain why that would be sand-poundingly stupid.
In short, USC is not going to do this because 1) Hyman wants to hire his own man (Gary Patterson, whom he hired at TCU, has often been mentioned as a default candidate); 2) it would create serious problems with the staff that could bleed over onto the field on game day, as we saw in the 2008 season; 3) it would tie Hyman’s hands on too many issues, such as which assistants to keep and what they should be paid under a new regime; and 4) it wouldn’t solve the perception that South Carolina’s program will hit hard times after Spurrier retires anyway. It is my personal belief that G.A. Mangus and Ellis Johnson will both get serious consideration for the job, and that Mangus is the better choice of the two. But that’s neither here nor there nor, it turns out, way over there.
In another post, I’ll address why I don’t believe USC will necessarily take a dip either in recruiting or on the field after the Spurrier era, and why the program is on better footing than it’s ever been in spite of some real lingering difficulties and structural disadvantages.