Welcome back to Three Downs and Punt, where we curled up in the corner, locked in the throes of withdrawal symptoms until the New Mexico Bowl finally gets the season cranked back up on Saturday. Or as a reader named Jackie in Johnstown wrote to me over the weekend: "I never thought I would say this, but thank god for the FCS playoffs. The last thing I want to do a on a Saturday is talk to my husband."
To the plays!
First Down: RIP to the Head Coach in Waiting
Friends and neighbors, we are gathered here today to say farewell to a friend we never really understood, but of whom there is no question is dead and gone. I'm talking about the Head Coach in Waiting, ole HCIW, who passed quietly with the issuing of an ill-timed press release during Saturday night's Heisman Trophy ceremony.
The Head Coach in Waiting concept was birthed in 2007, when Florida State looked into the crystal ball and realized that 78-year-old Bobby Bowden's imminent retirement was now being used against them in the recruiting wars when searching for players and assistant coaches. ("Why would you go to FSU, Bowden won't even be there two years from now, who's going to be the head coach then, huh?") It also served as a way to keep a carrot dangling in front of coveted offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who had joined the Seminoles after serving on what has now become a legendary Nick Saban-led LSU coaching staff and ended up becoming the man tagged as the HCIW.
Soon Oregon followed suit, designating still-new offensive coordinator Chip Kelly to HCIW behind Mike Bellotti, who quickly moved up to athletic director and promoted Kelly. I'd say that's worked out pretty well.
Then Belliotti's predecessor at Oregon, Rich Brooks, tagged longtime offensive assistant Joker Phillips as his HCIW at Kentucky in 2008, knowing that his retirement wasn't too far away. It came at the end of the '09 season, and this year Phillips led the Wildcats to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.
But this is where the use of the HCIW started getting kind of goofy. Texas designated defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, (also a former LSU staffer) as HCIW behind Mack Brown, despite that Brown seemed nowhere close to retiring, certainly not as close as Bowden. In 2009 Maryland named offensive coordinator James Franklin as its official heir, even though 62-year-old head coach Ralph Friedgen seemed more likely at the time to be fired than retired.
Officially, Franklin's HCIW tag was to fend off the increasing number of overtures he'd been receiving from other teams, particularly from the NFL. In Austin they'd claimed the same reason, to give thirtysomething Muschamp a reason to ignore the seduction of other ADs and stay at Texas.
Then came Saturday night, when Muschamp left Texas for Florida. Meanwhile, Franklin was circling the Vanderbilt job like a starving falcon (and still could be offered the job as of this writing).
Three years ago, every major program was talking about who and why they should name their Head Coach In Waiting. Now they are all gone.
So, what happened?
1. Recruiting rules changed
Schools that had wrestled with HCIW rivals on the recruiting trail quickly realized that the teams with designated successors had them at a disadvantage. Having an HCIW gave a program the ability bypass the NCAA's super-tight road restrictions for head coaches. Head coaches have long been limited to one solitary visit per recruit and are not allowed to leave campus during the super-critical springtime evaluation period from mid-April to the end of May.
At ACC Media Days in July, I asked Fisher if the Seminoles had benefitted from his being on the recruiting trail as HCIW while Bowden was forced to stay home in Tallahassee. The new head coach just smiled. "It sure didn't hurt," he said.
In January of this year, the NCAA passed new legislation (initially proposed by the Big East) that placed the same restrictions on the "head-coach-designate," aka the Head Coach In Waiting. Not surprisingly, Texas and Maryland felt they were being singled out and filed an appeal. The new bylaw wasn't thrown out, but both schools were given a one-year grace period to make the transition.
To read Ryan's analysis on why this trend will fade, a look at the best jobs left, plus a lot more, you must be an ESPN Insider.