Commentary

In-waiting game: No successor for JoePa

Originally Published: January 8, 2009
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine
It may be the hottest trend in college football. Purdue did it last year, and Kentucky followed suit. So have Florida State, Texas and Oregon. For many successful programs with graybeards at the helm, the head-coach-in-waiting plan seems to make a lot of sense. Got a better way to calm recruits' concerns about staff overhauls, lock up a coveted assistant and put the head coach at ease about how he'll end his career? Didn't think so.

"I will not pursue Bobby Bowden's or Joe Paterno's records, that's for sure," Oregon's 58-year-old head coach Mike Bellotti joked on Dec. 2 after naming Chip Kelly his eventual replacement. That brings up an intriguing point: The program you'd most expect to have a Plan B -- Paterno's Penn State Nittany Lions -- wants nothing to do with one. On Dec. 16, PSU announced that Paterno had signed on for three more years. He'll be 85 when that extension expires, and still he and the school's administration decline to name a successor.

The reluctance is a strange stance for a coach who has built a fiercely loyal staff -- Paterno's assistants average 15 years of tenure -- because if anything, the recent succession plans of other schools have been interpreted as acts of trust. "I know Oregon has shown a lot of faith in me," says Kelly, the head coach designate. "So I know I'm going to be here to reciprocate."