Jacobs: Is succession planning really successful?

The idea of “coaches in waiting” has evolved into prominence within the world of college athletics. The first ‘big’ one that I remember that was both formal and not family driven was in Purdue’s basketball program when Matt Painter was hired to ride shotgun alongside Gene Keady. Since then, the idea has taken root and spread throughout basketball and football.

Barry Jacobs takes a good look at the idea in this piece. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the topic.

As a little bit of a sweetner for the conversation — why don’t you imagine that NC State set up this type of scenario to replace Coach O’Brien in the next 5 -10 years? For example, what if a beloved and well-respected assistant coach like Andy McCollum was pre-ordained to as the next head coach when Coach O’Brien retired?

Recently FSU and Maryland took a different, non-filial route, paying much-sought offensive coordinators to stick around while articulating a time frame for the younger men’s ascent to head coach. That enabled both schools to fend off suitors for two of their most promising assistants, and answered questions of continuity sure to arise in the cutthroat world of recruiting.

Whether it was a smart long-term strategy is another matter.

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28 Responses to Jacobs: Is succession planning really successful?

  1. Alpha Wolf 09/29/2009 at 9:45 AM #

    On the surface it seems like a no-brainer: continuity of a successful program by maintaining the current staff members when the senior manager leaves. It’s done all the time in business, and one would think it would translate to sports.

    Thing is, using FSU and UMD as counterexamples doesn’t work because those programs are, by their standards, unsuccessful and keeping in place the same management team that guided their organizations to failure would seem to guarantee only more of the same.

    After all, that’s what succession planning is all about, right? More of the same?

    One would have to think that what Jacobs is really after is to make a veiled allegory to Dean Smith and the failures of Bill Gutheridge. There, his argument might hold some water but if he is going to use FSU and UMD as prime examples, it certainly does not.

  2. VaWolf82 09/29/2009 at 10:10 AM #

    I don’t think that you start off looking at this issue by lumping every school together. You first have to look to see what drove each individual school/situation and then see if there are common denominators.

    I think that the FSU system is fairly unique and not likely to be applicable to many schools. FSU wanted to create a situation to let Bobby stay around and try to finish ahead of Paterno without running the risk of Bobby’s age being used against him in recruiting. So far, no part of this apparent plan has worked out well, but at least they put a plan in place. (Which is dramatically different than some schools that I can think of.)

    There is no one way of hiring your next coach that will guarantee success. For those programs that are not going to buy a Weiss or Saban, you will usually have to choose between an assistant at a successful BCS school (maybe even your own) or a successful head coach at a smaller school. Both methods have produced successes and failures.

    The key is to have proven leaders making these hiring decisions. The leaders have to be willing to admit when they make a mistake and the strength to make a change when the results don’t measure up.

  3. SMD 09/29/2009 at 10:14 AM #

    Two words – Mike O’Cain 🙂

    Granted, that wasn’t really a planned transition, and given that Sheridan resigned in the summer, MOC may have been the best of some bad options. But it does show that even on a successful staff like Sheridan’s, the path of continuity doesn’t always work out.

  4. choppack1 09/29/2009 at 10:19 AM #

    Va Wolf – I agree w/ you 100%.

    Every situation is different.

    If TOB builds us into a national power – and doesn’t stay past his prime, I’m fine w/ him initially naming his successor. However, let’s say that TOB peaks, then begins to decline…Do we really want to allow him to name a successor? Heck no.

    You maintain the status quo if the staus quo is acceptable and you have every reason to believe the status quo will be maintaned. And once you see cracks – act fast. (Like that would ever happen in Raleigh.)

  5. StateFans 09/29/2009 at 10:28 AM #

    SMD, I actually had a paragraph about MOC in the entry and I took it out. As you said, it wasn’t planned…but, it was manipulated by Sheridan with the timing of the announcement in very much the same way Dean manipulated the Guthridge transition.

  6. SMD 09/29/2009 at 10:44 AM #

    I think it boils down to a crapshoot. Sometimes naming the successor works and sometimes it doesn’t – it just depends on the actual coach who comes after and what their particular strengths are.

    Personally, I am a big fan of either poaching an established coach, like we did with TOB, or signing the hot up and comer, a’la Paul Johnson. (How old is he anyway? I’d LOVE to poach him from GT after TOB retires! 😉 )

  7. Oldwolf 09/29/2009 at 10:48 AM #

    I understand that there is a sucession plan in place for when Lee Fowler steps down. Tom Stafford is the AD-to-be-named later


  8. Alpha Wolf 09/29/2009 at 10:53 AM #

    ^ Please, don’t make me shudder under the pain of thinking that one through. 🙂

    As for MOC, I remember vividly how shocking it was that Buddy Green did not get the job.

  9. tvp1 09/29/2009 at 10:54 AM #

    Leaving aside whether it’s a good idea in general, I don’t know if it will be a good idea for us looking down the road to when TOB retires. TOB will have at least 5 years left in Raleigh, IMO. At that time, McCollum will already be 55. He’s a possibility, but would we want to go with someone younger? Another guy on the staff who I’ve heard has head coaching potential one day is Jim Bridge, but for now he’s only been a position coach.

  10. GAWolf 09/29/2009 at 10:57 AM #

    I talked to two former players who were simply angered that Buddy Green didn’t get the job. They said MOC was a really nice guy, and they liked him. But the players, it seems, really thought Green was the guy to take over the team. I think most fans agreed. The Sheridan era was defined by defense. The move made very little sense.

  11. Plz2BStateFan 09/29/2009 at 10:57 AM #

    With as much progress as our program has made in terms of discipline, attitude, philosophy, and recruits; I am horrified by the thought of a coaching search.

    After all, Obrien fell into Fowlers lap

  12. GAWolf 09/29/2009 at 10:58 AM #

    Oldwolf: You kid, but rest assured there’s a plan in place.

  13. choppack1 09/29/2009 at 10:59 AM #

    Alpha – I think we all did.

    I’m not sure who was responsible for championing MOC. However, in his mannerisms, he was much closer to Sheridan. And let’s be fair, based on his stint at UTC, Buddy Green didn’t do much to make a strong case for himself.

    When you hire these assistants, usually you get a more watered down version of your HC – and rarely do really improve. That was certainly the case w/ MOC and Gut.

    It’s interesting to watch Wake right now since they are in essence follwing the same model, but for different reasons.

    As others have said, FSU’s model is very much different, since they attracted a very hot coaching commodity as a new hire w/ this promise.

    The UMd move made less sense.

  14. MatSci94 09/29/2009 at 11:31 AM #

    I skimmed the article, and I think it would have been more interesting if it had examined other routes of replacing a popular/successful coach.

    The best counterexample I can think of (happens to be basketball) is when Dawkins left to coach Stanford, in what some people said was a ‘training stint’ as a head coach for when Coach K retires.

    One flaw with the HC-in-waiting role that will certainly evolve is the realization that it is in no way guaranteeing you will be the next coach. The contracts are written as ‘you will be named the HC by year xxxx or we pay you $y. If FSU implodes in a crater and wants to clean house, it only costs them $2 million more to dump Fisher as well.

    My prediction is that a couple of high profile schools will go the buyout route, and this contract idea will not be effective anymore, and will fall out of favor.

    I still think this idea really only makes sense in special cases, such as dinosaurs (so the coaching future is harder to manipulate in recruiting), or other health cases (which may have been a concern in the UMd situation).

  15. RickJ 09/29/2009 at 11:34 AM #

    Regarding Sheridan, he got the Furman job after Art Baker left for the Citadel (this was actually looked at as a small step up at the time). Baker later took the ECU job. I’m pretty sure when Furman was doing their search, Baker and several of his assistant coaches supported Sheridan (also an assistant at Furman) for the position and he ultimately got the job. If my memory is correct, Sheridan actually supported either O’Cain (the QB coach at the time) or Ted Cain (the offensive coordinator) and Turner picked O’Cain for whatever reason. It was viewed as a little surprising to pick the QB coach over the offensive coordinator.

  16. choppack1 09/29/2009 at 12:02 PM #

    UMd’s actions are really confusing here.

    Let’s face it – at GaTech and early at UMd, the Fridge was known to be one of the top offensive strategists around. Given his age – and this skill – I’d be willing to let your current OC walk.

    Heck, the hire raised my eyebrows when I saw it and moreso now. I mean, let the guy go to the NFL – if that doesn’t work, he’ll be back at your doorstep fast. If it does work – he’s a candidate for your job in a few years or sooner.

  17. GApack04 09/29/2009 at 12:07 PM #

    IMHO it is always a bad idea to name a future coach unless your current coach has a pre-determined departure date. The FSU situation is a complete mess. I think the following is true:

    -Bobby has stayed way longer than he should have
    -The current situation is due to negative recruiting (on BB’s age) and the loss of key coaches (Mark Richt)
    -Bowden would retire if he had 1 more NC caliber team
    -FSU most likely won’t have another NC caliber team with BB there, bc of pts 1 and 2 above.
    -It was assumed by everyone the problem was Jeff Bowden and the O
    -To fix the O Jimbo Fisher is brought in
    -To keep Fisher and prevent another M. Richt type departure from happening they promise to give him the job.
    -Mark Richt > Jimbo Fisher

    In summary FSU put all their marbles in the Jimbo Fisher hat before he had any success at FSU. If Bowden retired tomorrow, Fisher would have a better chance to start winning again, but it may be 2 or 3 years.

    The FSU situation I think is the reason a school like Texas freaks out and names a replacement for Mack Brown well before he is ready to retire. It is clear if FSU would’ve promised Mark Richt the job before he left for UGA, FSU would be in better shape. That is of course assuming Richt would’ve taken said job.

  18. McPete 09/29/2009 at 12:07 PM #

    Which would you rather have: a successful up and comer coordinator with no experience running a program, or an established HC considered an up and comer? I’d take the guy who’s successfully run a program already. There’s a Paul Johnson and Jim Tressel out there every year. Coordinators are hot commodities when they are successful in someone else’s program. You can wind up with Mark Richt, or Chuck Amato. Maybe if you are a mid tier program you’d want to take the higher risk/reward route. But i have no idea why the FSUs of the world would do that.

  19. choppack1 09/29/2009 at 12:38 PM #

    McPete – Each situation is different. I give FSU a pass on their situation – it was very unique, and it made a lot more sense since you had an assistant whose name always came up for HC openings.

    Some assistants go to large schools and do quite well:
    Stoopes, O’Leary, Richt, and Fulmer weren’t head guys before they got their first job and neither was Fridge. In basketball, Roy Williams was an assistant for Dean for a long time before taking the Kansas job.

    Ideally, you’d rather have someone w/ a proven D1 track record. However, that doesn’t mean the coach will be a success. OTOH, just because you haven’t been a head coach doesn’t mean you won’t be a good one…and that you can’t run a large program.

  20. Oldwolf 09/29/2009 at 1:05 PM #

    I am not certain, but I don’t think that MOC was the OC, but rather just the QB coach, which made it even more surprising.

  21. choppack1 09/29/2009 at 1:21 PM #

    Oldwolf – You are correct. He was the QB coach.

  22. rtpack24 09/29/2009 at 4:02 PM #

    TOB or any other head coach should not have a say so in who becomes the next head at their schools. That is the AD’s job. Hopefully, by the time that TOB leaves we will have a AD that knows what he is doing in contrast to our current situation.

  23. ldr of the pk 75 09/29/2009 at 4:29 PM #

    It seems that regardless of sports or business, the successor coach/manager will, in the end, put his stamp on a program. At that point, they don’t have to follow anyones template but their own. Sometimes it’s not a good move. It remains to be seen what Jimbo can do at FSU, his offense isn’t burning down the woods yet. CTC, as a wanna be Head Coach in waiting, was a good defensive mind and asst head coach, but he couldn’t master the manager role as the head.

    In the banking industry of NC the hand picked leaders of both B of A and Wachovia, arguably took great companies that had been built and couldn’t follow through to the next level.

    OTOH, perhaps there is a mentality in the coaching circles that might not be so much successor planning, as it is the old Bear Bryant model. That would be, let’s get them on our team so we don’t have to be playing against them, or in these cases, coaching against them.

  24. Dr. BadgerPack 09/29/2009 at 6:30 PM #

    Painter is indeed the first I can recall in basketball. Bret Bielema at Wisconsin is one of the first football ones I can recall and the results are rather mixed there.

  25. tjfoose2 09/29/2009 at 7:49 PM #

    Regarding the MOC hire, as I understood it, MOC was a compromise.

    The decision was between Ted Cain and Buddy Green. Apparently, both badly wanted the HC job and it became somewhat contentious. Neither was going to be happy if the other was chosen.

    Sheridan therefore supported MOC in an attempt to compromise and keep the staff together.

    Of course that didn’t work out too well, as Green left for the HC position at UT-C after one year and Cain left after three for the HC at VMI.

    But I’m sure Green would say it was worth it, as he got to coach THE one and only, Mr Terrell Owens, at UT-C.

    OldWolf – to your point, Ted Cain was the OC. MOC was the ‘just’ the QB coach.

    I assume many of you know this, since this seems to be a pretty informed crowd, but I haven’t seen it mentioned yet, so…

    Jimbo Fisher was a top candidate to be NC State’s head coach. The preliminary discussions were that he would be hired as HC, and he’d bring Bo Pelini (NB’s current head coach) w/ him from LSU to be the DC.

    Then TOB entered into the picture… Fowler called Fisher and cancelled the official interview (I believe just a day before Fisher was to fly into Raleigh), saying he had already found his man.

    I was a little upset at the time, as I wanted to at least have Fisher in for an interview. I mean, c’mon, who wouldn’t want a ‘Jimbo” and a ‘Bo’ as football coaches… but I think it’s all worked out pretty well in the end for the Wolfpack.

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