WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck
“Head coach in waiting” is a term that has been tossed around college football for the last few years or so: it is simply a designation of succession. And before this week, it had been a hiring strategy exercised by powerhouse college football programs to ensure that when their legendary head coaches retired a qualified successor stood ready to take the helm.
This week, newly hired offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen was tapped as the Mountaineer football program’s head coach in waiting. Hired away from Oklahoma State, where he served as the offensive coordinator, Holgorsen is widely revered as an offensive innovator and brilliant play caller.
For years he was one of the driving forces behind Texas Tech’s nearly unstoppable offense, helping to rewrite many a Big 12 passing record. And while many had clamored for former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach to get the nod at WVU, a Texas Tech University alum noted to me the other day that WVU did much better in getting Holgorsen. In his words, the program got “Mike Leach’s brain without Mike Leach’s drama.”
So this prompts a simple question: When did Bill Stewart become worthy of a head coach in waiting?
Former WVU football coach and Florida State legend Bobby Bowden had a head coach in waiting for years at FSU. So did Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin and Mike Bellotti at Oregon. But it is hard for anyone to argue that Bill Stewart is on par with any of the three. In fact, it is actually difficult to argue that Bill Stewart’s first game, serving as WVU interim head football coach in a Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma was not likely his best.
Forgetting for a moment that this week the designation “head coach in waiting” took major blows when Texas’ Bill Muschamp and Maryland’s Jim Franklin, both tapped to take over their programs, left for greener pastures at Florida and Vanderbilt respectively. Logistically, Oliver Luck has to know how this move appears to Mountaineer fans.
After all, Luck is a former Mountaineer and NFL football standout. He has also been a successful and driven entrepreneur and businessman. Over the last few years, he has watched firsthand the difference a top notch head coach can make in a football program. After all, his son Andrew is an All-American quarterback playing for recently installed head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has brought Stanford football back from mediocrity.
So why subject Mountaineer fans to yet another year of Bill Stewart?
Stewart either is or is not good enough to lead the program. And past performance indicates the latter. Fans and alumni have had enough of the poor play calling, the disorganization, the confusion in crucial situations, and the obviously awful game management.
If Holgorsen has truly been brought in because Luck, as he said at last week’s press conference, did not believe that the program could win a national championship with Bill Stewart as the head coach, is now not the time right to make a change?
By prolonging the inevitable and allowing Bill Stewart to hang around, Luck is sending a clear message to both the team and the WVU football faithful that 2011 will not be their year. For whatever reason, Oliver Luck has all but packed it in for 2011 and is the greatest tragedy of the Holgorsen “head coach in waiting” hiring.
So, for now, WVU fans are left waiting for the first snap of 2012 and wondering why their athletic director gave up on next year long before it even started.