The college football regular season is reaching its final days, which means that schools across the country have decisions to make on the leader of their programs and if there will be significant changes for the 2014 season.
Although several coaches remain in limbo as we get closer to Thanksgiving, several schools have already pulled the trigger and fired its head coach, leaving an assistant to step up and lead the team through the remaining games on the schedule. While several schools have witnessed an assistant take on the mop-up role and lead the team limping through the rest of the year (UConn & Eastern Michigan, for example), USC and Florida Atlantic have thrived under their new head coaches, leading some to wonder whether or not they should be retained for 2014 and beyond.
The question at hand is whether or not promoting an assistant from the previous era is a good idea or a bad one, and just like almost all situations, there are advantages and disadvantages to be considered. One of the major advantages that would come with USC keeping Ed Orgeron full-time is the finances; Orgeron will be a much cheaper option than, say, Kevin Sumlin, who was rumored to be available at the low, low price of $6 million per season. Keeping an assistant from the previous staff will also create stability on both the staff–one would think Orgeron would keep several of Lane Kiffin’s assistants–and in recruiting, as this year’s class of high school seniors will still have firm connections they made even dating back to before Kiffin was axed.
One of the problems with simply removing “interim” from a coach’s title is that by this point, you should very well know what you are getting from this coach. Chances are that Eastern Michigan will not retain Stan Parrish as its next head coach, but if it did, it should look no further than Ron English’s tenure as Eagles head coach (11-46 over five seasons) to see that wins will more than likely be few and far between. From the outside looking in, it is hard to see from the outside looking in how the administrations at USC and Florida Atlantic view Orgeron and Brian Wright, but if they knew that one of these coaches has a tendency to stick his foot in his mouth in terms of the media, then they should brace for such cases to occur throughout his tenure as head coach.
It is also very hard to look at past situations in which interim head coaches come into play to decide whether it is the right decision, mainly because each case is quite different than the next. West Virginia seemed to have a good thing going following Rich Rodriguez’s exit for the Michigan job, tabbing interim head coach Bill Stewart as the next head coach following the Mountaineers’ 48-28 blowout victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. West Virginia had a good run under Stewart’s leadership, posting a 28-12 over the next three years before Stewart’s attempted exploitation of offensive coordinator/head coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen cost him his job.
While occurrences similar to the one in Morgantown give hope to interim head coaches everywhere, instances like what happened in Boston over the last three seasons should make athletic directors everywhere cringe. Following the firing of head coach Jeff Jagodzinski due to the dumbest head coaching decision I have ever seen, Boston College tabbed longtime defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani as the interim head coach for the Eagles’ Meineke Car Care Bowl. Following the Eagles’ 25-24 victory over Navy, Spaziani landed the head coaching position, which seemed like a great decision by BC; after all, Spaziani was a mainstay with the Eagles, serving through three different head coaches for a total of twelve years. What transpired following the bowl victory was four hellish seasons under Spaziani, which saw the team’s victories decline each season from 9 in 2009 to just 2 last season, the fewest victories Boston College had in a season since 1978.
So, what should happen in Los Angeles and Boca Raton? I’ll start with Florida Atlantic, which I’m positive is what all the readers came to this article to read about. The Owls have been weak since the last few seasons or Howard Schnellenberger’s tenure with the team, but things were looking up until Carl Pelini was fired for the use of illegal drugs (which FAU is now saying was not the reason he was released from his contract). Despite the very tough situation, offensive coordinator Brian Wright has done an outstanding job in the interim, leading the Owls to three straight victories, including a 55-10 demolition of New Mexico State last Saturday. Florida Atlantic is on the verge of winning its sixth game this Saturday against the hapless Florida International Golden Panthers, and although it may not be enough to send Florida Atlantic to just its third bowl game ever, it should be enough to land Wright the job permanently. Sure, being in the state of Florida may possibly lure some significant candidates to check the job out, but it looks like Pelini’s staff was on the verge of doing some great things with FAU, and Wright has done an excellent job at keeping the momentum going.
Meanwhile, the scenario in L.A. is hard to breakdown concisely; should the school turn the keys to one of the best programs in college football to a fiery Cajun who garnered just ten wins in three seasons at Ole Miss, or do they instead overlook the success the Trojans have had under the leadership of an outstanding recruiting coordinator who has made playing football at Southern Cal fun again? It is not an easy decision for athletic director Pat Haden, who will be praised if he gambles and keeps Orgeron, who leads USC to national prominence again, or will be criticized and may ultimately lose his job if Orgeron is not able to keep things running smoothly in the Coliseum.
So, what option will ultimately be the best for USC football? It remains to be seen what is the right choice and what is the wrong choice, but considering how highly respected the USC head coaching job is, Haden cannot just hand it to a career assistant without first exploring the other candidates who may want the job. Can you imagine the backlash that would result if it came out that Kevin Sumlin or Jack Del Rio were willing to take the job, were passed over, and then reached a tremendous amount of success elsewhere? Orgeron should be commended for the job he has done with USC, but that does not mean that Pat Haden owes him the right to lead USC for 2014 and beyond.