Coaching changes are rarely pretty. Even the smoothest of transitions are sure to present some elements of tension.
Then you have WVU's last two transitions.
The first of which, fromto Bill Stewart, was considered a 100 year flood of incompetence. A coaching search directed by a professional firm ends with the governor and president making an after midnight, emotion-filled selection of the interim head coach who just won the big game. Classic.
The most pointed of comments, from SI's Stewart Mandel, predicted grim consequences for the knee-jerk decision.
I have to take a moment to comment on West Virginia’s incredibly bizarre decision to promote interim coach Bill Stewart to head coach based solely on Wednesday night’s Fiesta Bowl rout of Oklahoma. It’s a fitting and, most likely, disastrous end to what had already been one of the most dim-witted coaching searches I’ve ever witnessed.
Mandel became none too popular in West Virginia with those comments, but his prescience three and half years later is commendable.
Yours truly had similar reservations, though maybe not quite as strong as Mr. Mandel.
I must confess, I know very little about Stewart, who seems like a nice enough -- and certainly enthusiastic -- fellow. But the best coaching hires are made by professionals who remove emotion from the equation -- and the short-sighted decision to hand over a nationally prominent program to a guy who went 8-25 as the head coach at VMI just because he kicked Oklahoma’s butt is the definition of a decision based purely on emotion. (That, or the fact that they got him for the incredibly low, low price of $800,000 a year, cheap even by Conference USA standards.)
Maybe Stewart will turn out to be the next Bill Belichick, but I’d guess he has a much better chance of becoming the next Bill Doba. Promoting an interim coach based on short-term success (at Michigan State), or promoting an assistant just because he’s popular with the current players (Larry Coker at Miami), doesn’t usually work out in the long run. With Pat White and , it would be hard for any coach to screw up next year’s team, but two to three years down the road, the school will likely rue its hasty decision.
While results on the field have been far from disastrous, the inevitable sad ending of the Bill Stewart era was already written on the wall. Pencil at first, but after the crushing losses to Syracuse and UConn this past season, darkened with the type of giant permanent marker hobos like to sniff. He was a placeholder, and placeholders rarely succeed. While there were grand goals of offensive diversification, little of the talk came to fruition.
The worst offense -- and this is only slight exaggeration -- was the talk itself. Stewart loves to talk. His "Leave No Doubt" speech before the Fiesta Bowl was that of legend. His talk of "Mountaineer Pride" was exactly what the state thought it needed after Rodriguez's departure. Unfortunately, it allowed Stewart to shield himself behind the persona of being the perfect company man, when revelations over the past months have led us away from that belief.
Far, far away from that belief.
And things may have continued like that indefinitely, if not for one person: Oliver Luck. Luck was like the knight in shining armor, riding into town on his white steed ready to free the town of its heavy shackles. And if that sounds like the beginning of a romance novel, you're not far off, because many WVU fans have an outright love affair with our athletic director.
A business man, a sports executive, a lawyer, and a model American (even though his son speaks fluent German), Luck was just the person to reinvigorate the WVU football program. It was likely to be a match made in heaven. Yet, as is always true with coaching transitions, nothing is ever that simple.
Luck's brazen courtship of coaches while WVU still had a head coach was fraught with issues. His hiring of Dana Holgorsen, a coach-in-waiting to replace the current coach that didn't want to leave was even worse. Still, Luck was determined to put his stamp on the program, and even with the nearly universally popular athletic director pulling the strings, only 68% of the program approved of how he handled the change. This was not an indictment of the coach-in-waiting concept, just this particular coach-in-waiting scenario. It was never going to work.
Holgorsen, meanwhile, is one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. He's also a wildcard. Everyone makes mistakes -- and the Mardi Gras incident was certainly his biggest -- but the head football coach of this state's flagship University must do a better job of representing that school. Not try to do better, must do better.
In the last week, the coaching arrangement that was held together by a few threads is down to its last thread. I don't know if Stewart will resign or be fired. I have heard more than enough speculation that either are possibilities, but nothing definitive. Though, all it takes is one check of the proverbial clouds to see that they look ominous.
That leaves us with Holgorsen, an offensive genius that has shown little of the responsibility needed to immediately take over the reigns. He may ultimately be a successful head coach, but his conduct since being hired has left more than enough doubt in my mind. Being a successful head coach is not all about football coaching; there are plenty of other trappings included in the job than just wins and losses. Holgorsen looks good for wins and losses, but he has to build enough workable capital in those wins to allow for this type of behavior. Right now, he has none.
And that's what we're left with: no perfect option. Stewart stays and we have a less-than-honest, lame-duck leader for the next year who was less than good with time outs when he had a vested interest in using those time outs correctly. On the flip-side, Stewart leaves and we turn the keys over to Holgorsen and his band of newcomers, with no old guard there to connect the offensive staff to the defensive staff. The latter is likely the best scenario, as it removes the dead weight and moves the program forward, even if it's not in the exact direction intended by Luck.
Lastly, we have to consider Oliver Luck's performance through this mess. Luck has the good fortune of being reasoned and well-spoken in every interview, inspiring confidence across the WVU fan base even in the face of adversity. Ultimately, though, no matter how great a former quarterback you might be, you have to show positive results. The jury is still out on this decision, but Luck's honeymoon has taken a major hit in this fiasco.
So where do we go from here?
Luck avoided the nuclear option once in hiring Holgorsen and keeping Stewart on for one more year. He is clearly taking his time to make the correct decision. That correct decision? Stewart must leave the program, whether through firing or resignation. Even if Stewart is ultimately proven innocent of some of the more grave charges levied against him, which is unlikely, there is no way to look at him on the sidelines and see a man that is 100% committed to the success of this team, staff, and program. Maybe that should have been evident before the coach-in-waiting experiment was tried, but it's surely apparent now.
Move on with Holgorsen. That's where this is going eventually, so just go ahead and do it now. It may not be the smoothest transition, but as someone mentioned once before, they never are.