It’s no secret that this is the time of year when coaching changes in the world of college football are front and center. This year is no exception, but this season may be one of the more bizarre. Of course, it may just seem that way because in addition to the change at West Virginia University, two of WVU’s nearby rivals have joined the coaching change party. Pitt and Maryland are changing coaches along with West Virginia and all three changes have been a little on the wild side. Of course West Virginia is not actually changing its head coach just yet, but Bill Stewart’s marching orders have been delivered.
At Maryland in October it was announced that 10-year head coach Ralph Friedgen would return next year to fulfill the final year of his contract at Maryland. There was no mention of a contract extension attached to that statement, effectively telling everyone, recruits included, that Friedgen would be a lame duck coach in 2011. On December 20 Friedgen was fired even though he was this season’s ACC coach of the year and has taken seven of his teams to bowl games.
The drama increased when Maryland surprisingly announced on Sunday that former UCONN coach, Randy Edsall, would be taking over the Terrapin football program. Many Maryland fans were hoping for a “name” coach and former Texas Tech coach, Mike Leach, was regarded by many as the leading candidate, and fit that description.
Leach was known for his high-powered offense at Tech, where Dana Holgorsen, WVU’s head coach in waiting was his offensive coordinator for two seasons. But Leach is also known to be an eccentric and was let go from Tech for locking a player in a dark storage locker as a disciplinary measure. It did not help Leach that the player he disciplined was the son of ESPN commentator Craig James. This dynamic led to still pending litigation between Leach and ESPN. So, while Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson, its fans and major contributor, Under Armor, seemed dedicated to hiring Leach, it appears those at UM with the final say in hiring Leach saw too much baggage.
In any event, early reactions by Maryland fans to the reports were overwhelmingly disappointed over the Edsall hire. Edsall is a solid coach and brought UCONN from 1AA football to the Fiesta Bowl last weekend. Perhaps the Terp fans will warm to Edsall, but the common theme of initial reactions questioned why fire Friedgen and bring in a non-innovative coach with credentials that may not be as solid as Friedgen’s?
Maryland’s coaching search pales in comparison to the one at Pitt, especially if you are a WVU fan that takes pleasure from Pitt’s misfortune. Pitt fired Dave Wannstedt in December. On December 16 Pitt hired Kent University head coach, Mike Haywood, to succeed Wannstedt. Pitt fired Haywood last Saturday after he was arrested in South Bend, Indiana on Friday and charged with felony domestic violence.
There is nothing funny about domestic violence, but there is some irony here. It was when Pitt was interviewing coaches that the story broke about Oliver Luck and Holgorsen having discussions about him coming to WVU. There were reports that Holgorsen was a candidate at Pitt, some even said he was their leading candidate. Not surprisingly, WVU and Pitt fans started a cyber battle. WVU fans hitting Pitt with “Holgorsen turned you down for us!” Then Pitt responding with “Holgorsen couldn’t pass our background check!” There is nothing sinister about the latter, just Pitt fans suggesting Holgorsen being a bachelor was cause for concern by the Pitt athletic department.
Officially, neither athletic department has commented directly on who did what first, but speculation continues. It is entirely possible that Pitt’s interest in Holgorsen forced Luck to move more quickly to secure his coach of the future and in so doing he may have let the cat out of the bag sooner than planned. It is clear that the announcement of Holgorsen becoming the head coach in waiting at West Virginia was not planned until after the bowl game. Someone leaked the info and word is Luck is taking measures to stop any future leaks.
The timing of the announcement caught current head coach Bill Stewart off guard. Even after the news of Holgorsen was confirmed, Stewart denied any knowledge of Holgorsen, or ever meeting him. This happened after it had been reported that Holgorsen, Luck and Stewart had met face to face. This info put Stewart in a bad light, but the explanation, which seems plausible, is that Stew was on board with everything, but while on the road recruiting, he was left out of the loop and he was still trying to keep the information quiet because he did not know the story had leaked.
There will be more information coming on the makeup of the WVU football staff in the very near future. We know Jeff Mullen, Dave Johnson, Chris Beatty and Dave McMichael will not be back. The early leak of the Holgorsen plan also caused Stewart a problem with Mullen and Johnson.
Luck had told Stewart that Mullen and Johnson would not be retained and even offered to tell them so Stewart wouldn’t have to. Stewart indicated that he would handle it.When the story broke two weeks early Stewart had yet to tell his offensive coordinator and offensive line coach of the decision, so they were blindsided. We also know defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and his staff have been asked to return, but that doesn’t mean Casteel, or some of his staff won’t look around. Hopefully next season’s staff is in place very soon so WVU can make a good run and finish recruiting on a strong note.