A few years removed from the situation, we can see clearly now that the head coach-in-waiting experiment a number of schools tried toward the end of the last decade was the New Coke of college football ideas. For every seamless transition (Oregon) there were three that turned into mushroom clouds of turmoil (Maryland, West Virginia, Florida State) or prematurely anointed guys that shouldn’t have been given head coaching jobs in the first place (Purdue, Kentucky).
Perhaps the most infamous of HCIW tags gone bad was Texas.
The Longhorns were 8-1 and in the thick of a national title chase when the announcement was made on Nov. 18, 2008, and the move seemingly made perfect sense for both parties. Texas kept the hottest head coaching prospect in the country at the time in Austin for the foreseeable future, and Muschamp got a raise from $425,000 to $900,000, plus the promise of a five-year contract when he eventually became head coach.
The problem was that Brown set a countdown clock on his tenure the moment he extended the offer, and visible to everyone but him. “I don’t want someone to think this is the twilight for me,” Brown said at the time. “It’s not.”
We know how the story goes from here. Texas lost the BCS National Championship at the close of the 2009 season, the Longhorns slogged through a 5-7 season well below their roster and coaching talent level in 2010, a plainly miserable season for all involved as the HCIW tag extended into Year Three, and Muschamp was out the door to Florida that December.
Muschamp is 24-17 as the Gators’ head coach, while Texas is 27-16, and 2-2 under Brown’s replacement Charlie Strong.
Speaking to The Oklahoman this week, Brown said publicly that he regrets the move of six years ago.
“I made a mistake with the administration here when I suggested we put Will Muschamp as the coach in waiting,” Brown told the paper. “That sent a message to people that I was ready to get out of coaching, and that wasn’t why we did it. We did it to pay him more to keep him because we thought we had a chance to win the national championship.
“Since that time, it wasn’t as much fun because there was a thought, an underlying thought, that I was wanting to get out of coaching because of the move that I made.”
Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. Who knows what would have actually happened had Muschamp not become head coach-in-waiting? Auburn and Tennessee changed coaches following the 2008 season. Maybe Muschamp takes one of those jobs, thereby forcing Brown to find his fifth defensive coordinator in six years and the 2009 team never plays for the title. Maybe Muschamp takes the Tennessee job when it came open again in 2009, removing the albatross that sunk the 2010 season, and Texas never goes into what has now become a half-decade tailspin. Perhaps if Colt McCoy doesn’t get hurt against Alabama on the Rose Bowl field in 2010 Brown rides off into the sunset and everything goes as planned.
We’ll never know, and that’s what makes this coaching soap opera so fascinating.