Though he had no idea at the time he said it, the Star Trek character Jean-Luc Picard once said something that very much applies to a subset of college football coaches. “It is possible to make no mistakes and still lose,” he said. “That is not a weakness. That is life.”
In fact, Picard’s bit of wisdom doesn’t really go far enough. Sometimes, coaches win too much and then find themselves out of a job.
Such is the plight of a group of coaches examined in a new series by the Winston Salem Journal: assistant coaches whose head coaches get a Power 5 job.
The Journal examined 20 staffs who saw their head coach leave for a Power 5 gig dating back to 2010. On those 20 staffs, an average of five assistants followed the head coach to the new destination, two were retained by the new head coach, and two were left out in the cold. (The 10th assistant did not come along until 2018, and was just irrelevant to most of the data.)
Think about it: You help your team win 10 or 11 games, and your reward for that is that you get to look for another job while also coaching your current team through the bowl game while also trying to hold together the recruiting class that was set to sign in a matter of days — because the head man and a handful of his assistants are already at the new school. Oh, and all this plays out during the holidays, the happiest time of the year in the civilian world.
“That was an emotional time because you know that possibly you coached your last game at a place that you just won 11 football games,” said Appalachian State assistant Shawn Clark, who was retained by new App head coach Eliah Drinkwitz. “You’re 11-2, and you don’t even know if you have a job or not.”
Of the 20 head coaches examined by the paper, only one — Scott Frost — carried his entire staff with him from the Group of 5 to the Power 5. On the flip side, Jim McElwain took only one Colorado State assistant with him to Florida. For what it’s worth, Satterfield brought six assistants with him to Louisville (one in an off-field role) while the remaining four were all retained by Drinkwitz.
“(W)hile it’s important to take care of your own family, it’s important to take care of the entire family,” said Jeff Brohm, who brought nine of his Western Kentucky assistants with him to Purdue (two of them in off-field roles). “… I think it is important to consider those relationships and the people you’re around, and how it affects everyone and not just yourself.”
It’s a story with no villain, but one where the innocent bystanders have the most to lose. Jean-Luc Picard sympathizes with them well.
“It’s tough, I mean it’s tough on everybody I think, and every year this is happening throughout college football,” Satterfield said. “So you know, I don’t think it’s ever easy. That’s the hard thing.
“But hopefully you make it the best situation you can possibly make it for all parties and hope you just do it the right way.”