Coaching Change or Soap Opera?

Call me naive. Call me a Pollyanna. Just don't call me late for supper (bada-bing!). But I think all the drama and concern over how the Mountaineer football program will proceed in 2011 is way too pessimistic.

Writers and talkers wring their hands.... How can Coach Stewart and Coach Holgorsen possibly get along with each other? How can Coach Stewart stomach having an offensive coordinator who has primary responsibility for the play-calling, and who will be taking his job at the end of the season? How can he actually teach his replacement the ins and outs and nuances of his own job? How can he wish him well?

I don't worry about any of that at all, and I think people who do are seriously underestimating the character of Bill Stewart. I've never worked in a college football team environment, but I spent a career working with professionals. Through 33 years of working for the U.S. Army, I saw similar job transitions happen successfully over and over again. Granted, the military isn't like a traditional business model, but neither is a college football program.

In neither environment is the bottom line (for the practitioners, at least) a matter of dollars and cents. In the military, it's all about the mission. In a college athletic environment, it's all about wins and losses -- i.e., the mission. In both cases, the practitioners know they'll be paid, they know someone else is watching the budget, and their jobs are to win.

Another similarity: the people in uniform, or on the sideline, are commonly motivated by something more than a paycheck. I detest many of the superficial comparisons that trivialize war by using military terms to describe sports, but in this one regard I do think there is something of a similarity between the two arenas. For the military, the motivation of many soldiers and leaders is love of country, dedication to their service. For someone like Bill Stewart, it's love of WVU and the state of West Virginia. He's dedicated to his team, his players, our University, and all of those fans who cheer on the Old Gold and Blue. If you doubt his affection for any of that, then you haven't been paying attention for the past few years.

There is no doubt in my mind, none whatsoever, that Bill Stewart will do whatever he can to assure the success of WVU and the Mountaineer football team both in 2011 and in the years to follow.

And there is likewise no doubt in my mind that Dana Holgorsen, if he has a brain in his skull, shouldn't relish the opportunity he has in front of him. He is in the enviable position of coming into a job where he has a year of learning and transition before he takes the reins as head coach.

In at least some military settings where there's a transition overlap, they call such people "turtles." As in, "This is my turtle. He'll be taking over my job when I leave. I'm taking him around, showing him the ropes, introducing him to the people he'll need to know, getting him comfortable with the job and the mission and what it takes to get things done."

Honestly, it's a process that any organization should emulate, if only it could afford to pay two people to do essentially the same job during a transition period of a decent length.

Won't there be some moments of tension, when Coach Stewart and Coach Holgorsen might butt heads over this decision or that policy or play calls or whether to recruit a particular player or how to handle a disciplinary matter? Well, there may be. That probably would be the case between any two coaches on any football staff, and could be intensified a bit because of the fact that Coach Holgorsen will be taking Coach Stewart's job at season's end.

But these people are professionals. They're being paid large sums of money to put the organization ahead of any differences of opinion or perceived slights. I have no reason to believe they won't act like professionals and do exactly that.

Beyond which, I don't think WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck or WVU President Jim Clements would permit it. If Coach Holgorsen is the sort of person who can't work under Bill Stewart's tutelage for a year, then I can't imagine that Luck and Clements would have hired him. And if Bill Stewart can't be professional enough to put the interests of WVU ahead of his own interests, then he's not the person I believe him to be.

Conflict sells newspapers, I guess, but why do people seemingly take pleasure in imagining conflict and problems where there may be none? Can't we at least wait for a problem to actually occur?

The critics could be right, of course. The year 2011 for WVU football could be fraught with the soap-opera drama of a head coach and a head-coach-in-waiting who just can't get along. I don't know either man personally, and consequently can't truly judge or portray their character. But I still think that soap-opera scenario is highly unlikely. My perception is that both men are professionals, that both are now dedicated to the success of our University and the success of WVU football, and that therefore both will do the right thing.


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