Formally or informally, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith knew that Ryan Day was probably going to be the next Buckeyes football coach almost a year ago.
In January, OSU offered its offensive coordinator increased responsibilities and a big bump in pay at a time when other schools, and even the NFL, were giving Day a long look.
So when Urban Meyer decided this week that he would retire after OSU’s Rose Bowl against Washington on Jan. 1, Smith didn’t have to conduct a national search for a replacement.
As he said at Tuesday’s press conference officially announcing Meyer’s departure and Day’s hiring, Smith knew that Day was his guy.
Every AD worth his or her salt has a plan ready at any time in case a sudden coaching change happens, especially with the football program.
But how often do these plans work? As with any coaching hire the answer is … sometimes.
Here’s our look at some succession plans which succeeded and some which failed, whether the school had a formal “coach in waiting” arrangement or not.
Florida State: Jimbo Fisher was named FSU’s coach in waiting while Seminoles legend Bobby Bowden was still at the helm. It’s well-known that Bowden was not ready to retire in 2009 but the school had to either push him out of the way or risk losing Fisher. Fisher took over starting with the 2010 season, won a national title in 2013 and left for Texas A&M after eight mostly successful seasons.
Oklahoma: The Sooners denied that there was a formal “coach in waiting” designation. But, much like Ohio State, Oklahoma knew exactly who would take over when their coach departed. Bob Stoops announced his retirement in 2017 knowing Lincoln Riley was ready to take over. Riley has proven more than ready and has led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff in each of his two seasons.
Oregon: Mike Bellotti coached the Ducks for 14 years and oversaw unprecedented success for the program. The plan was that he would become athletic director at some point and that he would tab Chip Kelly as his successor. That happened after the 2008 season. Kelly took Oregon to the BCS national title game in 2010; earlier that year Bellotti resigned as AD.
Wisconsin: Barry Alvarez was both head coach and athletic director at Wisconsin when he decided to stop coaching in 2005, so he had the rare chance to simply choose his own successor. Bret Bielema was named coach and he led the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls. His .739 winning percentage was the third-best in school history for coaches who were there longer than two years.
Sort of yes, sort of no
West Virginia: This was the messiest “coach in waiting” case. Bill Stewart had three straight 9-4 seasons but West Virginia hired Holgorsen as offensive coordinator for 2011 with the intent that he’d replace Stewart in 2012. Their relationship was a wreck from the start and WVU fired Stewart in June 2011. Holgorsen has a .604 winning percentage in eight seasons; Stewart (.700) holds the WVU mark.
Maryland: James Franklin was supposed to be the long-term answer when Ralph Friedgen was nearing the end of his coaching tenure with the Terrapins. Franklin was named coach in waiting in 2008 but left to take the Vanderbilt job in 2011. Maryland fired Friedgen shortly thereafter and since then the program has gone through two permanent coaches, two interim coaches and a whole lot of mediocrity.
Purdue: Joe Tiller led the Boilermakers to 10 bowls in his 12 seasons as coach. The school hired Danny Hope as assistant head coach for the 2008 season with the understanding that Tiller would retire and Hope would take over in 2009. He did, but Purdue started a nosedive. The Boilermakers never did better than 7-6 in Hope’s four seasons; he was fired in 2012 and Purdue is just now rebounding.
Texas: The Longhorns truly wound up with egg on their face. Will Muschamp was the coach in waiting who didn’t want to wait. There was no timetable for Mack Brown to retire when the school gave Muschamp that designation in 2008. Two years later, with Brown still entrenched, Muschamp took the coaching job at Florida — to succeed Urban Meyer — and Texas has been behind Oklahoma ever since.