If the College Football Playoff this year is any indication, head coaching experience might not be an indicator of success in the NCAA.
Three of the four coaches in the playoff had no head-coaching experience before they took their current job – Oklahoma University’s Lincoln Riley, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney.
“Everybody has to start and get that break,” said Jerry Glanville, who spent years coaching both in the NFL and NCAA.
He said while many athletic directors look to current head coaches to fill a position, sometimes, hiring someone who is an offensive or defensive coordinator can really pay off.
“I was an assistant coach for 20 years before I finally got the chance to be a head coach,” he said. “So you just never know which ones are going to be able to get it done. A lot has to do with the program, who they’re surrounded by.”
Rumor has it that’s the direction Tennessee is looking in its coaching search, with reporting newly-installed Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer is looking to three SEC defensive coordinators to replace Butch Jones.
Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman reports Jeremy Pruitt, currently defensive coordinator for Alabama, has emerged at the front runner for Rocky Top
Coaching Search Update: Fulmer meeting with Pruitt
“You look at guys who were given that baptism by fire, but they were ready,” said Wes Rucker of GoVols247.com.
Rucker said the Vols are looking for the next Kirby Smart.
“You’ve seen now how Kirby Smart hit the ground running at Georgia, had a couple of lumps in his first year, but winning the SEC his second, and having a great year and a contender for a national title,” Rucker said. “It makes people see, well, maybe that defensive coordinator route in the SEC is a good way to go.”
“If they get the next Kirby Smart, they’re winners,” he added.
When Fulmer took over as head coach at Tennessee, he had no prior experience as an NCAA head coach. In 1998, he led the Vols to a national championship.
Rucker said that’s likely a factor in this coaching search.
“The bottom line is, the man has forgotten more about football than most of us will ever know,” Rucker said.
But Glanville noted, the jumped from coordinator to head coach comes with growing pains.
“Whoever they hire, if he’s never been a head coach, it’s good to hire a guy on staff that has,” he said.
He said many coordinators struggle to manage their time and the external demands of the job – from media, to fundraising.
He said it’s important to stay focused.
“You’re driving the bus,” Glanville said. “And when the bus gets a flat, you’ve got to have a plan. When you run out of gas, you’ve got to have a plan. You’ve got to keep the bus going down the road.”