Col­lege football pro­grams are trend­ing to­ward younger hires

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Ralph D. Russo

When search­ing for a new head football coach, schools have been show­ing more will­ing­ness to hire an up-and-comer like Tom Her­man or P.J. Fleck, rather than a vet­eran with a long track record of suc­cess such as Les Miles.

The av­er­age age of the head coaches hired by FBS teams last sea­son was 43.2 years old, the youngest it has been in the past six years.

Eight of the 26 new hires were un­der 40 at the time they ac­cepted the job.

In 2010 and 2011, the av­er­age age of the 48 coaches hired by FBS schools was a touch over 47, with a to­tal of eight un­der the age of 40.

Peo­ple in the busi­ness of hir­ing coaches are hes­i­tant to call any­thing a trend. Each school comes to the mar­ket­place with dif­fer­ent needs and cri­te­ria.

The cur­rent cli­mate leaves West­ern Michi­gan’s 35-year-old Fleck and Hous­ton’s 41-year-old Her­man bet­ter po­si­tioned to land a ma­jor job than a po­ten­tial Hall of Famer such as Miles. The 62-yearold for­mer LSU coach won 77 per­cent of his games and a na­tional ti­tle in 11plus sea­sons with the Tigers be­fore be­ing fired in Septem­ber.

Daniel Parker, the vice pres­i­dent and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of sports for Parker Ex­ec­u­tive Search based in At­lanta, said po­ten­tial is of­ten more ap­peal­ing to those hir­ing a coach than a long re­sume.

“Bring­ing in some­body that’s got a lot of en­ergy, that’s go­ing to change the pro­gram, re­cruit re­ally well, work re­ally hard, that does some­thing for the fan base. It re-en­er­gizes the ath­let­ics depart­ment. Reen­er­gizes the fans,”’ Parker said.

Miles told Sports Il­lus­trated last week he has “10 or 12 years left in me.” An out-of-date of­fense was a big part of why Miles was ousted, but he says he is will­ing to change and evolve his philoso­phies.

Re­cent his­tory sug­gests the de­mand for Miles could be lim­ited.

In 2010 and ‘11, four coaches who were at least 60 were hired by FBS teams, two each sea­son. Since, Mike Ri­ley, who went from Ore­gon State to Ne­braska af­ter the 2014 sea­son, is the only 60-orolder coach to be hired as an FBS head coach.

“I think it’s go­ing to be up to Les as to what he’s in­ter­ested in do­ing,” said Jed Hughes, of ex­ec­u­tive search firm Korn Ferry. “He’s been at a pow­er­ful school.

“Does he think he wants to be at that level or will he be sat­is­fied with some­thing a lit­tle less that would al­low him to stay in a Power Five school but not have the same kind of aura and tra­di­tion that LSU did?”

Mack Brown was 62 when he was pushed out at Texas af­ter the 2013 sea­son.

He also has Hall of Fame-wor­thy cre­den­tials, but his last few years with the Longhorns when he went 30-21 over­shad­owed his string of nine straight dou­ble-digit vic­tory sea­sons and a na­tional ti­tle at Texas.

For­mer coaches such as Brown and Phillip Ful­mer, who was pushed out by Ten­nessee af­ter the 2008 sea­son at age 58, end up be­ing de­fined by their awk­ward ex­its in­stead of their long runs of suc­cess. Fans rarely want the coach some other school just dis­carded.

Brown said he still has not ruled out coach­ing again, but he is not ac­tively pur­su­ing jobs.

“I do think so many of the ath­letic di­rec­tors and pres­i­dents have to lis­ten to their boost­ers and a lot of their boost­ers want what­ever the hot name is not only this year but this week,” Brown said.

The job of ma­jor col­lege football coach is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a 365-day per year gig.

Re­cruit­ing never re­ally takes a break. Re­cently pro­posed NCAA re­forms to the re­cruit­ing cal­en­dar were made to ac­knowl­edge that schools are rou­tinely of­fer­ing schol­ar­ships to high school well be­fore their se­nior sea­sons.

“I re­mem­ber specif­i­cally one (older coach) said, ‘Don’t hire me.”’ Toledo ath­letic di­rec­tor Mike O’Brien said. “Mean­ing, don’t hire some­one of my age be­cause I can’t han­dle the 24/7 busi­ness of col­lege football.”

The last hir­ing cy­cle also had the high­est per­cent­age of col­lege co­or­di­na­tors and as­sis­tants with no head-coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to be­come head coaches at Power Five schools since 2010.

Five of the 12 Power Five open­ings went to as­sis­tants and none was older than 43. Most no­tably, Ge­or­gia hired 40-year-old Kirby Smart, the for­mer long­time Alabama de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and Ge­or­gia alum, and USC pro­moted for­mer Tro­jans of­fen­sive Clay Hel­ton, 43, af­ter he served as in­terim coach.

There are plenty of ex­am­ples of th­ese types of hires work­ing out just fine. Bob Stoops was a 39-yearold de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor when Ok­la­homa hired him in 1999, and Mark Richt was 41 with no head­coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence when he be­came Ge­or­gia’s coach in 2001.

Hughes said be­ing a head coach has be­come more com­pli­cated since then be­cause of the size and scope of the most prom­i­nent pro­grams.

“I would make the ar­gu­ment that a Power Five high-pro­file pro­gram, hir­ing an as­sis­tant coach that’s not a proven head coach is a ma­jor risk,” Hughes said.

Rick Chryst, the brother of Wis­con­sin coach Paul Chryst and for­mer MidAmer­i­can Con­fer­ence com­mis­sioner, said hir­ing younger head coaches is a byprod­uct of a dif­fer­ent trend: Less pa­tience by schools in a rush for suc­cess.

“You got some re­ally good coaches who have cy­cled through once and are young enough to have an­other head job in them,” Chryst said.

One bad stint as a head coach is of­ten hard to over­come.

“I had an AD tell me it’s all about bro­ker­ing hope,” said for­mer Colorado and Boise State coach Dan Hawkins, who is work­ing for ESPN and about to turn 56. “If you go hire a guy that’s never been a head coach he is a blank slate.


Hous­ton head coach Tom Her­man watches from the side­lines dur­ing a re­cent game against Cen­tral Florida.

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