Per­fect fit: Play­off teams’ in­house hires get­ting it done

Antelope Valley Press - - Sports - By RALPH D. RUSSO

For­mer Clem­son ath­letic di­rec­tor Terry Don Phillips made a deal with Dabo Swin­ney when he de­cided to make him the Tigers head foot­ball coach.

“There were peo­ple that were very skep­ti­cal of that hire,” Phillips re­cently re­called. “I said, ‘Dabo, if it don’t work out what’s go­ing to hap­pen, you come over here and you help me pack up my of­fice. And I’ll go over there and I’ll pack up your of­fice, and we’ll walk out to­gether.

Be­cause if it doesn’t work out that’s ex­actly what’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

Phillips has been re­tired since 2013 and is hailed as a vi­sion­ary for see­ing the po­ten­tial in Swin­ney. The Tigers are 129-30 since Phillips pro­moted the then-39-year-old wide re­ceivers coach.

This Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off shows that some­times the best per­son for the job is some­one al­ready in the build­ing.

On Satur­day at the Fi­esta Bowl in Glen­dale, Ari­zona, Swin­ney and No. 3 Clem­son plays No. 2 Ohio State and first-year Buck­eyes coach Ryan Day, who was pro­moted from of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor af­ter last sea­son to re­place Ur­ban Meyer.

The other semi­fi­nal at the Peach Bowl in At­lanta matches No. 1 LSU and No. 4 Ok­la­homa, schools that also hired from within the last time they were look­ing for a head foot­ball coach.

LSU’s Ed Org­eron took a sim­i­lar path as Swin­ney, be­ing named in­terim coach af­ter a mid­sea­son fir­ing and then given a long-term con­tract

amid skep­ti­cism about his abil­i­ties. The Tigers are 32-7 in three full sea­sons un­der the 58-year-old Org­eron.

Ohio State’s pro­mo­tion of the 40-year-old Day mim­icked what Ok­la­homa had done 18 months ear­lier when Bob Stoops sur­pris­ingly stepped down in June 2017.

The Soon­ers smoothly tran­si­tioned to Lin­coln Ri­ley and have gone 36-5 with three Big 12 cham­pi­onships and three play­off ap­pear­ances in his three sea­sons.

Ohio State and Ok­la­homa took the same ap­proach to re­plac­ing fu­ture Hall of Fame coaches.

“You know, that was our cir­cum­stance,” Ohio State ath­letic di­rec­tor Gene Smith said. “We re­ally built very good sup­port sys­tems for our foot­ball pro­gram and set up some good struc­ture. And so when you have some­body in-house that you have a chance to kind of au­di­tion, so to speak, it al­lows you to hire from within and not have some­body come in and, frankly, they want to try and change a lot of things. We didn’t need any­thing changed.”

Day ar­rived at Ohio State in 2017 af­ter a stint in the NFL, hired by Meyer to be co-of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and quar­ter­back coach. It was the next step in Day’s goal of one day lead­ing a pro­gram and Smith said he con­sid­ers it his job to help as­sis­tants with head coach­ing as­pi­ra­tions to reach those goals.

“So Ryan, for ex­am­ple, he wanted to be a head coach. I’d hoped one day at Ohio State, but I didn’t know that for sure. So I had him meet with our pres­i­dent,” Smith said.

Day was thrust into the job un­der un­usual cir­cum­stances last sea­son. He was named act­ing head coach for the first three games of the 2017 sea­son af­ter Meyer was sus­pended by the univer­sity for his han­dling of an as­sis­tant coach who had been ac­cused of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

The Buck­eyes went 3-0 un­der Day, and when Meyer stepped down af­ter the sea­son Day was the ob­vi­ous choice.

Ri­ley also demon­strated his lead­er­ship abil­i­ties at Ok­la­homa as an as­sis­tant.

OU ath­letic di­rec­tor Joe Castiglion­e said he iden­ti­fied Ri­ley as a pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor to Stoops in the spring of 2015 af­ter be­ing hired as the Soon­ers of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

Castiglion­e saw Ri­ley con­nect with play­ers in an un­canny way dur­ing a tu­mul­tuous time on cam­pus that fol­lowed a video of a fra­ter­nity’s racists chants be­com­ing pub­lic.

“I asked (Stoops) di­rectly, ‘Is it just me? Am I over­re­act­ing or see­ing some­thing uniquely spe­cial in this guy? Or is it real?’ And he said, ‘Oh, no. It’s def­i­nitely real,’” Castiglion­e said.

Castiglion­e fig­ured Ri­ley would move on to a head coach­ing job at an­other school and, hope­fully, down the road he would be able to hire him back to re­place Stoops.

In­stead, hav­ing Ri­ley around made it eas­ier for Stoops to step away at age 56 .

“What you’re look­ing for in your head coach is a leader. And statis­tics aren’t nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to demon­strate that,” said Bob Lat­tinville, a St. Louis-based at­tor­ney who rep­re­sents and ad­vises ath­letic di­rec­tors and coaches. “The only way to know that is to ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence the guy.”

At Clem­son and LSU, the tran­si­tions were bumpier be­cause Swin­ney and Org­eron re­placed coaches who were fired.

Lat­tinville said it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble for ath­letic di­rec­tors to make an in­ter­nal hire af­ter a coach is fired.

“Es­sen­tially, what you’re say­ing is ev­ery­thing else is fine, but it’s just that the head coach was the prob­lem,” Lat­tinville said. “And that’s re­ally rarely the case.”

LSU fired Les Miles four games into the 2016 sea­son. Un­der Miles, the Tigers won a na­tional ti­tle and played for an­other dur­ing 11-plus sea­sons.

As­so­ci­ated Press

TI­TLE— In this Dec. 7 photo, LSU head coach Ed Org­eron cel­e­brates af­ter the team’s win over Ge­or­gia in an NCAA col­lege foot­ball game for the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship, in At­lanta.

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