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When Should A Coaching Hire Leave For His New Job?

When a coach takes a new job while his current team is headed to a bowl, he must make the decision whether to stay and coach the bowl or start coaching his new program immediately.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

When a coach at one program decides to take another, he has so many decisions to make. Who does he want on his coaching staff, who does he want to recruit, where does he want to live, and so many more decisions.

One question that is usually glossed over is coaching bowl games.

Should a coach that is part of a program that earned a bowl bid go ahead and leave the program he is currently coaching? Or should he stay and coach the bowl game?

This question has come up for several coaches, most notably Bronco Mendenhall with the BYU Cougars. He was the Cougars' head coach from 2005-2015, while with the program since 2003. His decision had more to do with his attachment to the program as BYU is just a little different from every other program in the nation, especially for those that are Mormon (BYU head football coaches must be Mormon).

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart made the same choice in deciding to stay with the Crimson Tide throughout the College Football Playoff. Once the Alabama season is over, he will head to Georgia and take over the program.

Newly minted North Texas head coach Seth Littrell went in the other direction, ending his coaching career with North Carolina in order to take over the program immediately. Much of the reasoning behind Littrell's decision was the fact that he would have a month longer recruiting (and other tasks) to get ready for national signing day.

If Littrell waited until the Tar Heels played in the Russell Athletic Bowl, he would not start with North Texas until December 30. While he could have done both during that time, it stands to reason that he wouldn't be able to give his all to both positions at the same time.

East Carolina's new head coach Scottie Montgomery made the decision to stay with Duke through their trip to New York to play in the Pinstripe Bowl versus Indiana.

"I will also try to get as much publicity for East Carolina as I can while up there. I am the head football coach at ECU. I guess I will just not sleep as much over the next two weeks. I want to work as hard as I can for my team but stay loyal to the guys I have coached over the last year."

Let's look at some pros and cons of staying with the program through a bowl berth, before leaving to coach at another school.

Pros:

  • Loyalty: A coach in the college game cannot afford to burn bridges. Some administrations see a coach taking off for another job before the bowl game as burning a bridge. Coaches always have to make sure that they are hire-able for the next position because very rarely does a coach never get let go once in his career. Loyalty goes a long way in securing future employment.
  • Bowl Experience: An FBS coach makes hundreds of thousands of dollars. They can afford to buy whatever is given to them at the bowl game. They are still not going to turn down free stuff. In addition, they get to experience a bowl game with their team. In Montgomery's case, a trip to New York to coach in Yankee Stadium. That's a pretty good incentive.
  • One Last Game With The Guys: Similar to loyalty, a coach has earned a bond with his players and can look at the bowl game as one last hurrah with his boys. Those bonds formed during the 4-5 years of coaching each class are impossible to quantify.

Cons:

  • Putting A Staff Together: A coach is preparing to lead his program in a bowl game. He is putting together a game play while working in young players. Bowl practices are like getting a second spring practice per season. He does not have time to sit around and figure out what coaches he wants to hire at his future program, but if he does wait, the coaches he wanted are gone to other programs.
  • Recruiting: Luckily, there is a recruiting dead period right around Christmas, but taking a job at a new program in December already puts a coach behind the eight-ball for National Signing Day. He is already putting in a game plan, evaluating young players in practice, and trying to put a coaching staff together. How can he find time to pull together a good recruiting class with signing day only two months away?
  • Not Giving Either Job Full Focus: This has to do with the first two cons. There are only 24 hours in the day and a coach would have to assume that he will sleep at least a few hours per night. Just say he goes all Jon Gruden and sleeps like four hours per night. He then has 20 hours per day to evaluate and figure out what recruits to target while also way behind other programs in the process, prepare for the upcoming bowl game with your current team, attempt to put together a coaching staff that he likes, and do hundreds of other things that a head coach does on a weekly basis.

While I understand and completely empathize with the coaches like Mendenhall and Montgomery that want that last hurrah with their current team before taking on a new challenge, it seems like an insane decision. Time will tell just how great of a decision it ends up being.