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Inside Job: Beware Promoting from Within

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Oregon. Michigan State. Southern Cal. UCLA.


All of these recently successful programs are struggling so far through the first half of this year, but why?  All of these teams have made recent changes to their coaching staffs and while this in itself is not the problem (many schools successfully navigate through staff changes every year) the way they went about selecting their replacements is similar.  Instead of going out and hiring the best coach for the job, they tried to promote from within.


Oregon – After 2015 the Ducks lost OC Scott Frost to Central Florida and DC Don Pellum was let go.  They replaced Frost with Matt Lubick who had served as the Ducks WR coach since ’13.  The result? The Ducks per play offensive efficiency is down 29% from their 8-year average.  Lubick might become a great coach, its early in his play calling career; that is not the argument here, the argument is if he was qualified to become the play caller at a program like the Ducks for his first gig.  Oregon missed an opportunity to go outside the program and hire a proven offensive mind with some new eyes on the play calling duties in Eugene.  The decision to promote Pellum to DC after Nick Aliotti retired was a similar mistake compounded by the hiring of Brady Hoke (who hasn’t called a defense since his days as a High School coach) this season.


Michigan State – After the 2014 season the Spartans lost long time DC Pat Narduzzi to Pittsburgh.  The Spartans were coming off a Cotton Bowl win and were ranked 5th in the final polls, they had the ability to go out and hire a top notch DC to come in and give a fresh set of ideas to an already dominant defense that had been the identity of the program.  Instead the Spartans opted to hire from within and promote Harlon Barnett who had been the DB coach at Michigan State since 2007.  The per play defensive efficiency dropped 13% in his first year and has continued to drop 36% this season from the Spartans 8-year average.


Southern Cal – After the mid-season firing of HC Steve Sarkisian, the Trojans had a chance to make a splash hire and start new in LA.  Instead the Trojans promoted from within and made OC Clay Helton the new HC; and gave the OC position to Tee Martin who had been with the Trojans as WR coach since 2012.  As a result, the Trojans who began the season an underwhelming 20th in the AP poll have fallen to the bottom of the list of ‘Others Receiving Votes’.  Keep in mind USC has the 7th most talented roster in America.  The per play offensive efficiency is also down 86% from the Trojan’s 8-year average.  Does some of this have to do with the tougher schedule the Trojans have this year? Sure.  Not enough for an 86% drop in offensive efficiency and not being near the bottom of the polls though.


UCLA – After the 2015 season, OC Noel Mazzone left UCLA for Texas A&M.  The Bruins had the chance to do a national search and find a top OC to come in and direct an offense that would be led by a promising young talent in Josh Rosen.  Instead the Bruins looked within and hired Kennedy Polamalu who had been the Bruins RB coach since 2014.  Polamalu had called plays before across town at USC, but hadn’t done so since 2012.  The result is the Bruins offense is down 24% in per play offensive efficiency from their 8-year average.


These are just a select few examples to highlight where promoting within can be septic in a program and hinder its future success.  There are exceptions to the rule of-course, and while hiring a coach from within who is qualified for the position is optimal and the desire to stay within the culture of a program is strong, it is more important to do a broad search and hire the most qualified coach for the open position.  Especially at high profile programs where those positions are often coveted.  It is important for a HC to hire assistants he trusts and knows, but it’s more important he hires assistants that are experienced enough to help him put the players in a position to win.  It is early, but it is also valid to question whether these programs achieved that.

Here are some more example of programs who have recently promoted from within and the adverse effect:


Compare that to the results of the programs who conducted a national search and hired a coach from outside their program:


There are exceptions to these examples, there are very few situations where there aren’t exceptions to the rule.  This is a septic problem however that ADs should be aware of before conducting a coaching search.


  1. Rand

    October 21, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    At Oregon. Don Pellum was not “let go”. He was demoted to his old position as linebackers coach.

  2. Jon Weaver

    November 28, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Promoting the “long-time-assistant” is a bad practice for all involved, including the person who gets promoted.

    It leaves the impression that they got the job through attrition and comfort(insularity?) rather than merit.

    It should never be about somebody’s “turn.” That is all about a sense of entitlement.

    Best for all to conduct an open search, encouraging applications from within. Then, if the successful candidate ends up to be the “long-time assistant” at least they will have competed for — and won — the job.

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