Maryland, West Virginia show coach-in-waiting agreements can go awry

A year ago, James Franklin was heir to the throne. Maryland's animated offensive coordinator had a contract entitling him to $1 million if not elevated by the university to head coach by Jan. 2, 2012.

But the landscape shifted beneath Franklin's feet. A new athletic director arrived who was no fan of such "coach-in-waiting" agreements. With the succession plan envisioned by former AD Debbie Yow in jeopardy, Franklin left to become Vanderbilt's head coach.

As Maryland practiced to play No. 18 West Virginia at Byrd Stadium on Saturday, the rival programs stood as testaments that life — and particularly coaching succession plans — don't always go as planned.

If anything, West Virginia's coach-in-waiting arrangement ended up messier than Maryland's.

The plan called for coach Bill Stewart to give way to former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen after the 2011 season. But Stewart stepped down instead in June after a reporter who had covered the team said Stewart prompted him to uncover negative information about Holgorsen.

To skeptics of such plans, the Maryland and West Virginia examples demonstrate the problems associated with trying to plan far into the future. Florida State, Texas, Oregon and Kentucky are among other schools that adopted the strategy in football.

"They're fraught with danger," Scott Rosner, sports business professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, said Wednesday. "When you identify the heir to the throne with plenty of time to spare, there is so much that can go wrong."

These are among the potential hazards of such arrangements:

•The architect of the plan might leave. Yow had signed off on Maryland's plan. She believed locking in Franklin would aid recruiting and provide the program with continuity as coach Ralph Friedgen neared the end of his contract. But Yow left for North Carolina State in June 2010.

Incoming AD Kevin Anderson would not guarantee that Franklin would be the next coach. "I'm going to go out on this limb: I can't see how this [plan] serves the program well," Anderson told The Baltimore Sun in October 2010. "Because what happens now is you have two people that a staff has to serve."

Franklin left for Vanderbilt in December. "I talked to him the other day," Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien, whom Franklin recruited, said this week. "Just to congratulate him on the [Vanderbilt] win [over Connecticut], and he did the same. We stay in contact. He's a great friend of mine and a mentor to me."

•The successor's star can dim. When Maryland went 2-10 in 2009, some fans expressed discomfort with the idea of the school elevating Franklin, whose football philosophy is similar to Friedgen's. The Terps rebounded to go 9-4 last season before Friedgen's contract was bought out and Randy Edsall became coach.

Asked for his thoughts on coach-in-waiting plans, Edsall said Wednesday: "I really have no opinion on it."

•The head coach might not be ready to yield. In 2009, Friedgen said he might want to remain in his post for up to five more years if the team were performing well. Friedgen said there was a verbal understanding that he could continue to coach beyond the date when the transition was to occur.

Other schools' succession plans have also gotten complicated. "You really have to question whether it's worth it," Rosner said.

Notes: Running back D.J. Adams said Wednesday, "I'm ready and available," for Saturday's game. Adams watched the Miami game Sept. 5 from the sideline after being suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules. "I can't really speak on what happened, but I'm glad everything has kind of moved on," Adams said. "I'm ready for my season to start. It was a rough time, but everything has worked out. As Coach Edsall said, he's not one to hold grudges." … Edsall posted a video of himself Tuesday getting flattened by tailback Davin Meggett during practice. "Meggett hit me pretty hard," Edsall said on Twitter. … Edsall said via Twitter that Maryland would wear its new, all-black uniforms for Saturday's game.