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Holding Down the Fort

Frank Haynes,
Senior College Football Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In an attempt to assure continuity, keep emotions in check and provide a sense of stability in an otherwise unstable situation, a team will occasionally name an interim coach to lead the way when the previous man or woman in charge has either decided to move on, or has been told their services are no longer required. The interim label is often bestowed when a change is made in-season, when conducting a more thorough search is expected to be too time consuming, or when the possibility exists of luring a more qualified candidate who is either currently employed by someone else, or may not quite be ready to assume a new position for one reason or another. Interim -- sure is a fancy term for a guy given a job on a temporary basis until someone better comes along.

Currently there are two coaches at high-profile FBS schools who have such a distinction, they being Everett Withers at North Carolina and Luke Fickell at Ohio State. Despite both being worthy of their new, loftier status, neither has been given a vote of confidence from their respective institutions beyond the current season, although they could conceivably receive one should their teams enjoy stellar 2011 campaigns.

The reasons why Butch Davis (UNC) and Jim Tressel (OSU) are no longer employed have been discussed ad nauseam, and two of their underlings have been given the "keys to the castle", although they come with the proverbial chain and cinder block attached, much like you'd find at a dingy, roadside service station.

So in essence, their administrators have said, "Here ya go guy...do your business. But don't get any smart ideas of holding on to them as there is going to be someone else we need to give them to soon enough."

Sure they have the opportunity to show what they can do, and in the process help their respective programs come out from under some pretty dark clouds, but with the caveat of knowing the rug could get pulled out from under them if and when a more suitable replacement is found.

In the case of Withers, he certainly has the pedigree after serving as the Tar Heels' defensive coordinator the last three years. In 2010, UNC's defense ranked fourth in the ACC and 30th in the country despite a lineup that was ripped to shreds by injuries and/or suspensions. Despite the lack of job security, Withers appears ready to tackle the challenges ahead.

"We have full confidence in Luke Fickell's ability to lead our football program," OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith said.
"I'm excited for this opportunity and I'm honored the Chancellor and [Athletics Director] Dick Baddour have faith in me to do this job," said Withers. "I realize this appointment is coming during a tough transition for our football players and staff. My job and the job of our assistant coaches is to prepare these students to perform at the highest level this season. I love Carolina and this community, and I will do everything I can to make the Tar Heel fans proud of this team."

Shortly after announcing Wither's promotion, Baddour stepped down after 14 years at the helm, thus putting the new coach's future even further in question. Simply put, Withers will need a miracle season to have the interim tagged lifted.

As for Fickell, he's been working toward this opportunity for some time as well, having been the Buckeyes' co-defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and recently, assistant head coach during his 10 years on the Ohio State coaching staff. OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith said the right things at the press conference introducing Fickell, but stopped well short of giving him the university's full blessing.

"We look forward to supporting Luke Fickell in his role as our football coach. We have full confidence in his ability to lead our football program."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, and the reality is that unless he beats bitter rival Michigan and wins the Big Ten, the Columbus native will likely be given a hearty hand shake along with his pink slip after the season concludes. And not because he isn't a good coach, but more because his name isn't "Urban Meyer".

Meyer's name has been attached to Ohio State since Tressel's troubles began this past spring, and while the much sought-after coach has squelched the rumors thus far, he hasn't totally ruled out a return to the sidelines, saying only, "I am committed to ESPN and will not pursue any coaching opportunities this fall." He continued, "I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the people at ESPN this spring and remain very excited about my role with the network this fall."

The "this fall" is the phrase that gets most people's attention.

In some instances, interim coaches have been afforded the opportunity to continue on full-time, but sometimes it's due to a lack of viable options from the outside. Money also plays a factor in these decisions. Sure both Withers and Fickell were given pay raises with their recent promotions, but no where near the kind of money Davis and Tressel were making, and certainly not the kind of big bucks someone of Meyer's ilk would command.

In the end, it probably won't matter what kind of year these two interim coaches have, as neither has the kind of glamorous name or gaudy reputation some others do. So for now, they'll just plow full steam ahead into the task at hand, serving the best interests of their players and their current employers, and simply let the chips fall where they may.


Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Frank Haynes at fhaynes@sportsnetwork.com.


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