Replacing Legendary Coaches

The following story moved on ESPN today. I'm going to present some key points in block quotes:

JACKSON, Miss. -- John Cohen is coming home to Mississippi State to win a national championship.

That was the message the former Bulldogs outfielder delivered to hundreds of fans who greeted him at news conferences in Starkville and Jackson on Saturday, a day after he resigned at Kentucky and took the job over the objection of former coach Ron Polk.


Polk built Mississippi State into a powerhouse over three decades. When he announced his retirement in March, he endorsed his assistant, Tommy Raffo.

When incoming athletic director Greg Byrne made Cohen, and not Raffo, his first hire, Polk lashed out. He called the 36-year-old Byrne unqualified and said he will be taking his name off the stadium and the athletic department out of his will.


Polk said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press that he asked Cohen not to move so Raffo, Cohen's former Bulldogs teammate under Polk from 1987-90, could get a shot at his first head coaching job. He threatened to actively work to dismantle key components of a program he helped build into one of the nation's best.

"I'm not totally ticked off at John," Polk said in a phone interview from Athens, Ga., where he is attending a super regional at Georgia. "This is not John. This is Greg Byrne. John felt like if he didn't take it, someone else would. I told John everything I was going to do and he still took the job. Boy, he must've really wanted it bad."

I'd like to make several points:

1 - I don't know anything about MSU baseball, other than what I just read and that Will Clark, the old Giants infielder played there.

2 - I think it is interesting that Polk, the outgoing coach, feels that the new coach, Cohen is "unqualified," considering he's had a great record at two schools and the assistant coach he wanted to promote, Raffo, has no head coaching experience.

3 - The real point I want to make is that it is always tough to replace the "legendary" coach. I wrote about the Arizona basketball situation here .

The details are different, but the attitude seems remarkably similar between Olson and Polk -- they know best and they don't care what anyone thinks and their success on the field/court means that they get to decide what happens in the future.

John Wooden, luckily, didn't wield the same sort of influence overtly, but it still took a  very long time to find a replacement who could sustain the program. Jim Harrick came close, but never quite got over the top. It wasn't until Ben Howland came along that UCLA found a basketball coach who could basically sustain a top ten program.

The success that the "legend" creates also creates very high expectations for successors. It's a very tough thing ... when you think about it, Howland had it easier than other successors because Steve Lavin lowered the program so far that is was more of a rebuilding project than a sustaining project.

The other thing that I notice about Howland is that he's from outside the program entirely. Sure, he was a UCLA fan, but the program he brought in pays tribute to the past, but really does things his way. The shadow of John Wooden is simply shorter during the Howland era than it was during any other coach's tenure.

Interestingly, the first successor to John Wooden, Gene Bartow, was an outsider. If my theory is correct, that should have been the right move, but Bartow turned out to be the wrong guy. (And many people feel that an ex-Wooden assistant, Denny Crum, should have taken over for Wooden, so who knows?). But Larry Brown fit the outsider mold -- he even came from another legend's program -- and he had things going until his vagabond ways won out.

I guess deep down I'm a believer in going outside the program to hire coaches, especially when you are following a "legend." Continuity is not always the answer, but maybe someone who is there own person is?

As for Rick Neuheisel, I feel he's off to a great start in terms of hiring coaches and recruiting kids. His desire to return UCLA to some past greatness sort of confuses me, because I remain hopeful he can surpass whatever 'greatness" we've had to this point -- because we haven't won the title in over half a century.


<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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