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Continuity is key to mid-major success

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in the FBS era, UB has the bittersweet situation of replacing a successful coach. In 2009, UB grabbed a hot shot offensive coordinator with experience in the MAC. It was a failure. People always want a Mark Few or a Chris Petersen, but they don't realize, those coaches are a result of a long commitment to continuity. The key to mid-major success is continuity. Let's look at the mid-major map to success:

1a) The Supernova

The Supernova is a hot coach who quickly, wins at a program and is destined to leave to pursue greater victories. The Supernova usually comes from outside the community.


Boise State Football: Dirk Koetter: Head Coach: 1998-2000 - Record: 26-10 - Big West titles: 2

Buffalo Basketball: Bobby Hurley: Head Coach: 2013-2015 - Record: 42-20 - MAC titles: 1

Buffalo Football: Turner Gill: Head Coach: 2006-2009 - Record: 20-30 - MAC titles: 1

1b) The Builder

The Builder is the longstanding head of program, that builds it up and finds some success.


Oregon* Football: Rich Brooks: Head Coach: 1977-1994 - Record: 91-109-4 - PAC 10 titles: 1

Gonzaga Basketball: Dan Fitzgerald: Head Coach: 1978-1981 & 1985-1997 - Record: 252-171 - NCAA Appearance: 1

Buffalo Basketball: Reggie Witherspoon: Head Coach: 1999-2013 - Record: 197-225 - NCAA Appearance: 0

coach replacement flowchart
2a) The Understudy

The Understudy is the assistant who usually takes over for the Supernova, but sometimes can also be an assistant under the Builder. Usually the Understudy is getting his first head coaching chance, and thus decides to try to continue the success of his predecessor, rather than try to radically change the process. The Understudy is generally ambitious and likely to leave if he finds success.


Boise State Football: Dan Hawkins: Boise Asst: 1998-2000 - Head Coach: 2001-2005 - Record: 53-11 - WAC titles: 4

Example that wasn't - Danny Barrett - UB Football

Example that could be - Nate Oats - UB Basketball

2b) The Heir

The Heir is the longtime assistant under the builder who takes over. The heir builds on the plan of the builder and plans to stay with the program for a long time.

Oregon Football: Mike Bellotti: Oregon OC 1989-1994 - Head Coach: 1995-2008 - Record: 116-55 - PAC 10 titles: 2

Gonzaga Basketball Dan Monson: Gonzaga Asst: 1988-1997 - Head Coach: 1997-1999 - Record: 52-17 - NCAA Appearance: 1

UB Women's Soccer: Shawn Burke: UB Assistant 2009-2013 - Heach Coach 2014-present - 1 MAC Title

Example that wasn't - Turner Battle - UB Basketball

3) The Assembly Line

The assembly line is established about three coaches into a program. The program is established and coaches know they can win and move on. The program is assured they can continue their success via promotion from within. Thus an assembly line of coaches forms, each coach doing his part when needed.

Oregon Football: Chip Kelly: Oregon OC 2007-2008 - Head Coach: 2009-2012 - Record: 46-7 - PAC 12 titles: 3

Oregon Football: Mark Helfrich: Oregon OC 2009-2012 - Head Coach: 2013-present - 24-4 - PAC 12 titles: 1

Boise State Football: Bryan Harsin: Boise asst: 2001-2010 - Head Coach: 2014-present - Record: 12-2 - MWC titles: 1

4) The Lifer

The Lifer is a coach who after gaining the job via the assembly line, decides not to move on. Like the heir, this coach generally has a long history with the program and thus is less likely to uproot himself for money or glory. A winning Lifer is the best coaching situation for a Mid-Major program, but it takes time and luck to establish.

Boise State Football: Chris Petersen: Boise OC: 2001-2005 - Head Coach: 2006-2013 - Record: 91-12 - WAC/MWC titles: 5

Gonzaga Basketball: Mark Few: Gonzaga Asst: 1989-1999 - Head Coach: 1999-present - Record: 438-103 - NCAA Appearance: 16


Why is continuity so important? Look no further than the Quinn era. In Dave's piece on Justin Winters, the former LB spoke about his experience during a regime change:

What was the biggest difference between a Turner Gill team vs. a Jeff Quinn team?

First of all let me start off by saying I respect both Turner Gill and Jeff Quinn. The biggest difference was that with Turner it felt like big happy family. We all had the same goals and we made it happen. When Jeff Quinn came it was a little bit different because he had to let everyone know that it was his team now and he was going to run it his way. Back then I didn't understand but now that I coach high school I understand completely.

Two key points:

1) Winters felt Quinn wanted to make it different to establish that it was his team. There is nothing I want less for a winning team than a change for changes sake.

2) Winters understands it now that he coaches, which makes me think any new coach that is a supernova or a builder would have the mindset to change and establish their program, even if the current program is successful.

In UB's 17 year history FBS history, they have yet to jump to the second level of the Mid-Major coaching cycle. Their major victories, the 2008 football championship and the 2015 Basketball championship, were the result of supernovas. However one of their greatest failures came from a supernova, Jeff Quinn, who never lived up to his pre-hire reputation.

If UB is going to take the next step, they need to establish continuity. Nate Oats, Bobby Hurley's Understudy and current interim coach, is the best option going forward.

*Oregon not a mid-major, but I'd argue they have effectively utilized the mid-major blueprint on their path to become college football elite.