Conveyor belts and coaching succession

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It’s been an interesting day to say the least. If you’d have told me last night I’d be talking to Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart and Kentucky offensive coordinator Joker Phillips in a 12-hour span – with a whole lot of work in College Park in between – I’m not sure I’d have believed you.

But that’s what happened, and it’s part of what makes the gig really, really fun at times. You never do know what’s lurking behind the next corner, and sometimes it means some really neat conversations.

Burke, in particular, offered a fascinating analogy on designating head coaches. He’s done it twice, with finite timelines in both cases – Matt Painter taking over the Boilermakers’ basketball program from Gene Keady in 2005, and Danny Hope becoming Purdue’s new football coach after Joe Tiller’s retirement last fall.

If there’s a common theme from talking to folks at Purdue, Kentucky and Maryland about a succession plan, it’s that recruiting stability is a huge part of the reason behind setting one up. And rather than clutter up his words, I’ll just get out of the way and let Burke describe the situation:

“When you think about it like a conveyor belt, each class is about 20 to 25 kids. Your success rate in recruiting – and this is Morgan Burke talking – in terms of kids who can crack the starting lineup is probably 60 to 65 percent.

“Then you have a hiccup and make a change. All the sudden, instead of 65 percent, you’re take some risks, you take some chances academically that somebody will work, and you get maybe a 35 or 40 percent success rate. What happens is you have a talent gap you have to make up. …

“In the last 12 years, we have the fourth-best record in the Big Ten, ahead of Penn State and right there with Wisconsin. We’ve gone to every bowl game [with a Big Ten tie-in] – Rose, Capital One, you name it. But I’m not naive enough to think if we had a hiccup we wouldn’t have a bigger challenge than somebody whose been successful for decade after decade. I know that each time you stop the conveyor belt, you’re lessening your talent for a period of time. If you can avoid that and minimize it, it’s a good thing.”

Maryland’s announcement today ensured the conveyor belt won’t stop. And given Maryland’s similarities to Purdue (and Kentucky, for that matter), it is quite crucial that will not occur.

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