DeWayne Walker has been in charge of a bowl-bound team this month. Sounds like a good gig, except by next week he could be out of job.
UCLA’s interim coach said he’s tried not to worry about his unsettled situation when he went about the business of preparing the Bruins to play Brigham Young in Saturday night’s Las Vegas Bowl.
“I figured out through all of my experience with things like this, it’s still all about the work,” Walker said earlier this week. “I think the work brings good karma and at the end of the day, everyone will find out what is at stake for them. I don’t want to think about it. I just want to work.”
Walker, who was fired coach Karl Dorrell’s defensive coordinator, is one of six coaches acting as caretaker for a team playing in the postseason.
There are also temps in place at Texas A&M (defensive coordinator Gary Darnell), Arkansas (defensive coordinator Reggie Herring), Houston (secondary coach Chris Thurmond), Georgia Tech (defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta) and, most recently, at West Virginia (associate head coach Bill Stewart).
At College Station, Texas, Darnell is bridging the gap between the ousted Dennis Franchione and the incoming Mike Sherman, who is mostly tied up with his job as Houston Texans offensive coordinator until the NFL season ends. The Aggies play Penn State in the Alamo Bowl on Saturday.
The 60-year-old Darnell has been at 11 schools during a college coaching career that began in 1972. He’s been a head coach twice – at Western Michigan from 1997-2004 and Tennessee Tech from 1983-85.
Having spent most of his adult life in a profession that provides nearly no stability, Darnell is unfazed by the prospect of another job search.
“My future is not uncertain,” he said. “I know whatever it is, it’s going to be exciting.”
Darnell said Texas A&M’s recruiting class for 2008 has been locked up for a while, so that hasn’t been a problem. Not having Sherman around much has helped keep the attention on the immediate future instead of the next regime.
“It’s unique how positive it is because we come to work every day and our job is to maintain this program until the next guy gets here,” Darnell said.
New Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson left his old team, Navy, in the hands of former assistant Ken Niumatalolo, who was elevated to head coach and led the Midshipmen in their 35-32 Poinsettia Bowl loss to Utah on Thursday night.
That’s left Johnson time to check out the Yellow Jackets as they prepare for the Humanitarian Bowl against Fresno State.
He was at practice earlier this week and Tenuta didn’t even realize it.
“He’s not in the way,” said Tenuta, who interviewed for the Georgia Tech job. “Obviously, he’s got to see what he’s got. He knows numbers and faces but he’s got to evaluate guys live and in color, not just off film. That’s only fair to him.”
Tenuta has enjoyed the opportunity to get involved with the offense for a change.
“You get to see things from a different side for once,” said Tenuta, who could also be looking for work soon.
Darnell knows a bowl victory looks good on a resume.
“The easiest way to find a job is play well. Do a good coaching job,” he said.
Part of that job is creating a business-as-usual atmosphere for the players.
“For me to say it’s not weird (not having Franchione around), I would be lying to you because he’s been the head coach for so long,” Aggies senior offensive lineman Kirk Elder said. “But we haven’t lost a step. The guys are excited to have one more shot to play.”
Like A&M and Georgia Tech, Houston and Arkansas also have a permanent coach waiting in the wings. Oklahoma assistant Kevin Sumlin was hired by the Cougars and Bobby Petrino was lured back to college from the NFL by Arkansas.
UCLA has yet to hire a permanent coach to replace Dorrell. Walker was a candidate for the job, though not considered the front-runner.
Bruins defensive end Bruce Davis said it’s a waste of time and effort for players to get caught up in a coaching search.
“As far as I’m concerned, the only thing that is going on with this team is what is between the hash marks,” he said. “We know there is nothing we can do about what is going on in the administrative offices.”
West Virginia seems to be moving quickly to replace Rich Rodriguez, who was hired by Michigan. The Mountaineers’ situation was made even more complicated because Rodriguez had offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and recruiting coordinator and secondary coach Tony Gibson in Ann Arbor, Mich., with him when he was introduced as Wolverines coach.
Magee would have been a logical successor to Rodriguez, at least on an interim basis.
Stewart, a longtime college assistant who has been with West Virginia since 2000, ended up getting the interim tag as the team prepares to play Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3.
“I don’t see it as any adversity, but I do think that these young men are finding out that sometimes there are things in life that change,” Stewart said. “They are not life shattering.
“(The players are) waiting to see what happens. Once the unknown has been solved, and the dust settles, it won’t be a problem. Young people are so resilient.”