When USF formally introduces Jeff Scott as its new head coach today, he can officially begin what Kirby Smart once called “probably the hardest month of my life.”
Balancing his soon-to-be-former job as the coordinator for a College Football Playoff contender with his new job as an incoming head coach.
Although Scott will be the first Clemson assistant to juggle the two high-profile, high-pressure roles, at least one coach has pulled double duty in all five previous playoffs.
Tom Herman helped Ohio State win the 2014 national title as its offensive coordinator while assembling the staff and roster that went 22-4 in his two years at Houston. Herman said at the time that juggling the two “hasn’t been terrible.”
The closest thing to terrible? The Alabama-Lane Kiffin divorce in January 2017.
Kiffin coordinated the Crimson Tide’s offense in semifinal win over Washington while starting to take over Florida Atlantic. But he and the Tide separated a week before the national championship game at Raymond James Stadium — which ’Bama lost to Clemson, 35-31.
Smart’s split was much more amicable (and successful). He coordinated Alabama’s championship defense in 2015 while building Georgia in the Tide’s image. The timeline was so crazy that he announced the hiring of defensive coordinator Mel Tucker the morning after that 45-40 win over Clemson.
“Recruit, call, talk to kids, get on the phone, hire a staff, interview coaches, fly, go see people,” Smart said two years later as he prepared to coach the Bulldogs in the national title game. “We flew all over looking for coaches and interviewing coaches to hire the staff because you can't practice every day. So the days you don't practice you're working on your program.”
It’s not just days you don’t practice. For Jeremy Pruitt every free moment when wasn’t working as Alabama’s defensive coordinator at the end of the 2017 season was a moment to focus on the 2018 Volunteers.
When the Tide staff split up to work on recruiting, Pruitt would do the same thing.
“I just do it for Tennessee,” Pruitt said then.
The good news for dual coaches is that they don’t have to do everything by themselves. When Mike Locksley was working as the outgoing offensive coordinator at Alabama, he had his director of football operations, Roy Richards, serve as the point man for his new job at Maryland.
Even so, having a pair of ultra-demanding jobs is a struggle — especially with the early signing period looming on Dec. 18.
“There’s only 24 hours in a day,” Pruitt said a few days before the ’Bama-Georgia championship. “And to me it’s a little bit of feeling of guilt. You almost feel like I’m sitting here working on this game, should I be doing something about the place I’m about to go, or the fact that I’m trying to recruit for Tennessee or set up or hire somebody and should I be spending this 45 minutes getting ready to figure out a way to stop Sony (Michel) and Nick (Chubb).”
Pruitt did the last part well; his defense held Michel and Chubb without a touchdown in the Tide’s 26-23 overtime win. But how effectively he built the Volunteers remains to be seen.
Although Pruitt knew several coaches who similarly straddled two jobs, he never sought any advice on how best to do it.
“I didn’t have time to ask,” Pruitt said then. “Just jumped in and started.”
Scott will have to do the same thing.