Few college coaches can make jump to NFL
Bob GlauberBob Glauber
Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He
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If anyone knows the challenges of making the quantum leap from college head coach to the NFL, it's Pete Carroll. After all, the Seahawks' coach has been at both ends of the spectrum.
"It's a difficult transition for someone who hasn't been in the NFL," said Carroll, who had been an NFL coach with the Jets and Patriots and built a successful program at USC before going to the Seahawks in 2010. "Certainly if you've coached in the NFL, the transition doesn't need to be a big deal."
And if you haven't, or if your NFL experience has been limited to only a couple of years in the league?
Welcome to the risk-reward ratio the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers currently are experiencing with Chip Kelly, who coached at Oregon last year, and Greg Schiano, more than a year removed from Rutgers.
With both men getting off to slow starts with their teams this season, and with Schiano's Buccaneers at 0-4 and nearly in revolt after the drama-filled sequence of events involving quarterback Josh Freeman, the question remains whether college coaches can successfully navigate the tricky waters of the NFL, or whether Kelly or Schiano -- or perhaps both -- soon will join a long list of those who tried and failed in the pro game.
Carroll had a big advantage over both men, and his success with the Seahawks, who are 4-0 and considered a genuine Super Bowl contender, isn't entirely unexpected. After all, he had been intimately familiar with the NFL after spending years as a defensive assistant and a combined four years as head coach with the Jets and the Patriots. So it wasn't the culture shock for Carroll that it's been for others.
"There's some stuff about it that calls for savvy and understanding of what the league is all about," said Carroll, who left USC just before the school was heavily sanctioned because of improper gifts that were given to some of his players, particularly former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, who ultimately surrendered the award. "It's not always easy at [the NFL] level."
Other than former University of Miami coach Jimmy Johnson, who built the Cowboys into a dynasty in the early 1990s, the NFL is filled with examples of former college coaches who flopped:
Former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier signed the richest contract in the NFL when he agreed to a five-year, $25- million deal with Washington in 2002. But he won only 12 games in two seasons and resigned with three years remaining on the deal. He now is coaching at South Carolina.
Nick Saban was lured by the Dolphins from LSU in 2005, but he, too, left after only two seasons. Saban became the coach at Alabama, where he has been ever since.
The Falcons hired Louisville coach Bobby Petrino in 2007, but he coached only 13 games before leaving the team and accepting the job at Arkansas. He informed the players of his decision by leaving the identical four-sentence statement in each of their lockers, and was ripped by several Falcons for quitting on the team.
Mike Riley was lured to the Chargers from Oregon State by highly regarded general manager Bobby Beathard in 1999, becoming the first person with no coaching or playing experience in the NFL to become a head coach at that level. He lasted only three seasons before being fired and has returned to Oregon State.
Riley was asked in July at the Pac-12 media day in July whether he would have done anything differently during his tenure with the Chargers if he had another chance. He replied, "I wouldn't have done it." He explained in an interview last month with the San Diego Union-Tribune, "I realized I had taken the job not being prepared for it. I hadn't coached in the NFL. I hadn't been a coordinator -- I hadn't even coached in the league."
Kelly now is the second coach with no previous playing or coaching experience in the NFL to become a head coach. He started off quickly in the opener, building a 33-7 lead over the Redskins before holding on for a 33-27 victory, but his Eagles have lost three straight heading into today's game against the Giants.
His name already is being mentioned in connection with the vacancy at USC, which fired Lane Kiffin last week. Kelly said he does not have an interest in the job at this time.
But given the history of college coaches striking out in the NFL, would it surprise anyone if Kelly left? No, it would not. Nor should it. The body of evidence is simply too strong to suggest that the trend will end anytime soon.
Whether it's an inability to relate to the players at the pro level -- which appears to be the case with Schiano, a disciplinarian who has drawn criticism from some of his players for being too rigid -- or whether it's the culture shock of leaving a closer-knit college community in which coaches are far more revered and far less critiqued than in the NFL, there are simply too many examples of failure for the trend to be ignored.
Some would argue that Jim Harbaugh is a good example of a college coach who made a successful transition, and that's true, but only to a certain extent. Harbaugh had been an NFL quarterback and was a Raiders assistant before going to Stanford as the head coach. So there was a good deal of familiarity with how the NFL worked.
The lesson for NFL owners smitten with the success of college coaches: Buyer beware.