By: Chris Magill
New Year’s Eve saw several NFL head coaches get fired for not performing up to the expectations and goals set in their contract. Many of these positions will more than likely be replaced by top names in college. Head coach Chip Kelly of the Pac-12 powerhouse Oregon Ducks was recently interviewed by the Cleveland Browns. Three-time national title winner and current Alabama head coach Nick Saban already had one unsuccessful attempt in the NFL and is one of the biggest candidates for possibly making the jump again. There is much question about how efficient college coaches can be at guiding pro teams in the right direction.
In most cases, NFL franchises looking for change are near the bottom of the league for wins. This year, the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles finished a combined 6-36 this season. Both are looking for new leadership this offseason. One difference between the NFL and other professional sports leagues is the common dip into the college level to find head coaches for underachieving teams. The NBA does this to an extent, but it seems every year at least two or three head coaches in the NFL come from the next level down.
The concept is simple; those coaches have proven themselves at their level of competition so why not see if they can do the same with a struggling team? They also benefit from this with bigger salaries. So what’s the downside? Generally, the ones being hired have two to four years to improve the team. If things don’t work out, owners will look elsewhere. Is it fair? More often than not, no. The environment between the two levels is completely different. Head coaches in college recruit and work with young men primarily 18-23 years old. Sideline leaders of the NFL have less control of who is on their team and need a completely different mindset to deal with much older players. It is also very difficult to make significant enough changes and win consistently within a four-year span.
As previously mentioned, Saban coached in the league and went 15-17 during a two-year tenure with the Miami Dolphins. He was very successful before that, bringing a national championship title to LSU in 2003. Chan Gailey was fired by the Buffalo Bills at the end of this season after three disappointing years with the franchise as well as a previous flop for Kansas City. Gailey was fairly successful for Georgia Tech before leaving for the NFL in 2008, winning just under 60 percent of games during his first five seasons with the Yellow Jackets. There are exceptions to failing in the pros. Pete Carroll became a household name at University of Southern California after a short stint in the NFL. Carroll tested the league waters again in 2010 and became head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. The franchise turned a complete 180 and made the playoffs the following year, pulling one of the biggest upsets in history against defending Super Bowl champions New Orleans Saints. Ever since Carroll took over, the Seahawks home-field advantage has been one of the best in the NFL, known for its extremely loud decibels that wreak havoc on opposing teams. The front office has excelled and Seattle has won the NFC West division two of the past three years. Ex-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh has returned the San Francisco 49ers to Super Bowl contenders after being hired in 2011. The team has finished with the second best record in the NFC both years he has controlled the reins.
Is this important for the future of the league? Probably not. But for coaches depending on job security and a stable income, it is crucial they make the right decision. It works both ways; NFL franchises need to fully look into the background and coaching style of who they hire. Coaches at the college level should consider all of the factors concerning whether or not it is worth the risk to give up being amongst college football’s elite, or take a chance in the most powerful sports league in America.