Thursday, December 20, 2012

The way we look at college coaches in the NFL may be changing

The following is an excerpt from today’s column on, taking a look at the success recent coaches from college have had in the NFL. Read the full story by clicking the image below or using the link at the bottom of this excerpt.

The San Francisco 49ers were the NFL’s Team of the 1980s, with Bill Walsh reinventing the way the game was played with NFL icons such as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott and more winning four Super Bowls and always seeming to be in contention for another in most seasons.

Walsh joined the 49ers after two seasons as head coach of Stanford, where he put together a record of 17-7, with a couple of bowl victories to show off. Walsh’s success at Stanford was no small deal. Under Walsh in 1977 and 1978 Stanford finished each season ranked in the AP Top 25, a feat that had not been done in the five previous seasons. Stanford may not have been playing in the Rose Bowl as Pac 8 or Pac 10 champions, but Walsh found a winning formula to work with by pulling from his experience as an NFL assistant with the Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers. His quick success at Stanford caught the eye of the NFL and San Francisco hoped to see that string of success continue at the next level. Needless to say, it did.

Walsh’s success had NFL teams around the country scouring for the next big college coach to imitate the success but as the years went by it was rare to see that trend spread the way Walsh’s west coast offense did. For every Jimmy Johnson in the NFL it seems there were five Steve Spurriers.

Every off-season there are rumors upon rumors of college coaches being targeted by NFL teams and this year is no different. Oregon’s Chip Kelly is seen as a high-demand target for a few potential NFL vacancies, and Stanford’s John Shaw has been mentioned as well as Alabama’s Nick Saban and even LSU’s Les Miles despite just receiving a contract extension with the Tigers.

History shows that moving from the college sideline to the NFL sideline rarely leads to much success. South Carolina’s Spurrier learned that lesson quickly when he tried to run the same offensive system that made him so successful at Florida with the Washington Redskins, where he hoped a crop of former Gators would be able to have the same production he was familiar with. Spurrier lasted just two years in Washington before staying away from the game for a little bit and returning to the SEC with the Gamecocks. As we have learned, Spurrier is much more of a college coach, having now turned South Carolina in to a legitimate force in the SEC East.
Saban did not fare much better in the NFL. After coaching LSU to a BCS championship in the 2004 season, Saban left the Tigers to coach the Miami Dolphins. That experiment also lasted just two seasons before returning to the SEC to return Alabama to national prominence and glory. Next month Alabama will play for the BCS championship for the third time under Saban.

But there have been some recent exceptions to the perceived rule that college coaches are geared for the college game and cannot make it in the NFL. Ironically enough, it is highlighted by another Stanford-49ers connection, with Jim Harbaugh.

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