Thursday, December 13, 2007

The NFL Coaching Exodus

I decided to take a brief break from writing my 2007 ND position reviews to comment on the recent trend of NFL coaches leaving to go back to college. Last year, the big name was Nick Saban. This year it is Bobby Petrino. Aside from the classless manner in which they left their NFL employers, these two men also had other things in common -- losing NFL teams, disastrous QB situations with their NFL franchise, and ugly salary cap situations. However, to believe that these are the only reasons for the current trend towards college coaching is short sighted. Everyone is pointing at Petrino right now(and rightfully so) but there are others who would do the same thing if given the chance. For example, there are a ton of rumblings right now that a guy like Lane Kiffen would crawl from Oakland to an SEC school. I believe that there are 4 primary reasons for this exodus to the college game:

1. Ego: Let's face it. Just about every successful coach has a very healthy ego. They are all the hero of their own war stories. To be honest, I am not sure I would want it any other way. A guy like Charlie Weis is often accused of having a large ego. Guess what? He does, just like everyone else in the profession. The difference is that guys like Charlie can rein it in when they need to and use it to their advantage when they want to. High profile coaches want to be "the man." They want to be the face and voice of the organization. However, that is not the way it is in the NFL. The NFL is correctly often characterized as a players league, while college is a coaches league, with obvious exceptions. To illustrate this point, think about this: When I think of USC, the first person I think of (with equal parts respect for accomplishments and nausea) is Pete Carroll. When I think of Texas and Oklahoma, I think Mack Brown and Bob Stoops. Ohio State and Jim Tressel. Now, think about the NFL. When I think of the Dallas Cowboys, the first images are Terrell Owens and Tony Romo. When I think of Green Bay, I think Brett Favre, not Mike McCarthy. I will say it again -- high profile coaches yearn to be "the man" -- the face and voice of the operation. Closely tied to this is wins and losses. When a coach gets used to winning 75% of his games in college, it is a pretty big blow to the ego to start winning 25% of your games in the NFL. Not good for the old ego. Let's see.... I can win 75% of the time and be adored and told how wonderful I am, or I can win 25% of the time and be vilified and told I am the worst coach in football. Not a tough choice.

2. Control: Another characteristic most coaches share is the desire to control their football operation. This is a heck of a lot easier to do in college than in the pros. In college, the coach has free reign to pick his team and can turn over almost a quarter of his team every season with graduation and recruiting. In the NFL, the coach typically must answer to a GM and team owner and even if he does have player personnel authority, he is constrained by external factors such as the salary cap, minimal draft picks, and free agency. In college, a coach can dictate the message. Coaches can close practice if they see fit, they can choose not to make certain classes or groups of players available to the media, they can. In the NFL, this is not an option. Wade Philips can't decide one day that Terrell Owens or Tony Romo, or all rookies on the team, can't talk to the media. Coaches in the NFL often have to react to what the story has become rather than shaping it themselves. This is uncomfortable for people who are used to and want to exert control. Take a look at Bobby Petrino for example. At Louisville, he was known for getting in players' faces after they screwed up or took a bad penalty etc. He would go crazy on the sidelines because he knew he could. That was his show. In Atlanta, CB Deangelo Hall did everything but slap Bobby Petrino in the face on the sidelines and what did Petrino do??? NOTHING. He stood there. He took it. Quite an adjustment for a guy so accustomed to dishing out the tongue lashings.

3. Money: It used to be that coaches left college because they wanted to get paid. This is not the case anymore. Currently, top college coaching salaries are somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.5-3 million per season. While this is not equal to the top NFL salaries, it is a heck of a lot closer than it used to be and close enough to make it a viable career decision.

4. Quality of Life: The life of an NFL head coach is grueling. It is a 365 day a year full time, 100 hour a week job. There is always something to do for an NFL coach. Many NFL coaches have lamented the role their job played in causing marriages to fail, difficulties with children, etc. In college, while recruiting can be tiring, there are fewer games, there are only a set number of hours in which you can practice during the season, and there are designated times where you are not allowed to recruit.

There are certainly other factors at work, but I believe these to be the primary factors. Your thoughts???


Face Mask said...

I think the NFL is a good pool to draw from but I hate the trend of moving from coach to coach when things go south for a program for a season or two.Give a guy a chance to get his program firmly in hand and see what happens.But is big biz no mater what we would like to think,the salaries will keep going up and coaches will jump ship to go for it till the school with the most money has the best coaches,recruiting ect.Its not about the school the tradition the quality education,its wheather or not coach can help me get to the next level.I don't want to think about it.I'd rather stick my head in the sand and think the guys are there to play for good ole who ever.One of the reasons I love ND is they never lowered The standards so our players for the most part want to be at ND.

IrishGlory said...

I think that once a huge college job at a program that is on top comes open, I think someone is going to redefine the entire landscape of college coaching salaries. That is my prediction. I think if a Pete Carroll left USC or a Tressel left Ohio State when they wre on top, there would be enormous pressure to bring in a big name. I could see a USC breaking the bank for someone they want. As you know, once that step is taken, the horse is out of the barn and that will become the going rate for top college coaches.

Ted said...

I agree we should never become involved in a coaching selection fiasco like Michigan has. Related to the coaching issue is my belief ND must allow CW two more years to put together the full effect of the outstanding recruiting he has directed. However, their must be continued improvement. Another losing season would not be acceptable.

IrishGlory said...

Ted - I agree with you, but I am not at all concerned about the ND situation. I think this time next year we will all see once again that Charlie is/always was/will continue to be the perfect head coach for ND.
I think what the Michigan mess shows is that in this day and age, if your coach is going to leave/get fired, you better have a replacement in the bag. To appear as off guard and clueless as Michigan has when they knew for months that Carr was retiring is inexcusable. There are informal conversations that take place all the time through intermediaries. If your coach is leaving, you better have someone lined up.

Ted said...

Thanks IG. There are so few who are willing to give CW the time he needs. I believe we will see a quantum leap forward in '08, but will we win eight so many have set as the standard? It will still be a very young team.

On that note IG, reports that Trevor Robinson, all 6-5/304 lbs. has verbally committed to the Irish. At Offensive Guard, he will be a nice match with Sam Young.