Most college football coaches fail in the NFL

Stuart Grant
Football Coach Urban MeyerAdam Glanzman on Wikimedia Commons

Urban Meyer's abrupt termination as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars was unique in its cause. Meyer was fired for personal conduct as opposed to wins and losses. While the team's performance was undeniably abysmal under Meyer, new coaches are customarily given a time window measured in years to turn around a losing program.

Instead, his indulgent behavior displayed such a profound lack of character as to be a legal liability to the team and a credibility barrier to earning the confidence of ownership, players, fans and coaches. While almost every coach in collegiate and professional football leaves their job involuntarily, Meyer's firing adds to the body of evidence that most college football coaches fail in the NFL.

Chip Kelly

After Chip Kelly brought the University of Oregon football program to prominence with a National Championship berth in 2011, he was the hottest name in the football world. Following his AP Coach of the year award and accolades for prolific offensive production, he left the college game for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.

At the peak of his bargaining power, he accomplished a negotiating feat in obtaining final say over the roster from GM Howie Roseman. His pro career began promisingly with a playoff appearance in his first year with holdovers from Andy Reid's roster.

As Kelly asserted his personnel muscle with a series of aggressive but ineffective roster moves, the team's performance suffered and he was fired with two years left on his contract. He was head coach for the San Francisco 49ers for 2016 before being let go with GM Trent Baalke in an organizational purge.

Steve Spurrier

There are few, if any, college football achievements that have eluded Steve Spurrier. As a quarterback for the University of Florida Gators, he won the 1966 Heisman trophy. He would play for ten years in the NFL between San Francisco and Tampa Bay, primarily as a backup QB and punter.

As offensive coordinator for the Duke Blue Devils from 1980 - 1982, Spurrier's innovative playcalling broke records. These milestones in a football program at a traditional basketball powerhouse caught the attention of USFL owners. Tampa Bay Bandits owner John Bassett made Spurrier the youngest head coach in pro football. His offenses made the Bandits a draw rivalling the crosstown Buccaneers at the box office.

Spurrier was hired as Florida Gators head coach for the 1990 season. In his twelve years as head coach he won and lost a national championship as well as claiming six SEC titles. He resigned in 2002 to take the Washington Redskins head coaching job for 25 million dollars.

NFL defenses quickly adapted to his aerial attack with disguised blitzes that brought his only losing season since his years at Duke. Dan Snyder was a hands on owner who decided Patrick Ramsay would be the next QB drafted. Spurrier resigned with three years left on his deal in 2003.

Bobby Petrino

Petrino was hired as Louisville's head football coach in 2003. Over the next four years, he led the program to double digit wins in back to back seasons, making the top ten in the national coaches poll. In 2006, the Cardinals contended for a national title, finishing the season with an Orange Bowl appearance. That summer he signed a ten year contract with Louisville.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons were enamored with quarterback Michael Vick and sought to refine his game with a new pass oriented coach. Enter Bobby Petrino on a five year contract. The matching of Vick and Petrino looked heaven sent until training camp when it emerged that Vick was a member and financier of a dog fighting ring.

As the justice system adjudicated, Vick's career was iced, resulting in a prison term. The Falcons were forced into fielding a lineup of backup QBs. The team faltered on the field and Petrino quit after thirteen games to return to the college game with the Arkansas Razorbacks. The constant contract jumping earned him the name Quitrino.

Others Who Quit

Other celebrated college coaches have quit the NFL long before their contract was up. Nick Saban left the Miami Dolphins two years into a five year deal to assume head coaching duties at University of Alabama. Lou Holtz left the New Jets after thirteen games in 1976 to return to the college ranks.

Some say college coaches are far from the best strategists and tacticians of game. What they are skilled at is the recruitment of talent. In the NFL, that role is fulfilled by the scouting and player personnel departments.

With the constant media glare and year round schedule leaving you with no down time, many former college coaches leave the NFL for health and family reasons. Top college jobs pay comparable salaries to the pros in friendly college towns instead of major urban media markets.

Kliff Kingsbury's Arizona Cardinals have qualified for the playoffs in his third season as head coach after coming from Texas Tech. Only Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer and Peter Carroll have won both a college football national championship and a Superbowl.

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