NFL teams scour the college ranks for coaching candidates
COMMENTARY — Just like in the 1970s, pro teams are looking for innovators from the ranks of college head coaches.
Doug Marrone is head coach of the Buffalo Bills, and you can sort of understand it. Yes, he was Syracuse's coach until just the other day. But in 2006, Marrone was in his sixth of eight seasons as an NFL assistant, as offensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints.
In 2006, Chip Kelly was an offensive coordinator, too. But on the college level. And I do mean college. The University of New Hampshire.
And now Kelly coaches the Philadelphia Eagles. You don't think the NFL has changed its tune on hiring college coaches?
Between 2002 and 2010, the NFL hired only three head coaches off a college campus. But the last three years, the NFL has handed over five locker rooms to college coaches, including one who spent 13 years in the Yankee Conference, none of them as head coach.
College coaches are in vogue again for the NFL, just like they were in the '70s.
Alas, or thankfully, depending on your point of view, Bob Stoops' NFL stock has slipped. The league was hot after Stoops early in the 2000s — David Boren says he feared losing Stoops most to the Cleveland Browns, not the Florida Gators — but now the NFL doesn't chase Stoops so much, so far as we know.
The NFL looks to college coaches for various reasons. Offensive innovation, like with Kelly and his up-tempo scorching at Oregon. Fire and motivation, like with Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll. Discipline, like with Greg Schiano.
General excellence, like Stoops produced for almost a decade, might still attract the NFL, but that excellence at OU has given way to general consistency, which won't entice the pros.
Mike Gundy never is mentioned for the NFL, though his collegiate accomplishments trump Schiano's and match Harbaugh's. Gundy, I suppose, isn't seen as the offensive mastermind in Stillwater, just the guy who knows what he wants to do and how to find someone who can deliver, from Larry Fedora's quick tempo to Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid.
Of course, you never know. It only takes one general manager (or owner) to like one college head coach, and a marriage is made, even if it seems a dubious union.
Patriots owner Billy Sullivan hired Chuck Fairbanks in 1973, even though the Sooners ran the wishbone. Jerry Jones hired Barry Switzer in 1994, even though Switzer was a wishbone aficionado and hadn't coached even that in five years. Bill Bidwell hired Bud Wilkinson in 1978 even though when Bud last had coached, at OU 15 years earlier, the Sooners and everyone else still were playing single-platoon football.
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