College-to-pros transition a difficult one for coaches
Top college football coaches often don't find equal success when running the show in the NFL.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Success became standard for Pete Carroll at USC — an expectation, even.
Seven straight conference titles and a couple of national championships have a way of hiking the bar so that anything less than unprecedented, overwhelming success is a disappointment.
But by taking the job as Seahawks coach, Carroll has put himself in a position where even marginal success would be unexpected given the recent history of coaches hopping from the NCAA to the NFL.
In the previous 20 years, there have been 14 instances when a college head coach left his gig to become an NFL head coach. Eight times, the coach failed to make the playoffs with that NFL team. Just two guided their respective teams to a Super Bowl.
For every Jimmy Johnson in Dallas, there is a Nick Saban, a Rich Books — or worse, a Bobby Petrino, who didn't even make it through a season with Atlanta before he threw up his hands and bailed back to the NCAA.
"Most college coaches find out it's a lot harder to coach rich 25-year-olds than it is poor 19-year-olds," said former Colts coach Tony Dungy during last week's playoff coverage on NBC.
Not since Steve Mariucci leapt to the 49ers in 1997 after a single season at California has a college coach gone to the NFL and lasted more than four seasons with a team.
The difficulty of the college-to-pro transition is one most coaches would prefer not to revisit.
Arizona State's Dennis Erickson turned down a request for an interview this week. His Sun Devils have a new offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, and he'd rather focus on installing a new scheme rather than recall all the reasons his two stints in the NFL didn't pan out. And really, can you blame him for not wanting to remember that time Vinny Testaverde's Jets helmet was mistaken for the ball by officials in a game against the Seahawks? Or reciting just how salary-cap strapped the 49ers were in his two seasons there?
Mike Riley of Oregon State also made a sojourn to the NFL before returning to the Pac-10. He was asked about the different traits and tools that are required at the college and pro levels.
"College involves a whole lot more in what you do with your team off the field," Riley said in a telephone interview this week. "That's where your work comes in, the development of young men."
In the NFL, coaches don't change lives, they impact careers. There is one measure for that, and it's not the number of speeches, the wattage of enthusiasm on the sideline or the pace of practice.
"Guys want to win, period," said Seahawks defensive end Lawrence Jackson, who played for Carroll at USC.
Recruiting counts in college. A lot. The more talent a coach attracts, the more prohibitive his team's advantage is on the field.
The NFL legislates parity in everything from the salary cap, to the draft order, and even the schedule to a limited extent. An NFL coach must do more than identify the most talented players and go get 'em. The challenge is to identify undervalued players and to get the most out of the players you do have with schematics and play-calling.
"Everything is just that much more competitive," Chargers coach Norv Turner told the Los Angeles Times this week. "I guess I would say it's if you're at Florida, it's like every week playing at Alabama."
That won't be news to Carroll, who has one trait that clearly distinguishes him from the previous 20 years of coaches that jumped from the NCAA to the NFL: He's the only one who was an NFL head coach before he became a college head coach.
"He has probably self-evaluated himself from the years that he had at New York and New England," said safety Lawyer Milloy, who played for Carroll from 1997 to 1999 with the Patriots. "He wants to right his wrongs. I know he took his time and really feels like this is the time where he needs to go ahead and take this challenge on again."
Will it be different this time? That remains to be seen. Will Carroll be different? That's less likely because while he said his philosophy is more clearly defined, he did not reinvent himself.
He's still an optimist who doesn't just believe the glass is half full; he expects it to overflow any second.
His enthusiasm came bubbling out during his introductory news conference before he even reached the podium. Carroll shouted, "Yeah, baby," from the side as CEO Tod Leiweke mentioned the fan support at Qwest Field.
In a league where coaches approach news conferences as a challenge to say as little as possible, Carroll spoke for more than 11 minutes uninterrupted in his first appearance as Seahawks coach. "I'm so fired up to be here," he began. The next news conference Bill Belichick begins with those words will be the first.
It would be easy to describe that as the embodiment of collegiate enthusiasm, a relic that won't serve Carroll well in the bottom-line business of the NFL. But it's too soon to draw any conclusions. The Seahawks are eight months from their first game under Carroll and likely several years from having an accurate measurement of whether he can captain Seattle's rebuilding process.
Maybe Carroll can be the exception to the trend. Perhaps he can be the college coach who jumps to the NFL and hits the ground running. And given his 16 years of experience coaching in the NFL before he went to the college ranks, it's possible the whole distinction is overblown. At least one player who knows Carroll fairly well thinks so.
"The man can coach, bottom line," linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. "That's pretty much what I'm going to leave it at."
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com
|Here are 14 instances from the past 20 years when an NCAA coach left his job to accept an NFL head-coaching position:|
|Year||Coach||College||NFL team||Seasons||Record||Playoff appearances||Postseason record||Super Bowl appearances|
|1991||Bobby Ross||Georgia Tech||San Diego||5||47-33||3||3-3||1|
|1991||Dick MacPherson||Syracuse||New England||2||8-24||0||0-0||0|
|1995||Tom Coughlin||Boston College||Jacksonville||8||68-60||4||4-4||0|
|1995||Rich Brooks||Oregon||St. Louis||2||13-19||0||0-0||0|
|1997||Steve Mariucci||California||San Francisco||6||57-39||4||3-4||0|
|1999||Mike Riley||Oregon State||San Diego||3||14-34||0||0-0||0|
|2003||Dennis Erickson||Oregon State||San Francisco||2||9-23||0||0-0||0|
|Note: Barry Switzer is not included because while his first coaching job after being Oklahoma's head coach was with the Dallas Cowboys, there was a six-year interim between jobs.|
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