GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: College coaches rarely succeed in NFL Print
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Thursday, 13 December 2007 10:26
NFL Headline News

 Bobby Petrino's departure from Atlanta to Arkansas isn't exactly unexpected. Petrino wouldn't have gone to the Falcons if he'd known his quarterback would be suspended and then go to jail for his dogfighting activities.
But Michael Vick's problems notwithstanding, Petrino's quick exit is another example that coaching in the colleges and coaching in the NFL are very different things.
Make Jimmy Johnson the exception and then look at the rest of the high-profile coaches who have failed to come close to their college success in the NFL: Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis, Rich Brooks and Mike Riley to name six. All are back in college again, although Saban, Davis and Spurrier haven't won as much as they did in the past.
Another example of a college coach unsuited for the NFL: Barry Switzer, who won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys after the 1995 season, but did it with talent acquired by Johnson, and earned the nickname ``Bozo the Coach'' for some questionable strategic decisions. Switzer is now teaming with Johnson in a TV studio.
Petrino wasn't the main reason the Falcons were 3-10 when he left. Blame Vick for that, although even with him, Atlanta probably wouldn't be more than a .500 team.
But there were enough episodes in Petrino's rookie year in the NFL to demonstrate his aloof demeanor that worked with 18-to-21-year-olds didn't fit with highly paid pros, most of whom were outraged at his precipitous departure - he said goodbye with a form letter attached to all their lockers.
``The motivational speeches he gives during the game, it's like, 'Where's this going?' He doesn't motivate you,'' said defensive tackle Grady Jackson, now with Jacksonville after being cut by Petrino in a move that shocked and alienated many of the Falcons.
``He was accustomed to dealing with kids in college. Now, he's dealing with grown men. That was the big thing right there.''
The remaining Falcons also disliked Petrino's style. Tight end Alge Crumpler and cornerback DeAngelo Hall, two of his best players, were openly critical of major decisions, some made without consulting the players involved.
That included benching QB Joey Harrington after two straight wins, and starting newly signed Byron Leftwich, who didn't know the system and wasn't healthy. Harrington found out about his benching from the media.
``When we saw him doing his press conference at Arkansas, that's what I think brought up the anger, to have him talk about family, about team and about commitment and then to come in here and have a form letter at your locker,'' Harrington said after Petrino left. ``That's not how a man acts. That's how a coward acts.''
Maybe Petrino would have adjusted to the NFL. But maybe not, because one very big adjustment is getting used to losing.
Coaches hired from college are, by definition, the most successful. One, two or three losses per season is the norm.
In the NFL, a successful season can be five or six losses. Many new coaches usually are hired by bad teams and lose twice as many in their first year. Petrino, for example, was 41-9 in four years at Louisville, but lost 10 in less than a full season with the Falcons.
Spurrier had that experience after he was became one of Dan ``The Fan'' Snyder's revolving stable of big-name coaches in Washington. After going 12-20 in two seasons with Snyder acting as general manager and overpaying for average talent, Spurrier went back to college.
One reason Johnson succeeded is that he was able to tolerate losing and enjoyed rebuilding; as good as he was as a coach, he was better as a talent evaluator.
He took over a Dallas team that had been 3-13 in 1988 and his adjustment period was compounded because of fan resentment at Jerry Jones, who had just bought the team and fired Tom Landry, the only coach the Cowboys had ever had.
Johnson ran a revolving-door tryout camp during the 1989 season, bringing in new players weekly and disposing of all but a handful of Landry's players. The Cowboys went 1-15 with rookie Troy Aikman at quarterback, were 7-9 the next season, then 11-5 in 1991.
The next two years, they won the Super Bowl, making Johnson the first coach to win both a college national championship and an NFL title, a feat later accomplished by Switzer with Johnson's players on the 1995 Cowboys.
Few coaches have the patience to build slowly. Nor do modern owners have that kind of patience. With anyone other than college buddy Jones as the owner, who knows how long Johnson might have lasted, especially with a franchise with the winning tradition of the Cowboys?
Another successful college transplant is Tom Coughlin, who went from Boston College to Jacksonville and got an expansion team to the AFC championship game in its second season. Now on the verge of getting the Giants to the playoffs for the third straight season, Coughlin is 106-93 as an NFL head coach, although he's never been to a Super Bowl.
But unlike Johnson, he had previous NFL experience.
Before going to Boston College in 1991, he had been an NFL assistant for seven seasons with the Eagles, Packers and Giants. In New York, he served under Bill Parcells on a staff that included future head coaches Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Al Groh, Charlie Weis and Ray Handley.
There have been a few other college coaches who have been successful in the NFL. Probably the best was Bobby Ross, who after winning at Maryland and Georgia Tech went to San Diego and got the Chargers to a Super Bowl.
But going from the NFL to college usually works better.
Saban, defensive coordinator under Belichick with the Browns from 1991-94, went to Michigan State, won a national championship at LSU, then came back to the pros with the Dolphins.
He was 15-17 in two years, brilliant compared the 0-13 record under Cam Cameron this season. But he bolted when Alabama offered big money, in part because he recognized the declining talent on the Dolphins.
The most prominent example of reverse success is Pete Carroll, who was 34-33 in stints with the Jets and Patriots. Two national championships at Southern Cal are a lot better than a game over .500.
Then there is June Jones, who was 19-30 in Atlanta and 3-7 as an interim coach in San Diego. He went 12-0 in Hawaii this year and became the third coach to take a non-BCS team to a BCS bowl. One reason: He loves the spread offense, an attack that doesn't suit the NFL but is the current rage in college.
Carroll has been coveted by NFL teams and will continue to be. So might such coaches with backgrounds as NFL assistants as Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (Cleveland), Connecticut's Randy Edsall (Jacksonville), Boston College's Jeff Jagodzinski (Atlanta and Green Bay) and Rutgers' Greg Schiano (Chicago).
But most know they are better off where they are. That's what a 50-year-old named Joe Paterno decided when he was being courted three decades ago by the Patriots and Giants.
Petrino certainly didn't help the cause of college coaches who want NFL head coaching jobs.
``Teams might get kind of afraid, like, 'He quit and Nick Saban left us and stuff like that,' `` Jackson said.
``It's going to be pretty hard now for someone to say, 'Let's give this college coach a chance.' You never know. Could he handle it? He was dealing with kids in college. Now, he's dealing with grown men.''
One more thing: unfortunately, it's too easy to start 3-10 as a pro coach.
---
DIRTY DOZEN: The top six and bottom six teams in the NFL based on current level of play:
1. New England (13-0). No real obstacles to a perfect regular season.
2. Dallas (12-1). Sometimes late comebacks are more impressive than blowouts.
3. Indianapolis (11-2). The development of Anthony Gonzalez gives Peyton Manning another target.
4. Green Bay (11-2). You know it's a good year when an afterthought like Ryan Grant becomes a star.
5. Jacksonville (9-4). How come Fred Taylor is staying healthier as he ages?
6. Seattle (9-4). Mike Holmgren says he's learning from Bill Belichick, a flexible approach for a guy in his 16th season as an NFL coach.

27 (tie) New York Jets (3-10). Better with Clemens, but ...
27. (tie) Baltimore (4-9). Seven straight losses, although Miami is up next.
28. Oakland (4-9). The Packers demonstrated the Raiders still have a long way to go.
29. Kansas City (4-9). Larry Johnson is missed. So is a QB. Any QB.
30. San Francisco (3-10). Coach Mike Nolan may be on the precipice.
31. Atlanta (3-10). What else can go wrong for Arthur Blank?
32. Miami (0-13). Baltimore or Cincinnati games might be winnable. Just a thought.
---
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Jacksonville contributed to this report.
 

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