On Barking Carnival, we talk football. The football sucked last week and we have a bye this weekend so why not talk about our next favorite topic: the next coach at Texas. Big(g) Ern got the conversation started earlier in the week with a great post. Judging by the number of comments on that thread (still climbing), this topic is at top of mind for all of us. I’m going to continue that conversation by honing in on candidates from the NFL. There has been some buzz in the sports media about Texas putting out feelers to some NFL guys (Colin Cowherd spreading that buzz among others). I thought this is a topic that probably warrants its own thread. Future focused posts on other types of candidates would certainly draw a lot of interest as well (established college coaches, coordinators, small school up and comers, etc.) and I’d love to have someone throw up some thoughts on each of those categories.
First, let me be clear, I am not endorsing that our next hire be from the NFL. There are plenty of risks involved with going this route and plenty of examples where this has failed in the past. I do think that we need to include this potential source in the search process. Chances are Saban won’t be wearing burnt orange next fall so why not try to find the next Pete Carroll? There have been other recent successes of coaches going from the NFL to college, as well. Bill O’Brien at Penn State and Jim Mora at UCLA come to mind.
Sustained success in the NFL is very difficult in the salary cap era and some of the key drivers such as roster management are largely outside the coaches control. A college head coaching job can be very attractive to the coach that wants to build his own empire and control his own destiny. It is hard to do that in the NFL unless you have a franchise quarterback and get lucky with some draft picks. At the college level, the coach has near full autonomy over the program and can build the roster the way they want (Spurrier once said Saban’s biggest challenge if he were to jump back to the NFL would be finding a way to win when he doesn’t have 15 first round draft picks every year like he does on national signing day.)
The two big questions for an NFL coach moving to college:
Can they recruit?
This is the biggest issue that has to be fleshed out when looking at pro coaches. For many, the idea of groveling in living rooms for the services of cocky 16 year old kids makes their stomachs turn. That said, every top recruit’s dream is to make it to the League. The ability to flash a Super Bowl ring and say you know how to get them there can sell. The right guy who wants to put in the effort and embrace the process of acquiring their own talent has the potential to excel on the recruiting trail.
Can they teach?
NFL coaches are accustomed to coaching seasoned professionals who are fundamentally sound and understand concepts from many years of experience. They can devote their full attention to football without the distractions of college classwork and NCAA time restrictions. Coaches can get crazy with complex strategies. When a coach drops down to college, more focus has to be placed on technique and teaching fundamentals. Some pro coaches who drop to college have a hard time finding the right mix between scheme complexity and basic teaching. We’ve found out the hard way at UT that a complex scheme without the ability to teach the underlying concepts doesn’t work too well. Maybe Manny should turn pro.
Here are some ideas on guys that might pop up in the Texas search:
The obvious: Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh
We can put a feeler out to see if they have an overwhelming desire to return to the college game. Absent that, this ain’t happening. Both have championship contending teams with young, franchise QBs. Let’s move on to the real list.
John Harbaugh - If you can’t get Jim, why not go for big brother.
What is to like? – Comes from a great football family, Super Bowl champ as a coach. His name has surfaced in some of the UT rumor mills. He is only a year removed from winning the Super Bowl and coaches in what many consider to be one of the more stable environments in the NFL so some question whether he would actually leave. Others argue that this may be a good time to move on as the players who have built his success have aged and/or moved on, the future might not be as bright. He has a franchise quarterback on a long term contract (which is probably the #1 key to sustained NFL success) but that monster contract also limits what talent can be assembled around him. Fantastic playoff run aside, many previously questioned whether Flacco could really be one of the elites around which long-term success could be built, maybe Harbaugh agrees. I think this is a long-shot candidate for UT.
Greg Schiano, head coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs
He won at Rutgers which prior to his arrival may have been the worst program in the history of D1 college football. He won several national coach of the year awards in 2006 after an 11 win season. The negatives: After a respectable first season, the Bucs have been a train wreck in his second year in Tampa with players revolting against his control freak nature. Other reported stories have Schiano undermining former QB Josh Freeman with media leaks about his drug policy probation. He strikes me as a Bobby Petrino-type control freak who is a bad fit for the pros. He is probably not a fit in Austin, either. Schiano could make a strong turnaround if he returned to the college game.
Lovie Smith – former head coach of the Bears. He is a Texas native and has experience as a college head coach at Tulsa before jumping to the NFL in 1995. Most think he’ll land another NFL job in the offseason but a return to college isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
Ken Whisenhunt – If you aren’t familiar, he was a longtime Steelers assistant who went on to become head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. The lowly Cardinals improved mightily with Whisenhunt as coach reaching the Super Bowl in year two and the AFC title game in year three. (the NFL equivalent of the Kansas Jayhawks landing in the BCS title game). Kurt Warner retired and the team went 5-11 with Matt Leinart and later Derek Anderson at QB. With no viable QB, the team went 8-8 and 5-11 and Whisenhunt was fired. He is currently the OC of the San Diego Chargers though certain to be looking for a head job in the offseason (UT interest was even admitted to a prank caller). Another thing to like, his O-line coach and assistant head coach in Arizona was Russ Grimm, leader of the Washington Redskins famed "Hogs" (the o-line not the fat guys in dresses and pig noses in the end zone seats). We all remember watching the Cowboys get shredded by the counter trey blocking of the Redskins in the 80s and early 90s. How would you like to have Grimm coach up our rising offensive line talent?
Jack Del Rio – He is the defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos (also currently the interim head coach after John Fox’s heart issues) was previously the head coach of the Jaguars. He was a tough as nails linebacker and is a top defensive mind in the league. He is a USC alum and will be a top candidate for that job.
Coordinators – Hiring a successful college coordinator is a risky move so I’m not sure that this makes sense but here are a few names:
Dan Quinn, Defensive Coordinator, Seattle Seahawks – He currently coaches one of the best defenses in the NFL. He grew up in the NFL assistant coaching ranks before serving as the DC with the Florida Gators in 2011 and 2012. A return to college might be in order.
Greg Roman , Offensive Coordinator, San Francisco 49ers – If we can’t get Jim Harbaugh, Roman has been his OC for the past five seasons, 3 with the 49ers and 2 with Stanford.
Mel Tucker – in his first season DC of the Chicago Bears with previous DC experience with the Jaguars and Browns. Tucker cut his teeth at the college level under Nick Saban (as a GA at Michigan State and as D-backs coach at LSU). He was co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State and was known for being Jim Tressel’s ace recruiter on staff. He is young (41), energetic, and knows the college recruiting scene. He’ll be a head coach somewhere, the only question is whether he wants to go the college route or wait for an NFL gig.
The retired guys – do they have enough gas left in the tank? Does the urge to coach outweigh the love of cushy TV jobs?
What do you say Barking Carnival community? Could Mack Brown’s successor come from the NFL? Who do you want to see on the short list of candidates? Fire away….