Ten College Football Coaches Ready to Flirt with the NFL in 2012
College Football Coaches Who'll Head to the NFL after 2012
Football coaches are competitive by nature; they can’t be successful if they’re not. So when coaches reach the top of their game at the college level, the only place to go is up: to the NFL.
The jump from the college coaching ranks into the NFL isn’t usually an easy one. Pro football is a different animal from the "amateur" NCAA, and some of the best Division I coaches – Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier immediately come to mind – haven’t had the same success in the pros as they did at the helm of college football programs.
There are plenty of cautionary tales of college coaches trying their hand in the NFL and failing miserably, but there’s never a shortage of coaches who have their eyes on the prestige and bigger paychecks in the pros.
Those who have the most success are usually the ones with significant backgrounds in the NFL – as assistant coaches, coordinators, and players.
Former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, now with the San Francisco 49ers, had a 14-year career as an NFL quarterback, and was an assistant with the Oakland Raiders for two seasons. In his final season as head coach at Stanford, Harbaugh won the Woody Hayes Coach of the Year award; a season later, he made such a smooth transition to the NFL that the AP named him NFL Coach of the Year.
It’s rare for coaches to be equally successful in college and in the NFL because of the differences in the game at the two levels, but the most competitive coaches will always want to give it a try.
While the ideal career trajectory for many coaches is college to NFL, there are some coaches – often long-time assistants in the pros – who take college coaching jobs for the chance to be in charge of their own program, but they often have just as tough a transition as coaches trying to move in the opposite direction.
Here’s a look at the coaches most likely to head to the NFL after the 2012 football season.
Gary Patterson, TCU
Patterson has had twelve successful seasons with the Horned Frogs, but despite the move to the Big 12 that was supposed to elevate TCU's national standing, this might be Patterson's last year in Fort Worth. TCU is 4-1, on track for another bowl appearance, but off-the-field concerns could motivate Patterson to move on.
Back in February, several football players were arrested in a drug bust, and quarterback Casey Pachall revealed that he'd previously used cocaine. Patterson said he wouldn't tolerate drug use among his student-athletes but Pachall got another chance. The QB's season was cut short after he was arrested during the season for a DWI. Pachall might return next year after he finishes a stint in rehab, but Patterson might not be there to greet him. Patterson's one of the best coaches in college, with a long track record of success, but the recent issues involving illegal substances and the football team could make this as good a time as any for Patterson to answer if the NFL comes calling.
Les Miles, LSU
Rumors have swirled before about Miles leaving Baton Rouge for the pros, but this time, they might be true. Miles has a national championship and two SEC titles to his name, but after a loss to Florida this season, the Tigers chances of getting back to the SEC or BCS title games this season have gotten slimmer. The 2012 Tigers haven't looked as dominant as many of Miles' successful teams, especially on offense. The Mad Hatter has five years left on his lucrative contract, but in the tough SEC, can LSU stay on top for that long? Or should Miles go while the going's still good?
Chip Kelly, Oregon
Kelly has flirted with the NFL before. He turned down an offer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the end of last season, but the next time he gets an offer, he might accept. The Ducks have a string of Pac-12 titles but Kelly's still in the market for a national title. With Oregon's recent success, Kelly will probably try to stick around until he gets that crystal football, but the NCAA has been sniffing around Eugene looking for recruiting violations. At some point, Kelly might follow in former USC coach Pete Carroll's footsteps and head to the NFL before the NCAA sanctions the Ducks.
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Ferentz has had a long, successful tenure at Iowa, but this season's 4-2 record is deceiving. The Hawkeyes got one win a double-overtime game against Michigan State, and the two losses, to Central Michigan and Iowa State, were unacceptable. Iowa has gone to a bowl game in 11 straight seasons, and Ferentz's recent contract would make it painfully expensive for the school to cut his time short. But does he really want to stay in Iowa City until 2020?
Ferentz's youngest son graduates from Iowa after this year, so if the former NFL offensive line coach wanted to return to the big-time, now would be a good time to try it.
Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Despite his evident passion for his job, Pelini hasn't quite been able to get the Huskers over the hump and back to the top of the Big 10. He's won a share of the division title in three of his first four seasons at Nebraska, but he hasn't won the conference title outright, and with athletic director Tom Osborne retiring, Pelini might look at a return to the NFL, where he was a secondary and linebackers coach from 1994-2000, before he was hired by Nebraska as a defensive coordinator.
Charlie Weis, Kansas
Weis is one of the NFL coaches who hasn't been able to win at the college level. He was a very successful offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, helping them win three Super Bowls, but he couldn't get the job done at Notre Dame. He returned to the NFL as the OC for the Kansas City Chiefs and promptly turned the offense around. The Chiefs led the nation in rushing and were ninth in total offense, but Weis couldn't resist the call of the college game and left after a year to take the OC job at Florida.
A year later, he got what he wanted: another college head coaching job, this time at Kansas. The Jayhawks are struggling though, and at some point, Weis might realize that it's better to be a top-notch NFL coordinator than the head coach of a floundering college team.
Jon Embree, Colorado
Embree faced a tough road ahead when he was hired by Colorado, and he may not have been ready for the role. A former Buffaloes' assistant, Embree was most recently a tight ends coach in the NFL. Colorado might be headed for a one-win season that would end Embree's short tenure in Boulder, but he might find a new home, one better suited for his skills and experience, back in the NFL.
Jedd Fisch, Miami
Lots of people are leaving Coral Gables as the NCAA investigates allegations of improper recruiting. Head coach Al Golden has said he'll stay with the Hurricanes regardless, and he has the young team doing well. Even if Golden bolts, he doesn't have any pro experience, so his next stop would more than likely be with another college team.
His offensive coordinator, Jedd Fisch, has more experience as an NFL assistant than in college, and if the NCAA comes down hard on The U, Fisch might tap into his background - nine years in the NFL with four different teams - to land a new position in the pros.
Eric Bieniemy, Colorado
Bieniemy had a successful career as a player at Colorado, and a successful coaching career with the Minnesota Vikings. Bieniemy was the running backs coach for the Vikings for five years and was promoted to assistant head coach of the offense before leaving for Colorado. Bieniemy hasn't been away from the NFL very long, and if the Buffaloes clean house after another poor season, he should have an opportunity to get back onto the NFL sidelines.