Six weeks ago, the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting at 3-5, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were floundering at 0-8. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano were just the latest examples of college coaches who flopped in the NFL.
Both coaches were the target of the usual criticism typically reserved for college coaches attempting to make the unconventional leap to NFL. Indeed, at various points during the first eight weeks, both teams were labeled “the disappointment of the season” by NFL experts.
In Schiano’s case, critics called him a control freak who alienated and demoralized his players by treating them like college kids. During the Buccaneers’ nine-game losing streak, Schiano was projected to the first NFL coach fired.
With Kelly, his uptempo offensive system was thought to be unsustainable with a 53-man professional roster, and his gimmicky college play-calling simply didn’t translate to the next level. After losing five of his first eight games, Kelly’s best hope was to rebuild an overmatched, talent-deficient Eagles team coming off a 4-12 season.
But a funny thing happened to these two coaches on their way to oblivion. The Eagles have won five in a row, and the Buccaneers have won four of their last five.
Schiano is now revered for his perseverance, guiding a once-rudderless pirate ship to respectability. Whispers of his firing have completely ceased. Chip Kelly now has a real chance to win Coach of the Year honors. His main competition, former Eagles coach Andy Reid, could conceivably lose two of his remaining three games, most likely to the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers.
This would open the door for Kelly to submit a legitimate case for COY honors behind a strong Eagles finish.
Taking an NFL head coaching gig straight from the college ranks is a particularly challenging path. However, no coach is doomed to follow in Steve Spurrier’s footsteps. By continuing to stay to true to their original approach and vision for success, even through improbable losing streaks and a constant stream of media criticism, Schiano and Kelly have proved that certain college coaches have the required skills and self-confidence to successfully jump straight to the NFL.