After finding success on the collegiate level, some National Collegiate Athletic Association football coaches have to decide whether to take their talents to the professional stage or remain loyal to their university position.
A recent trend among NCAA football coaches is to make the jump to the National Football League after an accomplished college career. Some head coaches, such as Seattle Seahawks’ Pete Carroll and San Francisco 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh, have made a smooth transition from college to pros, where others have struggled to make the switch.
There are certain differences between coaches at a collegiate level and a professional level. Dale Lennon, head football coach at Southern Illinois University of Carbondale, believes he can better develop relationships with athletes at the college level.
“The relationships are unique, you are able to recruit, develop and teach these guys from when they are freshman to their senior year. In the NFL it’s much more like a business and the relationships are probably not as strong,” he said.
When college players enter a university they expect coaches to stay throughout their college career, however, that’s not always the reality. Former NCAA football player and current SIU student studying history, Quez Patterson thinks coaches abandon players when they leave for the NFL.
“When you go to a school, as an athlete you are picking based on the coach. Coaching played about 95 percent into my decisions. When you go somewhere it’s usually for the coach’s system, so when a coach leaves they definitely let players down,” he said.
Highly touted quarterback Andrew Luck said he knows that feeling all too well.
Before he entered his senior year at Stanford University, Luck’s coach of three years, Jim Harbaugh, decided to leave his head coaching job at Stanford to take the position as head coach for the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL.
Harbaugh, in an interview with the New York Times said the opportunity was too great to pass up.
“I view it as the perfect opportunity the perfect competitive platform, with the level playing field a chance to be part of a team that goes after the highest award in all of sports, the Lombardi Trophy,” Harbaugh said.
What the NFL and NCAA do have in common, though, is the fact they are both businesses and the football program at some schools is a multi-hundred million dollar business. The coaches are well compensated for their success in both leagues.
The highest paid NCAA coach is Nick Saban of the University of Alabama, who makes a salary more than $5.4 million a year. Where the highest paid NFL coach, Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots makes $7.5 million annually.
Coaches such as Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly could not be drawn by the pay raise, whereas others like former Syracuse head coach and current Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone would gladly accept.
Some colleges put a clause in the contract that does not allow coaches to opt out of their contract for the NFL. SIUC Associate Athletic Director Andy Pettit said there are ways the NFL teams can get around contracts.
“In most contracts there are guaranteed buyouts that can be payed in order to void a contract. The NFL team will pay the school millions of dollars for the buyout along with paying for the coach’s salary to release the coach.”
In response, NCAA contracts have began to increase significantly to keep up with the NFL.
“Coaches salaries have become very competitive,” Lennon said. “You have seen now where coaches’ contracts enable them to be the highest paid coach in their conference, so if another coach gets a raise, the first coach would also get a raise.”
Saban has tried his luck in both the NCAA and the NFL. Previously the coach of Louisiana State University, he took the head coaching job for the Miami Dolphins in 2005 after he won a Bowl Championship Series National Championship in 2003. After going 15-17 with two seasons in Miami, Saban took the head coaching job at the University of Alabama in 2006. During Saban’s tenure at Alabama he has boasted a 68-13 record through six seasons as well as three more national championship wins.
Despite recent accomplishments by coaches who moved from the NCAA to the NFL, Lennon believes the key to success in the NFL is prior experience there.
“You look at all the other guys who had a quick stint it was their first year, where coaches like Carroll and Harbaugh had been there before, whether it’s as a player or as a coach, they understand how the business works.”
Pettit believes the draw to the NFL will only increase because the style of play, different responsibilities and coaches ability to focus entirely on football.
“There are more mobile quarterbacks in the league than ever, the college read option is now working better because the speed of play has increased. Also, coaches don’t have to play scout, general manager, coach and mentor, instead their attention can be completely on football.”