NFL organizations dipping into the Pac-12 coaching ranks again is not so much a matter of if, but rather when—and who.
The often invoked cliche "copycat league" used to describe the NFL has merit; franchises will ape the formula their counterparts have parlayed into success. Pac-12 influence was abundant on the 2013 NFL season, and the success of its coaching alumni welcomes a run on the conference's current coaches.
Three of the NFL's 12 head coaches in this year's postseason—Pete Carroll (USC/Seattle), Jim Harbaugh (Stanford/San Francisco) and Chip Kelly (Oregon/Philadelphia)—plied their trade in the Pac-12 no longer ago than 2009 and as recently as 2012.
Add former Stanford and current Indianapolis offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, and one-third of the playoff participating teams prominently featured recent Pac-12 coaches.
The rumor mill guaranteed to turn every offseason, when the inevitable pink slips are passed to those coaches who fail to meet expectations, already churned out two of the Pac-12's current names, Stanford's David Shaw and UCLA's Jim Mora.
Mora and Shaw as NFL coaching candidates only makes sense. Both have extensive professional backgrounds. Before joining Harbaugh's staff at the University of San Diego, Shaw spent nearly a decade coaching in the NFL.
Shaw also said his initial coaching goal was to become an NFL head coach, fueling the fire of speculation, even when downplaying rumors.
Shaw did say that when he started coaching, he had his sights on being an NFL head coach.— Antonio Gonzalez (@agonzalezAP) December 17, 2013
Mora already has NFL head coaching experience and spent his entire coaching career before UCLA in the pros, save a graduate assistant's stint at Washington in the 1980s.
Like Shaw, Mora's father is a longtime NFL head coach. And as he scores more success in the Pac-12, his resume becomes all the more appealing.
With Mora's defensive coordinator Lou Spanos leaving UCLA for the Tennessee Titans, the buzz surrounding the head coach will grow by next offseason. That buzz should reach a fever pitch if Mora leads UCLA to the kind of season pundits are anticipating in their very early prognostications.
However, buzz is fickle. Shaw went from favorite topic of rumors to panned following Stanford's Rose Bowl loss, as in a Los Angeles Daily News column and on social media.
David Shaw says he's not interested in NFL. After watching this fiasco of a coaching job in Rose Bowl, I'm guessing it's other way around.— Mark Zeigler (@sdutzeigler) January 2, 2014
Indeed, perceptions can change quickly, which could impact future coaching searches. Consider Kelly. No shortage of detractors lined up to dismiss his move from Oregon to Philadelphia and the "gimmick" offense that won three straight Pac-12 championships.
No to Chip Kelly for the Eagles. No gimmick offense college coaches that want to "try it" in NFL. Google Steve Spurrier— John Kincade (@JohnKincade) December 31, 2012
Of course, Kelly adapted his offensive philosophy at Oregon to his team's strength; quarterbacks Jeremiah Masoli and Darron Thomas weren't used in the same ways.
Likewise, Kelly adapted both to the style of NFL defenses and the strengths of his quarterbacks. All that resulted in was fellow Pac-12 alumnus and quarterback Nick Foles having a season that was statistically superior to just about each of his counterparts, save Super Bowl-bound, future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
Kelly's success just might mean the Pac-12's next NFL candidate is not one of the obvious choices. It is a copycat league, after all. And poaching coaches from the Pac-12 is proving to be a formula worth copying.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.