College Coaches To Pros: Stay in School, It Doesn't Work

S. Wentworth DuncansonContributor IIApril 9, 2017

Sports bridges many gaps.

People from different races, countries, economic backgrounds, and cultures. Whether its little league, high school, college, or the pros, people come together for a common goal: to win.

Coaches play a vital role in the development of athletes at all levels. In the beginning, they teach how to be a good winner as well as a good loser. Then they teach the game. Then they work on skills.

It is not only their job to teach, but to push their players to reach their maximum potential. To motivate them. To cultivate them to grow athletically as well as socially and mentally.

However, once athletes get to the professional level, it's a totally different ballgame. The professional game is a business. Athletes are paid. Very generously at that. Television deals. Endorsements.

The coach is more of a tactician and strategist.  At the professional level they're dealing with grown men.  Grown women.  Adults.  At that stage, for the most part, the athletes thoughts and attitudes are already developed.

College coaches are some of the most significant in sports.  They are the last impressionable figures to have an impact on an athlete.  If the players are coached right, they go on to be successful players, on and off the field of play.

Coaches like John Thompson.

Coach K.

Coaches that mold athletes not only to be great pros, but great men. Great people.

Just as players are drawn to that pro-level stardom, fame, and fortune, so are coaches. Coaches like Phil Jackson.  Gregg Popovich.  Bill Belichick.  Joe Torre.  Tony LaRussa. Guys synonymous with coaching and winning. 

The funny thing is that rarely do superstar players go on to be good coaches.  Magic did a decent job.  Bird did an excellent job.

The real good coaches are usually the role players who got to study the game and their teammates.  Again we think of Phil.  Sam Mitchell.  Byron Scott.  Avery Johnson.  So many players I see just play a role that I know will be great coaches when their playing career is over.

Unfortunately, the desire for the spotlight and accolades doesn't always equate to success on the professional level. Some coaches over emphasize the role of being a teacher. They forget they are coaching adults instead of adult athletes who are playing for a living, for their livelihood.

The wrong approach could doom their career as a professional level coach.

A few cases come to mind: Billy Donovan almost made the leap, and then came to his senses.  Sure, he earned great respect and his teams accomplished great things, but he knew he wouldn't have nearly as much success on the pro level.

He knew he wouldn't impact as many lives.  It was the right decision.  That's why so many legendary college coaches turn down so many contracts.  Why wouldn't Coach K go to the Lakers? 

Exactly.  For what?

These are a couple who were hard-headed and had to learn the hard way.  They went running back to college, where it's simple.


Rick Pitino

After a stint coaching the Knicks, he went to Kentucky, where he had great success.  At his peak, the Boston Celtics gave him eye-popping money to come coach them. 

Not only did he feud with his players, but the Celtics didn't improve at all. His method of coaching was greatly successful in college, but not in the pros.

Not in this generation.


John Calipari

After success at UMass, the New Jersey Nets decided to hire this guy to save their below-cellar franchise.  His changes were well-received for the most part.

They didn't equate to wins though.

Afterwards, he went on to coach Memphis where he was currently very successful, then moved onto Kentucky this past year. Not a bad coach, just a bad NBA coach.


Steve Spurrier

After great success with Florida, he went to the Washington Redskins with a lot of hype and paparazzi.  He was some great football mind who was the Redskin savior.

The result was mediocrity at best with them.


Nick Saban

He comes in another college coach with a sky-high reputation, expected to change the game.

He weaseled his way out of Miami when he didn't live up to expectations.

He goes back to college, currently at Alabama, where he could be a star again.


Tim Floyd

This guy never impressed me.

He went to a sorry Chicago Bulls franchise and did absolutely nothing to improve them.

If a coach can't maintain order off the court, how the hell could he get his players to execute.  Loose ships are sinking ships.


All in all, many of these coaches are exceptional. Free agents switch teams to find the right fit, where they will excel and have a good chance to win.

Pro coaches seem to excel on the college level, but not the other way around. College coaches belong in college.

College coaches cultivate and breed athletes. Pro coaches motivate and educate. Every coach just has to know where they'll be effective at.