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Jim Harbaugh and 8 College Coaches Who Deserve a Shot in the NFL

Eric FelkeyAnalyst INovember 29, 2010

Jim Harbaugh and 8 College Coaches Who Deserve a Shot in the NFL

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    If there is one thing that remains constant about the National Football League, it's change.

    Players, even the marquee, big-name ones, routinely swap uniforms in the offseason.

    Teams that were doormats just a year prior (like Tampa Bay, Kansas City) all of a sudden become playoff contenders due to some solid draft picks, improved player development and maybe a little luck here and there.

    And, almost like an annual office Christmas-gift exchange, coaches are fired and downgraded to television studio jobs and small-college gigs.

    Most of the league's top coaches (Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, Rex Ryan, Andy Reid) are guys who have been in the NFL for an extended period of time. They might start off at lower level positions but ultimately their understanding of X's and O's or player philosophy/psychology gets them to the top.

    But some teams love to make the big hire. They want to bring in a name that will get the media buzzing, the fans excited and the season-ticket holders to renew their purchases for the next year.

    It's oftentimes in these situations where college coaches get their opportunity to shine at the next level. However, because of an overall dismal track record from coaches making the leap (Pete Carroll in New England, Nick Saban in Miami, Bobby Petrino in Atlanta, Steve Spurrier in Washington, Butch Davis in Cleveland, to name a few), more and more college coaches are happy with their respective schools and don't want to use their position as leverage for an NFL job.

    That's not to say it can't and won't be done, though. There are a handful of coaches who run pro-style offenses in college, understand the fundamental differences between the professional and college game and have the ability to handle egos, juggle various personalities and properly motivate players to be successful as an NFL coach.

    Let's take a look at a few of those guys and see if any would be willing to leave their current job for a chance at glory on the highest level...

Nick Saban (Alabama)

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Why He'd Leave

    Saban recruits many players that ultimately play in the NFL and has had brief stints on that level. A year after being hired as Toledo's head coach, he left to become defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns under Bill Belichick.

    After head coaching stints at Michigan State and LSU, Saban went to the NFL to coach the Miami Dolphins for two years.

    He's never stayed at one place for more than five years since the early '90s, which suggests that, while he appears 100-percent content in Tuscaloosa, he may keep his future options open.

    Likelihood of Coaching in NFL

    Despite all that...Saban's not going anywhere. Maybe a one-percent chance he leaves Alabama, and that's being kind.

    He's restored pride, tradition and excellence to one of college football's most prestigious universities. He's had his taste of both the NFL and college game and appears much more comfortable working with college kids. He's the only coach to win BCS national championships at two different schools.

    And would you believe he's 59? Stress isn't getting to him too much. It would take something gargantuan for him to leave Alabama.

Bob Stoops (Oklahoma)

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    Why He'd Leave

    Stoops has compiled an impressive 127-31 record with the Sooners, and his name is routinely brought up whenever there is a coaching vacancy (like in '09 with the Denver Broncos).

    There are currently 33 players on NFL rosters that played for Stoops at Oklahoma. While his game plan isn't exactly pro-style, Stoops is great at adapting to his player's strengths.

    His teams routinely get better as the year progresses—the Sooners have won 10-or-more games eight times in the last 10 years.

     

    Likelihood of Coaching in NFL

    Like Saban, it seems very unlikely that Stoops would leave a fantastic situation in Oklahoma to chase potential in the NFL, especially considering the way many of his colleagues have failed.

    He's spent most of his career working in college football, at universities such as Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas State and Florida. He understands tradition and what it takes to be successful at this level, and he's smart enough to not try and get in over his head in the NFL (where he's never coached).

Bo Pelini (Nebraska)

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    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    Why He'd Leave

    Pelini is a terrific defensive mind, coordinating dominating units of the '00s at Nebraska (No. 11 overall defense), Oklahoma (No. 6 rush defense) and LSU (No. 3 overall defense) before returning as a head coach to Nebraska. The Huskers have a top 10 defense in total yards, points, passing yards and interceptions this season.

    Before he bounced around as a coordinator in college, he spent nine seasons in the NFL. He worked under coaches George Seifert and Pete Carroll (to name a few). His teams made the playoffs seven times in those nine years, including one Super Bowl victory with the 49ers.

    He definitely has the football knowledge and the ability to coach players on all levels, as his resume suggests. The question is, can he handle leading an NFL team?

    Likelihood of Coaching in NFL

    If his recent breakdown on the sidelines against Texas A&M was any indication, Pelini just isn't ready to coach in the NFL.

    Can you imagine players' reaction if Pelini did what he did as coach of the Panthers or Browns rather than Nebraska?

    Plus, he's just now restoring Nebraska to national prominence and about to lead it into the Big Ten. It would be a very questionable time to depart.

Greg Schiano (Rutgers)

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    Why He'd Leave

    Schiano turned around a dismal Rutgers football program that had never won a bowl game before his arrival into a legitimate contender in the Big East.

    He served as a coordinator for the Bears for two years, and his style correlates to how the NFL game is now played.

    There are several notable Scarlet Knights playing in the NFL now, such as Ray Rice, Gary Brackett and Kenny Britt. Combine that with the recent decline of Big East football, and if Schiano was ever to jump ship, this would be the time.

     

    Likelihood of Coaching in NFL

    It seemed for years that Schiano was going to use the Rutgers job as a springboard to land something else, but that's never happened.

    This is his 10th season at Rutgers—it appeared he would have opportunities to go elsewhere (like the University of Miami), but he seems content in New Jersey. If an NFL team came calling at the right price, though, it's tough to imagine him staying there for another 10 years.

Mike Sherman (Texas A&M)

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    Darren Carroll/Getty Images

    Why He'd Leave

    Sherman has spent a majority of his coaching career at either Texas A&M or in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers.

    From 2000-2005, he only had one losing season and finished with an overall record of 57-39. It's not like he was a total flop as a head coach.

    He still runs many of the same sets at Texas A&M that he did in the pros. He very well could be itching for another chance to coach in the NFL if opportunity knocks.

     

    Likelihood of Coaching in NFL

    It's a bit of a catch-22:

    As long as Sherman continues to have success at Texas A&M, it will probably make him more and more appealing to return as an NFL coach.

    However, the more Texas A&M starts to develop a winning culture, the harder it will be for the 55-year-old to walk away from the university where he's coached twice.

    I think he would be willing to go back to the NFL—the question is, who's going to hire him?

Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)

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    Why He'd Leave

    I don't know if there's another college coach that draws as much as attention from the NFL in December and January as Iowa's Kirk Ferentz.

    His Hawkeyes teams, aside from this year, generally tend to overachieve, as he gets the maximum amount out of each of his players.

    He's worked in the NFL for both the Browns and Ravens, though he was only a position coach. His ability to turn below-average players into good ones and good players into great ones draws the eye of a lot of GMs around the league.

     

    Likelihood of Coaching in NFL

    At this point, it's almost like the allure of Kirk Ferentz is greater than the real thing.

    I'm not knocking his coaching ability—he's done a tremendous job at Iowa and is one of the best in the Big Ten. But it's almost like all of these NFL teams keep knocking at his door because they ultimately know what the answer will be.

    He's turned down jobs from a handful of teams and just signed a contract extension through 2015. Maybe the day will come when he's eventually at the next level, but I won't believe it until it does.

Mike Riley (Oregon State)

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Why He'd Leave

    Riley has coaching experience in the NFL, though it wasn't pleasant—he was just 14-34 in three seasons at San Diego, failing to make the playoffs.

    Since returning to Oregon State, his teams have always peaked at the end of the year, as evidenced by such a strong record in bowl games (5-1 in last six years).

    All of his strategies and game plans are pro-style, and he's gotta be itching for a chance to prove that the 14 wins in three seasons was just a fluke.

     

    Likelihood of Coaching in NFL

    Would Riley leave Oregon State? His name has been rumored in a handful of job openings, but not that many have been recent.

    The Beavers have produced some NFL talent, but they've just been middle-of-the-pack in the Pac-10 for a majority of Riley's tenure. Would a professional team want to take the risk on a guy that hasn't been overly successful in college and failed miserably in his one attempt in San Diego?

Jim Harbaugh (Stanford)

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Why He'd Leave

    He's the hottest name in coaching right now—he could get almost any asking price he wanted.

    In four years, he turned Stanford from doormat to BCS contender. He had Toby Gerhart in the Heisman race last year (Gerhart is now with the Vikings) and Andrew Luck will certainly be a top-five pick in the draft...if not No. 1.

    He's played in the NFL and he has the experience, charisma and ability to motivate his players in the right direction. His brother John Harbaugh is coach of the Baltimore Ravens—obviously the coaching gene runs in the family.

     

    Likelihood of Coaching in NFL

    Harbaugh hasn't given any inclinations that he wants to leave Stanford. When he was hired, he said he had no intentions of coaching in the NFL. But if opportunities are presented to him, he'll have some difficult choices to make.

    And the NFL might not be Stanford's biggest obstacle in keeping its coach. Harbaugh's alma mater, the University of Michigan, might be looking for a replacement for Rich Rodriguez.

    If it is, you can bet it will do anything possible to lure him to Ann Arbor. If he does go to UM, you can forget about the NFL—he'll be there for a while.

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