Why Do College Coaches Fail In The NFL?
2:26 PM EDT on September 16, 2021
Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday at Defector during the NFL season. Got something you wanna contribute? Email the Roo. Pre-order Drew’s new book, The Night The Lights Went Out, through here.
Urban Meyer is not going to USC. Urban Meyer cannot state this loudly enough. Shelley Meyer, so famously trustworthy, cannot state this loudly enough. Colin Cowherd (???) also can’t. And the Jaguars, already nut-deep in buyer’s remorse, have bypassed all existing standards for how strongly this fact cannot be stated, reaffirming their commitment to whatever it is the Jaguars are committed to.
Whether or not Urban Meyer pulls a Bobby Petrino and bails on the Jaguars before the paint in his office has dried or chooses to fake a pulmonary embolism three years while scheduling a charter jet for South Bend, it doesn’t matter. He already sucks as an NFL coach and will fail. He lost his first game to the most wayward franchise in the sport. He’s already drawn blood in the front office, suffused the organization with predictable levels of internal paranoia, and either turned the most admired PR person in the league into the Lis Smith of the NFL or simply given her license to reveal that she’s always been this way.
But I didn’t need any of those reports, or even any game tape, to know that Meyer would fail. It was predetermined, because he’s a big name college coach jumping to the NFL. These coaches always fail. I know that’s been a barroom talking point ever since Lou Holtz coached the Jets, but I figured I’d double-check the records just to make sure it’s accurate. Here now is the NFL record of every every prominent college coach to make the jump this century:
Bobby Petrino: 3-10
Steve Spurrier: 12–20
Jim Harbaugh: 44–19–1
Chip Kelly: 28-35
Urban Meyer: 0-1
Kliff Kingsbury: 14-18-1
Matt Rhule: 6-11
Pete Carroll: 145–94–1
Dennis Erickson: 40-56
Greg Schiano: 11-21
Butch Davis: 24-35
Nick Saban: 15-17
Doug Marrone: 38-60
Bill O’Brien: 54-52
Lane Kiffin (was hired directly from the college assistant ranks): 5-15
Mike Riley: 14-34
AGGREGATE NFL RECORD: 453-497
Sample sizes that big don’t lie. That’s three coaches out of 16 that were statistically worth a shit, and one of those three was Bill O’Brien. You see two big outliers on this list in the form of Harbaugh and Carroll (you could conceivably add Tom Coughlin and his 170-150 career record here, but he left Boston College for the Jaguars well before the turn of the century). It’s no coincidence that both of those men spent extensive time in the NFL—in Harbaugh’s case, as an NFL QB for 14 years; in Carroll’s case, as the head coach of not one but two different NFL teams—before making their names in the college ranks. They understood the NFL before they got there. No one else on that list ever seemed to.
But why? Why do these men fail so dependably? In terms of schemes, college football and professional football have never been more closely aligned. Andy Reid works college philosophies into his offense all the time. Bill Belichick famously plucked choice ideas from Meyer’s playbook and used them to resounding success. So why won't Meyer—who’s an awful human being but clearly not a football dummy—be able to do the opposite? Lemme break it down into a few easily digestible factors before I do that thing where I just blame it all on ego.
OVERLOAD. Kliff Kingsbury became an NFL head coach and an NFL offensive coordinator all at the same time. You’ve already seen any number of regular NFL coaches try to pull double duty (because they’re all micromanaging freaks) and fail. Now imagine trying to manage a game on the sidelines, manage your quarterback, and make real-time adjustments to an offense that you installed all as the game unfolds. Now imagine trying to do all that shit without ever having done it at this level before. I make fun of NFL coaches for sleeping on cots and performatively destroying all snooze buttons at the team hotel on road trips, but their jobs are fucking hard. It’s an especially hard job if you double your workload while coming from an entirely different level sport in terms of both rules and infrastructure. I’d rather take calculus again than try to pull that off. Now for the ironic segue…
LACK OF DILIGENCE. Spurrier came to Washington under the impression that Dan Snyder was bringing back Super Bowl–era architect Bobby Beathard to be his general manager. But then—and you’re not gonna believe this—Snyder refused to pay Beathard’s asking price and decided to run the team through his personal lackey Vinny Cerrato instead. Steve, why the fuck didn’t you call Beathard before you took the gig?
“I probably should have called him and made sure he was coming, but I didn’t,” Spurrier writes.
This would hardly be the only time Spurrier slacked on the job. Spurrier famously changed little about his offense for the pros—didn’t even change quarterbacks for it, really—and advertised his God-given talent for drawing up plays on the fly without any preparation or observation backing up those designs. I remember analysts like John Madden praising Spurrier for this method, because it worked so well for him at Florida. It fed into the romantic idea that certain men had such cunning instincts for the game that they could simply wing it on their own genius. They can’t. You may be able get away with a lot of cutesy bullshit in college when you’re only playing half a dozen serious opponents every fall, but not when it’s Aaron Donald you’re facing.
PLAYERS HATING THEM. Saban almost got his ass kicked by both Daunte Culpepper AND Zach Thomas during his short tenure in Miami. And this was another coach who had a good amount of NFL background. But the time Saban spent in charge of both Michigan State and LSU must have destroyed the part of his brain that knew NFL players are professionals, not unpaid nobodies you can push around with impunity. Their careers aren’t dependent on you. These guys push back.
More important, NFL players don’t require any motivation. That’s a big part of the college coaching job description, but it’s rendered moot in the NFL, where every player was already motivated enough to make it to the league to begin with. A few months ago, I asked NFL Network’s Marc Ross if there really was a difference in work approach between regular NFL players and all-pros. Maybe the all-pros were TRUE CRAFTSMEN, I thought. He insisted that talent was all that really mattered, and that everything else was horseshit:
“That's kind of a cut and paste thing, right? This guy does extra. He's studying, he's doing this. You have so many tales of this happening. If your talent is working hard, really that's (just) a prerequisite.”
Coaches like Matt Rhule don’t take this as a given and then they waste God know how many hours trying to instill character and work ethic into a team that already has it. Then they go out, face an equally hard-working team, and get fucking smoked.
A LACK OF DISCIPLINE. I’m not gonna go the full Simmons and tell you that college coaching is easier than the pros, because it isn’t. But Petrino’s little Ozark Chappaquiddick episode at Arkansas proved that he had both the time and the inclination to fuck around on the job. If you’re at some podunk school like that and you have little shot of winning the national title any given year, there’s a BIT more leeway to fuck around, especially with boosters and other assorted hangers-on treating you like a combination of Patton and Einstein.
LOSING. Meyer’s career record is 187-32. Prior to this, a loss came around for him about as often as fucking Leap Year did. Losing in the NFL is a much more common occurrence, and it’s incredible how many coaches outright suck at it. I always used to goof on Reid for being so chill after a loss (and during them as well), but that’s what every team requires. I wanted him to spaz out, to be as annoyed as I was. But the coach is there to operate the game, and he can’t do that if he’s stomping around like a fucking baby in search of targets for his ire. You need to keep your shit together so that you can analyze what’s going wrong and then soberly run through ways to fix it. It’s not easy to muster this kind of patience when you’ve just come from a gig where you only lost one game a year and could play Stamford the following week to make up for it.
Which brings me to my final point…
THEY DON’T LIKE IT. The only reason to take an NFL job is for the money, but college coaches now routinely bank enough on their own for the difference to be relatively negligible. And yet, some of them will make the leap to satisfy their egos, only to discover that they lose many more games, that they can’t recruit a roster that runs eight guys deep at every position, that the owner is a liar, and that the fans at the stadium barely give a shit. Then, like Chip Kelly, they go crawling back from whence they came, as a way of restoring both their pride and their satisfaction with life in general.
So that’s why Urban Meyer will go to USC two weeks from now. College coaches like him can’t tolerate adversity for very long.
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Chiefs at Ravens: Lamar Jackson is acting as his own agent while trying to negotiate a contract extension with the Ravens. Now, you and I both know that whenever an athlete decides to rep themselves, they always end up getting a shitty deal out of it. And yet I understand their motivations. An agent can seem superfluous when you first work with one. It’s not like Jerry Maguire, where the agent is also the player’s best friend, manager, publicist, lawyer, and nanny. Real-life agents don’t do any of that Ari Gold shit. The only thing a real-life agent is there to do is make a deal, and then you don’t see them again until the next deal comes around. So it’s easy to be like, “Hey, why am I paying this fucker 15 percent of my income when they only work for me a few days a year, using the same contract template they’ve been using for decades?”
And yet, agents end up being EXTREMELY necessary. And I’m not just saying that because I have agents (Hi, Byrd and Mary). I’ve done enough shit with agents to know I can’t capably do any of the work they do. I don’t have any industry-standard contract templates on me, unless I google around for one. I don’t have any of the contacts that agents have. I don’t have any existing relationships and rapport with the people they have relationships and rapport with. I don’t have any of the resources and access that MAKES an agent’s job so seemingly easy and tidy. This is why Russell Okung ended up fucking himself, and it’s why Lamar Jackson will take months to do likewise.
Titans at Seahawks: I went to in-person office meetings for the first time in years last week and it was fucking EXHAUSTING. These were real meetings, mind you. This was the Defector staff getting together to work out business goals and talk out how to improve office culture. I like these people, and this was work that interested me. But I was so used to working at home, both during the pandemic and even before that, that I forgot how enervating it can be to go to a meeting in person. These meeting were two hours long and yet I could have napped for eight days after each of them.
My kids just started in-person classes for the first time since the pandemic began and you see how much more energy they use just to get through the day when going to class doesn’t consist of falling out of bed and clicking a link. I forgot that normal life took so much work. I should probably start drinking Monster energy.
Cowboys at Chargers
Raiders at Steelers: I’m still not over what a ridiculous-looking person Richie Incognito is. They cut to him on the sidelines on Monday night and he looked like he should have been wearing a tiny paper Burger King hat on his head, ready to take your order. If you’re gonna be an insane racist asshole, you should at least look the part. Instead I get this:
AW… WHO WANTS A CUPCAKE FOR THEIR BIRTHDAY? IS IT YOU, LITTLE RICHIE? IT IS!
Saints at Panthers: I don’t wanna talk about Jameis beating the Packers because Jameis is scum and I hope he falls down a coal chute. Instead, let’s talk RUGS.
It’s a truly amazing thing that if you’re a man and you have all the money in the world, there are still NO good fake hair options at your disposal. If you’re a woman and you need a good wig, you’ve got millions of fabulous ones at your disposal. Meanwhile, Drew Brees here has $200 million in the bank and still looks like he had to loot a wool factory to cover up his hairline. Male pattern baldness remains our greatest equalizer.
Rams at Colts: I watched Kirk Cousins—one of the most prominently unvaccinated players in the league—play a full game last week without the announcers ever mentioning his immunization record or lack thereof. I don’t know if the announcers for Seahawks-Colts gave Carson Wentz similar treatment, but I can venture a guess. This was the biggest story in the preseason and now I got every fucking booth acting like it never happened.
And the NFL has been GOOD about the pandemic. They contact traced the shit out of everyone in 2020 and gave players every last incentive to get the jab before 2021. But somehow letting Gus Johnson talk about Wentz’s vaccine status would be a bridge too far for everyone involved. I’d like a big red graphic saying UNVACCINATED brandished across his name every time it’s mentioned on screen. Stigmatize these pieces of shit. That’s a decision I’m at peace with after much thought and prayer.
Patriots at Jets: Back in the day, my parents got my report card at the end of each semester. That’s no longer the case. My kids’ report cards are now updated in real time. In fact, I now get sent an email for every single grade they get on every test and every assignment. You might think this is a fantastic innovation: one that allows you to monitor your child’s academic progress in real time and castigate them anytime they dare to get a B-. In reality, it’s spam. I now know WAY too much about how my kids are doing in school. Half the time I don’t even know which child I’m getting an automated update on. I’ll get an assignment grade of 45 without being told they’ve only been required to do the first half of that assignment so far. I think I need to report my county school system to Gmail administrators. As a father, it’s my duty to not know what the fuck is going on in my children’s day-to-day lives. I didn’t withstand a pandemic just to get to know them better.
Vikings at Cardinals: The Vikings lost two booth reviews against the Bengals a week ago, with the second one proving decisive in an overtime loss. But listen, you didn’t come here to listen to me piss and moan about how my poor team got hosed in an international officiating conspiracy. The Vikings more than earned that loss either way. I’m more annoyed that Moose Johnston up in the booth used both replays to, in real time, talk himself out of there being insufficient visual evidence to overturn either call.
Color guys do this all the time. You have to get a no-call on a defender openly shooting a wideout for Troy Aikman to muster up an ounce of vehemence. Otherwise, they all sit there going, “Well in real time I thought the call was a tossup, but is there enough there to overturn the ruling on the field? I … I just don’t know.” THEY PAY YOU TO KNOW THIS SHIT. YOU PLAYED IN THE LEAGUE FOR YEARS AND YEARS SO DON’T ACT LIKE YOU JUST LANDED IN THE BOOTH AFTER FALLING OFF THE TURNIP TRUCK. FUCK YOU. HAVE A GODDAMN OPINION.
Anyway, I’m not here to complain about the refs. That’s so hackneyed.
Bills at Dolphins: I’m 44 years old and I will still point it out anytime someone else is wearing a shirt I own. I used to even TELL strangers I had the shirt they’re wearing. I no longer go that far, but you better believe I say to my wife HEY I HAVE THAT EXACT SAME SHIRT! the second I spot it out in the wild. I need help.
Niners at Eagles
Bengals at Bears
Texans at Browns
Lions at Packers
Giants at WFT: This tweet now gets funnier by the day:
When I think of an embarrassment of riches at QB, I think WASHINGTON.
Broncos at Jaguars
Falcons at Bucs
Pregame Song That Makes Me Wanna Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall
“Blood Unto Blood,” by Lunar Satan, who ask an important question: What if Satan was actually from the moon? Here’s reader Michael:
There is so much to love here - the title, the cover art, the riffs - but the backstory is the best. Clint Wells hosts a Metallica podcast and was lamenting the need for a Satan in Space metal opera and thus Lunar Satan was born. As a dad in his 40s, you should also appreciate the callbacks to bands like Tool, AIC, Metallica, Mercyful Fate, GnR, and newer bands like Ghost as influences. It rocks!
It does indeed. Michael, you made a terrible mistake telling this podcast host—who’s well known for breaking out into song—that another podcast host started a band and somehow made it work. I must now quit this website to pursue my true calling.
Bad Local Commercial Of The Week!
Bedding Barn! Because when you think of a good night’s sleep, you think BARNS. From Jason:
Drew, this is from Connecticut, so you can make fun of the Patriots as well! How can this not be featured?
A fair question. Points to Bedding Barn for bringing a real Marty & Elayne vibe to their ad campaign. But I have to take points away for the discount CGI animation bug at the end. It’s the 21st century and yet many local ads still deploy animation straight out of a Dire Straits video. It’s such a waste when they’ve got so much local color to show off instead.
By the way, if you ever think you can get a good mattress for cheap, even from a place like this, you are wrong.
Fire This Asshole!
Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we’ll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year’s end or sooner. And now, your potential 2021 chopping block:
(* - potential midseason firing)
I went into this season believing that the Jaguars had a worse roster than last year when they went 1-15, but that Trevor Lawrence alone would help them get four or five wins and save them from historic embarrassment. I was wrong. Urban really is this bad at his job. He also belongs in prison, so there’s that.
SHAMELESS BOOK PLUG, NOW WITH UPDATE
The Night The Lights Went Out is now coming out Oct. 12 due to the dreaded supply chain issues. If you pre-order the book now (or if you’ve pre-ordered it already) and fill out this form, you’ll be invited to a highly exclusive VIP Twitch party for Lions-Packers on Sept. 20. Will this party last the whole game? No. I’m not THAT dedicated to book promotion. We’ll all hop on the stream, I’ll answer any questions you got about anything, and then we’ll all make fun of Dan Campbell.
Please note that you can fill out that form no matter whether or not you pre-ordered a hard copy OR the e-book version.
Great Moments In Poop History
Reader Matt sends in this story I call POOS YOURSELF:
I live in Brooklyn, about five blocks east of Prospect Park. Last Thanksgiving, after my wife, my visiting best friend and I had Peking duck in Chinatown (delicious, but you knew that), we took the Q train back to Brooklyn. We got off at a station that's one block east of the park and about five blocks away from our apartment. As soon as we got onto the street, a metric ton of waste suddenly dropped into my bowel. I have enough experience with my digestive system to know that there was no way in hell I was going to make it five blocks without crapping myself. It was dark out, so I figured I could make it into the park, find a nice big tree and do my dirty, sinful business with no one seeing me.
So I shuffle across the street, down a relatively light-less path and struggle my way through the underbrush off the path and behind a nice-sized tree. I drop trou, brace myself against the tree and discharge my ballast, all while folks saunter a few yards in front of my on the path. I extricate myself from the brambles and human waste and make my way back to the train station, where my wife and friend are waiting (they know the score). Halfway down the block, I reach down (for some reason that I can't recall and for which I am eternally thankful) and feel my back pants pocket. My wallet is gone. I figure it fell out while I was wrestling with my trousers in the deadfall, so I turn around and run back into the park. Thankfully, I recognize the spot where I went off the path to dump, but the spot where I went is just beyond the reach of the lamplight and almost pitch black. I reach down and feel at the ground like I'm trying to find a contact lens. The first thing I feel is fortunately firm but still unfortunately fecal. The second thing is my wallet. I grab it, make my way back to my wife and friend, and walk back to our apartment, where I promptly and thoroughly wash my hands.
I respect it. Every time I go to New York, I have a trademark moment where I need something urgently, assume it’s nearby because I’m in New York, and soon discover it’s somehow not to be found within a 40-block radius. In my case, it was a cheap umbrella in the middle of a rainstorm. I didn’t end up shitting myself, but the parallels are unmistakable.
Gametime Snack Of The Week
Ranch dip! I’m from Minnesota, which means that I should have ranch dressing coursing through my veins at all times. But of course I don’t like mayonnaise, and that hatred was more than enough to overpower the obligations inherent in being a native Midwesterner. As such, I never had ranch dip/dressing in my life until this summer, when my mom made some using only sour cream. I get it now. I get the ranch effect. I’m gonna buy some ranch seasoning packets and get my ranch on at strategic points throughout the season. I’m ready to become a ranch guy.
Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week
Burgkopf Pils! It’s Belgian! From Jonathan:
As a craft beer asswipe, I’m always on the hunt for new shit. I was in the mood for a pils and my local liquor store guy pointed me to this. I said, “Is this seriously $6 for a 4-pack of tall cans?” He confirmed, and I brought it home. I said to my wife, “If this tastes better than wet newspaper, this is a winner.” And it does! It tastes mostly like stale pizza crust, but at that price, I’m just happy it doesn’t taste like pennies. Looks sorta fancy, but is cheap as shit, and tastes decent. Perfect if you’re an affected dumbshit hipster, like I imagine some Defector subscribers are, like me.
I have a lot of respect for cheap beers that go the extra mile to look civilized. Some of them even manage to taste decent, and then the clock strikes midnight and suddenly you’re lying face down in your own dog’s shit. That’s what the price point hits.
Dan Campbell’s Clump Dog Of The Week: Derek Carr
“I met Derek Carr once at his football camp and over beers one night he told me, ‘Dan, I’d leave my own child dead on the side of the highway if I meant I could win it all,’ and I said, ‘I fucking love that about you, man. I really do.’ Just thinking about him saying that right now makes me smile so fucking hard.”
Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Jaguars Fans
It’s Barry Lyndon, from Stanley Kubrick. I watched Barry Lyndon for the first time a few months ago and I’m now convinced it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Nothing about it is appealing on paper. It’s based on a then–relatively little known William Makepeace Thackeray novel. It’s a costume drama. It stars Ryan O’Neal because Robert Redford turned it down. It’s over three hours long. This is normally a recipe for pain.
But I swear to God I loved this movie, even when it was utterly fucking ridiculous. It has not one, but TWO incredibly tense duel scenes. It has stunning depictions of 18th-century war. It has a narrator who clearly doesn’t give a shit about Barry Lyndon the character. It has a smoking hot affair between Barry and a Prussian war wife that could have been its own movie. It has scenes shot entirely by candlelight, with Kubrick using special camera lenses from NASA and keeping the actors perfectly still to get the composition just right. And it tells the story of a cowardly white pud who continually fails upward only to have it all go to shit because he got too complacent. There’s a whole raft of insufferable takes to be written about how this movie echoes modern times, but I’ll spare you such a take here. What I’d rather talk about are the ZOOM SHOTS:
The technique used by Kubrick here is also known as a double shot. I think. You should really consult your local film scholar for the precise nomenclature. The point is that there are many sequences in Barry Lyndon where Kubrick will start out tight on a character, and then slowly pull back to reveal their surroundings, which always fill out in unexpected ways. Once the zoom stops, you’re left with these enormous pastiches, each of which could occupy the entire fucking wall of an art museum and draw a crowd 30 people deep. I could stare at Barry Lyndon for hours on end, which of course is what I ended up doing. If you watch this movie and hate it, I won’t even get mad at you. I never would have appreciated a movie this slow when I was, like, 15. But now the rest of the world moves way too fucking fast, so I appreciate any movie that takes its time. Makes me feel like I actually have some time of my own again.
Gratuitous Simpsons Quote
“Teamwork is overrated. Think about it! I mean, what team was Babe Ruth on? Who knows!”
Enjoy the games, everyone.
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