|There aren't many college coaches who have successfully transitioned to the NFL. (AP/Getty Images)|
By Ryan Wilson
The NFL coaching scrap heap is littered with accomplished college coaches who couldn't make the transition to the professional game. But it only takes one success story to shift the perception from "those guys can't cut it" to "where can we find another one?"
|Bucs hire Schiano|
Jim Harbaugh arrived in San Francisco last offseason after leading Stanford to 12 wins, including an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. Twelve months later, the 49ers were a few plays away from going to the Super Bowl after a 13-3 regular season and an NFC West title.
And unlike Stanford, Harbaugh didn't have an Andrew Luck-type franchise quarterback under center in San Francisco. Yes, Alex Smith was a former first-overall pick, but his career up till Harbaugh's arrival could kindly be described as pedestrian. Now the 49ers want him back in 2012 and there may be some competition for his services should he make it to free agency.
“I feel so much different than in years past, just the sideline -- the sideline atmosphere is so much different," Smith said before Sunday's NFC Championship game. "When bad things happen, when plays get made against us, things like that, the guys are just so confident.”
It's that type of confidence that may have led the Glazer family, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to bypass the typical NFL coaching search, one that has recently included interviewing former NFL big names, up-and-coming coordinators and a few dark horse assistants. And instead, refocus their efforts at the college level, in the hopes of unearthing the next Jim Harbaugh.
This explains Oregon coach Chip Kelly's brief dalliance with the Bucs. And it may explain why they ultimately settled on Rutgers' Greg Schiano after Kelly got cold feet. (The elephant in the room, of course, is that Schiano, unlike Harbaugh and Kelly, hasn't had quite their level of success in recent seasons.)
If Schiano's looking for inspiration from his college brethren who made it work in the NFL … well, the pickings are slim. In addition to Harbaugh, three coaches stand out:
Jimmy JohnsonJohnson was the first coach Jerry Jones hired after he bought the Cowboys and promptly ushered Tom Landry out the door. Tough circumstances to walk into after leading the Miami Hurricanes in the '80s, but he went on to win back-to-back Super Bowls before leaving Dallas for the Dolphins, and ultimately a gig as an NFL analyst for Fox Sports.
Barry SwitzerHe was Oklahoma's head coach from 1973-1988 and amassed a 157-29-4 record, including three national championships. He resigned before the 1989 season and after the NCAA had placed the Sooners on probation. Five years later, Jones pegged Switzer to replace Jimmy Johnson in Dallas. He went 12-4 in his first two seasons, with the Cowboys winning the Super Bowl following the 1995 season. He resigned three years later and left the NFL with a 45-26 career mark.
Tom CoughlinCoughlin got his start at Rochester Institute of Technology, where he served as the head coach from 1970-73, and after seven seasons as an assistant with Syracuse, and two more with Boston College, Coughlin served as an assistant coach for three NFL teams from 1984-1990. He then returned to college, accepting the head-coaching gig at BC. In three years, he led the Eagles to a 41-39 record, including a 1993 win over top-ranked Notre Dame.
Coughlin was hired by the expansion Jaguars in 1995 and he's been an NFL head coach ever since. In February 2008, he led the Giants to a Super Bowl XLII victory over the then-undefeated Patriots. He'll go for Lombardi Trophy No. 2 when New York again faces New England on February 5.
So what does this mean for Schiano? History hasn't been kind to college coaches making the jump to the NFL, but there are exceptions. It's not much, but it's all the Glazer have right now.
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