Sports Outside the Beltway

Successful Head Coaches Have Varying Backgrounds

Birmingham News writer Jon Solomon, apropos Alabama’s obsession with landing “a proven head coach with impressive credentials,” observes that there are a lot of paths to greatness.

Five years ago, Jim Tressel was the head coach at Division I-AA Youngstown State and Urban Meyer was the first-year head coach at Bowling Green. They meet in this season’s national championship game between Ohio State and Florida.

Bob Stoops returned Oklahoma to national prominence after serving as Florida’s defensive coordinator. Mark Richt went from Florida State’s offensive coordinator to Georgia’s head coach, where he is considered among the elite.

“You can find good football coaches in lots of different places,” said Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. “There are plenty of examples of coordinators and lesser-known coaches who are ready for the next step.”

Check out the current Associated Press Top 25 poll. Fourteen of those 25 head coaches had assistant coaching positions immediately prior to taking their current jobs. For every coach in the top 10 who was a proven head coach in his previous job, such as Pete Carroll and Tommy Tuberville, there is a Bret Bielema or Bobby Petrino, who were up-and-coming coordinators immediately before their current jobs.

Breaking down the coaches in the AP Top 25 even further shows college offensive and defensive coordinators are the most common stepping-stone positions (six each). Almost half of today’s Top 25 coaches were coordinators immediately before their current job.

The next most common steppingstones in the current Top 25 were head coaching positions in a Bowl Championship Series conference (four) and other Division I-A head coaching positions (three). Two Top 25 coaches most recently were NFL head coaches, and two most recently were Division I-AA head coaches.

Similar results are evident when examining who has coached BCS games since the lucrative postseason format was created in 1998. Fifty-three percent of the BCS spots have been occupied by coaches who were one job removed from being an assistant.

This year, five of the 10 coaches in BCS games – Michigan’s Lloyd Carr, Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis, Boise State’s Chris Peterson, Stoops and Petrino – were assistants immediately prior to becoming head coaches.

Of the five who were previously head coaches, only LSU’s Les Miles came from a BCS conference. Tressel and Meyer made big jumps, Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe came from Ohio, and Southern Cal’s Carroll arrived after a one-year sabbatical following NFL head-coaching stints.

Of course, there are issues with hiring unproven coaches, as Alabama learned. Mike Shula was an NFL position coach and offensive coordinator before his hiring and firing. DuBose was a college assistant and ultimately didn’t last, either.

Certainly, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Tide hire an up-and-coming coordinator from the NFL or major college ranks. Troy’s Larry Blakeney would be an interesting choice, too, although he’ll turn 60 in September, so might be inclined to retire in the next few years. Ditto Norm Chow.

DuBose and Shula were odd hires in that nobody, anywhere was considering them for a head coaching job. Charlie Weis and Jim Tressel, conversely, were highly sought after.

I’d gladly take my chances with a Paul Johnson or any man between 45 and 55 who is at least a big time college or NFL level coordinator and is being seriously courted for promotion somewhere. But, please, not another DuBose or Shula. Alabama’s just too big a stage for a long shot candidate.

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