Experience is a coaching qualification that’s tossed around frequently in late December and January as transitions between coaching regimes are well underway, and new foundations are slowly beginning to form.
It’s also often a highly overvalued qualification, and one that can be very manageable. Two teams filled vacancies yesterday with coaches who have never been head coaches at the NFL level, and they also only had one year as a coordinator on their résumés.
But although there’s concern about Dennis Allen and Chuck Pagano and their ability to be fine leaders of men in Oakland and Indianapolis respectively (not everyone’s Tim Tebow, after all), there’s still one certainty. They’ve been exposed to an NFL environment, and through their dealings with the mood swings of players in their various coaching stops they’ve acquired the skills to manage petulant professionals.
If Chip Kelly taught us anything it’s that high-profile college coaches wear furry slippers, and they can turn around and go back through a door before it even shuts. Kelly was so close to beating Schiano to Tampa Bay and becoming the Bucs head coach Sunday night that for a brief time he formally left his position at Oregon.
Kelly had reportedly accepted the Tampa job, and when he then changed his mind Monday morning and decided to remain at his posh college football perch, Kelly had to get his old job back because Oregon administrators had already given his title to offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. When a coach leaves, the grieving period lasts mere seconds in both the NFL and college.
But let’s assume for a moment that Schiano doesn’t pull a Kelly, and that he is indeed fast-tracking towards a deal with the Bucs, as Peter King reported in one of the links above (the first “very”). In most situations–like those that Allen and Pagano are walking into–a lack of NFL head coaching experience is a concern that lingers, but it can be pushed to the background.
Schiano’s new situation isn’t one of those situations. Thanks, Raheem Morris.
After early success and promise when he was promoted to the head coaching position at just 33 years old, Morris lost his locker room this year, and much of his talented young core regressed, particularly quarterback Josh Freeman and wide receiver Mike Williams. There were offseason departures that become painful, like the loss of linebacker Barrett Ruud, but Morris’ 2011 team that won four games was nearly the same as his 2010 team that won 10 games, and came one win away from the playoffs.
The Bucs lost 10 straight games by a combined score of 325-174 to end this season, allowing 35 or more points six times. It became the most clear sign in recent memory of a coach who couldn’t keep his locker room from fading and crumbling despite his elite football mind.
So we’re now set to believe that Schiano will fare better? He may have thrived at Rutgers, or at least had recent success. He started as the sideline leader there in 2001, notching only three wins in his first two seasons, but then finishing over .500 for the past seven years. An 11-2 record in 2006 was Rutgers’ best season under Schiano, but even during that seven-year run of moderate success he still had at least four losses in every year except ‘o6.
Overall Schiano’s record at Rutgers was 68-67, but he’s been widely praised for resurrecting a team that won only 11 games during Terry Shea’s five-year tenure between 1996 and 2000. Still, his most recent NFL employment came 14 years ago when he was a defensive backs coach in Chicago, and prior to that he was also a Bears defensive assistant for two seasons between 1996 and 1997.
College coaches are fickle, and there’s a vast coaching graveyard littered with brilliant college minds that excel at instructing young and gifted athletes who take and obey orders without question.
It feels like Schiano will come from the college lineage that gave us Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban, and not the one that’s blessed San Francisco with Jim Harbaugh.