NEW ORLEANS – If Bob Stoops and Nick Saban didn’t know any better before, they certainly do now.
Steve Spurrier’s overall NFL experience may have been a monumental failure, but he had at least one significant impact on the pro game: He made the nation’s other big-time college coaches realize that pro football is not always utopia.
“Steve Spurrier was the most dominant coach in the Southeastern Conference,” LSU’s Saban said last week as his team prepared for its Sugar Bowl matchup with Oklahoma. “He changed the whole complexion and identity of our league. But a lot of times in the NFL, success is based on other people. You don’t have the same chance to control your own destiny.”
Added Oklahoma Coach Stoops, a former Spurrier assistant: “What happened (to Spurrier) makes us all wary. It makes you wary of who you align yourself with. If you’re in a great college program, this is as good as it gets.”
Saban and Stoops are at the pinnacle of their profession. With the Sugar Bowl now behind them, they will both have a chance to coach in the NFL. If they are smart, they will resist the temptation.
Southern Cal’s Pete Carroll bombed as an NFL coach with the Patriots, but he’s the bomb at USC. The alumni revere him. The players respect him. The administration rewards him.
These days, there’s no reason for a college coach to go to the NFL. As recently as 10 years ago, the money discrepancy between pro and college was enormous. Not anymore. Now Stoops makes $2.5 million a year, which is more than many pro coaches make. And if the NFL came calling, you better believe Oklahoma would ante up even more to keep him.
The great college coaches are demigods who become magnified by their supporters, deified by their players. In pro sports, you become known but never loved. Longtime college coaches become legends like Bobby Bowden and Bobby Knight. Longtime pro coaches become afterthoughts like Lenny Wilkens and Dan Reeves.
“Why would Coach Stoops ever want to leave?” said Oklahoma defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek. “He’s a mythical figure in the state of Oklahoma. He’s bigger than the governor.”
The top pro coaches may make a tad more money, but they have a much tougher gig. It’s much easier to motivate an underprivileged kid whose family lives in poverty than it is a millionaire who lives in a mansion.
“Once an NFL game is over, you can’t tell who’s won or lost unless they flash the score on the TV screen,” Stoops said. “All the players from both teams are laughing and hugging each other.”
Pitino may have said it best when he departed Kentucky for the NBA.
“It’s like I’m leaving Shangri-La,” he explained.
Unfortunately for Pitino, Spurrier and so many other college coaches, they leave paradise and enter another realm where they become misplaced, adrift.