There used to be expectations that a college football coach would struggle in the NFL because there is a certain style of coaching needed in the professional ranks and coaches coming from successful universities are used to doing things their way. Steve Spurrier. Butch Davis. Nick Saban. All of them college football legends. But they weren’t cut out for the NFL.
Well, that trend seems to be changing in recent years. Not only have college coaches been having success on NFL fields, but they have been bringing their own style of coaching and attitudes with them, which has not exactly been greeted with open arms by veteran NFL coaches.
Just last season former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh took over as head man of the San Francisco 49ers and won the NFL Coach of the Year award by leading them to a 13-3 record predicted by just about no one. Harbaugh was credited with coming to the 49ers and not only implementing a successful game plan, but also changing the culture and attitude of the organization.
But while the 49er’s wins were enough to bring Harbaugh attention, he also created quite the buzz when he got into an altercation with Detroit coach Jim Schwartz after the 49ers defeated the Lions in a regular season contest. For those who don’t remember, Schwartz was attempting to congratulate Harbaugh with a handshake. Harbaugh, in full celebration mode, briefly grabbed Schwartz’ hand, gave him a hard slap on the back and walked past him. Feeling disrespected, Schwartz ran after him and the two had harsh words for each other before being separated.
This season, former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano took over the Buccaneers, who through two weeks have defeated the Carolina Panthers and came within a last second touchdown of beating the defending Super Bowl champion Giants. But like Harbaugh last season, Schiano’s name was brought up much more for an altercation at the end of a game.
With a few seconds left in the Giants victory last Sunday, New York head coach Tom Coughlin instructed quarterback Eli Manning to take a knee. Schiano had some instructions of his own. He told his defense to plow over the Giants’ offensive line in an attempt to get to Manning. Coughlin felt that Schiano had broken an unwritten rule in the NFL and he approached Schiano after the game to voice his displeasure in what appeared to be a very one-sided conversation.
On Wednesday, Schiano was very blunt in discussing the incident.
“I’ve spoken on that subject a lot,” Schiano said. “That’s a play that we have in our playbook and I’m going to leave it at that.”
While Schiano was not in the mood to discuss the play or the altercation that followed, when he was asked if the backlash left him afraid to run the play again he did not exactly back down.
“Like I said, it’s in our playbook. Anything in our playbook, it’s my decision if I want to run it or not.”
The NFL is often thought of as a club where one has to know the culture, the customs, and how things have been done in the past in order to succeed. But while the style and attitude of Schiano and Harbaugh may not be appreciated by every other NFL coach, their players certainly seem to play hard for them. It’s too early to anoint Schiano after only two games, but it is clear that the Buccaneers have competed at a higher level thus far.
Even Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was expected by many to fail in Seattle after leaving USC. Carroll has a coaching style that, from afar, allows the appearance that he is buddies with all of his players. The common belief was that you need to have a greater level of “toughness” to coach in the NFL, but his players clearly respond well to Carroll’s style of coaching.
As an outsider coming into the NFL, the only differences that Schiano is concerned about are with the rules. Other than that, he not worried about adjusting to the professional ranks.
“You can’t assume the rules are the same because they’re not,” Schiano said. “Once the game starts going it’s very, very similar.”
Whether you agree with the actions of Carroll and Harbaugh, or even consider them good coaches, it seems fair to say that their players buy into their system and have adopted their attitude. Schiano made it very clear what kind of identity he wanted in his own team.“I want a team that plays hard, that is relentless.”