• Extra Points
  • Posts
  • No, all of the good college coaches aren't going to quit and go to the NFL

No, all of the good college coaches aren't going to quit and go to the NFL

Here's what is *actually* behind this trend-that-barely-an-actual-trend

Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.

Before we get to the story, I have a quick housekeeping announcement. I will be in Madison, WI this Thursday and Friday.

On Thursday night, I will be appearing at a book discussion event with my former editor and current good friend Jason Kirk, who wrote a lovely book called Hell Is A World Without You.

While I imagine this conversion will include some talk of college football, what with it including a former college football player, former college football editor and current college football writer…but we’ll mainly be talking about Jesus. And fart jokes. And other stuff too.

I will also be in and around Madison on Friday if any of you folks would like to hang out or say hello before I drive back down 90 to Chicago. I have a pretty unscheduled Friday, so just shoot me an email.

This is not going to surprise anybody here…but big-time college football coaches are not okay right now. And they’re not shy about sharing that.

Let’s consider this quote, from a Yahoo! sports story last Monday, featuring Southern Miss head coach Will Hall:

Aside from those instances, Hall is a fundraiser. On a random Wednesday in February, Hall, the coach, starts his day at 7 a.m. observing workouts. By 10 a.m., Hall, the fundraiser, is meeting with donors in his office. At 11, he jumps in his car for the 90-minute drive to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where more donor meetings are held at 1:30 and then 3. His goal is to meet with 12 donors a week.

“I do zero football anymore. Zero football in my life right now,” Hall said. “I do culture and recruiting.

“Most of my day is spent all across the southern United States raising money,” he said before pausing, “for NIL.”

Or this lede, from a story from CBS a few days later, about how many FBS coaches are looking to jump to the NFL:

At the end of his sixth season as a head coach, Mike Locksley had dutifully led Maryland to a third consecutive bowl game. His quarterback, Taulia Tagovailoa, had become the Big Ten's all-time passing leader. The last time the Terrapins had won more Big Ten games in a season was 2010.

Locksley had delivered on some level making Maryland relevant again, and yet, he questioned whether he could continue coaching.

"I've been doing this 33, 34 years, and I'm like, 'I don't know if I have the energy for this,'" he told CBS Sports. "... I felt burned out."

Dennis Dodd, the author of the story, certainly isn’t the only major media voice noting that many coaches are looking to jump to the NFL.

The gist of the argument comes down to the idea that coaching in college is no longer just about coaching football, but about trying to build and maintain a roster in a world of perpetual free agency and virtually no enforceable regulations….and everything else off-the-field that comes with being a college coach. The NFL usually doesn’t pay as much as big-time college do for position coaches and coordinators, but it does have a collective bargaining agreement, labor stability, and something resembling an off season.

I get the appeal! But is this really a toxic trend?

Let me quickly drop in a note from one of our sponsors, but I’ll go ahead and spoil that question for you. No, I don’t think it is. But please keep reading.

But first! A word from newsletter sponsor Wolverine Studios and Draft Day Sports College Basketball 2024:

March Madness is just around the corner, which means if you’re anything like me, you’re juuuuust starting to pay for attention to college basketball. One way to get even more into the game is with Draft Day Sports College Basketball Simulator. The game lets you take over a college basketball program, and all the recruiting, fundraising, roster management and instructional decisions that come with it. Can you build a Cinderella this March?

If you love ADS or games like Football Manager, you’ll love Draft Day Sports College Basketball

I mean, how much of a trend is this, really?

CBS included the full list of FBS coaches who have left for NFL jobs, a list that also includes guys like Kliff Kingsbury, who was working as a Senior Analyst at USC, as well as a variety of position coaches.

Every coach on the list is different, but you don’t have to squint too hard to find a few themes. Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley, the man whose NFL departure launched a thousand thinkpieces, had spent the bulk of his coaching career as an NFL assistant and was 22-26 at Boston College. The timing is surprising, but it’s not like Hafley walked away from tenure at BC. If the team struggled next season (a year when they have Missouri and Michigan State out of conference), there was a good chance he was going to get fired.

Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh left to go back to the NFL…and took four coaches with him. Coaches involved in staffs with significant turnover (Alabama, UCLA) or that could face significant turnover next year (Florida, Pitt, Baylor) also made the jump to the NFL…sometimes with a similar job title, sometimes not.

There are a few more surprising names, sure, but we can’t also can’t write about college coaches leaving for the NFL without pointing out that some coaches are moving in the other direction. Washington Commanders OC Eric Bieniemy just left to go back to UCLA. Wink Martindale had been in the NFL since 2004, but he just left to become Michigan’s new DC. Bill O’Brien and Chip Kelly elected to stay in college. The flow of talent goes both ways.

Has the job of college football head coach unquestionably become more difficult? You bet! Perpetual free agency, a cluttered recruiting calendar, unrelenting fundraising demands, phony agents, Open Records laws, having to pretend you enjoy the company of high school boys… I’m sure all of that stuff absolutely sucks.

But it was this recent quote from Nick Saban that I think really gets to the meat of the issue

He also added this:

“Listen, I'm for the players….I want to see the players have a great quality of life and be able to create value for themselves. But we've gone to nobody talking about education, nobody talking about creating value for their future, to talking only about how much money can I make while I'm in college.

I think the consequence of this could come down the road when some of these guys get 28 and 29 years old that maybe they didn't prepare themselves for when they can't play football anymore, which is what you should do when you go to college."

Is a lot of coach complaining about NIL, collectives and the transfer portal absolutely nakedly self-serving? You bet. Are many coaches whining about very similar behavior that they have gotten away with over the last two decades? Yes, of course.

But fundamentally, college football and coaching in the NFL have historically been seen as different gigs in multiple ways. NFL guys have always been able to spend more of their time on scheme and specific skill instruction than college coaches. While the money is sometimes shockingly better in college, part of the appeal of the college game has typically been in the ability for coaches to have an impact on young people.

Now, are there college football coaches who are downright misanthropic? Yes, of course. And there are also plenty of coaches who came directly from the NFL who might not care about educational achievement the same way as a college lifer.

But if you are the kind of coach who ever slugged it out in D-II or the NAIA, who GA’d at Bumblefart Tech, or who ever had to drive a bus anywhere…you probably didn’t do that just because you loved football. Somewhere in there, you had to love young people. You wanted something more than a transactional relationship.

I know the same thing happens with athletic administrators, because it comes up in half of my conversations. The higher up the food chain you go, the more you spend raising money or sitting behind a desk, and the less time you spend with actual college students. That does drive many people to quit.

I legitimately think what Saban is describing here is, deep down, a bigger reason for coach burnout than just an overstuffed calendar, unrelenting pressure, and fluid rosters.

If part of the appeal of working in college sports is that it can be less of a coldly transactional place than the NFL, a place where you can become part of someone’s life and make a difference…and suddenly that changes, and you’re left with what appears to be a pale facsimile of the NFL, one with most of the drawbacks and few of the advantages, well, shoot, who wouldn’t want to leave?

Those are real problems. But if you’re worried about brain drain in college sports, I wouldn’t look at football coaches

As much as the job may be hard now, there are still absolutely no shortage of people who would love to work in high level college coaching. The NFL only has so many teams with so many spots, and it’s not like college coaches are so frustrated with the industry that they are leaving en masse for high school gigs, or stuff outside of coaching altogether.

But that is happening in college sports…just with gigs that don’t pay six million bucks to maybe make the Pinstripe Bowl. Departments all over the country are struggling to recruit and retain athletic trainers, sports communication professionals, nutritionists, bus drivers…and even officials. The people who keep the athletes healthy, make sure the games are fairly played, who literally keep the trains running on time, are in increasingly short supply. These are people who see where the industry is going, see that their paychecks aren’t what Jeff Hafley was taking down, and decide to make difficult business decisions. I have sympathy for many of those people.

I can intellectually understand that college head coaching has become more difficult, and in many ways, less rewarding. I can intellectually understand that presents problems for college football, even if I don’t think there is great evidence to suggest a massive NFL brain drain is happening.

Maybe I’m too heartless. But my reaction is closer to that of Arizona State head coach Kenny Dillingham.

“…don't give me the 'Oh, it's hard to be a coach right now.' Yeah, it's hard. Then quit.”

This edition of Extra Points is also brought to you by Sideline Design

If you run an athletic department, a newsletter, a football program or anything else, graphic design can be complicated and time-consuming. But not with Sideline Design.

In addition to a huge library of templates, Sideline also makes it easy to distribute and manage recruiting content, import and share in-house PSD files, and makes it simple for anybody on your team, from coaches to SIDs to students, to create and brand content at scale.

I use it myself on our Instagram page! Almost all of my social graphics were made in Sideline.

Click here to learn more about Sideline Design, and how it can make things easier for your team.

If you’d like to buy ads on Extra Points OR in ADS4000, good news! We have open inventory in April. Drop me a line at [email protected]. If you have news tips or FOIAs you want to share, I’m at [email protected]. Otherwise, I’m at [email protected], @MattBrownEP on Twitter, @ExtraPointsMB on Instagram, and @MattBrown on Bluesky.

Join the conversation

or to participate.