Happiness is Coaching in SEC (not NFL)

An article that caught my attention last weekend was a USA Today via Florida Today story with the headline “SEC coaches happier on campus than in grind of NFL.”  Not a lot of crack reporting here, but some there were some quotes from those who’ve tried their luck in both leagues:

Steve Spurrier (Gators/Redskins/Gamecocks): “I think what has happened is that we all realized it’s a lot more fun coaching in college than it was in the NFL.  You answer to the president and the athletic director, and you very seldom see them unless you’re losing too much or you’re breaking the rules.  You are the boss in college.  I just think we all realize it’s a lot more fun game. The lifestyle is more conducive to a happy, normal person as a college coach.”

Bobby Petrino (Falcons/Razorbacks): “It’s the whole experience.  I like going to the softball games and the basketball games and being part of the entire university, being on campus and going to events on campus.”

The wife of Nick Saban (Tigers/Dolphins/Crimson Tide) was also quoted (from his hiring press conference in Tuscaloosa) as saying it was “that family feeling” that brought the Sabans back to college from the NFL.


It’s also the same Petrino who said in January of last year that the Falcons’ head coaching gig “is truly the best football job in the NFL. It was an easy decision for me.”  A month later, Bobby P also offered told reporters during Super Bowl week that “Everything I’ve done from the time I left the [Jacksonville] Jaguars [as an assistant following the 2001 season] was within mind that, ‘when I come back to the NFL.’”  He went on to say that “in my mind, it was never a question of ‘if’” but rather ‘when’ he would return to the professional ranks.

And, yes, it is the same Saban who said back in December of 2004 that after turning down pro offers in prior years, the Dolphins job was “one of the best that’s ever been presented to me.”  Before the start of his first season, Saban also said that “the longer I was a college coach, the more I got used to it.  It seemed like the NFL got further away…   But going back, this was always the big challenge.”  He also explained that at LSU “I had pretty much decided I was going to stay as a college football coach” but after winning a national title “the challenge of going to the NFL seemed to be something I was looking for.”

So we probably can’t take these guys at their word when they say college is more fun.  We know money was and is always a factor.  Spurrier became the highest-paid NFL coach when left the fun and sun of Gainesville to sing with Washington.  Saban earned the same distinction in college when he left the No Fun League for Alabama.  Petrino traded family stability and fun in Louisville for a bump in annual pay – from roughly $2.5 to $4 million – in Atlanta. 

And what about success?  Well, the combined NFL winning percentage of the Petrino (3-10), Spurrier (12-20), Saban (15-17) and Rich Brooks (13-29) is .361.  That’s a pretty significant drop from their combined college record of 417-259-7 (.611).  Spurrier won 81% of his games at Florida before winning less than 40% in Washington.  Petrino won 82% of his college games before losing 76% of his 13 NFL games. 

Is it really that there is more coaching happiness in college or perhaps that there’s just no happiness in failure, in any league?

Of course, Spurrier and Petrino did dominate offensively in their initial NFL preseasons, going 4-1 and 3-1, respectively.



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