Back To College

It's not unheard of for adults to go back to college. Teachers go pick up graduate degrees. Retirees who weren't able to finish "way back when" do so when they have the rime for it. But an unusual breed heading back to college in recent years has been NFL coaches.

Two of them will be meeting in Starkville this week. Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula and Mississippi State Head Coach Sylvester Croom have a lot in common, including both having been star players for the Crimson Tide. Croom was an All-America center, playing 1972-74, before beginning his coaching career with the Tide. Shula was a star Bama quarterback, 1984-86, and began his coaching career under his Alabama head coach, Ray Perkins, but in the NFL at Tampa Bay. Croom, who had been a Tide assistant when Shula was playing, was also on that Tampa Bay staff with Shula.

It is well known that both were among the three finalists for the job as Alabama's head coach in 2003. And at the time, both were assistant coaches in the NFL, Croom at Green Bay, Shula at Miami. (The third candidate, Richard Williamson, also a former Tide player and assistant coach, was and is an assistant at Carolina of the NFL.)

Shula was asked about the trend of coaches going from the NFL to the college ranks.

He said, "I can really only speak for myself on that one. I would not have come back to the college game if not had not been The University of Alabama. I had a great job (in the NFL), so for me, personally, it was coming back to my alma mater and remembering the experience I had here as a player and the unbelievable opportunity that this job presents.

"As far as other coaches go, I think the opportunity to be a head coach could be a possibility. I have heard that before I got here, from some other coaches, that there might be a little more job security at the college level. I'm not sure that is true.

"Being back here, obviously there is a difference. For me, it has been new in my first time coaching college football. There is something different about coaching guys that are anywhere from 17 or 18 to 22. In the NFL, a lot of times, when you draft guys, you think, "I wish I had had those guys and coach them when they were 18." I think that is appealing to a lot of guys.

"As far as the effect it has had, I think the schemes that you have in college and in the NFL are coming closer and closer. For sure in the NFL, there is more time to prepare and the best athletes in college are in the NFL, so there are some things they do a little better. But the atmosphere in college football is an awesome atmosphere and the coaches coming back from the NFL have found that it has been very competitive here, and maybe even more so than they may have thought at first."

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