Why would an NFL coach go back to college if he had other pro options? The answer given by most NFL pundits is he wouldn’t. Therein lies the root of some of the disbelief in NFL circles regarding Michigan’s chances at luring Jim Harbaugh’s. Sure the 49ers headman has a long-stated and well-known dream of winning the Super Bowl, but much of the assessment of his pro leanings is based on a general belief that pro coaching is just more desirable. But is it really?
Tyrone Wheatley, also a former Michigan standout, currently serves as the running backs coach for the Buffalo Bills. Before hitting the NFL ranks he was a college assistant at Eastern Michigan and then Syracuse. Being not-so-far removed from collegiate coaching gives a very fresh view of the advantages and disadvantages of coaching on both levels.
“In the pros, there is no recruiting,” Wheatley said matter-of-factly. “The recruiting aspect is a turn off for some coaches. Your livelihood is based on some 17 or 18 year old. You’re going out and have a board of maybe 200 kids and you end up with 25. For some guys that’s a grind. Going on the road… they don’t like that. The NFL schedule, in terms of work week, is favorable. If you have kids, you can go see your kids play on Friday and Saturday if you’re at home. In college it all depends on how things are set up. You may be on the road recruiting and if your kids play on Saturday, you’re playing on Saturday, so you won’t be able to see them.”
“The next biggest difference in favor of the NFL is you’re dealing with men. You don’t have to worry about kids going to school, no academics. You’re not chasing people around. You don’t have to worry too much if one of your guys flunks, or grades, and all that stuff. That’s the biggest nod towards the NFL.”
Based on that assessment there seems to be no contest between the two. NFL coaches have more time to themselves and thus more of an opportunity to be present with their families. But before you go declaring coaching in the pros as the better option, Wheatley says there are positives on the college side you must consider first.
“What would make a guy come back to college,” Wheatley asked?
“First, he wants to a molder and builder of young men. I know for me myself, I kind of miss that aspect, even though I have some great guys I coach, I try to mold them as much as I can, but they’re men already. They already have their ways. I miss the aspect of watching 18 years old come in and leave as a 20, 21, 22 year old man and see them grow. That’s the one thing. “
“The second thing is that some guys love recruiting. Some guys love getting out on that road and meeting people and getting kids. That’s a thrill to them. That would probably be the only two. The greatest thing for me was… I heard Nick Saban say this and I’m not for sure of the quote is absolutely correct, it’s been a while. When he was in Miami, it was a little different deal, you had personnel, you had scouts. It was hard for him to just really understand, ‘hey I don’t have full control.’ He came back to college and he said, ‘you know, I get 25 first round draft picks every year.’ “
“So I guess the third thing (in favor of leaving) the pros and coming back to college is if he has total control, total autonomy of the team. He is not only the scout, he is pro personnel and he is also the GM. I guess that would probably be a reason why a guy would want to come back to college.”
Will those things compel Harbaugh to return to the collegiate ranks?
It appears that we’ll only have to wait a few weeks to find out.