Pros and cons

Anyone who thinks "football is football" might want to consider Arkansas's Bobby Petrino, Alabama's Nick Saban, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier and Kentucky's Rich Brooks.

None of those four coaches survived more than two seasons as head men in the National Football League, although each enjoyed considerable success at the college level. Now all four are toiling in the Southeastern Conference, which seems intent on challenging ESPN to see who can hire the most pro washouts.

There are some potential benefits to this madness, however.

Benefit No. 1: The recent failures of Spurrier, Saban and Petrino at the pro level should make NFL owners think twice before throwing mega-bucks at college football's next Golden Boy. And, without the pros to use as leverage in contract negotiations, the salaries for NCAA coaches will stop escalating at such a dizzying pace ... maybe.

Benefit No. 2: Fans now recognize that some coaches are little more than mercenaries, willing to go to war (however briefly and ineffectively) for anyone with an open job and an open wallet.

Benefit No. 3: More college coaches will be forced to sign contracts featuring expensive buyout clauses, since money – not loyalty – may keep them from bolting after a few years.

Petrino's abrupt move from college to the NFL and back to college – all in a span of 11 months – has really brought these issues into focus. He unwittingly has become the poster child for disloyalty. Here's why:

Petrino went 41-9 in four years at Louisville with two top-10 national finishes, then parlayed his budding reputation into a lucrative five-year deal with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. After a 3-10 start in Year 1 of that contract, he resigned with three games left in the 2007 season to take the Arkansas reins earlier this week. Making matters worse, he repeatedly said he was NOT looking at returning to the college ranks.

Saban's reputation has taken some hits, too. He was 106-59-1 in 13 years as a college coach and just one year removed from a national title at LSU when he jumped to the NFL's Miami Dolphins in 2005. After two seasons in South Florida produced 15 wins and 17 losses, he jumped ship and landed in a $4 million Crimson Tide life boat. Like Petrino, he vehemently denied leaving his pro team right up to the moment he did precisely that.

Spurrier's name carries a little tarnish, too. The Ol' Ball Coach was 142-40-2 at Duke and Florida – five years removed from a national title with the Gators – when he decided to take the money and run to the NFL's Washington Redskins in 2002. Two 7-9 seasons later, he resigned – choosing a year in exile over another year in the pro ranks.

Brooks' reputation seems to have survived his ill-fated stint in the NFL. He coached perennial Pac-10 also-ran Oregon for 18 years, getting the Ducks to the Rose Bowl in 1994 before leaving for the NFL in '95. Fired by the St. Louis Rams after going 13-19 his first two seasons, he spent four years as defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons and a year out of football before answering Kentucky's call in 2003.

The public perception is that Brooks, having paid his dues at Oregon, was perfectly justified in accepting a more lucrative job in pro football. Similarly, Spurrier gave 12 years of quality service to Florida before leaving for greener (the color of money) pastures, so he also seems to be getting the benefit of the doubt from most observers.

Conversely, Saban and Petrino are widely viewed as prostitutes eager to sell themselves to the highest bidder. Saban was worshiped in Baton Rouge, yet he left after just five seasons in order to service a higher-paying client. It was much the same for Petrino, who accepted a five-year, $24-million deal from the Falcons just six months after signing a 10-year, $25.5-million contract with his college program.

With their pro careers in free-fall mode, Saban and Petrino found parachutes in the Southeastern Conference. So, while their reputations may be suffering, their bank accounts are still growing.

The way things are going, though, outsiders are beginning to wonder if SEC stands for Sleazy Ethics-free Coaches.


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