- Mark Schlabach, ESPN Senior Writer
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Former NFL coach Bill Parcells once famously said that if he was going to be asked to cook, he wanted to be able to pick the groceries.
That might be one of the reasons coaches like Lou Holtz, Mike Riley, Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier found more success in college football than in the pros.
When Saban was coaching the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in 2006, he favored injured quarterback Drew Brees over veteran Daunte Culpepper when both were free agents. But Miami’s team doctors wouldn’t clear Brees’ surgically repaired right shoulder, so the Dolphins ended up signing Culpepper instead.
Unable to pick and choose his own free agents and draft choices, Saban had a 15-17 record in two seasons with the Dolphins in 2005-06. He left to become Alabama’s coach in 2007, and he’ll attempt to guide the No. 2 Crimson Tide to their third Discover BCS National Championship in four seasons when they play No. 1 Notre Dame in Miami on Jan. 7.
Given Alabama’s dominance under Saban over the past five seasons, it’s no surprise his name is again being mentioned as a potential NFL coach. The Boston Globe reported this week that Saban might be a top candidate to coach the Cleveland Browns next season, if new owner Jimmy Haslam hires NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi, one of Saban’s closest friends, as his team’s general manager. Saban was Cleveland’s defensive coordinator under coach Bill Belichick in the early 1990s, when Lombardi worked as the team’s director of player personnel.
Would Saban try the NFL again?
“I learned about myself by going to the NFL,” Saban told ESPN.com this spring. “Why do I have to go do it again?”
Saban’s denials don’t preclude him from being among the college coaches most likely to make a jump to the pros. According to an ESPN.com survey of coaches and athletics directors around the country, Oregon’s Chip Kelly, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, Stanford’s David Shaw and Saban were considered the most likely coaches to have NFL options in the future.
Washington’s Steve Sarkisian and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, another Belichick disciple, also were mentioned as potential NFL coaches in the survey, along with Penn State’s Bill O’Brien (a former New England Patriots offensive coordinator), Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, USC’s Lane Kiffin (a former Oakland Raiders head coach) and UCLA’s Jim Mora (a former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks head coach), among others.
Chip Kelly, 49, has guided the Ducks to a 45-7 record during the past four seasons. He nearly left Oregon to become coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, but eventually turned the job down (the Bucs hired former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano). After enjoying so much success at Oregon, Kelly might be champing at the bit to see how his fast-paced, spread offense works in the pros. And given how the New England Patriots’ new high-paced offense is performing this season, more NFL owners and general managers might be willing to give Kelly a chance.
Shaw, who has a 22-4 record in two seasons at Stanford and won a Pac-12 championship this season, also might make sense in the pros. His predecessor, Jim Harbaugh, left Stanford to coach the San Francisco 49ers. Shaw spent nine seasons coaching in the NFL, most recently as receivers coach for the Baltimore Ravens.
As for Saban? He told ESPN.com in the spring that he doesn’t want to go back to the NFL. His wife, Terry, has said as much in the past couple of days.
“I loved coaching the NFL players,” Nick Saban said. “Everybody thinks it’s the NFL players who are hard to get along with. I loved the NFL players and it was never a problem. It’s just the rules of parity in that league make it difficult to create any advantage for yourself. I always thought my advantage was I was willing to outwork everybody to get better. That was a hard thing. I missed college players and I missed helping guys develop personally, academically and athletically.”