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Click here for more on this story
Posted: Tuesday January 09, 2001 5:11 PM

Pick Your Poison  

Sports' toughest job has to be coaching an NFL team ...

Sports Illustrated Every year around this time, when NFL coaching jobs come open, the Steve Spurrier rumor mill churns. And every year you know he'll never go pro. Spurrier, the coach at Florida, topped Redskins owner Daniel Snyder's wish list to replace the fired coach Norv Turner, but that turned out to be wishful thinking on Snyder's part. Why? "Are you kidding?" an NFL general manager says. "Daniel Snyder won't let Spurrier play golf 150 days a year."

An exaggeration? Probably. But then why are guys like Al Groh, who left the Jets to coach at Virginia, so enamored of college jobs these days? It's simple: NFL coaches work themselves silly. A day after the Chiefs' season ended, Gunther Cunningham was in the office at five in the morning -- on Christmas day. (That didn't prevent him from getting canned last Friday.) Rams coach Mike Martz will work six-day weeks until his annual month off beginning early in June.

The minute the season ends, coaches start preparing to scout the college All-Star games in January. Then there's the NFL scouting combine in February, free-agency in March, the draft in April and minicamps that now stretch from April into mid-June. While all this is going on, the coach supervises the off-season workout programs of incumbent players and works on staff changes and game plans. As for pressure from above, NFL owners are far more impatient than college athletic directors. "I coached the Cowboys for two years," says Chan Gailey. "We made the playoffs two years, and I got fired. It's a pretty tough racket."

"Coaching in the NFL," said Bobby Ross a month before quitting as Lions coach, "can eat you up." Evidence shows it often does, which makes college coaching awfully enticing.

—Peter King

  ... unless it's running a big-time college football factory

If John Cooper had won 70% of his games over 13 years in the NFL, as he did at Ohio State, he would get a bust in Canton. Instead, Cooper was a bust in Columbus.

In firing Cooper on Jan. 2, the day after the Buckeyes lost to South Carolina 24-7 in the Outback Bowl, Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger acknowledged Cooper's 2-10-1 record against archrival Michigan. Never mind Cooper's record against the rest of the Big Ten: 68-20-3. Shoot, the NFL's Eagles have gone 0-5 against their NFC East archrivals, the Giants, in the past two seasons alone, and still coach Andy Reid is a hero in Philadelphia.

Geiger also cited something an NFL coach never has to worry about: the players' academics. Buckeyes wide receiver Reggie Germany, for instance, had a 0.0 GPA in the fall quarter, rendering him ineligible for the Outback. You would think that this was Germany's fault. It wasn't. In college athletics the coach is responsible for his players' performance in the classroom and for their behavior off the field.

If a college player is arrested, the coach takes heat for having recruited him. If an NFL player is arrested, he qualifies for a starting job in Oakland. On top of that, the NCAA limits an athlete's workweek to 20 hours. In other words, a college coach is accountable for what his players do even when he's not allowed to supervise them.

There are no waiver pickups in college football, no injured reserve for stashing players, no midseason free-agent signings. A coach gets 85 scholarships, period. He looks into a high school senior's eyes and thinks, If this kid can help me win seven out of every 10 games, he'll be just good enough ... to get me fired.

—Ivan Maisel

Issue date: January 15, 2000

For more Scorecard see this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands Wednesday, January 10. Click here to subscribe to SI.

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