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The next level

Spurrier has plenty of footsteps to follow in NFL

Posted: Saturday January 05, 2002 1:26 AM
  Steve Spurrier, Rex Grossman Steve Spurrier (left) watched quarterback Rex Grossman lead the Gators to a 10-2 season, including an Orange Bowl win. Brian Bahr/Allsport

By Jacob Luft,

Jumping from the college ranks to the NFL isn't the harrowing experience it used to be for head coaches.

If Steve Spurrier makes the jump to the pros, as appears likely, he would join a modest, but relatively large, group of successful coaches to make the transition recently.

In the past, the ultra-demanding NFL has chewed up and spit out winning college coaches like Bud Wilkinson, Frank Kush and Dan Devine. But that trend has shifted slightly since the early 1990s.

The start of the 2001 season featured five head coaches who were hired directly from the college ranks with no NFL head-coaching experience: Minnesota's Dennis Green (Stanford), Cleveland's Butch Davis (Miami), San Francisco's Steve Mariucci (Cal), Jacksonville's Tom Coughlin (Boston College) and San Diego's Mike Riley (Oregon State). However, all but Riley had served as NFL assistants at one point or another, which is something Spurrier has not done.

Making the Jump
NFL head coaches in 2001 hired directly from the college ranks:
Coach  Current  Previous 
Tom Coughlin  Jaguars  B.C. 
Butch Davis  Browns  Miami 
Steve Mariucci  49ers  Cal 
Dennis Green*  Vikings  Stanford 
Mike Riley*  Chargers  Oregon St. 
* Fired/resigned before end of season


Jimmy Johnson was the first to shatter the mold by leaving a dominant program at the University of Miami, where he won the 1987 national championship, to run the Cowboys in 1989. Within five years, he was sporting two Super Bowl rings, two more than any other college-to-pro coach had ever won.

In 1995, former Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer pulled off the same feat, leading the Cowboys to a title and joining Johnson and Paul Brown as the only coaches with NFL and collegiate championships. Having won the national title in 1996, Spurrier will have a chance to join that elite group.

Bobby Ross won a share of the 1990 national title with Georgia Tech, then led San Diego to a Super Bowl appearance in 1994 before flaming out with the Detroit Lions last season.

Spurrier would be one of the few to come into the NFL cold -- without any experience as a head coach or assistant in the league. Lou Holtz tried it in 1976 with the Jets, posting a 3-10 record before resigning with one game left in the season. On the other end of that spectrum is Dick Vermeil, who left UCLA with a 15-5-3 record after two seasons to lead the Eagles to an appearance in Super Bowl XV and later won a Super Bowl with the Rams. Riley was hired by San Diego in 1999 despite an 8-14 record in two seasons at Oregon State. He was fired on Dec. 31 after a 5-11 season.

Spurrier does have professional experience, however, leading the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits to two playoff appearances and a 35-19 record from 1983-85. In 1984, the Bandits became the first team in pro football history to have a 4,000-yard passer and two 1,000-yard rushers.

Twice as Nice
Head coaches with collegiate and NFL titles
Coach  National Championships  NFL Titles 
Jimmy Johnson  Miami: 1 (1987)  Dallas: 2 (1992, '93) 
Barry Switzer  Oklahoma: 3 (1974-75, '85)  Dallas: 1 (1995) 
Paul Brown  Ohio State: 1 (1942)  Cleveland: 3 (1950, '54-55) 


Related information
Spurrier resigns after 12 seasons at Florida
SI's Tim Layden: Spurrier needed another challenge
Season at a Glance: State of the game
Reaction: Spurrier resigns
SI's Don Banks: Panthers emerging as front-runners for Spurrier
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