Can we blame this on Bill Walsh, all these NFL coaches running like eager pizza delivery boys back to campus? Walsh, as you'll recall, was voted NFL Coach of the Decade for his success with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s. He then retired and fiddled with TV commentary for a while before emerging in 1992 as...the coach at Stanford. How strange was this? About like Michael Eisner quitting as CEO of Disney to run a video-editing shop in Encino.
But right now, with a sizable contingent of former NFL head coaches back with college programs, the move from the big time to the ivy halls is becoming, if not a certifiable trend, at least a career option that doesn't seem nuts. The group includes Dan Henning at Boston College, John Ralston at San Jose State, John Robinson at Southern Cal, Sam Rutigliano at Liberty, Gene Stallings at Alabama, Joe Walton at Robert Morris, John Mackovic at Texas, Lou Holtz at Notre Dame and even Georgia defensive coordinator Marion Campbell. They all have tasted the line wine of the pro game and found it unpalatable. Or, more precisely, their wine glasses were removed by surly headwaiters who then tossed the men from NFL dining halls.
It's tempting to say that all these coaches are simply losers, old guys who couldn't hack it in the big leagues. No one in this group is younger than 50, and all, except Walsh, either were asked to vacate their NFL offices or left under duress. As Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones said after pondering the coaching parade to the college ranks, "It's simple. They go where the jobs are."
True, there are hundreds of head college jobs and only 30 in the NFL. And for those who would make such a move, a major attitude adjustment is involved, one that has to do with pride and goals, financial rewards and even educational philosophy. Herewith are the stories of four men who are making that adjustment.
The Jaded Exec
The ringing notes of drills and hammers echo through Alumni Stadium at Boston College, bouncing through coach Dan Henning's office windows like a call to battle. The new seats—about 12,000 of them, which will bring the stadium's capacity to 44,500—are being built because of the school's recent football success and because of the complaining of former coach Tom Coughlin, who thought Boston College could never become a big-time football operation while playing in a dinky stadium.
Coughlin is history, having departed before spring practice to coach the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL, and now the 52-year-old Henning listens to the sounds of portent. "The track is gone." says Henning, a former coach of the Atlanta Falcons and the San Diego Chargers, looking through the blinds at the work in progress. "I guess something like 24 skyboxes are going in. Eight seats per box, $4,000 per seat, I believe."
He smiles wanly. Fans don't pay that kind of money to watch their team lose, and Henning knows it. The Eagles went 9-3 last season, the highlight of which was an upset of No. 1-ranked Notre Dame, and expectations are higher this fall. Forget that Boston College has swapped 1993 opponents Northwestern and Tulane for Michigan and Louisville, or that four-year starting quarterback Glenn Foley has graduated—the pressure is on.
But Henning, hired by Boston College following two seasons as offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions, isn't intimidated. He sneaks a cigarette on this newly nicotine-free campus and explains that if you've been around the pro game long enough, with all its me-first money-grubbers, you'll welcome the college game, no matter how win-oriented it may have become.
"Everybody would like to know his prospects for the next four years," he says. "Every stockbroker would like to be just one newspaper ahead. Nothing's guaranteed, though. A high school coach, a Little League coach—he feels the same pressure I do. But you know something? It costs $25,000 a year to go to school here, 2,200 freshmen are coming in, and there were more than 15,000 applicants. This is a pretty good place to be."