A recent conversation with a fellow football fan focused on Nick Saban and how the current king of college football coaches was such a disappointment in the NFL.
The fellow gridiron fan couldn’t understand how Saban can be so ultra successful in college but not enjoy that success at the professional level. There are many theories about this and it goes beyond Saban. All Atlanta Falcon fans remember what happened when Bobby Petrino, highly successful in college, was a disaster as head coach in the NFL, although there were more circumstances surrounding his one year in Atlanta than most care to admit.
The reason Saban, Petrino and others have not enjoyed the same success in the pros is simple: the games are completely different in college and pro. It’s not so much the schemes are radically different or the rules of the game are night and day opposite. The biggest difference is the mindset of the players and from my way of thinking, Saban (and others) have a more difficult time getting professional players to get on the same wave length as themselves.
When Petrino was hired as coach of the Falcons after several successful years as a college coach, some wondered from the start if the hire would work. In theory, there were reasons to believe it would. Petrino had been a coordinator in the NFL so the professional game was not foreign to him.
However, a couple of stories about his short stay in Atlanta still quickly come to mind. The first was during training camp when Falcon radio announcer Wes Durham relayed a story of how Paul Petrino, Bobby’s brother, was “all in the grill” of one of the wide receivers during a practice session. Those who witnessed the event, filled with plenty of yelling and four-letter words, were stunned, but Paul Petrino was simply doing what he had always done. However, millionaire professional players aren’t going to take that type of treatment from an assistant coach, even if he is the head coach’s brother.
The second was how Bobby Petrino had strict rules about dress while the team was on road trips and how he limited talking during team meals and flights. It works in college, but certainly not so much in the pros.
Saban’s experiment with the Dolphins was doomed to fail for pretty much the same reasons. (Once again it should be noted Saban was a former assistant coach and defensive coordinator in the NFL in the late 80s and early 90s). Multi-millionaire professional athletes know that a coach is easier to cut loose than players in most cases. Saban, with his “my way or the highway” approach, was not going to be a success in the NFL, not in current times at least. It’s why you probably will never see him try it again, regardless of how many national titles he wins at Alabama.
Thirty years ago it was easier for a college coach to transition to the professional ranks. Too much has changed since then, however. As good as Saban and Petrino and others are in college, it in no way means that success will translate to the professional game, especially in 2013.
Chris Bridges is sports editor of the Barrow Journal. You can send comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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