Unlike Kelly, Saban had some experience in the NFL before going to Miami, serving as a defensive backs coach in Houston for one year. Still, he struggled with the reality that the NFL is a very different beast.
“I had a very, very difficult time thinking that I could impact the organization in the way that I wanted to or in the way that I am able to in college,” Saban said. “And it was very difficult for me. Because there is a lot of parity in the NFL. There’s a lot of rules in the NFL.”
That doesn’t mean a college coach can’t succeed in the NFL. Jimmy Johnson was new to the league when he took over in Dallas and went on to win back-to-back Super Bowls, while Barry Switzer followed him there to win a ring of his own. Jim Harbaugh didn’t miss a beat in moving from Stanford to the 49ers and Pete Carroll has found success in Seattle after a remarkable run at Southern California.
Carroll, however, is in his third stint in the league after failing miserably with the Patriots and the Jets. And Harbaugh both played in the league and had a year as quarterbacks coach in Oakland, so the learning curve was not so steep.
Kelly inherits a team that has plenty of talent, along with a reputation for underachieving. He will undoubtedly install a version of the speedy Oregon offense in Philadelphia, and Michael Vick seems to be the perfect fit to run it.
The Eagles should be better next season, if only because it’s hard to get worse than the team that sleepwalked its way to a 4-12 record this year.
But Kelly is taking a chance and it’s a career chance. He goes from a school that is a perennial contender for the national title to a league where only the New England Patriots are perennial contenders for the Super Bowl.
There are no cupcakes on the schedule, no guarantees that the team he fields will be any better than the one he takes over.
And the trail is littered with coaches with big reputations who have gone before him and failed.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
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