- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

Two of the biggest stories in college football this season are being played out in College Park, Md., and Provo, Utah. The Maryland Terrapins, under first-year coach Ralph Friedgen, are a miraculous 7-0 and ranked in the top 10 in the Associated Press poll. And the Brigham Young Cougars, under first-year coach Gary Crowton, are an almost-as-miraculous 6-0 and ranked in the top 10 in the USA Today/ESPN poll.
Can anyone tell me what these two programs have in common? Here's the answer: A head coach who was previously an offensive coordinator in the NFL. Friedgen directed the San Diego Chargers' attack for five seasons, one of which ended in the Super Bowl. As for Crowton, he spent two years calling the plays for the Chicago Bears before moving to BYU last winter.
Another fascinating story in the college ranks is North Carolina starting out 0-3 and then winning five straight including blowouts of Florida State and Clemson to climb into the AP Top 25. And who has engineered this remarkable turnaround? None other than first-year coach John Bunting, who toiled the previous eight seasons as an NFL assistant (three of them under a fellow named Marty Schottenheimer in Kansas City).
This is what's known as A Trend folks: three down-on-their-luck college football programs being instantly transformed by former pro assistants. (And don't think athletic directors haven't noticed. They're probably scouring NFL coaching rosters for candidates as I type. )
I mention this because the Redskins, as everybody but Schottenheimer seems to know, could be in the market for a new coach in the near future. And if Dan Snyder or his general manager goes looking for one after the season, where is his search likely to take him? Well, a logical place would be to Friedgen, Crowton, Bunting or even Louisiana State's Nick Saban, promising college coaches who already have some NFL experience. (Saban, you may recall, was the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator in the early '90s.)
Sure, the Redskins could try to hire a Proven Commodity, but they just did that with Schottenheimer, didn't they? They could also try to grab an up-and-coming assistant such as Gary Kubiak, the Denver Broncos' offensive coordinator, but Kubiak has never been a head coach. No, the answer to their prayers might be somebody in the college game right now, somebody in the aforementioned group.
Let's not forget, that's where the Browns got Butch Davis. And Davis definitely fit the Friedgen-Crowton-Bunting profile: six years in the employ of the Dallas Cowboys (the last two as defensive coordinator), six more as the head man at the University of Miami (which finished second in the nation last season). All Davis has done in his first season in Cleveland is lead the previously bumbling Browns to a 4-2 record and second place in the AFC Central, the toughest division in the league.
It's a good way to develop an NFL head coach, you have to admit: Have him put in a few years as an assistant, learning the pro game, then farm him out to a college so he can get some practice running a program. If he's successful, bring him back. (And even if he isn't, don't hold it against him too much. Bill Parcells and George Seifert were hardly the second coming of Rockne and Bryant as college coaches, and they turned out all right.)
Bill Walsh, arguably the greatest coach in the '80s (depending on where you stand on Joe Gibbs), followed much the same career path as Friedgen (Chargers, then Stanford the Maryland of the West before going to the 49ers). Tom Coughlin (Giants, Boston College, Jaguars) and Dennis Green (49ers, Stanford, Vikings) also went that route and, of course, have done quite well as NFL head coaches.
And before you say, "But 'the Fridge' has been at Maryland for only one season," let me just point out that Steve Mariucci was at California for only one season (after spending four years under Mike Holmgren in Green Bay) when the Niners made him an offer he couldn't refuse. It's all a matter of timing. For Ralph, there may be an even greater sense of urgency because he's already 54. If he has any aspirations of getting an NFL head job, well, there's no time like the present.
Wait, I just thought of another college coach who should probably be on the Redskins' short list. He was an NFL offensive coordinator for four years, took over a middle-of-the-road Big Ten program in '97 and now has his team ranked in the Top 25 with a 6-1 mark.
I'm talking about Ron Turner, the coach at Illinois.
Perhaps you remember his brother, Norv.

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