- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Steve Spurrier has been as successful as any college coach during the past 15 years, but that doesn't mean he'll be a winner with the Washington Redskins. History says that for every Jimmy Johnson, there's a Mike Riley when it comes to making the transition to the NFL.
Before Spurrier, 16 coaches with no previous NFL experience have taken over a team since the league's 1970 merger with the AFL, and their track record is mixed. Seven never had a winning season, but two won Super Bowls and a third might well end up in the Hall of Fame.
Like Spurrier, Johnson was a big-mouthed winner on the college level, and it didn't take him long to repeat that success in Dallas. Two years after his 1-15 debut in 1989, Johnson (who shared control of personnel decisions with owner Jerry Jones) had the Cowboys in the playoffs, and the next season they won the first of three Super Bowls in four years.
The last of those title-winners was directed by Barry Switzer, who had the good fortune to inherit No. 2 Oklahoma when Chuck Fairbanks left for New England in 1973 and then to replace Johnson in Dallas in 1994. Switzer was hounded out of town just three years later following a 6-10 season. Fairbanks was just 15-27 during his first three seasons, but the Patriots were 31-12 with two playoff appearances during his final three years.
Johnson and Fairbanks were defensive specialists, but the late John McKay was more of a Spurrier model, a wisecracking offensive guru. McKay won two national championships at Southern Cal, but he found coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers so trying that, when asked what he thought of his team's execution, he responded, "I'm in favor of it."
McKay was 45-91-1 overall, but he did guide the Bucs to the 1979 NFC Championship game in just their fourth season and to the 1981 NFC Central title. McKay's Pacific-8 contemporary, John Ralston, won back-to-back Rose Bowls at Stanford but wasn't quite as successful in the NFL. Ralston produced the first three winning years in Denver history only to resign before the 1977 season, the year the Broncos reached their first Super Bowl.
Dennis Erickson replaced Johnson at the University of Miami and continued that championship tradition, but the magic didn't carry over to Seattle in 1995. Erickson posted a trio of 8-8 seasons and another of 7-9 before being fired by the Seahawks.
Don Coryell didn't get much acclaim coaching at San Diego State, but he was every bit the offensive genius Spurrier is. And Coryell was a hit in the pros after a 4-9-1 debut, guiding the Cardinals who hadn't reached the postseason since 1948 to the 1974 and 1975 NFC East titles and to a 10-4 record in 1976. Coryell's 114-89-1 career mark is one of the NFL's best. His San Diego offenses set NFL records that weren't broken until this year.
Dan Devine could relate to Spurrier's challenge of trying to resurrect a once-proud franchise. After taking Missouri to bowl after bowl, Devine went to Green Bay in 1971. The immortal Vince Lombardi's assistant, Phil Bengston, hadn't come close to replacing his boss the two previous seasons. Devine won the NFC Central in 1972, but he left the Packers after four years for an easier job: succeeding Ara Parseghian at Notre Dame.
Bud Wilkinson was a legend at Oklahoma, but when he came down from the broadcast booth after more than a decade in retirement to coach St. Louis in 1978, he might as well have been Dennis Miller. Wilkinson was 9-20 before he was canned. It was much the same story for the Arizona State duo of Frank Kush (11-28-1 with the Colts from 1982 to 1984) and Darryl Rogers (18-40 with the Lions from 1985 to 1988) as well as N.C. State's Lou Holtz, who didn't even make it through his lone year with the New York Jets (1976).
Rich Brooks led long-downtrodden Oregon to the Rose Bowl in 1994 and won five of his first six games in St. Louis the next year. However, Brooks was just 8-18 during the rest of his two seasons. Tired of playing second fiddle to McKay and USC, Tommy Prothro left UCLA for the Los Angeles Rams in 1971. Prothro went 14-12-2 during his two years, but that wasn't good enough to keep his job since the talent-laden team had been 49-19-4 the previous five years and would go 57-20-1 the next five years. Ron Meyer was No. 5 at SMU in 1981, but he didn't survive three seasons with the Patriots despite posting an 18-16 record.
The last NFL coach to emerge from the college ranks before Spurrier was the low-key Riley, who orchestrated a stunning turnaround at Oregon State. Riley went 8-8 in 1999 in his San Diego debut, but the Chargers were 1-15 the next season, and they lost their final nine games after a 5-2 start this year. So Riley was fired after compiling a 14-34 record, better only than that of the expansion Cleveland Browns the past three seasons.

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