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As the coaching carousel prepares to spin, plenty of spinning is happening regarding the potential candidates for the various openings. (The expected range of total jobs is six to eight.) The media laundry machine has offered up plenty of names of potential head coaches — far more names than there will be openings.
This year, plenty of current or former college coaches have been linked to NFL jobs. More than usual.
From Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh to former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer to Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald to Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, reports are linking guys with college ties to these NFL vacancies. And for good reason. Last year, Panthers owner David Tepper blew up the entry-level coaching compensation curve with the deal given to former Baylor coach Matt Rhule.
Seven years, $62 million. Nearly $9 million per year. Guys who otherwise would be inclined to be the king of a college town can now be paid a king’s ransom at the NFL level, if Rhule’s contract becomes not an aberration but the start of a trend.
It remains to be seen whether other owners would give that kind of money to an incoming coach, especially from the college ranks. Agents will try to make Rhule the new floor, teams will paint Rhule as the aberration, especially when it will be easy to hide behind pandemic-related losses to justify not paying huge money.
Regardless, that’s the easiest explanation for the sudden influx of names of college coaches who are supposedly drawing interest in NFL jobs and/or are trying to draw interest from NFL teams. And that’s why, once things get rolling next week, even more names could surface, whether it’s Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, Ohio State coach Ryan Day, Stanford coach David Shaw, Penn State coach James Franklin, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, and Iowa State coach Matt Campbell.
There was a time when college coaches wanted to never have their names attached to any NFL jobs, so that they could always tell every group of incoming players that they will be right were they are for the next four or five years. That dynamic has changed, with coaches now willing to tolerate the potential for negative recruiting in order to either get a job in the NFL, or to parlay potential interest elsewhere into a raise.
That’s the other angle to consider. Even if a coach wants to stay where he is, there’s value in creating a market elsewhere. There’s a potential extension and a hefty raise in it. Especially if the Rhule contract has raised the bar in the NFL.