Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is Bob Stoops the Next Oklahoma Sooner To Go Pro?

By Jeb Williamson

April 28, 2010

No matter how you try to slice it, the perennial question of who was the big winner in last week’s NFL draft was answered in mere moments of its start.

It was Bob Stoops.

With Oklahoma Sooners Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, and Trent Williams being chosen with the first, third and fourth picks overall—in case people forgot—NFL suits reminded everyone of just how much respect they have for the head man in Norman.

Talent is one thing, which all three players do possess in spades, but in an era of pro football when teams—often literally—mortgage their futures to selections at the top end of the draft, where athletes played and who they played for is an ever-increasing factor in the decision process.

Look at the number of Florida Gators taken by the New England Patriots and try to make an argument that says Bill Belichick’s relationship with Urban Meyer did not play a part.

Do you think Josh McDaniels—from the Belichick coaching tree—might have relied on the same connection when deciding to take Tim Tebow in the first round?

Or Kansas City Chiefs’ GM Scott Pioli’s decision to trade up to the No. 93 spot for Iowa TE Tony Moeaki; did Pioli’s relationship with Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz play a role?

In deciding to select a predominantly blocking TE in the third round—with plenty of other higher rated TEs on the board—Pioli obviously sought and took Ferentz’s opinion of Moeaki and his fit into the Chiefs offense.

The Cleveland Browns’ brass actually had Texas head coach Mack Brown announce their pick of former Longhorn Colt McCoy in the third round.

In both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, NFL front offices showed this past draft weekend that they are not only keeping tabs on players throughout the college ranks; they have opinions on coaches as well.

The thought of the college ranks being a training ground for future NFL head coaching positions has cooled—if not iced over—the last few years due to the lack of success the last several attempts have yielded.

The last six coaches to leave a head coaching position in college to take the same spot for an NFL team have produced exactly two winning seasons and one playoff appearance at the pro level in the 19 seasons their stints totaled.

That does not count Lane Kiffin’s 5-15 effort with the Oakland Raiders as Kiffin moved into that head coaching job from a coordinator’s position at USC.

In full disclosure, I did count Bobby Petrino’s 3-10 record with the Falcons as a full season even though he resigned—if it can be so dignified—with three games left on the schedule.

There was a time when moving on to the NFL was as much a public pursuit by collegiate coaches as it was for their players.

After a decade or so of having their egos cut down at the knees in the NFL, college coaches have begun to realize that their lofty salaries, contracts full of golf club memberships and leased automobiles, and not having to manage a salary cap make the top spot in the college game a pretty good gig.

So, too, NFL teams have realized that college coaches who have built successful programs on the strength of schematics—i.e. a high-flying offense—are quickly exposed in the NFL as having neither the stamina nor the ability to adapt in a 16-game regular season.

Now—more than ever—it seems that the divide between what college coaches can offer and what NFL teams are looking for is at its widest and most defined point.

That is not necessarily the case.

Studies of the one coach to replicate his college success in the NFL —Jimmy Johnson—will all end up telling you the same thing:

Johnson succeeded because of his ability to spot and develop talent.

If last Thursday night’s primetime extravaganza has a hidden lesson, it is that the NFL thinks Bob Stoops knows how to do it as well.

I understand the knocks on the idea of Stoops going to the pros: his offense does not translate to the NFL; the Sooners are 2-5 in BCS Bowl games; despite all the talent on last year’s squad, OU went 8-5.

I will grant you the win on each of those.

I just do not think they matter that much.

A quick look at both the number and quality of players that were cut loose or traded by NFL teams is proof positive that getting the most out of every dollar spent is near the top of NFL coaching priorities.

At $5 million a year, I do not actually see Stoops leaving Oklahoma any time soon, but he has crossed the 10-year threshold that many people believe is the longest a coach—in the modern era—can stay at one program before things begin to turn south.

Another eight-win season in Norman—due to injuries or not—might just get both sides of the table to start wondering if the program Stoops revived into a national player might need another shot of adrenaline.

If and when the time comes for Bob Stoops to find another job, he will have plenty of suitors.

And the NFL will be one of them.

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