Research project: More on Jim Caldwell

I wrote last week about how I’m uncomfortable with the Jim Caldwell move in Indianapolis. One of the reasons is that I didn’t remember a failed college coach becoming a top NFL coach. But remembering and research are 2 different things, so I went back to 1989 and tried to look at how former college head coaches did in the NFL. I’ll give the full list and then use it to make appropriate comparisons to Caldwell’s situation. The list is alphabetical. If I missed someone, leave a comment and I’ll add them in.

*Rich Brooks, St. Louis – Went 89-111-4 at Oregon before getting the chance to coach the Rams. Went 13-19 in two years, spent 4 more years in NFL as a defensive coordinator, and then went to Kentucky, where he is 32-41.
*Tom Cable, Oakland – 11-35 at Idaho, then 3 years as NFL assistant before becoming Raiders coach. 4-8 in 1 partial year at Oakland. (He still could get permanent job.)
*Cam Cameron, Miami – 18-37 at Indiana, then 5 years as NFL assistant before becoming Dolphins coach. 1-15 in 1 year at Miami, then fired. Now offensive coordinator with Ravens.
*Tom Coughlin, Jacksonville – Former Parcells assistant who went 21-13-1 at Boston College and then went straight to Jacksonville. Is 111-95 with Jaguars and Giants with one Super Bowl ring.
*Butch Davis, Cleveland – Went 51-20 at Miami before taking big money to coach the Browns. Went 24-35 in 4 seasons before being fired. Now at North Carolina, where he is 12-12 in 2 seasons.
*Chan Gailey, Dallas – 24-11 at Troy State and Samford, then 10 years as NFL assistant before becoming Cowboys coach. 18-14 in 2 years at Dallas, then fired. Went 67-41 at Georgia Tech; was offensive coordinator at Kansas City in ’08.
*Dennis Green, Minnesota – Went 10-45 at Northwestern, then spent 4 years as an NFL assistant, and then went 16-18 at Stanford before getting his shot with the Vikings. Totaled a 113-94 record with the Vikings and Cardinals during his career. Now a broadcaster.
*Al Groh, Jets – 26-40 at Wake Forest, then 12 years as an NFL assistant before becoming Jets coach. 9-7 in 1 year with Jets before leaving for the University of Virginia, where he is 56-41.
*Jimmy Johnson, Cowboys – Had a 82-34-2 record at Oklahoma State and Miami before moving up to the pro ranks with the Cowboys. Finished with an 80-64 record with Dallas and then Miami in the NFL. Now a broadcaster.
*Steve Mariucci, 49ers – After being offensive coordinator for Packers, went to Cal and went 6-6 in one year befoer going to San Francisco. Went 60-43 with the 49ers, then 15-28 with the Lions, for a total of 75-61. Now a broadcaster.
*Dick MacPherson, New England – Went 66-46-4 with Syracuse before getting a shot with the Patriots, but went just 8-24 in two seasons with the Patriots.
*Bobby Petrino, Atlanta – Former NFL coordinator went 41-9 at Louisville before going to Atlanta for big money. Went 3-10 and left midseason to go to Arkansas, where he was 5-7 in his first year.
*Mike Riley, San Diego – 8-14 at Oregon State, then straight to San Diego, where he went 14-34 with Chargers. After being fired, went back to Oregon State, where he’s 46-28.
*Bobby Ross, San Diego – Went 94-76-2 at The Citadel, Maryland, and Georgia Tech before getting a shot with San Diego. Went a total of 74-63 with San Diego and the Lions, then returned to college and went 9-25 before retiring.
*Nick Saban, Miami – Went 91-42-1 with Toledo, Michigan State, and LSU before getting big money to join Dolphins. Went 15-17 in 2 years before bolting for Alabama, where he is 19-8.
*Steve Spurrier, Washington – went 142-40-2 at Duke and (mostly) Florida before getting big money to join the Redskins. Went 12-20 in 2 years before leaving and has been 28-22 at South Carolina since.
*Barry Switzer, Dallas – Went 157-29-4 at Oklahoma but had been out of the game for a while before getting a shot with the Cowboys. Went 45-26 with Dallas, including 1 Super Bowl. Hasn’t coached since.
*Mike White, Oakland – went 87-71-4 at Cal and Illinois, then spent 9 years as an assistant before getting the Raiders job. Went 15-17 with the Raiders before getting fired.

That’s the list. So who is Caldwell most comparable to? You can’t put him in the class of elite college coaches, which would include national champions Saban, Spurrier, Switzer, Ross, and Johnson, along with hot prospects Davis and Petrino. You can’t even put him in the class of solid college coaches like Coughlin, MacPherson, and Brooks (who had a losing record but turned Oregon into a solid program).

And for the sake of fair comparison, I wouldn’t match him with Riley, who without much pedigree went straight from college to the pros, or with Mariucci, who was an NFL guy who spent just one year in the college ranks.

That leaves Caldwell in a class with six other coaches who:
*Had been college head coaches
*Had spent several years as NFL assistants
*Got their jobs more for their NFL track record than for their college accomplishments.

Let’s play relativity with these coaches. Remember that we’ve slotted Caldwell as a “3” hire relative to the other hires this offseason so far.

10 – None.

9 – None.

8 – Dennis Green: Green was a well regarded NFL prospect who probably took the Stanford job to get an opportunity that wasn’t prevalent for African-Americans at the time. But Green’s Bill Walsh pedigree was still the selling point. His career with the Vikings was quite good, as he made the Vikings a top-10 team. While the Vikings never made the Super Bowl (blowing their best chance in ’98), they were definitely contenders. For that, Green was a very good hire. Despite his less-than-stellar college coaching mark.

7- None.

6- None.

5- Chan Gailey. Gailey, who had won a D-2 national championship at Troy, got his shot with Dallas after serving as the offensive coordinator on a Steelers team that went to the Super Bowl. He had a 10-win season and then an 8-win season, but Jerry Jones didn’t like the trajectory of the team, and therefore pulled the plug. Gailey never got another NFL head-coaching shot, but he was not an abject failure in Dallas. He falls in the middle of the pack.

5 (con’t) – Al Groh. It’s hard to slot Groh, who had just one year as an NFL head coach. Remember that he got the job after Bill Parcells left the Jets and then Bill Belichick quit after 1 day to go to New England. Groh went 9-7, which isn’t a bad record, before deciding the NFL was not for him. Could Groh have had a Tom Coughlin type of run in the NFL? We can’t say, but you can’t rule it out. So we give Groh an incomplete and put him at coin-flip level for his single season.

4- None.

3- None.

2 – Mike White. White had been a somewhat successful college coach and a long-time NFL assistant when he got his shot with the Raiders. He started 8-2 but then collapsed to 8-8 in his first year. The second year was another losing season, and then he was gone. It’s not the worst Raiders coaching job we’ve seen over the last 15 years, but it was not good at all.

2 (con’t) – Tom Cable. If Cable gets the Raiders job full time, he becomes a comparison for Caldwell. Cable was awful at Idaho and had just 2 1/4 years as an NFL assistant before getting his shot as an interim. His 4-8 mark was an upgrade for the Raiders at the time, and the performance at the end of the season gave hope (at least when seen in light of where the Raiders have been lately). Cable would not be a dregs hire, but there have to be better options — even for the shipwreck that is the Raiders.

1- Cam Cameron. Cameron’s head coaching tenure couldn’t have been worse. One year, one win, and there’s the door. Cameron’s strong performance as San Diego’s offensive coordinator got him his shot, and he showed in 2008 with Baltimore that he is a great assistant coach. But a great coordinator doesn’t always make a great head coach. The college-ranks failure ended up being a strong predictor of Cameron’s NFL head coaching tenure. Unfortunately for the Colts, I get the feeling the same will be true for Caldwell.

One more thought: In researching this list, it’s amazing how many former college coaches lasted 2 years or less as NFL head coaches (Groh, Cameron, Gailey, Saban, Spurrier, Petrino, White, Brooks, MacPherson). That’s 9 of 18, or 50 percent. That percentage says it’s a coin flip that Caldwell will still be with the Colts in Sept. 2011. As harsh as it sounds, that timetable of failure almost sounds right to me.


Filed under NFL coaches, research project

9 responses to “Research project: More on Jim Caldwell

  1. Carl

    My problem with your analysis is this: You’re looking at a lot of college coaches who tried to make it in the NFL. I don’t look at Caldwell as a college coach. I look at him as a guy who, rather than having to go straight into the fire as an NFL coach, got to apprentice under Tony Dungy for a long time. He now makes the transition from assistant coach to head coach, and that’s where I think his college experience is an asset. He’s been an executive before, but it’s not that executive experience that got him the job. Unlike many of those college guys, Caldwell has this job based primarily on his pro experience. You’re focusing on guys who may have made jumps they weren’t prepared to make, whereas Caldwell has had many years to get ready for this.

    Let’s also not forget that most of those guys on your list took over for coaches who were fired. Therefore, many of them inherited bad teams. Caldwell doesn’t have to build anything, he just needs to keep it going.

    I think Caldwell’s Colts go 12-4 next year, and I doubt Dungy’s team would have done a lot better.

  2. rn575

    The trend still troubles me. When Cameron was hired, it was for his work with the Chargers. Gailey was hired for his work with the Steelers. But they couldn’t run the whole show. That’s something you can tell from a college resume. I just think all these resumes tell us that college is at least a decent predictor, and that’s not good news for Caldwell. But he is a very nice man.

  3. Carl

    I still don’t quite agree. It seems that by your logic, Jeff Jagodzinksi (sp?) is condemned to never be a good NFL coach simply because he’s coached in college. I know that his college resume is better than Cam Cameron’s, but still.

    You rank Jim Schwartz really high. If Tennessee (Vols) had hired Schwartz to replace Fulmer, would you have questioned the Lions for hiring him if the hire occurred 3 years after Schwartz had gone to Nashville?

    All of these things are merely circumstantial. Nick Saban was and is a world class college coach but he flopped in the pros. Cam Cameron was a horrible college coach and he also flopped in the pros. Was it because they both *coached in college,* or was it because they had a bad Dolphins team?

    I understand that there are a ton of “college” coaches who proved to be bad hires, but I don’t think you penalize a guy for having college experience even if it was bad. It’s completely different, as you know. Recruiting, boosters, scheduling, working with young players, etc.

    Just because Jim Caldwell didn’t have more success with Rusty LaRue or Desmond Clark doesn’t mean he can’t succeed with Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne. Dwight Freeney > Tucker Grace or Dred Booe 🙂

  4. chase

    give me something about the coaching tree relationship…

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