New Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer is joining a fairly short list of people who have become NFL head coaches without ever playing or coaching pro football.
Meyer is one of the best coaches in college football history, but the track record of college coaches to adjust to the pro game is mixed, with one huge success but overall more misses than hits.
The huge success was Jimmy Johnson, who had never been in the NFL before he was hired as head coach of the Cowboys in 1989. Johnson won two Super Bowls and was chosen last year to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The most mixed record belongs to Johnson’s successor, Barry Switzer, who likewise had no pro experience before Jerry Jones hired him. Switzer did win another Super Bowl in Dallas, so he can hardly be called an abject failure, but given how good a team Johnson left behind, most people think Switzer should have won more than he did.
The most recent coach to go straight to an NFL head coaching job without ever spending time in the NFL was Chip Kelly, who was a coaching star at Oregon and got to the playoffs in his first season with the Eagles. But Philadelphia’s roster crumbled when Kelly took control of personnel, and he was fired after three seasons. He then had one 2-14 season with the 49ers before going back to college at UCLA, where he has failed to find the success he had at Oregon.
Dennis Erickson won two national championships with the Miami Hurricanes and the Seahawks hired him in 1995 thinking he could be the next Jimmy Johnson, but he never went better than 8-8 in Seattle, and was even worse in his second NFL stint in San Francisco.
Bud Wilkinson was a Hall of Fame coach at Oklahoma who had been retired for 15 years when the St. Louis Cardinals hired him in 1978. He went 6-10 in his first season and was fired after starting 3-10 his second season.
Don Coryell had much more success in the 1970s, going from the college level to the St. Louis Cardinals and then the San Diego Chargers. Although he never got to the Super Bowl, he showed that what had once been decried as a “college style” offense could work in the NFL.
John McKay went from coaching USC to taking over the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and although his NFL tenure started with a record 26-game losing streak, he eventually made it to the playoffs.
Lou Holtz was hired by the Jets in 1976 with no pro experience. He started his first season 3-10, realized the NFL was not for him and resigned before the season was over.
Will Meyer be a Jimmy Johnson-like success, or a Chip Kelly-like failure? Jacksonville is about to find out.