GAINESVILLE — It's summertime. For those in the nation's educational system, and even the average college football coach, there's opportunity to sleep late a few days, enjoy some time in the sun and get a little lazy.
If only for a brief moment.
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In the meantime, NFL coaches are churning away. The 18-hour days never seem to end, constantly working from sunup to sundown. For some, the love of the sport keeps them going. But all you have to do is look around the Southeastern Conference to realize that the pros are not for everyone.
Four SEC coaches — including Kentucky's Rich Brooks — went to the NFL, and three of them disliked it so much that they bolted as soon as possible. Rather than try another NFL job, they're back in the college game.
”I think what has happened is that we all realized it's a lot more fun coaching in college than it was in the NFL,“ said South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier, who bolted after his second year with the Washington Redskins.
Spurrier finished 12-20 from 2002-03 before resigning with three years left on a $25 million contract.
Spurrier, Bobby Petrino and Nick Saban all left the NFL in shocking fashion — stunning and angering loyal fans and organizations with the way they departed. But they left behind the feeling that none of the trio could get away soon enough.
Spurrier said one radical difference that made the pull to college so strong was that college coaches have control of their programs, from whom you offer a scholarship to whom you decide to start.
”You answer to the president and the athletic director, and you very seldom see them unless you're losing too much or you're breaking the rules,“ Spurrier said. ”That's when you see those guys. You are the boss in college. If it doesn't go well, you've got no one but yourself to blame, that's for sure.
”I just think we all realize it's a lot more fun game. The lifestyle is more conducive to a happy, normal person as a college coach.“
Petrino left Louisville for the Atlanta Falcons, and after 13 games last year he'd had enough, signing a five-year deal with Arkansas worth $2.85 million per season.
Back on a campus and away from the headaches of dealing with high-profile millionaires, he probably couldn't sound happier. He got his fill with the Michael Vick controversy, in which the Falcons' star quarterback was eventually sent to federal prison for 23 months last December in a federal dogfighting case.
But Petrino realized, in addition to the struggles in Atlanta, that he missed being on a college campus.
”It's the whole experience,“ Petrino said. ”I like going to the softball games and the basketball games and being part of the entire university, being on campus and going to events on campus.“
Brooks tried his hand at the NFL, going 13-19 in two seasons as the coach of the St. Louis Rams from 1995-96.
He then became a defensive coordinator from 1997-2000 with the Falcons before coming to Lexington in 2003. Brooks said coaches who have tasted life in the NFL might actually be better for the experience.
But while it's not the NFL, Brooks added: ”This is not a league for coaches that are faint of heart.“
The college game, however, on any level is not the NFL. And for so many coaches in the SEC, that's just fine with them. Several other coaches in the league were courted by NFL teams but said, no thanks.'
”Everyone's different,“ Spurrier said. ”Some people love everything about coaching 11 or 12 months a year. Personally, I'm sort of a season guy. There's football season, there's recruiting season, and then there's about three months of golf, travel, family season and so forth, and trust your players are doing the right things.“
Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville has had his chances to try the pro game and politely turned them down. He's learned from others' horror stories that he's better off where he feels more at home.
”Just talking to buddies of mine coaching all over the NFL, that's really not a fun league to coach in,“ Tuberville said. ”It's a business, and it's about the players and the owners. It's not about the coaches, obviously. Nothing (in the NFL) is. You're really not involved in anything.
”In college ball, you get to call a lot of your shots in terms of your players, your philosophy and how you're going to do things. It makes it much more fun when you're more involved.“
Saban, who left Louisiana State, lasted two years with the Dolphins (9-7 in 2005 and 6-10 in 2006) before he realized he wanted to go back to the college game.
Alabama gave him an eight-year, $32 million deal, making him the highest-paid coach in college football. At the news conference announcing his hiring, Saban's wife, Terry, said it was ”that family feeling“ that brought the Sabans back to a college campus and out of the NFL.
Tuberville welcomes them all back, with open arms, even though it makes the SEC one of the nation's toughest conferences for coaches.
”It's good to have those guys back,“ Tuberville said. ”This league is getting more competitive every year in terms of coaches and players.“