Gutman: Why do coaches coach?

Why do coaches coach football?

To win? For the money? To affect the lives of their players? For a challenge?

Different coaches offer different insights into their motivations for pacing the sidelines each week and dedicating their every waking hour (and in Urban Meyer’s case, some sleeping hours) to football. But the recent actions of several different coaches call into question their true motivations and their sanity.

The most notable of these examples is former University of Southern California coach Pete Carroll. Despite what others may say about the pending allegations of improper benefits for USC players, Carroll likely did not leave because of the NCAA investigation at his school. Some think Carroll left USC because the Pac-10 is now a more competitive conference that USC cannot consistently dominate.

But no matter what the NCAA discovered or what recruits Oregon (and their ugly neon jerseys) might sign, Carroll and every football fan knows USC could have continued recruiting at a high level and come back with renewed determination and a more experienced team next year and for seasons to come. Also, when a four-loss season is a disaster, things are going pretty well.

Carroll left for the NFL for the same reasons Mike Shanahan returned to the NFL with the Redskins. The same 35 million reasons. Both of these coaches needed situations in which they felt they could thrive because they are competitive individuals, so their return would not have happened without full control over their teams’ football operations. But their decision ultimately hinged on the amount of money they would earn for their services.

Not every coach seems to share Carroll and Shanahan’s desire to make the most money while fielding a competitive team. Nick Saban is a coach scrapping to put food on the table in the same way George Clooney is a starving actor. Saban works hard, produces results and is compensated well by the University of Alabama. But if he were offered an NFL coaching job, which he likely has been at some point in the last year, Saban likely wouldn’t take it even for $10 million per year. Saban, who smiles about as frequently as the Grinch, is never happy, but he seems fulfilled by his time at Alabama.

Winning championships seems to be the sole goal of Nick Saban. He gets up each morning to win, not to tackle a challenge or continue earning his paycheck.

Urban Meyer, the University of Florida coach whose dedication has caused him health problems, can also never be accused of bowing to the dollar. As his recent health problems and decision to step back from his head coaching duties show, Meyer does not neglect his family to fulfill some perverted desire to overcome an obstacle or to negotiate a better contract or a better job. Meyer commits himself completely to coaching the University of Florida because he, like Joe Paterno, seems to enjoy genuinely the long hours and constant criticism. Meyer revels in the thrill of victory, wallows in defeat and, like Paterno at Penn State and Bobby Bowden at Florida State, will only leave the game in a casket or when a board member physically escorts him off the campus.

Carroll will fail in Seattle in the same way he failed in New England and with the Jets. And the way Saban crumbled in Miami. And Bobby Petrino went down in flames in Atlanta.

College coaches should only make career moves based on desires centered on their football-related desires. Brian Kelly has a great shot to win a national championship at Notre Dame, so he’s likely going to accomplish his goal there. Former Washington Redskins running backs coach Stump Mitchell will be able to change the lives of young players at Southern University, so he seems to be a great hire as well.

Carroll will accomplish his goal in Seattle and make tons of money. But he won’t be a football success there. All the people who someday want to be Pete Carroll and use big-time college football with its passionate fan bases and fragile teenage players as a springboard to make money need to reconsider their life plans. Pursuing that type of a coaching career leads to poor decisions in the quest for the fattest paycheck.

So go do what every Yalie out for cash does: Send out applications to the investment banks where your hard work is duly compensated. Being a head coach is a rare privilege, not a means to a paycheck.

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