Coaching Was Never in Their Blood

Speaking solely as a football fan -- one who, admittedly, has no insider knowledge -- I confess to being disappointed at seeing former NFL coaches like Bill Cowher, Herman Edwards, Jon Gruden and Jimmy Johnson leave the coaching profession to take jobs as "talking heads" on those TV sports shows.

Besides regarding these gentlemen as exceptional coaches, I naturally assumed that coaching football was something that was in their blood, and that being the head coach in the NFL was something they had prepared themselves for their whole lives, a dream come true.

Clearly, when these guys started out, they never imagined themselves sitting around a panel and jabbering about the game. They didn't want to "talk" football; they wanted to "control" it. As a consequence, it never occurred to me that they would jump at the first opportunity to abandon coaching, and put themselves on TV.

Look at Bill Cowher. He was a successful coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers -- the successful coach of a classy and storied team, working for one of the games most respected ownership families, in one of the most loyal and savvy football towns in the country. The players loved him, the fans loved him, the media liked him. And then he suddenly throws in the towel. He becomes a talking head on TV, as well as pitch man for Time Warner. Go figure.

School teachers don't usually fantasize about someday leaving the classroom and becoming bureaucratic administrators. Some do, but most don't. That's because teachers regard teaching as a "calling," just as doctors regard medicine as a calling.

You don't hear a medical student say he looks forward to becoming a doctor, and then looks forward to hanging up his scalpel and becoming a hospital administrator. You don't hear that any more than you hear a devoted blues musician say he hopes to give up playing the guitar someday and become a producer.

It would be different if these coaches had been drummed out of the profession and had no other choice but to strap on a microphone, sit at the table, and begin babbling about a game they were no longer part of.

Two ex-head coaches come to mind: Jim Fassel and Brian Billick, both of whom have stated publicly that they'd like to coach again. They don't want to be pundits. They want to be coaches. But so far there have been no takers, even though Fassel was successful in New York, and Billick won a Super Bowl with the Ravens.

But this wasn't the case with Messrs. Edwards, Gruden, Johnson and Cowher. By all accounts, they were offered numerous NFL coaching jobs. Not just NFL jobs but big-time college jobs. If Bill Cowher still had coaching in his blood, but had become disenchanted with the NFL, he could have filled any big-time college vacancy he wanted. They would have begged him to be their coach. But they all said "Adios" to coaching. Show biz beckoned.

People tell me that these guys took studio jobs because the pay was so tempting. Really? And college and pro football coaches don't make any money? Gimme a break. The University of Alabama's Nick Saban reportedly makes nearly $7 million a year. Meanwhile, an associate professor in the Linguistics Department makes what? $85,000?

And then there are guys like the brilliant Lou Holtz. Football coaching is in his blood. He lives and breathes it. You put Lou Holtz in any program in the country, and he'll improve it.

Yes, he's now a TV pundit, and yes, he wears a toupee that resembles an albino muskrat, but even at the age of 78, you get the feeling Lou would abandon punditry for coaching in a heartbeat. All he'd need is the right offer. That's because coaching is in his blood.