The Carolina Panthers’ experiment with Matt Rhule became the latest instance of college football head coaches failing to succeed at the NFL level.
Rhule was 11-27 in just over two years with the Panthers. He had sustained success at Temple and Baylor from 2013 to 2019 before getting the job at Carolina in 2020. He was a highly sought-after head coach in 2020 and ultimately had a choice between the Panthers and the New York Giants.
One win in the first five games ultimately doomed Rhule. The Panthers’ offense was never better than 24th in points scored and 21st in yards gained. The team never found a quarterback to stick with as they jumped from Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Darnold to Cam Newton to Baker Mayfield.
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Carolina finished in third place in 2020 with a 5-11 record and in fourth place in 2021 with a 5-12 record.
NFL coaches hired directly from college have not fared well and that has been proven over the last 12 years or so.
Urban Meyer had successful times with Ohio State, Florida and Utah, but his time with the Jacksonville Jaguars came crashing down before the 2021 season even came to an end.
Meyer coached in 13 games before getting the pink slip. His tenure in Jacksonville was plagued by scandal. He decided to stay behind and let the team fly home following a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and was filmed sitting on a barstool with a woman dancing near his lap. He was then faced with the accusations of kicking kicker Josh Lambo in training camp.
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Bill O’Brien’s first NFL head coaching job came after two seasons at Penn State. He was with the Texans from 2014-20 but never amassed any successful runs in the postseason despite four division titles. He was fired in 2020 after an 0-4 start and later joined the Alabama Crimson Tide’s coaching staff. He was 54-52 as the head coach of the Texans.
Chip Kelly was the head coach at Oregon before his style of football was intriguing enough to land him the Philadelphia Eagles job in 2013. He spent two-plus years as the Eagles head coach before he was fired 15 games into the 2015 season. He led the Eagles to a division title but failed to win a playoff game. Kelly finished 26-21 as the Eagles head coach. He took over as the San Francisco 49ers’ head coach in 2016 but finished 2-14 in his lone season.
Doug Marrone had some time on NFL coaching staffs before he took over at Syracuse in 2009. Marrone would jump from the Orange to the Buffalo Bills for two seasons. He was 15-17 with the Bills from 2012-2014 and then with the Jaguars he was 23-43 from 2016-2020 and had Jacksonville on the verge of a Super Bowl appearance before losing to the New England Patriots in the 2017-18 AFC Championship.
Greg Schiano helped put Rutgers on the map, and in 2012, he jumped at the chance of coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was 11-21 in two seasons with the Buccaneers before getting let go. He would become an assistant at Ohio State and later re-joined Rutgers on an eight-year deal.
Out of the aforementioned coaches, Jim Harbaugh was the only one to lead his team to the Super Bowl. The Colin Kaepernick-led team ran into the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII and lost. Harbaugh, who came over from Stanford, spent four seasons with the 49ers and made it to at least the NFC Championship in three of those seasons. He was 44-19-1.
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Currently, Pete Carroll and Kliff Kingsbury are the only two current NFL head coaches to have taken pro-equivalent jobs from the college ranks. Though, Carroll is a bit of an outlier because he coached the New York Jets and New England Patriots before taking the USC job and later the Seattle Seahawks job. Kingsbury went from Texas Tech to USC to the Arizona Cardinals.