6 College Coaches That Could Make The Leap To The NFL

Jim Mora

Black Monday came and went, and the annual day of NFL head coaching fires left vacancies with the Jets, Falcons, Bears, 49ers, and most likely the Raiders.

Every year, a handful of college coaches are in the mix for NFL jobs. In the past, it’s been Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, and Chip Kelly, among others, who have came and found success after making the leap to the pros.

This year, we’re waiting to find out which one of the high-profile college coaches will make the leap. Here are six candidates:

Jim Mora Jr.

A former NFL head coach with the Falcons and a short stint with the Seahawks, Mora is one of the popular names already being associated with the 49ers opening. Mora is 22-11 in three seasons at the helm of UCLA after elevating the Bruins back to national relevancy.

Mora is a West Coast guy, which could attract either San Francisco or possibly Oakland as they search for their next head coach. Many believe that Mora has been eyeing a return to the NFL, and that UCLA is not where he’ll be for much longer.

David Shaw

Like Mora, Shaw is one of the names mentioned with the San Francisco vacancy, one that 49ers fans are hoping will be running the team in 2015. Shaw followed Harbaugh at Stanford, and we’re wondering if he’s open to replacing his former colleague one more time.

Shaw is known to not want to leave Stanford for other college gigs, such as Michigan, but would he be intrigued by switching over to the NFL? It’s a possibility, though some signs indicates he’d like to leave Palo Alto on a higher note than 7-5 before leaving the program.

Brian Kelly

Kelly has led the renaissance of Notre Dame football after the disastrous Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis eras. Since Kelly took over in 2010, the Fighting Irish have a 40-15 record, which includes an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game in 2012 and finishing in the AP Top 25 twice in his tenure.

Notre Dame was not as desirable a job as it once when Kelly took over, as his predecessors could not live up to the program’s rich expectations. But Kelly lifted the Irish back into national title contention, and his work there could be enough to convince an NFL team he can turn an entire organization around.

Nick Saban

When will Saban make his return to the NFL? It’s a question asked after every college football season, but time after time Saban has returned to lead Alabama to what seems like an annual title game appearance.

There really is nowhere to go up in college football from Alabama, and a prideful man like Saban must have his Miami debacle haunting him in the back of his mind.

One possible fit would be with the Giants, which won’t be open in 2015 but perhaps a year or two after when Tom Coughlin walks away. The Mara Family in New York liked Saban back in the 1990s when he was the coach was at Michigan State, but the team selected Jim Fassel instead.

The Giants are one of the gold standards when it comes to NFL coaching jobs, which might be the only way to get Saban to take another shot at the pros. If the Giants come calling again, wouldn’t Saban have to at least entertain the possibility?

Kevin Sumlin

A few years ago Sumlin was the hottest commodity in college football, and Texas A&M landed him. He’s a tremendous recruiter, and his offense has helped produce first-round picks like Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews.

The issue for Sumlin is that he’s coming off a subpar season at A&M, but has a very talented recruiting class on the way in, including one of the top quarterbacks, Kyler Murray. Sumlin may opt to stay with the Aggies to see how far his recruiting class can take him, but will remain on the radar of many NFL teams.

Art Briles

Briles’ offensive system is definitely a fit for the NFL. It worked for Robert Griffin III and most recently Bryce Petty, who is getting consideration to be one of the top quarterbacks selected in the upcoming NFL draft.

Here’s the question about Briles: he’s already 59 years old, which would have made him the fourth-oldest head coach in the league in 2014. Only Coughlin was older at the start of the season (67). But then again, Carroll made the leap to Seattle when he was 58. Bruce Arians took over Arizona when he was 60.

It has been done before, but if that’s the move then it wouldn’t it be wise for Briles to act sooner rather than later?

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Sam Spiegelman
Sam Spiegelman is a native New Yorker covering sports in New Orleans. He likes Game of Thrones way too much. Tweet him @samspiegs.