Joel Klatt: Why so many prominent college coaches are leaving for the NFL

In a span of two weeks, we have seen a mass exodus of college coaches heading to the NFL. 

Jim Harbaugh sent shock waves through the college football universe when he announced his decision to leave the national champion Michigan Wolverines to be the head coach of the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers back on Jan. 24.

Following Harbaugh’s move back to the professional ranks, several other prominent college coaches — both head coaches and coordinators — followed suit.

Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley, who spent four seasons leading the Eagles, recently accepted an opening to be the Green Bay Packers‘ new defensive coordinator. Meanwhile, a pair of coaches with previous NFL experience who spent this past year in the college game — Liam Coen (Kentucky) and Kliff Kingsbury (USC) — just made the move back to the professional ranks, agreeing to become the offensive coordinators in Tampa Bay and Washington, respectively.

We’ve also seen prominent college football coaches having to make the difficult choice of transitioning their job into more of a CEO role than a traditional head coach, which is the case with Ohio State’s Ryan Day.

The 44-year-old Day, who is set to enter his sixth full season as the Buckeyes‘ head coach, realized he could no longer take on the job of calling plays. Instead, he had to shift his focus over to taking the reins of NIL and raising money in order to accumulate talent so Ohio State could potentially beat Michigan, win the Big Ten and win a national championship.

With NIL now taking on such a prominent role in today’s college football landscape, more and more coaches are going to have to remove themselves from the football field side of things and dive head first into the business side of the sport.

Personally, I don’t like this for coaches because that’s not why they went into these careers in the first place. They went into these careers to coach football and to impact young men.

Even in the NFL, head coaches do not have general manager duties. One guy can’t be the ultimate evaluator, as well as the coach, the game planner, the cap expert, and all of that. Because today’s college football is run like a business, programs must build a hierarchy that is proper.

In college athletics, there are plenty of athletic directors who don’t have much of a football background at all, and they are tasked with hiring a football coach for the purpose of the press conference and fundraising. They want to increase the excitement of their fan base, and then, that coach is responsible for hiring every other person on the staff, in addition to being in charge of the game plan, evaluating players, recruiting players, handling NIL and handling fundraising. That’s too much.

So, what is the solution?

Programs need to start building themselves to insulate the head-coaching position. Athletic directors should be hiring a president of football operations. That person should be in charge of hiring the head coach and hiring a general manager.

How should college football programs adapt to NIL and transfer portal?

The head coach should not be responsible for hiring everybody because then everybody answers to him. That’s not the position head coaches should be in — they should be focused on coaching football. So, you insulate them from the other duties with a proper organizational chart.

That org chart exists in the NFL, which is why coaches are running to the NFL. College football needs to build that in order to keep the top coaches in the sport.

When Nick Saban joined me last spring for our Big Noon Conversations series, he spoke about the idea of players needing to have a little give and take. Well, the coach also needs a little bit of give and take. You simply can’t have all the power in college football.

If you’re going to lament the calendar, if you’re going to lament your schedule, if you’re going to complain about the setting that you’re in, then guess what? You need to dilute your power. You cannot have the ultimate say in everything.

If you want to be a football coach, then be a football coach, but that means you’re going to have a GM. It means you’re going to have a director or president of football operations. There will be a front office within college football, and the fact that we don’t have that right now in the midst of a billion-dollar industry is wild.

We have allowed ourselves to get to this point and the fixes are right in front of us. All we have to do is be honest with where we’re at, have a little bit of give and take — like Saban talked about — and I think we can get into a position where coaches are insulated, the calendar is fixed, the relationship between player and the institution makes sense, and then, we can move forward.

Once that happens, we will be in the golden age of college football.

Joel Klatt is FOX Sports’ lead college football game analyst and the host of the podcast “The Joel Klatt Show.” Follow him on X/Twitter at @joelklatt and subscribe to the “Joel Klatt Show” on YouTube.

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