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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Pro ranks are unlikely destinations for Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer

USC and Florida coaches don't fit into the the NFL's current trend of hiring inexperienced and relatively inexpensive coaches who can relate to players better than the high-profile leaders with the whopping price tags, especially in this down economy.

February 22, 2009|SAM FARMER

INDIANAPOLIS — If you want Pete Carroll to stay at USC, the latest Super Bowl coaching matchup -- Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin versus Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt -- was right up your alley.

Think Urban Meyer belongs at Florida?

Then you have to love pro football's latest hiring trend: an inexperienced and relatively inexpensive coach who can relate to his players is better than the high-profile leader with the whopping price tag, especially in this down economy.

For Carroll and Meyer, the NFL window of opportunity has slammed shut.

That's not to say they won't ever have those jobs. It's also not to say they even want those jobs. But the dream scenarios -- huge paydays and total control of an NFL franchise -- are off the table.

Carroll and Meyer have not hinted at leaving their current jobs, and why would they? Carroll makes $4.4 million per year at USC and surely could have more if he pushed for it. Meyer's yearly compensation is $3.25 million and he has a chance to win a third national championship in four years.

Those guys would be nuts to walk away from what they have, because NFL teams wouldn't come close to matching either of those deals.

Simply put, NFL jobs aren't what they used to be.

Eleven teams changed coaches this winter. Nine of those hired men who have never been a permanent head coach in the league: San Francisco, Oakland, Kansas City, Denver, St. Louis, Detroit, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and the New York Jets.

The success last season of first-time head coaches Mike Smith of Atlanta, Tony Sparano of Miami, John Harbaugh of Baltimore and, to some degree, Jim Zorn of Washington, paved the way for the latest trend.

Then, the Super Bowl pitted two coaches who had only a bit more experience than that.

Watching all this maneuvering from the sidelines are four coaches who have won Super Bowls and want back in the game: Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick and Mike Shanahan. That's not even counting Mike Holmgren and Tony Dungy, who could eventually reconsider their retirement decisions and make bids to get back in the game.

So what's the likelihood of a team owner plunking down a fortune to woo away a coach like Carroll, who was 33-31 as coach of the Jets and New England Patriots, or Meyer, who has never been an NFL coach and would have to tear up his innovative offense and start from scratch in the pros?

Again, these coaches know what they have.

And they're not leaving.

We think.

But, with these ultra-competitive people, there's always the challenge of what hasn't been conquered, what hasn't been won. That will always stir the embers.

Meyer is very close to Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, who sat in Meyer's suite at the BCS championship game. They have broken down game footage together for hours on end. It's not inconceivable that Belichick would, like Bill Walsh did years ago, step away from the job and try to bring in his good friend to replace him. Meyer is only 44.

Of course, the mere hint of a notion of Meyer leaving Florida is sacrilege in Gator Nation. Fans had to breathe into paper bags in December when, on a radio show, the coach made an off-handed comment that Notre Dame is "still my dream job; that hasn't changed." He later said he has no intention of leaving his current spot.

Likewise, Carroll, 57, has occasionally shown a willingness to dip his toe in other waters. Such as when, while vacationing in Costa Rica, he met with Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga (who was looking for a new coach and jetted down to see him), or when he discussed the Atlanta vacancy last year with Falcons owner Arthur Blank.

Other than that, Carroll has given every indication he's staying.

Besides, luring him away from USC would take more than money, and more than a challenge that will always linger. He would want total control over coaching and personnel decisions, and almost every NFL team is backing off that concept.

NFL fiefdoms are few and far between, with nearly every franchise opting to shift at least some of the power to the general manager.

Belichick still rules the roost in New England, and Andy Reid calls the shots in Philadelphia. Jack Del Rio has a lot of control in Jacksonville, as does Sean Payton in New Orleans. But, for the most part, NFL teams have one person running the front office and another coaching the team.

Shanahan wasn't fired by Denver because he couldn't coach. He was shown the door because, under his total control, the Broncos didn't win enough.

No NFL owner is ready to hand the reins to Carroll or Meyer, or anyone else.

So the window has closed.

Are you listening, Pete? Urban?

Probably not.

Who has use for windows in paradise?

--

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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