Earlier this month, when he was announced as UB's football coach, Lance Leipold downplayed the notion he was making some grandiose leap even though he was ascending two levels to Division I.
"It's still football," Leipold said.
In other words, the game was still the game. Line ' em, knock 'em down and add up the score at the end.
If only it were the same in the NFL, which is an entirely different beast. Coaching often comes down to winning the game behind the game as much as understanding the X's and O's. The small minority is able to overcome all the egos, big contracts and agendas and maintain a successful program. It's a cyclical league, which is why so many coaches are recycled.
Four coaches were dismissed Monday in the NFL: Rex Ryan, Mike Smith, Marc Trestman and Jim Harbaugh. All four knew the game on the field. You don't reach the NFL without being successful on other levels. You usually don't become an NFL head coach without having success on some level in the league.
Their credentials grant them admission to the coaching carousel. Most take a few spins, have their fun, hang on for as long as possible, eventually fall off and wait for another turn. Around and around we go, where it ends nobody knows.
Ryan and Smith will likely find other work, perhaps this season. Harbaugh already has a job waiting for him at Michigan. Retread Mike Shanahan could have an inside track on Trestman's job in Chicago. It wouldn't be a surprise if Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn ended up in Atlanta. Who knows, maybe Jim Schwartz could be headed for Oakland.
New coaches bring hope. In a few years, they become hopeless and get fired.
Ryan was a top defensive coordinator who helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl before the Jets hired him. His flamboyant personality energized his players and united the organization for two good seasons. Over time, he became a caricature of himself, lost his way with his team, lost credibility in the organization and was a shell of himself in recent seasons. His was out of time at least a year ago. GM John Idzik didn't hire him, but he was fired with him Monday.
Smith was named Coach of the Year in 2008 and later had two 13-3 seasons with the Falcons. They reached the NFL Championship game two years ago before posting two losing seasons and missing the playoffs. His offensive and defensive lines were his biggest problem this season. At some point, his message became stale with his players and inside the organization. But he's an easy sell. Give him a new set of players, and he'll help turn around another team.
Trestman was considered the brainy offensive innovator when he arrived from the CFL, but the Bears were 13-19 in two years under him. Did he somehow forget how to run an offense? No. But he also did a poor job of managing quarterback Jay Cutler, who had a terrible season. His defense was a mess. GM Phil Emery did a worse job of assembling his team. Trestman might work under a different GM, but the Bears decided to fire both. Trestman will likely land another gig as an offensive coordinator.
Harbaugh and the 49ers mutually agreed to his dismissal, marking the first time he and his bosses were on the same page all year. He coached the Niners to the Super Bowl two years ago, losing to his brother, John. Good coach? Good heavens no. He's a great coach. Harbaugh was the best coach San Francisco had in two decades, but he was egotistical and refused to play nice with management. He'll make more money and have more control over his program at Michigan.
The four coaches weren't dismissed because they're bad coaches. They were sent packing because they failed to properly manage people. Or their message became stale. Or they became too full of themselves. Or management lost faith in them. For whatever reasons, it eventually trickled down to the field and showed up in their records. But it wasn't just football.
Sometimes, in the NFL, football is the easy part. The bigger problem is everything else that comes with the job.
Bill Belichick has been successful with the Patriots because he's a great coach, obviously, but his real genius comes through in the way he runs the overall operation behind the scenes. Everybody in the organization knows things are done his way, the Patriot Way, or they're headed for the highway. He's in complete command. He has full support from ownership.
He also has a 175-65 record with the Pats, which is why he's still enjoying the ride.