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Top 3 NCAA coaches who could make the leap to the NFL in 2021

Louisiana v Iowa State
Louisiana v Iowa State
Mitch Bannon
Modified 02 Jan 2021, 09:08 IST

Even with an upset win over New Orleans in Week 17, the Carolina Panthers and head coach Matt Rhule will finish the 2020 season at 6-10, at best. However, Rhule's first season in the NFL, after moving up from Baylor after just three years, is by no means a failure.

The most recent coach to move from the NCAA to NFL has begun to turn around the post-Newton Panthers and has solidified the path from college to pro coaching.

Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban are the creams of the NCAA coaching crop, but they likely aren't going anywhere. Saban and Swinney are institutions, they are Clemson and Alabama football and it doesn't make financial or football sense for them to leave. There are, however, other top NCAA football coaches who could follow Rhule and make the jump to (or back to) the NFL level.

Top college coaches who could pro

3. Matt Campbell (Iowa State)

Matt Campbell is a 41-year-old Ohio native who played at Pitt and Mount Union as a defensive lineman. Campbell has coached at Bowling Green, Mount Union, Toledo, and now Iowa State, acting as head coach, run-game coordinator, and offensive coordinator. 

Campbell has led both Toledo and Iowa State to top-20 appearances in the AP Poll. At 32-years-old he was the youngest head coach in the FBS during his time with Toledo. In November 2017, Campbell signed a six-year $22.5 million with Iowa State, where he has won Big 12 Coach of the Year three times. 

Campbell’s Cyclones are set to appear in their fourth bowl game this year (their first New Years’ Six bowl, the Fiesta Bowl), and are looking for their second win under Campbell.


2. Jim Harbaugh (Michigan)

Jim Harbaugh is a former NFL Pro Bowler and NFL Coach of the Year. Harbaugh currently coaches the Michigan Wolverines — since 2015 — and has a 107-40 (.686) career record as a college coach.

Suggestions that Harbaugh may turn to the professional ranks stem from his successful four-year tenure as 49ers head coach in the mid-2010s (including a Super Bowl appearance), and the rocky tenure at Michigan he has had. At UofM Harbaugh has won just one bowl game, and lost four straight.

“I just don’t hear [Harbaugh's] name out there anywhere,” an industry source told Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports. “I would be surprised if it happens.”

1. Urban Meyer

Well, Meyer may not be currently coaching in the NCAA, but he is arguably the highest-profile former college coach and he has perhaps the most likely path to the NFL. Meyer spent almost two decades as an NCAA head coach, coaching at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida, and Ohio State before leaving the Buckeyes in 2018. Meyer is now an analyst for Fox Sports, appearing on Big Noon Kickoff and other Fox shows.


According to Adam Schefter, at least two teams have reached out to Meyer to set up an interview for a head coach position.

Published 02 Jan 2021, 09:08 IST
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