Bradley’s Buzz: With college football’s headaches, who wants to be a head coach?

Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott watches during the first day of spring football practice at Center Parc Stadium, Tuesday, February 13, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott watches during the first day of spring football practice at Center Parc Stadium, Tuesday, February 13, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

The sky doesn’t fall all that often, Chicken Little’s reportage notwithstanding. Nor, as the sage birdwatcher Aristotle observed, does one swallow make a summer. Those seeking to detect trends must exercise restraint. What happened yesterday mightn’t happen tomorrow – or ever again.

There’s your disclaimer. Here’s your proclamation:

College football is headed for Hades in a handbasket.

What else are we to make of a sport that has seen five head coaches decide, apparently each of his own volition, to work elsewhere as someone’s assistant?

Jeff Hafley of Boston College – an HC at a Power Four school – left to become the Packers’ defensive coordinator. Chip Kelly, the big cheese at Big-Ten-bound UCLA, opted to call plays for Ryan Day at Ohio State. Alabama hired the head coaches of Buffalo (not the Bills) and South Alabama as defensive and offensive coordinators, respectively.

On Wednesday, two days into spring practice, Shawn Elliott of Georgia State announced he’s heading back to South Carolina to work as an assistant, though not as a coordinator. Elliott gave family considerations as his reason, though GSU – which summarily halted team workouts and postponed its spring game – might well be asking, “Couldn’t he have considered family a month ago?”

The industry’s one great truth: Every assistant who looks in a mirror sees a head coach staring back at him. That five HCs have chosen titular demotions is yet another indication that running your own shop isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

More than 20 Georgia Bulldogs availed themselves of the transfer portal’s latest window. If the winningest program of the NIL era can’t placate its own, what hope is there for lesser lights? (Then again, UGA quarterback Carson Beck is a spokesperson for Lamborghini.)

Tennessee and Virginia sought a temporary restraining order against the NCAA, which in a rare burst of energy is trying to police NIL. A court refused the TRO, but we haven’t seen the last of such litigation. Look for that anagram to be rearranged in lawsuits claiming ROT – restraint of trade. (Beck was pictured with a Lamborghini SUV. Sticker price: $273K. That’s some trade to restrain.)

Assistants wanted to be the HC because the HC made the biggest bucks. That’s still true – Kirby Smart is earning eight figures, decimal points not included – but the HC now must fret about winning games, wooing recruits, re-recruiting his own players every doggone year, navigating the portal and re-raising money so your school’s NIL affiliation isn’t Kia to your neighbor’s Lamborghini.

Still, assistants can bank seven figures – Smart’s offensive and defensive coordinators do – with much less fretting. Kelly could have stayed in Westwood for another year at $6M and then, when the inevitable firing came, gotten another $4M in buyout. Instead he said, “Hello, Columbus.” Elliott’s GSU salary was $811K; South Carolina’s OC is making $1M.

Yes, an assistant coach still must do some coaching – Elliott will be charged with maximizing South Carolina’s tight ends and its running game – but that’s not the same as manning the Buck-Stops-Here desk. Assistant coaches can still get a dealer car, though maybe not the nicest dealer car. (Though the nicest dealer car around UGA seems to be Beck’s.)

Kelly left UCLA, which sits seven miles from the Pacific Ocean, for Ohio State, based two hours from Lake Erie. Hafley left Boston, a major city, for Green Bay, Wis. As a source close to Hafley told ESPN, “He wants to go coach football again in a league that is all about football.”

I say again: Smart could be Georgia’s coach for life, but I can’t see him sticking around until he’s 72, as his Tuscaloosa mentor did. At the rate college football is spinning – or, if you prefer, unraveling – he could hit 52 and think, “Enough with this. Let’s give the NFL a try.” (His mentor did that, too.)

I’m not sure every winter will see five head coaches give up being head coaches, but coaching college football isn’t what it was, and we’re not talking about the days of Amos Alonzo Stagg. The portal opened in 2018. The first NIL deal was cut in 2021. The new world gets newer every day.

Here’s how fast this is moving. In January 2022, Stetson Bennett was promoting Raising Cane’s, a drive-thru chicken chain. In February 2024, UGA’s latest QB is posing with a Lamborghini.

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