There are fewer question marks than his peers
When talking about college coaches that could possibly make the jump to the NFL this year, the names that are always brought up are generally: Lincoln Riley, Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and Matt Campbell. Riley would be an outstanding hire as well but I personally doubt he leaves Oklahoma any time soon. Let’s focus on those other three names and compare them to Kelly.
I’ll start with Matt Campbell because I do really like him as a possible coaching candidate too. The biggest difference here between Kelly and Campbell is that Campbell has never really taken his teams to the heights that Kelly has.
Cincinnati played in two BCS Bowls under Kelly, Notre Dame played in another one and they were just in the College Football Playoff in 2018. Campbell is a great story and that of a grinder, but he has not sustained the type of success that Kelly has over the course of his career.
He’s got a strong reputation as a culture builder and is probably a little more in tune with the offensive trends of the NFL than Kelly, though. He is a really good candidate in his own right.
Next, let’s discuss Urban Meyer. Could he be a good hire? Yes, absolutely. As a University of Utah alumni, I am obliged to love him forever. But there are definite downsides to hiring Meyer. First off is that he’s allegedly been in some major scandals at both Florida and Ohio State.
He’s much more of a “bad boy” than the Spanos family has traditionally been comfortable with. Really the biggest concern is that he’s had major health scares while coaching the Gators and the Buckeyes, which has forced retirements each time they have popped up.
He could be an amazing hire who could finally take the Chargers to the promised land, or he could be forced to medically retire for the third time and cost the team a fortune.
Finally, one of the coaches who I want to stay as far away from Justin Herbert as humanly possible, and that’s Jim Harbaugh. There is this notion out there that he is still a great coach, and I disagree strongly with that notion. I never really felt like he was a great coach to begin with.
People like to mention his acumen as a quarterbacks guru, but outside of Andrew Luck who was a generational talent, he’s been quite the opposite. Yes, Alex Smith (another Utah alumni) turned his career around under Harbaugh. But that was more about health and continuity than Harbaugh’s coaching, not to mention Smith got better AFTER leaving San Francisco.
People like to talk about what he did with Colin Kaepernick but Kaepernick regressed after teams had a full offseason to study him. Kaepernick never really developed as a passer.
Some people like to discount what he’s done at Michigan in terms of winning, but the one thing you can’t discount is the lack of development from his quarterbacks. I personally do take into account the lack of success he’s had at Michigan, where he has continually had top five to ten recruiting classes and has wildly underperformed.
Regardless of expectations and record, Harbaugh runs an archaic offense that overemphasizes the run game and two and three tight end sets. He’s shown next to no effort in being creative or evolving the system that he ran at Stanford. The Chargers, and Herbert by extension, need a forward-thinking coach. That’s not Harbaugh.
Ultimately, if Kelly does want to test the NFL waters this year I truly believe he would be a fantastic hire for the Chargers. If I were in charge of the hiring process, he would probably be my first call.