Troy Aikman is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as are his former Dallas Cowboy teammates Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. “The Triplets,” as they became known, helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls during a four-year span in the early ‘90s, all under the direction of Head Coach Jimmy Johnson. They had the kind of run that could legitimately claim the oft-overused “dynasty” label.
It’s worth noting, however, that such enormous success wasn’t necessarily considered a sure thing when Aikman arrived in Dallas in 1989. He was the first-overall pick of the draft, yes, but similar prospects have failed plenty of times. The Cowboys were coming off their third straight losing season and, stunningly, had dismissed legendary Head Coach Tom Landry in February. They would go forward with Johnson, who had won an NCAA National Championship at Miami but who had never previously coached in the NFL.
That wasn’t considered a formula for success in Aikman’s era, but Johnson obviously broke the mold.
Even now, roughly a quarter-century later, the college-to-pro transition has its doubters. When Jim Harbaugh took San Francisco from 6-10 team to 13-3 after coming over Stanford last year, that success was thought to be an outlier. Aikman, however, thinks there are reasons to expect more college coaches to thrive in the current NFL landscape.
“Prior to Jimmy Johnson coming to Dallas my rookie year, there really had not been a guy who had made that transition very successfully,” said Aikman, now a top NFL analyst for FOX. “We’ve seen more coaches do that, and maybe do it a little more seamlessly. Certainly last year Jim Harbaugh did an excellent job there in San Francisco. I think one of the reasons is, there’s a lot of carryover now – you see a lot of pro coaches going back to college, you see a lot of college coaches at the assistant level. And then also what we’re seeing more and more of is that the college game is impacting what the pros are doing, as opposed to the way it used to always be, that the pros were impacting what college was doing.”
Aikman, who visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers headquarters’ on Wednesday in preparation for FOX game broadcasts in Week Two and Three of the regular season, specifically thinks the move will work out for Greg Schiano. The Buccaneers named Schiano their new head coach in January after he had spent 11 at the helm of a rejuvenated program at Rutgers University. Schiano also previously coached in the NFL with the Chicago Bears.
“We’ve seen more and more coaches come into the league and have success that have not been head coaches at this level, and I expect that Greg Schiano will,” said Aikman. “I just met him for the first time being here, but I know a lot of people who have relationships with him [and he’s] highly-thought of. I think it was an excellent hire and I think they have the right guy for the job here in Tampa.”