The NFL witnessed something last season that it hadn't seen in some time: a head college coach making the transition to the NFL ranks and succeeding. Jim Harbaugh took a San Francisco 49ers team that had underachieved amid constant change, and, with a much-maligned quarterback, willed it to the doorstep of Super Bowl XLVI. In finding championship-level success with the thoroughbreds of the NFL, Harbaugh achieved what college coaches Steve Spurrier, Bobby Petrino, Nick Saban, Dennis Erickson and many others had failed to do before him.
In a league that can be as copycat as it can be headstrong, it should have come as no surprise that one of its teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, went searching for the next Harbaugh. Eventually the Bucs settled on hard-nosed, defensive-minded Greg Schiano from Rutgers, but he wasn't their first choice.
In a group that consisted of around a dozen candidates, former New Hampshire offensive coordinator Charles Kelly was the choice. Not familiar with Charles? He is better known as Chip, the three-time Pac-12 conference champion coach of the Oregon Ducks who has a 34-6 record in his three seasons in Eugene.
While there are a few other current college coaches who I feel may have the opportunity to make a Harbaugh-like leap to the NFL (read on to see my list), Kelly is clearly the head of the class when it comes to being ready to make the jump to the next level. There are four clear attributes he shares in common with Harbaugh:
Look up the word "grind" in the football coaching dictionary and you'll find a picture of Jon Gruden displayed prominently. Dig a little further and you should see Kelly's name alongside Gruden's, a reason why the two have connected over the years and forged a respect for each other around the game of football. They are kindred spirits with a fascination and curiosity for the game and its endless schemes and advances.