LSU Coach Nick Saban and Southern Cal Coach Pete Carroll didn't just share a national title last season. They shared a common heritage as former NFL coaches.
Carroll coached the New York Jets and New England Patriots before coming to USC. Saban had been an assistant with the Houston Oilers and Cleveland Browns.
The trend of NFL coaches returning to the college ranks increased this season with Nebraska's hire of former Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan. Former Chargers and Lions coach Bobby Ross is now at Army and former Minnesota Vikings assistant George O'Leary is at Central Florida.
Many successful college coaches have made the jump to the NFL over the years. Lately, it's beginning to look like the NFL is a coaching farm system for colleges.
When Texas Coach Mack Brown was looking for new direction for his defense, he turned to former NFL assistants Greg Robinson and Dick Tomey.
"There's no question when I started looking to bring in the coaches we did, we thought about the NFL experience because of the success LSU and USC had," Brown said.
"In the NFL, they had to disguise defenses and adjust to the best quarterbacks in the game. And sometimes they would play a team three or four times [in a season], so they had to have the ability to change."
Robinson has coached 14 seasons in the NFL, including 10 as a defensive coordinator with the Chiefs, Broncos and Jets. He was Kansas City's coordinator last season before being hired as Texas' co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
Tomey is better known as the former head coach at Arizona from 1987-2000, but he spent last season as a defensive assistant in charge of nickel packages for the 49ers. He is in his first season as the assistant head coach and defensive ends coach for the Longhorns.
Both Robinson and Tomey have brought new ways of practicing and approaching the game. The players have taken to the new concepts, especially after seeing the two Super Bowl rings Robinson earned with the Broncos.
"I have to believe what I've done in my career and where I've been, those guys are interested," Robinson said.
Robinson has emphasized full-speed tackling in practice, something the Longhorns never did before. Now, even standouts like running back Cedric Benson and quarterback Vince Young get taken to the ground in certain practice situations.
But Robinson's major emphasis has been to eliminate loafing on plays. He's now the only coach who can whistle a play dead in practice, so he can make sure the players are running to the ball at all times.
Robinson has told the seniors that every play is an NFL audition for them, so anything less than 100 percent effort will be noticed by pro scouts.
He has hammered home the idea to star linebacker Derrick Johnson that if he avoids taking on blockers, his draft value will go down.
"Let's see what the NFL scouts say about the way Johnson takes on blocks after this season," Robinson said.
Brown has been impressed with the new ideas and techniques Robinson and Tomey have brought to Texas.
"They have been everything we hoped for," Brown said.
At Oklahoma, new co-defensive coordinator Bo Pelini has brought new ideas he learned from nine seasons as an assistant with the Packers, Patriots and 49ers.
Pelini made the switch from NFL to college a year ago when he was named Nebraska's defensive coordinator.
"It's different in the amount of time you can spend with the players," Pelini said. "You're with the players all day in the pros. Here, you're only with them 20 hours a week. So obviously you can't do as much."
Pelini said dealing with college players is different because they don't have as much experience -- football experience and life experience -- as NFL players.
"I enjoyed my time in the NFL, and I've enjoyed the college game a lot, too," Pelini said. "The season isn't as grueling [in college], because it's not as long. You've got recruiting in there. But as long as you like to deal with people, it's fun."
It's also getting more lucrative. Big-time college programs are becoming more willing to match NFL salaries to get top coaches.
Callahan will earn $1.5 million a year in a six-year deal with Nebraska.
Robinson and Tomey were both given contracts that pay about $205,000 a year. They were making more than $300,000 a year as top NFL assistants, but Tomey's background is in the college game, and Robinson passed up NFL opportunities with an eye toward becoming a college head coach.
Pelini makes $180,000 a year at Oklahoma. At Nebraska, he made $208,000 a year in base salary.
While the salary gap is closing between the pros and college, Callahan is also finding that the lines are getting blurred in expertise, especially with the creativity shown in college offenses. Callahan started in the college ranks but spent the last nine seasons in the NFL.
"I think that at the college level, coaching has really advanced in the last five to six years," Callahan said. "I say that because of the advent of all the spread offenses that you see around the country."
Callahan said NFL coaching concepts are trickling down on the defensive side as well. He noted that Carroll's Southern Cal team brought both cornerbacks on a blitz against Virginia Tech.
"That's a very, very rare blitz to be showing in college football," Callahan said. "They're pretty advanced in that respect. A lot of people will duplicate what they do."