The 4th Commandment
The quarterback is both a play designer and a play-maker.
Concededly, in theory and in practice, there is some ambiguity in the NFL about what constitutes human capital engaged in design (coaching) and what constitutes human capital engaged in production (playing). Implicitly, QC's statistics neglect the fact that design and production can be supplied by one person, such as a quarterback who overrides a coach's design by changing the play at the line of scrimmage (audible).
Because the quarterback is both a play designer and a play-maker, the relationship between the coach and the quaterback is critical. Essentially, there are two types of quarterbacks. The first is the nearly extinct "Type A" who imposes his will upon his coach and gives instructions to his coach, as well as to his teammates. The second is the nearly ubiquitous "Type B" who is an extension of the will of his coach and accepts instructions from his coach. "Type A" quarterbacks are saviors and their coaches are believers; "Type B" quarterbacks are desciples of their coaches. Importantly, a team can succeed with either type of coach/quarterback relationship provided that the relationship between the quarterback and the coach is functional.
"A quarterback does not come into his own," John Unitas once said, "until he can tell the coach to go to hell." As demonstrated by the quote, "Type A" quarterbacks like Unitas, Van Brocklin and Blanda did not take partners in questions of leadership and play design. "Heck," said TV analyst John Madden, "those guys were field generals. They had control of what was going on out there. They would even spit at guys."
In Chicago, Blanda and George Halas engaged in a fierce battle of wills for 10 years. "In his view of things," Blanda said, "quarterbacks were just the instrument of his own genius; all they had to do was what he told them." Once, in a close game, Blanda came to the bench to consult with Halas and the coach told the quarterback to call his own play. Upon returning to the huddle, Blanda invented a new play on the spot that resulted in a game-winning touchdown. When he returned to the bench, Halas criticized Blanda for using a play that was not in his playbook and, after the game, took credit for the call.
In 1960, Blanda escaped from Chicago to the Houston Oilers of the fledgling AFL and led the Oilers to the championship in his first and the AFL's first year. After Houston began the 1961 season 1-3-1, the Oilers' owner fired the head coach and the offensive coordinator resigned. New coach Wally Lemm turned the offense over to Blanda. Lemm "let the offense run itself," wide reeiver Charley Henningan said. "We ran double wing and triple wing sets, we'd send five guys out on passes." Moreover, the Oilers won 10 straight games, including the 1961 AFL championship game, as Blanda averaged an outstanding 9.2 yards per pass attempt and won AFL Player of the Year honors.
Norm Van Brocklin's story was nearly identical. After being drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1949, Van Brocklin fumed at coach Joe Stydahar for alternating him at quarterback with Bob Waterfield. Van Brocklin's frustration climaxed when the coach benched him after the quarterback refused to run a play that Stydahar sent in from the bench. Van Brocklin's next coach, Hampton Pool, once stated that he believed that his association with Van Brocklin shortened his life span by at least eight years. In 1954, Van Brocklin led a player uprising that resulted in Pool's ouster. For the most part, things did not get much better under Van Brocklin's next coach, Sid Gillman. "I wanted to coach the team," Van Brocklin admitted, "and Gillman wouldn't let me."
In 1959, new Philadelphia Eagles coach Buck Shaw aquired Van Brocklin. Shaw was a soft-spoken man of "uncommon decency" who took the Eagles' job only after Philadelphia ownership agreed that he would only be required to be in the office during training camp and the football season. "I had just made up my mind, I'd never again coach year-round," Shaw said. "I explained that to Vince [McNally], and he was willing to go along with me, so I took the job on that basis."
Van Brocklin, whose career 8.16 YPA is the third highest in NFL history, thrived under Shaw. Philadelphia writer Robert Gordon observed that for all intents and purposes, "Van Brocklin was a coach in Philadelphia. He worked full-time in the off-season for the Eagles' coaching staff." In just 3 seasons under the Shaw/Van Brocklin partnership, Philadelphia improved from 2-9-1 to 10-2 and won the 1960 NFL championship. "What Buck did was fantastic," Van Brocklin said. "The Eagles in 1958 were a ragtag operation. Turning that thing around and winning a championship in just two years was a miracle. Buck never got enough credit, in my opinion, I think people overlooked him somewhat because he was so soft-spoken. He never raised his voice, lost his composure, or used profanity. He left it to guys like me."
Today, "Type A" quarterbacks like Blanda and Van Brocklin are rare and, therefore, so are relationships like Blanda/Lemm and Van Brocklin/Shaw. But, occasionally, an NFL Chef de Cuisine lets his on-field sous-chef run the kitchen. For instance, in 2001, the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning took exception to Colts' coach Jim Mora characterizing the Colts' performance as "disgraceful" after a loss in which Manning threw four interceptions. In 2002, soft-spoken, defensive-minded Tony Dungy replaced Mora and Manning grew into the NFL's best quarterback. In 2005, analyst Cris Collinsworth opined that Manning "has fundamentally changed the nature of the quarterback position. Manning has evolved into the head coach, offensive coordinator and best player standing under center as he is directing the high-powered Colts offense."
"Type B" quarterbacks also are known as "system quarterbacks," a term that really did not gain wide-spread use until Bill Walsh invented the West Coast System. A "Type B" quarterback would never tell his coach where to go, at least not seriously.
As recounted in David Harris' The Genius, Joe Montana confessed that he dreaded coming over to Bill Walsh on the sideline after he screwed up. In one game, after throwing his second interception, Montana decided not to retreat from Walsh's view but to talk back instead.
"What was that?" Walsh demanded as Montana ran off the field.
"That was an interception," Montana declared boldly.
"Yes," Walsh agreed with a smile, "and a darn good one. But let's not do it again."
The original "Type B" quarterback, Bart Starr, operated a run-oriented system, Lombardi's "run-to-daylight" system. The cornerstone of Lombardi's system was the power sweep. Starr "got" Lombardi's simple, but brilliant, system from the first meeting the coach ever had with the quarterback .
"I knew right away that here was a man who was going to take complete charge, who had absolute confidence in his system, and I couldn't wait to see what the system was going to be like," Starr said. "For nine seasons, I saw him get up in training camp and diagram his favorite play, the sweep, and talk about it, and I never got tired of his performance. Every single time, I was captivated."
Lombardi was not as immediately impressed with the soft-spoken Starr. "When I first met him," Lombardi said, "he struck me as so polite and self-effacing that I wondered if maybe he wasn't too nice a boy to be the authoritarian leader that your quarterback must be." Early in his career, Starr once told the Packers' huddle to "Hush up!" and center Jim Ringo had to call timeout so that the offensive linemen could stop laughing. Lombardi thought so little of Starr that one of the first things he did was trade for Chicago Cardinals quarterback Lamar McHan who had a big arm to go with a fiercely competitive spirit, attributes Lombardi prized. But after McHan bluntly informed Lombardi that he, not Starr, should be playing (once in front of the Packers' board of directors), Lombardi made Starr the Packers' quarterback and never looked back. For his part, Starr's career 7.85 YPA is the 8th best figure in NFL history.
Accoding to Starr's biographer, David Claerbaut, Starr had two characteristics that Lombardi valued highly. "If he was told how to do something, he was smart enough to grasp it quickly," Claerbaut wrote. "He was also reliable enough to get it done. In addition, Starr was 100 percent accessible. He was either present or available, due to his dutiful and predictable life." In an interview with Cold Hard Football Facts, Starr said, "I could hardly wait to go from one meeting to the next. He was such a great teacher and motivator. All of us who had the opportunity to play for him were richly blessed. I'll always be grateful for those experiences." Simply, Bart Starr knew how to accept instructions.
So did Montana who absorbed all the play designs and instruction Walsh gave him. "At first, he would question calls because he didn't completely understand the offense," Walsh said, "but once I explained the reason for the call, he undertood and remembered." Montana once credited 70 percent of his success to Walsh's system. "With his intelligence and talent, Montana is ideal for Bill Walsh's system," Tom Landry said. "He stays with the script. That is the key to his great success." A reporter that covered the team said, "Each of them was in fact perfect for the other. Bill's system made Joe and Joe made Bill's system."
"Joe was wonderful to coach," Walsh said. "Whatever you taught him he could do. When it came to selecting receivers, reading through a sequence, he just learned everything."
"Believe it or not, my foreign language classes in high school helped me a lot with playbook-speak," Montana recalled. "With a foreign language, I always repeated the sentence in my mind, first in English, then in German or Spanish (and, these days, in Italian). With a playbook, the process is similar. You see the play, visualize what it is, then match that up with the terminology. It will help that your coaches will be speaking this language to you all season, with no one there to translate for you. It won't help that you will be constantly getting new plays during meetings, without having any extra time to study them. If football teaches you anything, it teaches you how to adapt and adjust. Remember, this isn't memorization. This is learning. When you memorize something, you don't adjust to subtle changes very quickly. When you learn it--when you know how and why something is being done, and not just what--you can react quickly to different fronts and coverages. You need to get to the point where something immediately registers in your mind once the play is called."
But while it is obvious that Montana was every bit the leader in his era that Van Brocklin was in his era, one cannot reasonably dispute that Walsh's system fundamentally changed pro football. A comparison of NFL record-holders in YPA and passer rating is a crystal-clear illustration. Career record-holders in YPA include both "Type A" quarterbacks like Van Brocklin and Unitas who played before Walsh's system took over the NFL and "Type B" quarterbacks like Montana and Kurt Warner who post-dated Walsh's system. But career record-holders in passer rating, which double counts completion percentage, all followed Walsh. His star students, Montana and Steve Young, rank 4th and 1st, respectively, in career passer rating.
Walsh once said that Tom Brady "is as close to Joe as anyone I have ever seen." Like Starr and Montana, Brady is a devoted desciple of his coach, Bill Belichick. "We're all lucky to play for him," Brady said of Belichick. "I've been playing for him for eight years and he's never wrong. Usually, we come in Monday morning and look at the evaluations and if we do the things that he really talked about, usually we come out ahead. He's a great leader and he's a great coach to play for. We all believe in him and trust him."